Desperate Times, Desperate Measures (Copywriting Tip #3)

copywriting tips

Quick Copywriting Tip #3: Force your reader to “pick a side.” Don’t allow him to sit comfortably on the fence.

They say “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“They” are wrong. Desperate measures are always called for. More accurately, they’re almost always necessary.

Why? Because most of your should-be customers, the ones who desperately need your product or service, are sitting on the fence. I guarantee it.

A small percentage of prospects will buy with minimal effort on your part. Most of them take more work. It’s your job to lead them into making the smartest decision.

You can’t lead them anywhere while they’re sitting up there, can you? You’re going to have to push/pull them down.

Here’s an example you’re probably familiar with: Proactiv Solution. If you’ve seen the TV commercials, magazine inserts, online banner ads and who knows what else, you know they use every tool in the shed to make you choose:

  • up-close before and after photos that remind you of the pain you feel and offer relief
  • celebrity spokespeople to grab your attention and win your trust
  • clinical research for credibility
  • showing up in your face every day, in as many places as possible
  • storytelling which push emotional hot buttons like embarrassment, guilt, and even the shakiness of your romantic life (see below)

Proactiv emotional copywriting tip

Your message should repeatedly attempt to force your audience to pick a side.

Struggle with the problem, or choose the solution.”


Does Proactiv play dirty? Maybe. But they believe their cause is a righteous one. They believe they’re improving people’s lives — and providing jobs in the process.

The cost is too high to be soft-spoken.

Check out all 13 Quick Copywriting Tips

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4 Steps to No-Brainer Status

If your target market had to make an instant decision, without thinking, would they would still pick you?

The mind is always doing something, always focusing on something. We even dream while we’re sleeping. Your brain never really stops working.

My fellow Chicagoan James Ford taught me a very interesting lesson (inadvertently, through the radio). He pointed out that we often look for distractions to give our minds a break. We call that amusement. A-muse-ment is, literally, the act or state of not-thinking.

While I generally discourage the use of funny marketing messages, you should consider being appropriately amusing.

With that in mind, here are some amusing marketing ideas:

1) Make your offer a “no-brainer.” If your offer is just right, the prospect literally doesn’t have to think about it.,
It’s not good enough to have the best product on the market or to be the most logical choice as a service provider. Plenty of outstanding businesses struggle while waiting for the world to beat a path to their door to buy their better “mousetrap.” Marketing is still critically important, and the message it conveys must still engage the motivational drives and desires of the target audience.

There are several factors involved here. No matter how much a prospect wants what you sell, there are obstacles to overcome:

a) You have to be trustworthy. No doubt you’ve heard a lot of talk about getting potential clients to “know, like and trust” you. This is not only because we like to do business with people we like, but because we have a hard time doing business with people we don’t trust.

  • This is part of the reason marketers are enamored with social media, and it’s definitely the driving force behind Facebook Sponsored Stories and Google’s social search. You trust your friends, so when they “like” something, that something inherits some of that trust.

b) Your offer itself has to be credible. I imagine if you got a letter in the mail offering “Buy 1 Mercedes, Get 2 FREE.” It might grab your attention, but you’d dismiss the idea pretty quickly. We instinctively believe the saying, “if it’s too good to be true…” By all means, make the strongest offer possible, but make sure it’s believable.

c) Eliminate as much risk as possible. The plumbing in my house is not great. At one point, we had to call a plumber every few weeks. When we finally found a guy we liked, one of the biggest reasons he got repeat business from us was because his 90-day guarantee. If the toilets clogged up in that time frame, he’d come out and fix it for free.

How strong is your guarantee? Do you provide excellent customer service after the sale? Do you share additional information or resources to ensure customers enjoy every possible benefit from their purchase?

  • Make testimonials prominent. This form of social proof can be effective at communicating the fact that lots of people just like the prospect has had a wonderful experience doing business with you. What more is there to think about?

2) Get to know your audience so well that you can describe their needs better than they can, using words they’d use themselves. When people feel like you know them, trust comes naturally. Add to that a comprehensive understanding of the challenges they’re facing and the dreams they have, there’s no need for them to look to anyone else when they’re ready to buy. Choosing you is a “no-brainer” decision.

3) Find a way to make buying from you habitual, or attach your offering to the habits of your target audience. That which people do habitually, they do unthinkingly. Here are two terrific articles explaining the power of habits and how they apply to marketing and buying decisions:

The Power of Habit
How Companies Learn Your Secrets

4) Your offer must be obviously valuable. The more clearly you describe what the customer will get after he buys, how wonderful his experience will be, the less he has to justify the purchase to himself. The less internal negotiations have to take place.
The longer he argues, the less likely he is to buy. He’s also more likely he is to either ask for a refund or suffer from buyer’s remorse – a serious problem for repeat business and referrals.

Your Action Steps

1) Get to know what you really sell. Builders don’t sell structures; they provide safety, security, a feeling of family, the American dream, etc. Authors don’t sell ink on paper, but wild adventures and escapes from reality in packages that fit in the palm of your hand.

2) Get to know your prospects better than ever. Always remember, marketing is not about you – it’s about your would-be customers.

3) Speak to the soul. Go beyond having rebuttals for objections and answers for questions.

4) Work on ways to clearly communicate that the solution to your prospects innermost drives and desires is within their grasp – if they enter the door you show them. Help them see it.

5) Find effective ways to deliver that message.

This will take some work, but I can guarantee it will pay off in big ways.

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Pork Chops and Big Promises

Planet Porkchop Sign - Calumet City

There is a restaurant a few blocks from my house in south suburban Chicago (Calumet City, to be precise) that makes a pretty bold statement. Their sign claims that they are THEHome of the Giant Pork Chop.”

Right up front, I’ll admit that I’ve never eaten in this establishment. I’ve never seen their pork chops. But my lack of formal knowledge won’t stop me from making a few observations.

1.) When I read the tagline about the gigantic slabs of pig flesh you can buy at Planet Porkchop, I laughed to myself. How can this little restaurant have bigger chops than anyone else? Have they been around long enough to be the home of anything as readily available as pieces of pork?

The point is this: the marketing/branding statements you make have to be believable. Remember Al Gore’s claim to have invented the internet? Didn’t turn out so well for him.

Even if you’re telling the truth, you may never get the opportunity to prove it .

2.) On the other hand, bold claims are great. If you can make big promises, do it. If there’s something truly special, truly outstanding about you, your product or service, don’t be shy about it.

In fact, make the biggest, boldest claim that you can honestly make.

So many people wonder about how they can differentiate themselves and stand out from their competition. Find something amazing about what who you are (individually or as a business) and what you have to offer, and shout it from the rooftops. Figuratively speaking.

3.) Question: If you drove by this sign, would it move you to stop and eat?

Answer: Maybe.

For some people, this advertisement would never work. Some people don’t eat pork for religious or health reasons.

Other people like pork chops, but they’re not hungry when they drive past. Maybe they’ll consider trying their food another time.

Still others like pork chops, and seeing the piggy sign puts them in the mood to eat.

The lesson, of course, is that advertising and marketing cannot work for every single person. And it will not work every time. To get the most bang for your marketing buck, you have to put the right message in front of the right audience at the right time. Even then, don’t count on getting 100% to buy.

4.) You instantly know exactly what this business is about. They take pride in their pork chops. That’s what they do best. They’re specialists in that area.

Do you know your area of unique expertise? How well are you sharing that message?

Related Post

Small Restaurant, Big Lesson

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30 Minutes to More Trust: An Interview with Charlie Green

Warren Buffet famously said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” But is that really true?

Earlier this week, I had the distinct privilege of speaking with one of the world’s foremost experts on building trust, best-selling author Charles Green. Boy, did I learn a lot!

During our 30-minute interview, Charles talked about

  • why trust is absolutely essential to your success in business
  • specific ways you can create more trust in your relationships
  • specific ways you might be sabotaging your efforts to gain the trust of your prospects and customers
  • popular myths about trust
  • how long it really takes to start building (or rebuilding) trust
  • and more

I was blown away by simple, yet profound truths Charles shared. I think you will be, too.

Building Trust in Business with Charles Green

Don’t forget to visit TrustedAdvisor.com to further develop your ability be the trusted provider in your industry.

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Bypassing Your Prospect’s Hardwired Resistance

resistance keep out

In his 2003 book Resistance and Persuasion, Dr. Eric Knowles explores the psychological reasons people to say “no.” Understanding why your website’s visitors tell you “no thanks” can go a long way in helping you change more of their responses to “yes, please.”

Dr. Knowles talked about 3 main root causes for the natural resistance to the sales process: skepticism/distrust, inertia and reactance. Today, we’ll analyze skepticism in more detail to see how you can neutralize it and increase your site’s conversion rate and profitability.

Skepticism – Resistance to your offer

People are trained from a young age to think that “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Nowhere is this more applicable than in business and marketing.

Does the copy on your website make hard-to-believe claims? Maybe you have to make bold statements because your product or service is just that good. Why should you be penalized for having an incredibly great selling proposition?

You overcome skepticism with evidence. Can you back up the claims you make with proof? Do you have testimonials of satisfied customers whose lives you’ve changed? Can you give statistics from authoritative sources that give credence to your statements? Can you demonstrate that you’re telling the truth with pictures or video?

Don’t hold back on the proof! The more evidence you can show that your claims are 100% legitimate, the less room you leave for skepticism.

Want to do even better? Offer a free trial or sample of your offering. It’s hard for people to argue with results they’ve experienced for themselves.

(Just a thought: if you can’t confidently offer a free trial of your product or service because you’re nervous the customer won’t make the final purchase, maybe you need to improve it until you know that if they try it, they’ll buy it.)

A major reason people hesitate to pull the trigger on a purchase is the fear of feeling ripped-off or disappointed when they finally get what they ordered. You can effectively alleviate that fear by offering strong guarantees and/or service after the sale. When they know they can get their money back if things don’t go the way they hope, making the decision gets a lot easier.

Another mistake many businesses make is sounding just like everyone else in their field. If your website looks the same as your competitors, if your copy says the same things in the same “voice,” your potential customers are very likely to think of you as the knock-off of the sites they’ve already seen. When everyone looks the same, everyone is seen as a commodity.  But worse than that, everyone sounds fake and insincere.  Distrust is a conversion killer.

Use specific language to show readers how well you know them, how well you understand their needs and how experienced you are in delivering solutions for those needs. Speak directly to your audience in language that resonates with them.

Don’t try to talk to everyone. Generic language almost always misses the mark.

Inertia – Resistance to change

If you’ve lived on this planet for more than 10 years, you know how difficult it can be to convince people to change their established routines. People like to do things the way they’ve always done them (even when they know there’s a better way). Studies show that our brains go out of their way to form habits, then “reward” us with happy hormones when we maintain them.

It’s Newton’s First Law of Motion applied to human behavior; bodies in motion stay in motion. We tend to keep doing what we’re currently doing, and it’s hard to start something new.

Habits are hard to break. And there’s a sense of comfortable familiarity and security that come from keeping things the same. So we resist change.

As marketers and salespeople, we often think the way to make our propositions more compelling is to increase the perceived payoff customers will get when they buy from us. That’s why we pile hundreds of dollars of bonuses on top of our offers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; giving more value is always a good idea.

What we don’t realize is that habits are their own payoffs. That’s part of the reason people get set in their ways.

Alan Weber is quoted as saying “Real change happens, when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” The same is true when it comes to selling your product or service from your website. You may have difficulty demonstrating that the payoff of using your product (which they haven’t felt yet) is greater than the payoff associated with their current product or lack thereof (which they’re currently enjoying).

Consider trying another route. Instead of focusing on the payoff of taking action on your offer, show your visitors how much it costs them to keep doing things the same way. What do they lose by continuing on the path they’re currently taking?

According to Weber, change happens when that reality hits home. Then your prospects can replace their old purchasing habits with better ones – yours!

Reactance – Resistance to persuasion itself

Jeffrey Gitomer wrote in The Sales Bible, “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.” When you look at your own experience, you can see the truth in this statement.

Of course, that fact is one of your biggest challenges as an online marketer. People want to buy things to satisfy their desires and remove unpleasant aspects of their lives. They just don’t want to feel like they’re being “sold.”

Claude Hopkins wrote that “Any apparent effort to sell creates corresponding resistance.” It’s an instinctive reaction. Instinctively, our brains think “Hey! This guy is trying to benefit at my expense. Well, he’s not gonna get me!

A customer’s sales resistance is related to a psychological phenomenon called reactance. In layman’s terms (as per Wikipedia), reactance is a person’s subconscious rebellion against what he thinks someone else wants him to do.

We see the other person’s will as a threat to our freedom to decide and act as we please.

When a salesperson asks “how can I help you?” you don’t believe her true intention is to help you, do you? You think she wants to help herself. You imagine that she’s going to do everything in her power to make you purchase what she wants to sell you, not necessarily what you want to buy.

You’re sure she’ll try to make you buy now; you want to make up your mind in your own time.

People want to operate on our own terms, not those of a salesperson (or anyone else). So we resist.

You neutralize reactance by not appearing to sell. You hear a lot of talk about push vs. pull marketing regularly. That’s largely what this issue boils down to.

Have you ever noticed that commercials on TV are louder than the program you tuned in to watch? Obviously, that’s an attempt by the advertisers to get your attention, and it works. You can’t ignore the blaring sound. But is that a good thing? Most would agree that it’s not.

No one likes to be pressured and no one likes to be shouted at. It may grab your attention, but it’s also irritating and puts you in a negative mood. That defeats the purpose of your message.

Don’t “shout” your sales message. Hard-selling is counterproductive. Instead, seduce. Give your visitors reasons to listen. Make them want to know more about what you’re talking about.

Engage your readers by talking about topics that are truly important to them. Tell interesting stories. Create a sense of curiosity. And really communicate what’s in it for them. When you start sounding like someone who just wants to sell something, you’re in a heap of trouble.

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