I love psychology.
Especially, as it relates to selling and the art of persuasion.
My copy of Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini is so badly torn, marked-up, and dog-eared as to be virtually unrecognizable.
So when someone has the audacity to tell me long copy is dead and short copy is king…
… That nobody pays attention to sales copy anymore, let alone long form sales copy…
… That people are immune to it, and so it’s no longer effective…
… I have no qualms about getting up in their grill and telling them flat-out, “You’re wrong!”
I can tell you unequivocally: Long form persuasion is alive and well, and as effective as always.
Even in this “sound bite” age of Snapchat, Instagram, and the Twittersphere.
Forgive me for being blunt, but anyone that thinks long copy is out of fashion probably just isn’t very good at writing it.
If that sounds like you, it’s high time to fix it or get out of the sales business.
“Put a cork in it Gibson dude!”
I recently took a trip to Music City USA (a.k.a Nashville, Tennessee) to buy a new guitar.
Nashville is home to Gibson Guitar, one of the world’s premier guitar manufacturers, with a rich and diverse history. Solid body electric guitars, such as the iconic Gibson Les Paul, are manufactured right in Nashville.
So wanting only the best, I went straight to the source.
Now you may think buying a guitar is easy… look, play, pick, and you’re out the door.
Oh no, no, no… not so fast.
Would you like acoustic or electric?
What body size?
What neck shape?
Heavy or lightweight?
If wood, what type of wood?
If electric, would you prefer single-coil pickups or hum-cancelling double coils?
A solid, hollow, or semi-hollow body?
Modern or vintage sound?
The list goes on, and on, and on.
So what did I do when I was approached by a high spirited and knowledgeable Gibson salesperson named Tyler that shared my deep passion for guitars?
After a few cursory remarks, did I tell him to get lost?
“Put a cork in it Gibson dude, methinks thou dost talk too much!”
Not on your sweet life!
We geeked out like long-lost buddies at a 30-year high school reunion.
“The more you tell, the more you sell.”
I know we chatted it up for well over an hour, but it felt like mere minutes.
I wanted Tyler to tell me everything there was to know about that guitar before I plunked down a giant-sized chunk of change on it.
I wanted to know all about how it was made.
I wanted to know about the carved solid maple top, chambered mahogany back and sides, and beautiful Faded Cherry nitrocellulose lacquer finish.
I wanted to cradle it, feel my fingers on its strings, and strum a few notes… as he told me all about how the legendary Eric Clapton had used a similar 1990 reissue Gibson during his From the Cradle back-to-the-blues tour in 1994-95.
And how Chuck Berry, the granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll himself, had played his classic tune Sweet Little Sixteen on a Gibson guitar in 1958.
I wanted to pick his brain for every last morsel!
The great ad man, John E. Kennedy, coined three words in 1904 that changed the face of advertising.
It’s arguably the single best description ever penned of the true job of sales copy:
You see, written sales copy is nothing more than a one-way sales conversation on the physical or electronic page.
In fact, because of the absence of a salesperson, the veteran copywriter knows she must skillfully tackle every feature, every benefit, every possible objection to the sale in the copy… because she knows that no one will be there to do it for her.
If I took everything Tyler told me about that Gibson guitar and put it in a sales letter, it would easily fill 30+ pages of single-spaced copy.
No filler. No garbage. No waste.
Just raw emotion, and a deep passion for guitars.
And anyone that shares that passion for guitars, and is in the market for one, will soak up every last word he’s got to say… guaranteed.
This story also illustrates two other important points:
FIRST, a little thing that Dr. Cialdini calls, “commitment and consistency.”
Once I’d invested over an hour with Tyler, while he gave me every last detail on that guitar, deep down I wanted to buy.
I felt I had to buy.
Otherwise, I just wasted his time and my time.
If you can make your prospect spend an hour reading your sales letter, they begin to feel like they have to buy to remain consistent.
Or, they’ve just wasted their time.
SECOND, length is strength.
Let’s face it, Tyler invested a lot of time with me.
He couldn’t have done that if he didn’t have anything good to say about that guitar.
After a short time with him, I started to get a deep-seated feeling that if he had that much good stuff to say about it, it had to be good!
It’s no different with a prospect reading your sales copy.
If somebody took the time to write 30+ pages of detailed and interesting material to help them understand this thing and why they need it so badly…
… They’ll start to believe it has to be good.
Generally, it’s not even a conscious thought in the moment. It’s a totally unconscious pull on the mind of the prospect.
So does that mean you should always use long copy?
There are plenty of instances where longer copy simply gets in the way… distracting prospects from taking action when they’re ready to buy, and may actually detract from the sale.
So how do you know when to use long copy vs short copy?
Here are five guiding questions – five persuasion guideposts, if you will – that you should ask yourself before sitting down to write your next promotion.
Persuasion Guidepost #1: PERSON
Who are you, and what is your relationship to the target audience?
If you’re writing to cold traffic, you’d better be prepared to fight a difficult and arduous battle. It’s a bit like going up against a 50-caliber machine gun with a Colt six-shooter.
So how do you win? Straight up guerrilla warfare.
Or in the case of us marketers, guerrilla marketing.
As Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the legendary book, Guerrilla Marketing, explains it:
“Marketing is the art of getting people to change their minds – or to maintain their mindsets if they’re already inclined to do business with you. Every little thing you do and show and say – not only your advertising or Web site – is going to affect people’s perceptions of you.”
In addition to the product and offer itself, you’ll need to provide lots of evidence of your knowledge, expertise and trustworthiness… and you’ll need to be able to prove it, with plenty of supporting documentation.
Your background, case studies, testimonials, a stellar track record, the works.
Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that YOU are in it to help THEM… tell them how you’re going to do so… and give them every reason why they should trust you above all others.
If you’re writing to warm traffic, as in cases where your target audience has already been pre-sold on knowing, liking and trusting you… you’re fighting on much more of an even keel.
Such is the case if you have a network of partners standing by to promote you, with a ready and willing audience that trusts their recommendations.
You still need to prove what you say, but you can potentially do so in fewer words.
Finally, the best of all worlds is if you’re writing to incredibly hot traffic (your own list) that’s already been indoctrinated into your world.
They already know, like, and trust you. You simply need to present the right offer.
A short sales letter or a simple email may suffice.
Persuasion Guidepost #2: PURPOSE
What is the goal or objective of your copy?
Are you looking to generate an opt-in in exchange for a free lead generation magnet?
A sales lead or appointment for a service business that requires a phone follow-up?
Or a full-on sale for a mid-range information product?
You don’t need a 16-page sales letter to convince someone to give you their email address in exchange for a free report on a subject of interest to them.
But an advertisement or sales letter with the chief goal of making the sale must cover every facet of the product and offer, and overcome every objection a prospect may have.
As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”
Persuasion Guidepost #3: PRODUCT
How much copy do you need to fully explain your product?
Great copy fully explores all the benefits delivered by a product. It leaves nothing out.
So it naturally follows that the more benefits a product has, the more copy is needed to fully explore it…
… To give shape and form to the amazing new life your prospect is going to experience the instant they become the proud new owner of your product…
… And to prove it delivers those benefits with testimonials, and other credibility devices.
Aside from benefits, longer copy allows you to overcome every possible objection.
The more complex or unusual the product, the more you need to explain it and relate it to the user by clearly demonstrating the benefits.
For example, longer copy is best for technical products that require a lot of explanation, so prospects thoroughly understand your product and why they need it…
… Also for higher cost products, in order to touch on all the reasons why it’s in your prospect’s best interest to make such an expensive investment now.
If your product or offer is simple, and requires little explanation, shorter copy will likely do.
Persuasion Guidepost #4: PRICE
How much of an investment are you asking your prospect to make?
Generally speaking, the cost of your product is directly proportional to the amount of copy needed to sell it.
The higher the price, the more copy required to justify that price.
The more consequential a purchase, the more worries and concerns you must overcome in the mind of your prospective buyer to set them at ease.
If your call-to-action costs no money, such as taking a free trial or signing up for a newsletter, it’s a simple matter of explaining the offer and getting the action.
More copy would likely just get in the way.
If it requires a considerable investment, your prospect will be intent on making a wise decision.
So you must fully get across the value of your product, while minimizing the price, by comparing the full value of the benefit your product delivers to what the problem is costing your prospect now if he fails to act.
You must provide all the copy needed to overcome his purchase inertia, and no more.
Persuasion Guidepost #5: PASSION
Are you targeting the right audience to begin with?
It’s relatively easy to get attention. It’s far more difficult to keep it for more than a second or two.
Experts differ on the length of the human attention span these days… with some sources placing it below that of a goldfish, at just 8 seconds.
Is that true?
I don’t know, but it’s hard to argue against the human attention span rapidly declining in our highly digitized world.
That’s led many to pronounce long copy dead.
It just doesn’t get read, they say… no one has the attention span, so why bother?
But as Howard Gossage, an advertising innovator during the Mad Men era of the 60s was fond of saying, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”
How else do you explain the lengthy 5,000-word-plus feature articles in the hundreds of magazines that populate store shelves?
If long copy didn’t work, magazines and newspapers would have long gone out of business.
The same is true with books.
Consider J.K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A hefty 257,045 words.
And Stephen King’s, The Stand? Would you believe an astounding 472,376 words?
We read what is interesting to us. We ignore what is not.
The same is true with sales copy.
If we visit a website that’s relevant and useful to us, we’ll stop and read every word of the copy if it’s interesting enough.
Yes, even if it’s a sales page.
If it’s not, we’ll find something else to read.
And remember, the absolute best way to sell is to tell stories, and provide useful and helpful information in the copy itself.
By their very nature, stories take more words to tell.
So don’t worry about the 99% of people who won’t read your long copy. You’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for the 1% of people who can make you rich.
Be unique. Be interesting. Tell lively, rich stories they can relate to.
Avoid stodgy, lifeless, and boring at all costs.
Above all, target the right market with a topic that deeply interests them.
So what side wins the long copy vs short copy debate? Maybe that’s the WRONG question…
In the final analysis, the only rule of copy is that there are no rules.
In one instance, short copy will triumph… in another, long copy will reign supreme.
Frankly, I think it’s time the “long copy/short copy” debate were dead and buried, because it’s entirely the wrong question to ask.
The real question is…
What will achieve the highest and best response for the situation at hand?
If you don’t know the answer, you simply haven’t done your homework.
You haven’t asked the right questions.
What do you think?
Is the long form sales letter or presentation dead?
Have people grown immune to selling and persuasion?
Has our frenzied, hyper-achieving, multi-tasking, instamatic society rendered long-form sales copy useless and ineffective?
Or is it simply a matter of understanding buyer psychology and giving people what they want?
I’m sure this post will rub a few “outliers” the wrong way. Maybe even push them to the point of violence, and committing bodily harm.
Perhaps, even you.
But before you kick the cat or smash your keyboard against the wall (or get busy writing that long form sales letter you’ve been putting off)… sound off below and leave a comment.
A bouncer, and a few armed guards, have been called in for my protection.
So lay it on me.