There are 5 steps to creating persuasive copy. It's not about being a fancy writer. It's about answering the right questions, in the right order.
1) What does your customer's life look like before, and after, they discover your product?
2) What are the benefits of your features?
3) Why is it just like them to buy this product?
4) Why are you the perfect person to sell this product?
5) Why is now the perfect time for them to buy?
All successful products improve a customer's life by...
1. Solving or avoiding a problem.
2. Making them feel better.
3. Improving their social status.
Let's look at how your product will improve your customer's life in each of these areas. We'll cover before and after separately.
Q: Describe the problem your customer has from a *technical or practical* point of view before they discover your product. What are they struggling to do? What's the situation they have? What are they trying to change?
A: Right now the problem is...
Keep in mind, that if your customer's problem isn't strong enough, and urgent enough, they won't be motivated to seek out and pay for a solution.
Example: iPod You like to listen to music but your CD Walkman only lets you carry one album at a time and it frequently skips if you're being active. There are new MP3 players on the market but they are super hard to use.
Q: Describe your solution to the problem from a *technical or practical* point of view. What will your product let them have? What will they be able to do? How will the situation change after they discover your product?
A: In the future you'll be able to...
Example iPod: With the iPod you can carry your entire music collection with you and it never skips when you're being active. It's an MP3 player but our software and hardware design makes it super easy for anyone to use.
Q: Describe how the problem makes your customer *feel* before they discover your product. Are they angry, afraid, sad, disgusted?
A: Right now the problem makes you feel...
Until you can empathize with a customer's emotional pain, its very hard for them to believe that you have a viable solution and can make them feel better. And unless there is an emotional discomfort, there is rarely any motivation to buy a solution.
Example iPod: It's frustrating not being able to carry all your favorite music with you when you leave the house. It's annoying when your walkman CD's skip while you're dancing. Trying to work out how complicated MP3 players work makes people feel stupid.
Q: Describe how your solution will make the customer *feel* after they discover your product. Will your product help them feel calm, safe, joyful, trusting?
A: In the future you'll feel...
Example iPod: Music is the soundtrack of your life, an iPod allows you to express yourself wherever you are, and whatever you're feeling. The software makes you feel in complete control of your entire music collection. You're free to move and free to dance without your music skipping a beat.
Q: Describe how the problem affects your customer's *social status* before they discover your product. Are they an outsider, uncool, ridiculed by the group, embarrassed by their lack of something, afraid to be left behind?
A: Right now you might feel... in front of...
We don't just measure ourselves against our own values. We measure ourselves by the values of our family, peers and community. So our social status is about how capable we feel in front of the people who matter to us. And how confident they feel about us.
Example iPod: Swapping cassettes and CD's with your friends feels a little outdated these days. But the new digital MP3 players are so complex only a rocket scientist would understand them.
Q: Describe how your solution will improve your customer's *social status*. Will your product help them become a leader, be cool, admired and respected, more valued by the group after they discover your product?
Example iPod: The iPod design is slick and sophisticated, this is a device for people who really care about music. You can be cool, whatever music you love to play.
As makers we often think about our products in terms of their features. But features make products into objects or commodities. They say more about the makers process than the buyer's desires.
Our job is to make your customers feel uniquely hopeful that they are moving towards their deepest goals. To do that we focus on benefits not features. Benefits get customers excited about what they can do, what they can achieve and who they can become.
Q: What are your product's main features & what are the human benefits of each one?
Feature: 0.2 inch thick 5 Gb Hard Drive.
Benefit: Big enough for your entire music collection.
Feature: Firewire connector.
Benefit: You can download an entire CD to your iPod in 10 seconds.
Feature: Rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.
Benefit: 10 hours of continuous music playing.
For a customer to spend their hard earned money, your product needs to feel *consistent* with their identity and personality. It has to feel "just like me to buy this". There are 3 things you can do to trigger that feeling.
1. Demonstrate consistency with your customer's values, world view and previous purchases.
2. Demonstrate that your product is approved by other people who are just like them.
3. Demonstrate that your product is approved by people your customer looks up to. Heroes, celebrities and experts.
Q: What are the values, world views, or previous purchases that make it consistent for your customer to buy your product?
A: If you believe X / If you own Y... Then you'll love...
What we're saying here is, "If you love product X then you will also love our product.", "If you believe Y, then you will love our product.", "If you own Z, then owning our product is the obvious choice."
Example iPod: If you love music, you'll love iPod.
Example yoga mat: If you're a conscious consumer you'll love our new bamboo fibre yoga mat.
Example jerky: If you're passionate about paleo, you'll dig our preservative free beef jerky.
Q: What is the experience of a typical customer who has benefitted from your product? (Use either through a testimonial, case study or illustrative scenario.)
A: This is Bob. Bob is just like you. Bob thinks this product is splendid because...
Make a determined effort to collect and present credible testimonials, they are an essential selling tool. And if appropriate to your product, more detailed case studies of how your product solved your customer's problem.
A case study follows the same format as your own sales pitch, but uses your customer's own words as a more credible and trustable source of the information.
If you don't have any customers yet, use an illustrative scenario.
Example: This is Bob, Bob loves listening to jazz as he commutes on the NY subway every day, but Bob didn't have enough pockets to carry around his cassette collection, so he tried the new iPod and he loves how...
Example iPod: (It also helps to visually show your customer's peers.) The iPod TV and outdoor ad campaigns featured a wide variety of customer types, enjoying different music genres (pop, dance, jazz, classical) demonstrating visually that whatever your musical tastes, other people just like you also enjoyed their music through iPods.
Q: How can you demonstrate that your product (or the value it represents) is endorsed by someone high up the social hierarchy, an expert, authority, celebrity or hero?
A: Betty is an expert/hero. Betty also believes in the same values as us...
Example: U2, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other musical heroes were used extensively to promote the iPod launches.
If you can't demonstrate celebrity endorsement yet, show how the values and beliefs behind your product are shared by those celebrities. You can often do this by creating content, like an interview, with someone in an authority position and talking with them about your shared values. Association rubs off, you do not necessarily need explicit endorsement to get started.
Example: Apple's Think Different campaign, one of the most successful of all time, merely alluded to the shared values of a wide variety of historical icons like Ghandi, Picasso, Einstein etc.
Your customers are looking for change in their life. But they don't want to go through the discomfort that comes with creating that change. That's why they go looking for a ready made solution.
Through your product, you are offering to do the hard work for them. You are stepping up to be the champion who fights this battle on their behalf. So you must explain why you care, and how you're qualified to solve their problem.
Q: Why are you the perfect person/team/company to solve this problem?
A: I'm the perfect person to solve this problem because...
How are you qualified to solve this problem? Why are you committed? How is this personal for you? Why is it about more than making money? Be vulnerable and human. Do not try to sound corporate and professional.
Example: Steve Jobs positioned almost every hardware device Apple produced as a solution made "to scratch our own itch". The first Apple computers were "made from spare parts in our garage for us and our friends".
Example: Similarly, the iPod was positioned to take advantage of the iTunes music library software that came before it, "we made it for ourselves because no other device was up to the job."
If your customer is on the fence, it's much easier for them to procrastinate than it is for them to commit. Once they leave, the chances of them coming back plummet. So always consider having a time sensitive reason why it's better for them to act now, not later.
Q: Why is this the perfect time for them to buy?
A: Buy now and benefit from...
Example: If you buy now you'll gain something extra...
"Sign-up and for today only you'll receive this bonus"
Example: If you buy right now we'll reduce the price...
"Half Price Holiday Sale"
"Book your holiday in winter for 30% off"
Example: If you buy right now you'll be special...
"Pre-order and be the first to receive."
"Exclusive access for the first 100 ticket holders."
Example: If you don't buy now, the opportunity will disappear...
"One offer, one time"
"New Year's Day Clearance Sale"
"Only 10 Places available"
At this stage, you should have all the raw materials for a persuasive sales story.
All that's left is to edit and polish the answers you've written down into a cohesive sales narrative. That's not easy to teach, but here are the questions I'm usually asking with each quick edit...
Does this flow like a human conversation?
The goal is talk, plainly and helpfully to your customer. Don't try to be salesy. The benefits you offer should be evident through answering the questions we asked clearly. If you find yourself using exclamation points!!! tone it down. If you've written your answers in shorthand, flesh them out as if you're writing an email to a friend or a family member.
Is the focus on them, not you?
Our first instinct is always to think and write from our point of view. Us, talking about our product. But this piece of writing is about the customer. It's about their problems, and their dreams, and should be focused on them far more than us and our product. Check how frequently you use "I, us, our, we, me, my" in your copy. And make sure the balance is in their favor. Lots of "You, your". Our product is just a means to make their life better. We are not the hero of the story. Our product is not the hero of the story. The customer is the hero of the story. At best we are a friendly wizard offering a tool to help them on their life journey.
Have you dealt with any likely objections?
There's often a tendency to sweep reality under the carpet and think that a sales pitch has to be 100% positive. But your customers will be reading your copy with their cynical head on. Read through your copy and ask yourself, where are the cynical people going to be most cynical? Or, what will the haters hate? It's up to us to identify those points and speak directly to them. To quell people's fears and argue our case when and where doubt is likely to arise.
Have you edited for emotion?
Because we're stuck in our own perspective and we've likely been immersed in building our product, our first draft often reads like a dry, boring technical manual. Selling products, is not the same as releasing free open source products. People don't buy based on what the manual says the product can do. They buy because we move them emotionally. Because we empathize with their problem and social standing better than the competition. And because we paint a more compelling picture of the future world they want to live in. Make sure your copy reads more like it was written by Kirk, than Spock. Lead with emotion, justify with logic.
How sophisticated is your customer and does your copy match?
Is your product a totally new concept the market is unfamiliar with? Is it something they are familiar with but haven't purchased? Is it something they are used to buying from someone else? This is what we call "sophistication" and making sure you really know how sophisticated your customer is, is important to talking with them in the right way. Even when you understand their sophistication, the tendency is to write as if your customer is as familiar with the product as you are. They very rarely are. The product is your life, it is a minor, temporary thing to them. Write accordingly, as if they are your Granny, or young nephew or niece.
Have you created compelling headlines?
Once you've put together the rest of your pitch, pull out the most compelling idea and use it as your headline. You may have several options and be unsure, that's fine. Test them all. Let the customers tell you, through their actions, what they care about. It's fine to test a dozen different headlines and see which get people to read, and act. In most cases, the headlines main job is to confirm the user is in the right place, peak their interest and get them to read the sub-header. The sub-header's job is to get them to read the first line of copy.
Do your introductions sell the page?
If a user does nothing but scan each page on your website for 2 seconds, they should understand your pitch from the headlines and sub-headers alone.
Are you showing as well as telling?
Your images should be telling the story of your story, all on their own. Persuasion is very much about demonstration. And demonstration is a visual thing. Don't just say your product solves problem X, show it solving problem X. Show happy customers using your product. Show yourself. People respond to people, especially when we are trying to develop trust. We are heavily wired to notice people's faces and eyes. (Or the lack of). If you're technically minded and more comfortable dealing with things than people, you'll have to be aware of, and compensate for that.
Have you asked for the sale?
We tend to avoid situations where we might be rejected. It's hard to separate someone rejecting our product, from rejecting us. So subconsciously lots of people avoid actually asking for the sale. Every page on a site should be focused on the outcome we want. Whether that's the sale, of some other action that moves people down a funnel towards a sale. Be clear, and big and bold about asking for the sale at the beginning and end of every page. Never leave a visitor at the end of a page wondering what to do next.
Finally, remember that marketing is a process.
It is not a one off event. We make assumptions, we polish our copy, then we test. Quickly and often. And with each test we learn something real and we adjust our pitch accordingly. Over time we come to understand our customer and their deepest drives and motivations. The more we understand them, the more we can tailor our solutions to fit their problems like a glove.
I really hope this framework has been useful to you. If it has, please share it with your friends and colleagues. If you feel like you'd benefit from getting a fresh set of eyes to give your rough draft a boost, consider getting some fast, affordable, one-on-one assistance.