Experience taught me that the worst thing to do when starting a copywriting project is to write. Two things can happen. You either have to rewrite everything because nothing is actually a market match or you end up not making sales, which will lead to you rewriting everything. It’s either wasted time or wasted time and wasted traffic.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that you should fall into a paralysis of analysis and delay writing as much as possible. No. It’s just that without getting clear on what you’re trying to transmit, the letter is likely to fail. The letter may fail even if you get clear on these things, that’s true, but you’ll have a far better chance of succeeding.
The first question is “should we be selling this?”.
This is not a joke. At least in 1 out of 3 cases, the answer is no. Many times the product solves a need that nobody has. Other times, the competition is offering something cheaper and better. Yet, other times, the idea is good but the execution is awful.
When you are the product creator, it is easy to lose perspective on the bigger picture. You are in love with your work. You know how much time you’ve invested in it. You believe it is the best thing in the world. Everyone around you is proud of you.
Yet, this doesn’t mean anything if your market is not interested. If you ask ten copywriters and all ten tell you “your product doesn’t solve a problem in the marketplace”, then you should go back to the drawing board.
If you are solving a problem but the mechanism is flawed, then keep the vision but change the approach. There are many ways to solve the same problem and in the end, you’re not selling the feature, you’re selling the benefit. When someone buys a drill, he’s not buying a piece of metal. He’s buying the hole that the metal is going to make. So discard the way you are making that hole and still sell the outcome.
A word of warning though – if your product is not something for which people would pay for (because the need isn’t there or there are far easier ways to accomplish it), then I suggest you give up on the idea and get back to product development.
The second question is “who is my buyer here?”.
This is a trick question. The buyer is generally the person that pays for the product. If you are selling a guide on how a student can ace his SAT exams, then your buyer persona is the student, right?
Well, not really. It is the parents, as they are paying for the course and they are making the buying decision. The student is the end user but he’s not going to Google online about courses and pay for it from his allowance money.
In the executive coaching field, many people think that the customer is the C-level executive that is receiving the service. No. The HR department usually employs executive coaches and they are the ones who need to be persuaded. It is very rare that you need to sell to the end-user but rather, to the purchasing middleman.
This is especially true in the B2B field where you have buyers, influencers, gatekeepers and users and you need to appeal to all of them. The buyer may be the CFO who cares first about the cost and the ROI. The influencers may be other CFOs who have bought similar products or the CEO. The influencer may not take the decision but he is very important in the buying process. The influencer may also be the end user. If the CFO goes to the manager who benefits from the product and asks for his opinion, then what he says will matter quite a lot towards the final buying decision. Finally, gatekeepers are those that guard access to the buyer, like secretaries who may delete your direct mail package.
Once you’ve determined the real buyer (hint: about 70% of all buying decision in the household are made by the woman, even when the products don’t benefit her directly), you must get clear on who is your buyer persona.
Your buyer persona is a fictional character that represents your marketplace. Think of a character in a movie or a book. The more you understand this character, the easier it will be for you to sell.
Yet, here’s where you are most likely to fail. Most people create complex buyer persona’s and they make sense but these personas are rarely anchored in reality. You see, your buyer persona is nothing more than a representation of your REAL prospect. It is someone to whom you’re writing that is as close as possible to your real marketplace. So if you build a market persona that is not accurate from the desires, beliefs, fears and behaviors perspectives, you’ll not make sales. It’s as easy as that.
My approach is to base my buyer’s persona on someone I know. I find someone that needs my product and is interested in my product and then I try to sell to her directly. If my product is a weight loss course, then I go to the gym and I find someone out of shape who is really struggling without making any effort. I observe this person. I try and talk with her. I try to really understand what’s going in her mind and soul. Many times, I befriend her in the most sincere way. This gives me a buyer persona as close to reality as possible. I sell to a real human being, not to an imaginary fictional character.
The third question is “why should anyone buy my product?”
This is what I call the “stress test”. I’m trying to see my product from a critical perspective and come up with every good reason someone would pay (or would not pay) money for it. The purpose is not to discourage myself but rather, to make a preliminary list of benefits and of objections.
The key goal here is to come up with the POD (point of differentiation) benefits. These are the ways your product is different from the competition, different in a manner that has value to your marketplace. Answering “because it is good” is not the right way to do this. Instead, you must really dive deep into the features and benefits of your product to come up with what makes it special. For example, did you know that a selling point for MacBooks is that the screen is perfectly balanced? This means you can raise it with one hand. It doesn’t seem a big deal but many people noticed this and praised this attention to detail in their reviews.
At the same time, you must come up with every reason why they wouldn’t buy it too. This can be because nobody knows you, the price, entrenched competition, slow delivery or whatever else you may come up with. You should do this in order to proactively solve these problems (or at least the most important ones).
My mindset here is simple. If you can sell to the most skeptical prospect, someone who doesn’t want to have to do with you, then selling to a normal, average one will be a walk in the park. Always prepare for the worst, even if in practice it will be a lot easier.
I won’t blame you if you skip this question. I do this sometimes too. I want my product to work. I want to believe in the best outcome. However, life showed me that what happens has little to do with what I expect to happen and it is better to stress test your ideas early, with a small investment, than late when you’ve put it all in.
The fourth question is “what is my hook?”
In all honesty, this is something you’ll spend a few hours on after you start writing your letter. Yet, you should think about your hook before starting because everything you write will aim to match it.
A hook is the central point of interest in your copy. It can be a story or an event. It is practically the story. In a movie, the hook is the reason why the movie is interesting. The difference between good and great copywriting is the quality of your hook. John Carlton is one of the best copywriters in the world but what makes him special is coming with some quite brilliant hooks. In one of his sales letter, he told the story of a one legged golf player. This hook brilliantly connected to a balancing technique golfers can use and the product that teaches this. In another he tells this story of a average looking guy working as a bodyguard for metal rock-bands. It was a promo about a self-defense video set and how this guy could take down people two times his size.
For investment products, the 2008 crisis was a good hook. The BitCoin bubble is again a good hook. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is because it is not a formula, but rather a concept. But no matter how you see it, your hook will be the central idea that will make someone want to read your promotion. To determine if you have a good hook, ask yourself this …
“If my story would be standalone, in other words, not selling a product, would it still be interesting and captivate my reader? Could I still entertain my reader with a good story even if I don’t connect it to a product?”
If this is the case, you have a good hook. If your hook is your product, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
The fifth question is “how am I’m going to test this?”
I’ve seen many people writing a sales letter and then not sending any traffic to it. Now while having a sales letter is better than no sales letter, you must remember that it works only with traffic. You can’t expect people to find your site by default. You must drive them there.
When you ask yourself this upfront, you must also come with some viable mediums. For example, let’s say that you are writing an advertorial in the investment field. If you research the websites that allows you to promote your advertorial, then you can understand the tone and the type of audience found there. This allows you to write your advertorial in a way that matches where it is placed.
This is generally an advanced strategy but the highest leverage in online marketing is matching your copy with your traffic type. Facebook leads reply better to some approaches while Google PPC responds to others. While you don’t need to worry too much at this moment, at least ask yourself what mediums you’re going to use.
Before ending, keep in mind that once you answer these questions, you should write. Don’t wait, don’t procrastinate. If the idea makes sense and if you get clear on what you’re selling to whom, don’t wait until inspiration strikes. Writing a sales letter has little to do with creativity and everything to do with your marketplace. Write your first draft. You don’t need to post it online, just get it done. Then write your second. Third. Show it to other people. Ask if they’d buy. Read it aloud. Make constant progress towards your goal.
Usually the first copy I write is not that good. There are many good ideas but nothing flows together. Only at draft 2 or even draft 3 my copy starts to make sense and to resemble a conversation.
Are you interested in discovering how I can help your business or how we can apply these concepts to your own venture? Then let’s have a talk. For a limited time, I’m giving away complementary 30 minute calls. In these sessions, we’ll discuss ways in which we can maximize your customer value, boost your conversion, achieve more sales and increase any other relevant metrics in your business.
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The Business & Self-Improvement Copywriter