How to get a little more "edge" in your copy

17 replies
(This is a little dense, but it will help you out, I promise)

Online the line between sales letters and space advertisements
is blurred. Most marketers are unaware of distinctions I'm
going to make here - and for those writing their own copy or
hiring copywriters being aware of these factors is a little
"edge"... and the way I see it winning battles in the
marketplace is often a matter of having not one big advantage
in your corner, but a bunch of small ways you're "edgeing-out"
your competition. Those edges add up in the minds of
prospects and can tip the scales in your favor so you get
the sale... and your competitor doesn't.


When we say "salesletter" in online parlance generally what
we mean is not the same sort of thing as a classic sales

Follow my thinking here a bit and I think you'll agree.
Even if you don't it will inform your thinking anyway.

You see - a salesletter in the old, direct mail sense, comes
in an envelope. The envelope's job is to get the letter to
the recipient and get itself opened.

Now online there is no envelope - duh! - instead you've got
the headline and the header doing the job of grabbing for
attention. The headlines on online salesletters tend to be
prominent, tabloid-style, scream-out-loud attention getters
(or trying to be) because they serve the same purpose as the
headline in a space ad.

I'll digress a bit here and mention Eugene Schwartz who was
famous for claiming he had an 80% success rate with his
sales letters... but look around and what you'll mostly see
from Schwartz in swipe files and in his book are his space
ads, not sales letters. His biggest winners were letters,
not the famous space ads, but read on and you'll see why
studying space ads is really smart if you run letters on
the internet.

In my opinion the single most important factor in the success
of a sales letter is list selection. Match a valid offer to
a proven list and your chances of success are not bad at all.
Mail to the wrong lists and you'll choke most of the time.

Now online we blather about "targeted traffic" but that's a
pretty vague term and you know this if you've been marketing
online for awhile.

The thing about salesletters - the real old-school kind that
come in an envelope with a brochure, circular, and order
form in there too - with these list selection is really,
really important. More important than all this stuff about
winning headlines.

What got me thinking about this issue was studying Robert
Collier's stuff and I noticed that he didn't much emphasize
writing headlines - because he generally mailed to "house
lists" which were well-matched to the sort of offers he was
making. He didn't emphasize attention-grabbing headlines
because they weren't as important to the format of direct
response he specialized in as they are to space advertising.

Collier's emphasis was firmly on the offer. Collier
always goes-on about the "appeal", and what this means is
the way the offer is presented - usually some sort of angle
that would encourage the reader of the letter to visualize
owning the product - and making the offer as risk-free as

I was reading Drayton Bird's excellent book "How To Write
Letters That Sell" - where Bird, one of the living legends
of direct marketing, does not fixate on headlines at all!

The book is not about space advertising at all, it's about
direct mail letters and it's the only copywriting text I've
read that talks about using a style of writing to "charm"
the reader... which is a hidden factor in effective
copywriting nobody mentions often, and frankly, lack of a
charming style is, in my opinion, a big factor in why a lot
of people writing their own sales letters are frustrated by
low conversions: they simply don't have a style of writing
readers are charmed by.

"Charm" could also be re-defined as "verisimiltude" - defined
as the appearance of truth. In short, the style of writing
powerfully influences whether your prospect believes your
claims or even bothers to read your offer at all. So many
online sales letters presented here for review are tanking
precisely because they don't have the ring of truth, or
charm, in the writing.

If you are using the written word to sell, charm is a factor,
and if your writing lacks charm - which you might thing
of a empathy, zest, excitement... whatever, it's an element
aside-from the offer that makes you want to read. The
catalog (get it) from "J. Peterman" has charm by the

The way I see it the old-school sales letter is a more
subtle form and studying Collier, Bird, and the others who
are masters of true sales letters will help you with your
email marketing - because the intimacy of emailing your own
list (assuming you are a trusted source to your subscribers)
is pretty close to the intimacy of the old sales letters.

With online sales letters where you don't have the luxury of
doing your own pre-sell process, the formula that works is
one with an attention-grabbing headline and a seductive
offer, etc... I have some thoughts about headlines to add
but I'll get to that later. Online headlines need to
accomplish more objectives than space-ad headlines and the
more you're aware of these different purposes the better
you'll be able to discern the elements that make a good
headline for your market.


#copy #edge
  • Profile picture of the author EmmaA
    I agree with you Loren. I don't think it's a straight forward transfer from physical sales letters to online sales letters.

    I believe the envelope is still there online, but it's usually either the ppc ad or the seo listing. Either way there has to be a clear link between the envelope and the sales letter. The information they see before getting to the sales letter has to match the sales letter and pre-qualify them.

    Also I'm not convinced the long physical sales letter is as effective online now. I think the way we browse the internet as opposed to sitting down reading the physical mail calls for a different kind of copy writing.
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    That's a valuable distinction Emma. With some of the most
    successful direct mail pieces the screaming headline has
    been transferred to the outside of the envelope (think
    Readers Digest sweepstakes mailings).

    I've sold some bigger-ticket things online with long letters...
    and I think the higher the price the more useful it is to have
    long copy. In one case I had my phone number on the
    letter and I always closed the sale on the phone, but people
    who bought always told me they read the whole letter
    (last version ran 29 pages) and appreciated my thoroughness -
    and this was to a "licensed" product where I was competing
    with other distributors... some of whom were discounting,
    while I was not.

    A verbose sales letter for a $7 ebook is a bit much though
    I think. When your price gets high enough that your product
    is no longer a "what the heck, I'll bite" sales or an impulse buy,
    then length can work in your favor if you address every objection
    you can think of. Online you can go on an on, which can be
    an advantage if selling something complicated - but the lack
    of length restrictions requires discipline when selling cheaper
    things where people don't want to read a lot of copy.
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  • In testing squeeze pages we found a huge variation depending on whether the traffic comes from a referral or an advertisement. We've seen opt-in rates over 80% of referred traffic. It didn't matter what was on the page, they were going to opt-in.
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  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    There's certainly some good stuff in this post. I'll throw in my $.o2. First, the stuff about charm. I completely agree. People buy from people they trust. The best advice I'd have for people new to copywriting is to visualize a close friend and write your appeal to that person as though it were a letter and you were recommending a great new product you've discovered.

    People are on this board almost everyday looking for suggestions on which book or course they should study. Study as many as you can. But also be sure that you write as much as you can. Only writing gets you there. Work on developing your style. The best advice I ever got was to write to a friend. That allows the real you to come out.

    If you're humble, it will show. If you're a smart-ass that will show too but be sure to temper it so you come across as a 'charming' smart-ass.

    As for the length of a letter, the conventional wisdom holds. That is, whatever it takes. Personally, I'd prefer to be sold with a short pitch but that isn't always possible.

    I've sold hypnosis products in the past. Since the general public really doesn't understand what hypnosis is there's a lot of education that must go with the sales letter. Why? Because many folks believe what they've seen in old movies - that hypnosis is voo doo or mind control.

    And... if you want to have a decent chance of making the sale you've got to educate them so those fears or doubts are quelled. Educating people before they buy isn't new. It's necessary in many markets.
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    • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
      I hate me too posts, but I can't help but saying these are great ideas from everybody who has contributed. - Rick Duris
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    Thanks for your comments and insights folks.

    I'm not bashing the art of writing headlines, btw - it is a
    really important skill to work on. Where the money is,
    however, is at the order form, not the headline.

    As more and more products (especially ebooks and things
    like that) crowd the online marketplace, it's going to get
    harder to cut through the noise in the marketplace - the
    trick is to get into the circle of vendors your prospects
    trust. There's more to it than building a list, but list-building
    is essential to the process.

    Vaynerchuck is a great example of a marketing personality.
    He's profiled in Jay Abraham's latest book, which is worth
    checking out.
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    • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
      Gary V's book CRUSH IT is also worth the read.
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      • Profile picture of the author Buckwheat.corn
        Salesmanship is salesmanship. I don't see much difference between direct response copy online and direct response copy for sales letters mailed to prospects.

        When you look at sales letter sites that made thousands of dollars in sales, they are practically the same copy you use for an offline sales letter. Of course, you have some other formatting issues online but that's about it.
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  • Profile picture of the author markgilbert
    Good stuff Loren. I would only add that the headline, whether it's on the outside of an envelope, the subject of an email, or at the top of a web page give's me REASON for moving on, or investigating a bit further.

    Your point about the offer is actually pertinent to WHY and WHAT should be in the headline or WHATEVER is going to bring me further into the ad copy for MORE. In fact, it supports the reason for the OFFER to be paraphrased in the headline.

    The bottomline today, with information overload is, "What's the bottom line?" At least that's what I'm always in search of
    PUSHY! is the answer to targeted traffic in 2010
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  • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
    Originally Posted by Loren Woirhaye View Post

    "Charm" could also be re-defined as "verisimiltude" - defined
    as the appearance of truth. In short, the style of writing
    powerfully influences whether your prospect believes your
    claims or even bothers to read your offer at all. So many
    online sales letters presented here for review are tanking
    precisely because they don't have the ring of truth, or
    charm, in the writing.
    Loren, I like how you put this. I second that emotion.
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  • Profile picture of the author Doceye
    Next to Gary Bencivenga, Loren Woirhaye is the best name I've ever heard for a copywriter.

    Not much value with my post. However, the observation is making me consider changing my name.


    P.S. Matt Jutras and Rick Duris are right up there too. But the winner has to be Clayton Makepeace. Which sounds both presidential and Native American-ish.

    P.P.S. And I can do Indian jokes since I is one. Well, at least an eighth anyway.
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    • Profile picture of the author CoffeeWithRyan
      Ultimately, the copy boils down to persuasion, doesn't it?
      It's all about netting as many customers as possible from
      a crowd of prospects. I know some who believe that each
      element of copy serves their own little function and
      certainly can be removed or substituted if the function is
      seen as unneeded.

      The headline serves as a "grabber" for attention...
      Certainly an essential for persuasion. If you can't get
      anyone's attention, you obviously persuade no one. The
      conventional AIDA model says the next is Interest, but
      while that might be true, the rest is actually pretty shaky
      stuff really.

      It's just as you said, Loren. There's charm... There's
      believability... There's hype... There's a wild imagination
      going on in the prospect's mind, building excuses for him to
      purchase what he needs. (And of course, the reasons for
      him to refuse to part with his money.)

      Space advertisements and sales letters are almost the
      same thing in the form that they serve the same purpose.
      However, their starting point is essentially different. There
      is a different intensity of interruptive marketing.

      Prospects opening up daily mail probably half-expect a
      sales letter in their inboxes, but when they open your letter,
      they go through the process of unveiling it, unfolding it and
      reading the whole letter.

      Prospects reading a space advertisement have to break
      away from their original task (reading the news or article)
      and then focus on reading the advertisement.

      As such there is probably a subtle difference in the copy
      format. That also brings up some thoughts about the
      Internet's interactivity.

      There are videos, webinars, Flash, Javascript and
      thousands of possibilities out there now, each which can
      be a representative of a salesman in multiplication.

      Would giving the prospect a form of interest-driven quiz
      ultimately lead to a sale? I think this angle was tried by a
      pretty interesting WP plugin I was looking at being
      promoted some time ago here.

      Since copy serves to qualify a pretty large basket of
      customers, interactive copy could be a pretty interesting
      option. For example, when the prospect agrees with
      a bullet point, the whole copy shifts to accommodate.

      Just a thought.
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