Oh the lure and luster of good sales copy. It’s like anticipating an inheritance or buying a lottery ticket that just ‘has to win’. I’m sure that someone is about to head straight to the comments and tell me that writing good sales copy is scientific and not at all like the lottery.
If you pay close attention to what some of the more public copywriters of our era have to say about high quality sales copy, you’ll hear phrases like ‘mint your own money‘ and ‘grab them by the throat and force them to buy‘ or ‘2013% increase in conversions‘.
Of course those phrases are typically part of their sales pitch for a copy writing course and they’re practicing what they preach. For someone interested in writing better copy, those phrases are so tantilizing that they’re hard to pass by.
Books, methods and formulas
I’ve actually read a number of books on the subject of writing sales copy and most of them are really good. Some of them outline methods that you can follow. Others provide formulas. The best books (in my opinion) are those that give more far reaching perspective on life and the human experience. After all, it’s the human experience that really helps us connect with other people and talk to them about benefits.
One of those ‘human experience’ constants seems to be a play on our own weakness. That might be why the elevator pitch works so well. It boils down to this basic format:
I help Name your ideal prospect
… do Some benefit to them/their business
… even if Play on their biggest weakness
An example elevator pitch would go something like this:
“I help entrepreneurs and start ups build profit generating websites with instant ROI even if they have a small budget and are clueless about where to start.”
This won’t get the attention of big businesses and it plays on the almost universal feelings of budget constraint and “where do I start” that most entrepreneurs feel.
Product Launches (or the sideways sales letter as Jeff Walker calls it) can be another effective method for selling to prospects because it incorporates relationship and authority into the sales process in a way that’s natural to many people.
One of the most helpful revelations about writing good sales copy came as I learned to differentiate Benefits from Features. This is especially true for technical products where the proprietor of the product tends to be excited about all the little features he’s built in and forgets to tell the consumer what emotional benefits those features bring.
But this article isn’t really about how to write good sales copy, is it? There’s one crucial component that even the best copy writing books just miss. I think it might be due to the fact that a seasoned copywriter just does it without thinking. Maybe they imagine that it’s a common sense part of the research phase. Maybe they have said it and I missed it for sooooo long. Whatever the case, it’s a real learning experience when the light finally turns on. What am I talking about?
Here’s the embarrasing part
I’m talking about writing the best sales copy in the world for a non-market and wondering what went wrong. It might be more accurate to say writing sales copy, videos and other materials over and over and over for a market that just won’t buy or doesn’t exist.
About 10 years ago I created a website for my running: Maintain Fit Exercise Log. The more time (and money)I invested in the site, the more convinced I was that it was going to be the next big thing. I spent hours of my life (days, weeks and months really) on that “product” confident that the next change would excite the masses and bring in the traffic (and the revenue).
When I finally realized that it was a non-market, I felt both cheated and liberated at the same time. At last I was free to let this beast die and divert my time and attention to new markets for testing. But I’m sure some will ask me to clarify what I mean by a non-market.
Or more specifically, how can you know if you’ve got a non-market? My introduction to this idea of a non-market came when I watched The Magnificent Symphony of Four Parts in 2008. Ed Dale effectively convinced me that I had taken the wrong approach on just about every business I had ever started. Here are two summary points that serve as a good indicator that you’ve got a non-market.
- No competition
- No mature companies/no commercial options
Unfortunately, most people skip this initial research phase when they have a new idea. Instead of figuring out whether there’s a market, whether they can get traffic and whether that traffic will convert, they hole themselves up in the basement and frantically work on developing a product. That’s what I did with Maintain Fit.
The sales copy surprise
When I finally stopped working on any project for which there wasn’t a definite market, I started to see some really worthwhile progress. The traffic was easier to get. The relationships I was forming were more meaningful. The deal flow increased.
What surprised me most of all is that Even Bad Copy Will Sell, if there’s a market. As I tested more and more things, I became exhausted trying to follow the sales copy methods, formulas and models. I finally stopped trying to write sales copy and instead I just wrote what came to me. Was it good sales copy. No, not particularly. But to my surprise it resonated with people and I made sales!
Hopefully, if I’ve motivated you to do anything, it is to Stop tweaking your sales copy for non-markets! If you’ve got a project/business/idea that just isn’t getting traction and you’ve “tried everything”, maybe your idea isn’t really that good after all. Go back to Ed Dale’s advice from 2008 (he covers this every year in The Challenge) and reverse your process.