We are a frenetic, multi-tasking, hyper-achieving, constantly-on-the-go society.
And so, we generally prefer pithy sound bites to verbose, grand-eloquent, chest-thumping prose.
Yet, we’ll also gleefully read a 48-page sales letter, magalog, or bookalog if the headline, deck copy, and lead grab our attention. And if it’s a topic that deeply interests us on a visceral level.
Of course, whether or not they read it to the end and act upon its call to action, depends on the copywriter’s ability to keep their interest and increase their desire.
It’s the same reason no one will put down a good book, even if it’s 1,000 pages long.
Indeed, who wants a good book to end?
Bottom line, people will read as much as is available about any subject that’s important to them — emotionally, financially, or intellectually.
Convince people your product can make them richer, prettier, younger, or healthier, among other things (as long as they’re hungry for those promised results), and they’ll find the time to read every word you’ve got to say.
That said, there are times when your sales copy should be short and concise.
There are other times when you need to pull out the big guns and shower your prospect with every titillating detail you’ve got.
So how do you know which is which?
Well, here are five guiding questions – five persuasion guideposts – to ask yourself the next time you sit down to write an email, sales letter, or another promotional piece.
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 for 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 are 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 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 simple email or a short sales letter may suffice.
Persuasion Guidepost #2: PURPOSE
As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”
What is the ultimate goal or objective of your sales copy?
Are you generating an opt-in in exchange for a free lead generation magnet?
Are you trying to get a sales lead or appointment for a service business that requires a phone follow-up?
Or are you going for a full-on sale of 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 it must overcome every objection a prospect may have.
Persuasion Guidepost #3: PRODUCT
How much copy do you need to fully explain your product?
In general, 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.
As well as for higher-cost products, so you can touch on all the reasons why it’s in a prospect’s best interest to make such an expensive investment right now.
If your product or offer is simple, requiring little explanation, short 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 sales copy needed to sell it.
The higher the price, the more copy is required to justify that price.
The more consequential a purchase, the more worry and concern you must overcome in the mind of your prospect to set them at ease.
If your call-to-action requires 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.
In this case, more copy would likely just get in the way.
If it requires a large investment, your prospect will be intent on making a wise decision.
You’ve got to fully get across the value of your product while minimizing the price.
Therefore, you need to compare the full value your product delivers to what the problem will cost your prospect if he fails to act.
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 longer than a second or two.
Experts differ on the length of the human attention span these days, but some sources place it below that of a goldfish at just 8 seconds.
Is this 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 was ignored, then magazines and newspapers would have ceased to exist.
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 interesting, 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.
The Final Analysis…
The only rule for writing sales copy is there are no rules.
In one instance, short and concise will suffice.
In another instance, long and comprehensive will reign supreme.
The question to ask yourself is…
What will achieve the highest and best response to the situation at hand?
And when pondering this question, don’t worry about the 99% of people who won’t read your sales copy, because 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.
And above all, target the right market with the right message.
You’ll find everything else will naturally fall in place.