All righty, then. Sleeves rolled up, notes in front of me, the dog snoring…
Time to answer those questions people sent me last month. Heck, I solicited ’em in the first place, and then ignored my duty.
There were essentially four questions, and I shall tackle them in no particular order:
1. What’s the value of having a real “expert” be your go-to guy in your copy, as opposed to a “nobody”?
Answer: There’s no real inherent value to either. As a copywriter, you work with what you have. If I’m on a job with a real expert involved, I focus on him. If the main talent is a cipher, unknown to the rest of the world, then I use that.
It’s all about salesmanship.
An expert offers “insider” advice and tactics. He’s an accepted “know it all” (in a good way, hopefully) in a small community of people who are very, very good at what they do… and are recognized for it. You have testimonials from other famous experts and celebrities.
The guy has pedigree.
And what he brings to your pitch is “authoritative” credibility. He has it, can prove it with a track record, and his name may be well known. His name may even have attained verb status, as in “you need to Carltonize your bullets.” (I heard someone say that at a seminar, and felt so proud.)
An example: You’re selling health stuff, and you have Jack LaLane as an involved spokesperson. (Okay… you don’t remember Jack? How about Arnold Schwartzenegger then.) The reader trusts the word of the expert, because his word has weight — he’s known for knowing his stuff… and if he says this new product is great, then by God it’s probably great.
A nobody , on the other hand, offers secrets that — if you’re lucky — either contradicts the common wisdom, or eclipses it with results. He’s an outsider, but can prove what he says through testimonials from regular people (and maybe even a few brave famous ones), and has a track record that may be hidden from most people… but is so startling that you are forced to pay attention.
If you’re really lucky, this nobody will actually have a bit of notoriety to him.
What he brings to your pitch is a well-deserved “screw you” to the status quo. Of all the hundred and something golf instruction products I’ve written copy for, all but ONE featured nobodies. (The one expert we used was a nightmare to write for, because he was terrified that my “outrageous” copy might tarnish his precious “reputation”. Result: The ad bombed. Too timid.)
I love working with nobodies who have a story. “How A Skinny Kid From Fresno Accidentally Started Hitting 400-Yard Drives”, or “The Amazing Secrets Of A Champioship One-Legged Golfer”, etc.
What you want, while doing your Sales Detective work, is to flush out the story that will delight that part of your market who DISTRUSTS experts.
In golf, that’s a big damn slice of the market. Because almost every golfer out there has been abused by an “expert” teacher who FUBARed his game for years.
There ARE secrets to playing great golf… but you seldom learn them from the guys who call themselves experts. (No golfer I know really believes that Tiger Woods would ever share anything really good in a magazine article, either. What does Tiger know about the frailties and foibles of the average overweight, nearsighted, arthritic old golfer?)
Instead, the best ads I wrote offered another view — here’s a guy unknown to most of the golfing world, who nevertheless is booked as a teacher for the next five years from word-of-mouth, because he has a single lesson he can teach you that will instantly slice 30 strokes off your horrible game, and have you hitting long, straight, gorgeous drives literally overnight… etc.
The biggest mistake people make when using experts in their ads is to assume they can shortcut the selling process. Because, gee, this guy’s an expert. You should fall down at his feet or something.
Doesn’t work. All the expert does is provide with a shorter path to establishing some credibility. But you can’t sell on creditility alone — that only sets up the meatier parts of your pitch. It moves the reader past the doubting stage.
That is, it will if your reader trusts the experts. I don’t know about you, but most of the self-annointed experts I know are fools.
Nobodies can use the experts arrogance against them. “Why Almost All The Experts Are Dead Wrong About…” is a great standard headline. We all tend to distrust snotty experts. Sure, they’re successful and all that, but we have a healthy suspicion they aren’t ever gonna reveal everything they know. They’ll keep the really good stuff for themselves, and toss us crumbs.
And you know what? Often, that’s the truth.
Nobodies HAVE to share it all. Because they’re up against the giants, without awards or fame or recognition from the academy.
It’s easy to understand, as a reader, why a nobody might go overboard to prove to you he really had the goods. And it would be a secret between the two of you — an ongoing “up yours” to the establishment.
This works with almost all markets. Sometimes you want a real doctor to back up your pitch. Other times, you want a nobody to explain why all doctors are wrong.
In the end, you work with what you have to create a killer sales pitch.
2. Why is the first paragraph so damn hard to write?
Answer: Because, after the headline, your opening lines are the hardest part of the pitch.
It’s supposed to be hard.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
(The first person to identify that movie quote gets a free personal email question with me, on anything you want.)
Your headline grabs. The guts of your pitch delivers mounting evidence, both emotional and rational, that your reader must have what you offer, and have it right friggin’ now.
But those guts flow from your opening.
Think of this way: The headline stops your reader. The guts of your pitch is like a greased slide, rushing him toward that wonderful finale where he pulls out his wallet.
The opening, then, is you sitting him down at the top of the slide. And giving him a good shove.
I have a few fall-back openings I use when I can’t think of anything original. (Big secret: These “fall back” lines often perform better than original prose anyway.)
The easiest: The “If/Then” sentence. “If you’re ever wanted to smell like a handsome man and make the ladies faint with desire… then this is gonna be the most exciting message you ever read.”
Shove. Have fun on the slide, Mr. Reader!
Most rookies falter here because they get all caught up in being cute. Cute don’t sell. Selling sells.
Worse, they think they have “time” to go off on a tangent. “In a moment, I’m going to tell you about an exciting opportunity. But first, I want you to get comfortable, because I’m going to talk about my childhood…”
Yawn. Goodbye, Mr. Reader!
Great copy gets delivered in a breathless rush. You don’t want your reader lazing on the chaise lounge, leisurely examining your copy as if it were a tantalizing Pinot Noir, with breezes of blackberry and licorice, joustled by hints of oak and just a kiss of chocolate…
No way. You want him on the edge of his chair, or even pacing the room, about to burst with curiosity and excitement.
A great pitch blows the reader away. Takes him into another world, where he’s lost in his own fantasy of a new and better life, dragged helplessly through ever-increasing reasons-to-buy-now.
When he comes to your take-away, you want him to feel a shiver of sheer terror at the thought of missing out or being denied.
Cuz Reader WANTS. You give Reader. You give to Reader NOW.
(Ah, Mary Shelly would be proud.)
Basically, make sure you’re getting across the notion that you have somethng for your reader. Don’t give away the game, or blow your pitch by letting the air out of your implied secrets.
Just tease him a little. Or, okay, tease him a LOT. Get him so wound up, that he willingly plops down on your greased slide, and begins his wild ride.
(You know, of course, that I cover ALL of this in excruciating detail in my course “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, right? I am constantly amazed that otherwise intelligent people, off on the marketing adventure of their lives, neglect to arm themselves with this world-famous shortcut course on writing killer copy and getting Operation MoneySuck in order. Shame on you if you’re neglecting your success this awful way! Shame!)
3. Does Q&A type copy work?
Answer: I dunno. Seems to be working here.
But then, this ain’t a sales piece (regardless of that last rant).
Actually, I have not used “Question and Answer” copy exclusively in any sales piece I can remember. Just haven’t felt the urge to.
The reason is this: Good Q&A covers what are, essentially, the features and benefits of your product or service.
And I prefer to cover those things in a good round of intense bullets.
But sure, you could substitute questions, with answers, for bullets. Just be sure to stay on target. “Q: Will this help me, since I don’t like people? A: Absolutely! We’ve found that this works even for sociopaths living in caves. Q: Can I use what you teach to trick my co-worker into sleeping with me? A: You betcha! Just follow the easy directions on page 357…”
And so on.
I don’t specifically teach this style, because there’s an easy trap to fall into — you start to assume you “know what the reader is thinking.”
This is bad. Common mistake, and very, very bad. You do NOT know what the reader is thinking. The questions you answer may or may not be foremost in his mind.
If you imply that you are reading his mind, he will distrust you. Hard to complete the sale when your reader is insulted at your insolence and assumptions.
With bullets, no such assumptions are ever made, or implied.
4. What was the speed reading course you took?
Answer: This is in reference to my oft-told story about “reading the entire Torrance Library stacks from Dewey Decimal 400 to 700”. (I may have those Dewey’s wrong, after all these years. What I plowed through was everything in the marketing, sales, advertising and writing sections.)
Of course, I didn’t actually read the entire library, or even those sections. What I did was take an Evelyn Woods course. I never did learn to read really fast, however. My retention stayed abyssmally low. So I would roar through a book, but remember almost nothing.
What the hell good was that?
However, that course had another tactic I picked up that was worth its weight in gold.
Basically, it taught me how to “consume” any single subject at the library. Most people — me included — naturally loathe doing too much research. So we take one or two books that we “think” are good on the subject, and read them. And that’s it — that’s our research.
Bad habit. Much better to haul down EVERY book on the shelves that is even remotely connected with your subject… and go through each one.
You don’t read every word. Just scan (this much I did learn from the Woods’ course) the contents pages, the index, and then blow through the pages. Take three minutes or so. Then make a snap decision (blink!) as to the “value” of that book, and move to the next one. After half an hour, you should have three piles: Really bad books that won’t help you, books you aren’t sure about, and books you know are worth looking at again.
What begins to leap out at you are repeated terms, names, places, etc. that the writers who know what they’re talking about repeat.
In this manner, I found Frank Bettger’s exellent book on selling, for example. I also learned that anyone who praised Claude Hopkins was good, and anyone who doubted classic direct response (long copy, requests for action, coupons, etc) was a moron.
Again… I go through ALL this in the course.
Are you people taking advantage of me in this blog? Sucking up, so I’ll answer all your questions and “accidentally” teach you how to be a killer copywriter?
To quote Super Nanny: You’re being very, very naughty.
Okay, I’m done. Job finished, for tonight. Hope you learned something. Glad I could help. Thanks for reading.
And y’all come back, now, you hear?
John Carlton (whose brain is starting to fritz out on cliches)
PS: Last chance to request info on the new Freelance Course. I’m sending out “sneak peak” pdf.s tomorrow. After that, I’ll be referring you to the site (which WILL be up, right Dave?). And the special offer is gone.