I Always Listen to My Clients, But…

“I always listen to everything my clients have to tell me. And then I ignore them… I write it the way it’s supposed to be, up to, and including, sometimes changing the offer without their permission.” ~ John Nicksic

So much for permission-based marketing!  …I’m kidding.

Seriously though, there an a few important lessons here. Today, I only want to talk about the most obvious takeaway.

No Disrespect Intended

If you’ve never heard of Mr. Nicksic, let me fill you in. He’s one of the highest-paid old-school direct mail copywriters around. He’s learned a few things about printed persuasion over the years.

When he says he ignores his clients, he’s not being a jerk. He’s simply using his best judgement as an expert in getting stuff sold. He explains it this way:

“I’m a much better direct mail copywriter than they are, so what do I do? I seize control of the message without asking their permission…

“I rely on the power of the copy I hand them for the first draft. I let them read it and see for themselves how much better it is my way than what they had in mind… They quickly see what I’m up to, why it makes more sense, and why it is time for them to readjust their thinking.”

It’s not an issue of hijacking the words that end up on the page. In most cases the copywriter is expected to lead that charge. The thing that needs to be changed is quite often the proposition itself.

Many business owners are sadly mistaken about how boring their offers are. If the product or service you’re selling doesn’t:

  • promise a benefit that gets the ideal prospect’s blood pumping
  • describe a danger hiding just out of sight, waiting to pounce and devour the ideal prospect
  • offer secret knowledge or exclusive access to something the ideal prospect wants to get his hands on

…or some other such exciting result, it will be next to impossible to write sales copy that’ll fix the problem.

Sales copy isn’t designed to make lame products exciting. It’s supposed to

  • extract the interesting and useful elements of a quality product
  • shine a spotlight on them and
  • draw buyers over to take advantage of the newly-exposed value.

A boring offer is a problem that needs to be fixed. Sometimes that means ignoring a client.

I Missed It Bad…

One of my clients had the opportunity to write an email to the subscribers of a well-known personal finance newsletter last week. (I’m excluding names to protect everyone involved, except myself.) The list was 29K strong, all paid subscribers. My client sells a product these subscribers KNOW they need. The tricky part is, a lot of them already own one.

Positioned properly, it could have been a slam dunk.

I spent 3 days writing a 300-word email that would planted doubts about the quality of the product they already owned, insinuated that there is critical information they’ve never been told and gave them access the “hidden truth” in a nonthreatening way.

The marketing director loved it and sent it up the chain for final approval.

The big boss vetoed the free info offer. Instead, he opted to go for the sale immediately with an educational but generic pitch.

The results: 28,987 emails delivered, 14% open rate (which I’m told is over 3 times the average for marketing emails to that list) and 6% click per open.

email marketing client

The number that matters? The email only produced 3 leads. That means only one in about 10,000 people who received the email became leads. When I checked on the results yesterday, none of them purchased the product.

I was bummed out all day.

70% of Copywriting Success Is in the Offer

Denny Hatch estimates that the efficacy of an online marketing promotion depends 70% on the offer, 10% on the list, and 20% on creative (copy and design).

In the case above, I missed it.

I could have taken a more aggressive stance, as Nicksic recommends. I caved without a fight, hoping to keep the client happy. As a result, a pretty massive opportunity slipped through our fingers.

Take note: Even with a great list and a solid product, you have to have an enticing offer.

P.S. I always advise clients and colleagues to make it easy for customers to take the first step. Going directly for the sale isn’t always the best idea.

What are you doing today to make it easy for your “should-be” customers to take the first step toward you?

 

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People Versus Spiders

Denny Hatch wrote another brilliant article this week.

Search Engine Optimization is the current rage—grabbing the attention of spiders and crawlers in the hopes that the message will surface all over the Internet.

Yet it’s flesh-and-blood people that want information, spend money on goodies and give to charity—not emotionless, pre-programmed electronic robots.

Go ahead, fascinate robots. But if your message is a bore, you are a mouse click away from oblivion.

Call me Luddite or troglodyte, but I will continue to write headlines and copy for people, not robots.

And I’ll study the work of the great copywriters, such as Mel Martin.

Hatch then goes on to talk about the “greatest copywriter you’ve never heard of.” He describes Martin’s career, successes and genius, along with a few evidences that he was a mere mortal just like the rest of us.

Go read “Are You Writing for Spiders? Meet Mel Martin, Master of Fascinations.” This is the kind of stuff copywriters like me just can’t get enough of.

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The One Change that Changes Your Response the Most

While I was still in school, I always enjoyed math class. I’m feeling a little mathematically inspired right now.

Remember word problems? Let’s work through one together. We’re going to combine two direct marketing axioms to see what we come up with.

#1. “If you want to dramatically increase your response, dramatically improve your offer.” – Axel Andersson

#2. Ed Mayer’s 40-40-20 Rule. Mayer gives us a breakdown of what determines the success or failure of a direct mail package which I’ve found applies to pretty much any marketing message. Simply stated, 40% of the effectiveness of the message depends on the quality of your list. One thing I talk about all the time is understanding your target market so that you can communicate with them in the most compelling way. 40% of the effectiveness comes from the quality of your offer, and 20% from the creative (copy, design) itself.

(Side note: Denny Hatch estimates that the ratio is 70% offer, 10% list, 20% creative for internet direct marketing.)

We see that Andersson and Mayer are really agreed on the point. If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck in response to your marketing efforts, you must improve your offer. Pretend you’re the Godfather and make your customers an offer they can’t refuse. Claude Hopkins said that “The right offer should be so attractive that only a lunatic would say ‘No’.”

Using the same logic and math, you’d get identical or very similar results by improving your list. But taking that approach is less controllable. Once you know your customers really well, there’s not much you can do to improve your list. You can almost always improve your offer. You can nearly always give more.

Don’t tell any of my copywriting colleagues that I’m letting the 40-40-20 Rule out of the bag. According to Mayer, the creative part of your marketing has less effect on response than the other elements. So rather than running out to hire one of us, or trying to rewrite your message yourself, give your offer priority. Then focus on your list of potential buyers. Make sure you’re giving as much as you can profitably offer to an audience whose desires, fears and problems you are increasingly familiar with.

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