Starting Copy With A Question

21 replies
Has anyone split tested starting your sales letters with a question vs. no starting with a question. To me, starting with a question immediately throws up a red flag that it's a sales pitch. I'd imagine that the sales letter that does not start with a question converts higher. Just curious if anyone has data on this theory.
#copy #question #starting
  • Profile picture of the author IDoTheLegWork
    One of the most successful letters in history starts with a
    question: "Do you make these mistakes in English?"

    so I think your underlying assumption is proved false.

    The truth is you have to test. No one can tell you one way
    or another for a particular copywriting problem.
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    • Profile picture of the author djs13
      There's a difference between using a question in a headline and using a question as the first sentence. I'm not totally sure which one you are referring to.

      IDoTheLegWork is referring to a very successful ad that uses a question as a headline, but the first sentence of the copy is not a question.

      I personally like Joe Sugarman's strategy of using a short, interesting sentence as an opener.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    One of the best ways to begin a sales letter is with a question. Sales
    people know that asking their prospects questions, not only builds
    trust, but also extracts important information on which to base their
    appeal.

    Consider this opening of a sales letter for a fictitious product that
    restores hair in bald men:

    Dear Friend,

    Are you worried about your present hair loss? Have you already
    tried hair restoration products that didn’t live up to their claims?
    Are you embarrassed to look in the mirror? Are you about to settle for
    the myth that ‘this is just genetic and nothing can be done about it?

    As you read through each question you can see how the copywriter tries
    to enter a conversation with the reader by showing that he knows what
    concerns him. The prospect also assumes that since you raised the
    questions that you have the solutions to his problems.

    In the case of a sales letter you cannot ask the prospect questions
    expecting to get a live answer, since the letter is a one way
    conversational tool. But asking the questions that the prospect is
    already asking helps build rapport and gets his attention.

    Some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers asked the correct
    questions that led them to discover some of the laws of nature that we
    take for granted today. Asking questions early in the sales letter can
    also cause the reader to think in the direction you want him to
    follow.

    Since you are trying to build rapport at the beginning of the letter
    you want to ask questions with a definite ‘yes’ answer. Questions such
    as, “Do you want to make more money than you are making now?” will get
    the client nodding in agreement with you. The answer to the questions
    should also be the main benefits that is offered by your product or
    service.

    Questions also help to engage the reader early in the sales process
    because he is forced right away to think about the answers. The
    copywriter must assume that readers come to the letter with a
    preoccupied mind and the only way to break through this natural
    barrier is to tune the mind to a different frequency. Questions are
    therefore great attention-getters.

    Another effective way to use questions in the sales letter is to raise
    objections in the form of questions and then answer them one by one.
    This is one of the ways that I have used the Frequently Asked
    Questions (FAQ) for clients and incorporate these into the main sales
    letter. If people keep asking these questions this means that your
    sales message is not answering them and these questions are really
    objections to buying your product.

    For example, if you are selling a software product that helps people
    create videos to be uploaded to YouTube and prospects keep asking how
    large are the video files output from your software, then this
    question is one objection you must meet squarely.

    In that case I would suggest that you raise the question: “Does you
    software produce high quality videos with small file sizes?” I would
    then immediately answer that question by illustrating the file size
    inputs compare to the output and comment on the quality versus the
    file size.

    Questions are powerful sales tools that are frequently taken for
    granted and not used often enough. Asking a question can often engage
    a reader more than simply sharing facts with them. And getting
    attention these days is one of the toughest battles to be fought
    online.

    -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    I was just reading the Gary Halbert (first) newsletter and counted over 75 questions
    in that one letter. Gary loved to use the question and answer strategy to develop
    rapport and carry you along HIS path. Here's an excerpt:

    What's that? You say you did catch all that? You say you're already doing something similar or at least you're going to start?

    Now listen: Did you also notice how, by attaching something to the top of my letters, I am able to immediately capture and focus my reader's (your) attention? Did you also notice, however, how I made sure the attachment "made sense" (no pun intended) within the context of the rest of my letter? Did you notice how neatly my copy made the transition from the attachment (a penny) to the subject (getting money in the mail) of my letter?
    -Ray Edwards

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    • Profile picture of the author Will Compton
      Yes, asking a question in the opening sentence is a good way to engage the reader... it must be a question they are already asking themselves... or would be interested in the answer.
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      • Profile picture of the author MikeHumphreys
        Opening with a question can work really well. One thing a lot of people do wrong with using questions is they ask ones which are open-ended.

        A close-end question (i.e. "Do you want to make more money?") has a predictable answer for the vast majority of prospects and you can structure the copy that follows the question accordingly.
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      • Profile picture of the author KreativCopy
        Originally Posted by Will Compton View Post

        Yes, asking a question in the opening sentence is a good way to engage the reader... it must be a question they are already asking themselves... or would be interested in the answer.
        I agree. Or if it isn't a question they are already asking themselves, then one that they perhaps should be (or one you can persuade them that they should be). Identifying what that is will depend on the target audience and your research.

        Also, some closed ended questions with predictable answers don't necessarily work. When I get emails that say something along the lines of 'Hi, would you like to increase sales and make a shed load of money'...I just say to myself 'yep' and then press the delete key. Or sometimes I just read them for a laugh.
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        • Profile picture of the author splitTest
          Originally Posted by KreativCopy View Post

          When I get emails that say something along the lines of 'Hi, would you like to increase sales and make a shed load of money'...I just say to myself 'yep' and then press the delete key. Or sometimes I just read them for a laugh.
          I'm with you on that. A lot of times question leads look just like really lazy copywriting.

          However, just like any other kind of leads and headlines, it depends on what you do with it.

          "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?" is great because it engages the reader's curiosity.

          Question leads can be great... or terrible.
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  • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
    Originally Posted by JaredRhodenizer View Post

    Has anyone split tested starting your sales letters with a question vs. no starting with a question. To me, starting with a question immediately throws up a red flag that it's a sales pitch. I'd imagine that the sales letter that does not start with a question converts higher. Just curious if anyone has data on this theory.
    Try turning your question around.

    Put the burden of proof on yourself.

    That'll give you your answer.

    You're one guy on a forum who thinks it sends up a red flag.

    Meanwhile, thousands of successful advertisements over the last several decades have started with a question.
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  • Profile picture of the author misterme
    Originally Posted by JaredRhodenizer View Post

    Has anyone split tested starting your sales letters with a question vs. no starting with a question. To me, starting with a question immediately throws up a red flag that it's a sales pitch. I'd imagine that the sales letter that does not start with a question converts higher. Just curious if anyone has data on this theory.
    Your post starts with a question.

    Anyway, what you personally like, what you "imagine" - there are billions of people on the earth. Thousands in your market. If you cast them as feeling and imaging the same way you do, then you're only selling to yourself.
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by misterme View Post

      Your post starts with a question.
      LOL. My kids ask me all the time, "Daddy, can I ask you a question?"

      Then I'll say, "You just did!"

      Huh?

      -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author gjabiz
    What is this woman doing?

    Seen here:

    Bud Weckesser: Master of Case Study Marketing

    It sold millions of dollars of books.

    The question as a headline depends on the TARGET. And probably more important, where the target meets the promotion.

    In print media, it is a good stopper. Slows down the eye, arouses curiosity.

    Yes, use the question...when it works. HOW to know? Test.

    gjabiz
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  • Profile picture of the author dlinq
    Sales pitches should be natural.

    You should be looking to support or help others with your ideas. When they ask how you know so much you tell them. It just so happens that you work in the field that is why you know so much. When you help people they are more likely to trust you and want to deal with you at a later date.

    So to answer your question I feel you are over thinking it, be natural.
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    • Profile picture of the author The Niche Man
      I just watched 11 infomercials in the last 2 days, I play them in the background while I'm working sometimes. And out of the 11 infomercials I watched 9 began with a question.

      Check it out next time you see one. That alone tells you question openings work. At least for now. I wonder if they'd be as effective once everyone starts doing it? Stay Tuned!
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      • Profile picture of the author Memetics
        Do you think opening with a question is a good idea? Really?

        Well you would be right. The reason? Well it's complicated but it's all to do with emotion.

        Emotions make people act, and the bigger emotion the bigger the act.

        Would you run naked down your street now? Probably not. Now suppose you were getting out of the tub and saw a drug fueled psycho smashing up your bedroom with a samurai sword?

        Would you do it now? You bet you would. The reason is that the emotion fear took charge of you and got you out of danger. It's a hardwired heuristic which has protected your genes since year dot. It decided your conscious mind (the critical factor) had to be relieved of command temporarily and you could worry about what the neighbours would think after the fact. It knows any delay in acting would jeopardise your life.

        An extreme example all be said; but lower the bar a bit and we have another type of threat.

        "The Question"

        It can range from a guy in your face growling "What the **** you looking at?" to a colleague asking "How are you progressing with the XYZ account?"

        Why's he asking? Has something been said? Does he know something I should know?

        Either way you now have an emotional response and the window to the unconscious mind is open. Welcome to the place where decisions are made. The critical factor/ BS detector/conscious mind has now taken a back seat, and if your copy is good and flows well, then then it's got past the guardian at the gate and it can now work it's magic.

        Incidentally: if you think of the conscious mind - which some call "free will" - as being more of a "free won't" then you won't go far wrong in understanding how and why copywriting works.

        But why stop there with just a question? Now that you have your foot in the door lets amp up the emotional salience of the question by linking it up to some other emotional triggers.

        The first one is: Ask a question that the reader will say yes too. You now have the mind in the "house of yes", and if your selling something that's a good place to be. Ask any good car salesman about the "yes set" and how powerful it is in getting a prospect signing on the dotted line.

        The second one? How about a cognitive bias? To quote Wikipedia...

        Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways. Cognitive biases can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.

        In other words: Cognitive biases are glitches in the mental system that act on us unconsciously and influence our behavior beyond the remit of the critical factor [to some extent] and therefor another unconscious trigger to utilise in our copy.

        Here's a nice one.

        Na├»ve realism The belief that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don't are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased.

        Thirdly..how about an "awareness word?" Awareness words get a reader inside their own head and help link whatever you're asking of them to connect to as much of their belief system as possible. I have found through trial and error that the best one to use is the word Notice; as in "Have you ever noticed that...."

        In summary here's an example for someone writing for the insurance niche using all three principles.

        Have You Ever Noticed How Some Insurance Companies Have More Interest In Getting New Customers, Than looking After The Ones They've Already Got?

        List of cognitive biases - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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  • Profile picture of the author Abhinay Reddy
    Alright so here's my take Jared,

    I do believe that using a question in the first sentence makes it look like a sales letter.

    Because, i myself think of it that way.

    So, instead of using a generic question in the first sentence, you must use a pattern interrupt question.

    A question which basically gets the attention of the reader.

    Now, a pattern interrupt can be done in many ways.

    Either through using an controversy, or a statement which has no real relationship with the letter.

    This works wonders.

    Anyways do your testing.

    And let us warriors know the results.

    Ab
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    • Profile picture of the author nooman ahmed
      People know if they are going to be pitched to regardless of whether or not you use a question as the headline. The question you should be asking yourself is, "is my headline intriguing enough for buyers (potential buyers) to read on?" Now of course the rest of the copy must be good, but they wont even read the rest if you don't have a killer headline. And I prefer questions in headlines as i feel that it makes the reader engage with the sales pitch.

      Hope that helps.
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      • Profile picture of the author Abhinay Reddy
        Originally Posted by naazim ahmed View Post

        People know if they are going to be pitched to regardless of whether or not you use a question as the headline. The question you should be asking yourself is, "is my headline intriguing enough for buyers (potential buyers) to read on?" Now of course the rest of the copy must be good, but they wont even read the rest if you don't have a killer headline. And I prefer questions in headlines as i feel that it makes the reader engage with the sales pitch.

        Hope that helps.
        Naazim, there's a difference between actually selling something useful which solves the prospects needs and just pitching.

        A prospect can very well see through that.

        And seriously you know what.

        I don't think the long form sales letter is converting very well right now.

        The Sideways sales letter is the way to go. It's a better way to design sales letters.

        It converts pretty well though
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    • Profile picture of the author Memetics
      Originally Posted by Abhinay Reddy View Post

      Alright so here's my take Jared,

      I do believe that using a question in the first sentence makes it look like a sales letter.

      Because, i myself think of it that way.

      So, instead of using a generic question in the first sentence, you must use a pattern interrupt question.

      A question which basically gets the attention of the reader.

      Now, a pattern interrupt can be done in many ways.

      Either through using an controversy, or a statement which has no real relationship with the letter.

      This works wonders.

      Anyways do your testing.

      And let us warriors know the results.

      Ab
      Using a pattern interrupt on an opening question is far to early.

      Pattern interrupts are used either for refractionation or in the middle of a nested loop.

      Putting one right at the start is like starting your sales funnel with a spiral staircase!

      I understand where you're coming from in that it will attract attention due to it's novelty, but remember the mind will be at it's most critical at the beginning of the letter, and introducing an incongruity might just stop it dead in its tracks and interest.
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      • Profile picture of the author Abhinay Reddy
        Originally Posted by Memetics View Post

        Using a pattern interrupt on an opening question is far to early.

        Pattern interrupts are used either for refractionation or in the middle of a nested loop.

        Putting one right at the start is like starting your sales funnel with a spiral staircase!

        I understand where you're coming from in that it will attract attention due to it's novelty, but remember the mind will be at it's most critical at the beginning of the letter, and introducing an incongruity might just stop it dead in its tracks and interest.
        Well, I agree with that!

        But look along with a compelling headline, if you could only use a story to bring the reader into our world it would be easier to sell.

        And Pattern Interrupts should be used in sales videos, not sales letters, sorry about that.

        A story can be used to induce a emotional response in the prospects mind.
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  • Profile picture of the author Abhinay Reddy
    Btw you can use Pattern Interrupts like

    "From the desk of:-
    so so so"

    This works as well.
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