James Hammond, The Brand Doctor, says:

Why do some sales materials, whether digital or printed, get brilliant results while others are totally ignored? Brand Doctor James Hammond provides some helpful tips on the best way to write sales copy.

In today’s digital marketing arena, content marketing is the focus for much of the writing that takes place. Subject matter usually revolves around creating content for articles, blogs and tweets to inform and engage customers (and potential customers) as well as promoting the business brand. Most of this content is aimed at raising awareness – and hopefully interest  – in the company and its products or services.

But sooner or later, if you’re in business to make a profit, you need to make sales. That requires  writing a different kind of content – copy that is totally focused on persuading the customer to buy.

Whilst many companies outsource their copywriting to professionals, smaller businesses may not have the budget to afford these services. Instead, they rely on themselves or use whatever staff they have to produce sales collateral.

A considerable amount of website, email and printed sales material is truly awful. Loaded with meaningless headlines, painful attempts at humour and boring text, it’s little wonder that most of it is trashed the moment it’s received.

So if you want to write copy that gets results, here are some key points that will help you plan, write and be creative in your approach.

Who are you talking to?

Before you begin writing, you need to be very specific about your target audience. Many writers make the mistake of trying to sell to ‘everyone’. But that is impossible. Every product or service has a particular group of people who are more likely to buy than others and they are the ones you need to focus on.

Understanding who you are addressing is crucial in terms of how you appeal to them. For example:

  • Are you selling to consumers, or businesses?
  • What language do they use – mainly conversational, or highly technical?
  • What role do they play in the buying decision?
  • Can you see in your mind’s eye an individual who represents the kind of people you are aiming at? How would you talk to them if you were sitting in front of them?

By focusing on a relevant person’s profile, crafting a message that demonstrates your knowledge of your overall target audience becomes much easier.

What’s the big idea?

Writing sales copy does not mean cramming in as many sales points in as you can, meandering from one idea to another and overwhelming your readers. The greatest results come from having a single purpose around which you build your sales argument. This central point will depend on what offer you are making:

  • Are you launching a new product or service into the market?
  • Do you have a well-known product you’ve upgraded or redesigned?
  • Have you just started your business and are looking for clients?
  • Are you selling new technology or leading-edge equipment?

Each one of these will need a different way of crafting the sales message. And without having a clear idea of exactly what you want to say, you’ll waste a great deal of time trying to figure out how to say it.

Some years ago, a manufacturer invented a new tyre design. It had many sales points, including a new tread pattern that gripped the road better than existing tyres, a special construction that allowed safer driving in wet weather, longer mileage capability and lower price. The decision was taken to focus the big idea around safety. The sales copy used scenarios such as a windscreen shattering and the car coming to a swift halt, a cyclist swerving in front of a car which was able to stop in time, and many other situations highlighting the tyre’s safety aspects. The tyre quickly became a world leading brand.

Your product or service is good? Prove it.
Just telling people how wonderful your goods are won’t generate sales, but that’s how many approach selling! To write great sales copy, you need to be able to express what makes your product or service better than the competition. Then back it up with proof. Consider the following:

· Is it faster, quieter, more accurate, the most reliable, easier, tastier than the rest?

· Who says so? Existing users, experts, critics or commentators?

· Do you have testimonials or quotes from them to support what you’re saying?

· Have you conducted research, tests or long-term trials?

· What were the results? Do you have reports and other documents to ratify your claims?

Without supporting evidence, your copy is merely self-opinionated puffery. But with the right kind of confirmation and authentication from reliable sources, you’ll be more likely to present a valid case.

WIIFM: Emotional and rational.

Selling anything always comes down to the customer or potential customer asking the WIIFM question. It stands for ‘What’s In It For Me?’. In other words, what benefits does the individual gain by purchasing your goods or services. All too often, sales copy focuses only on features of a product or service. But people are far more concerned about the benefits they’ll derive. The ultimate benefit will always be an emotional one, because our decisions are always led by our emotions. So it’s vital that you connect in your copy on the emotional level.

What kind of emotional needs and wants will your offering fulfil? Overall, people move towards pleasure and away from pain. So does your offering emphasise pleasurable feelings such as hope, trust or confidence, or highlight the emotional pain of missing out on using your goods and the negative results it brings.

However, logic and rationality still play a part. If I’m buying a new car, I want my emotional needs met. But I still need to be assured it has four wheels and an engine. So provide tangible benefits too – and don’t confuse them with features. A benefit is an end result, not what creates it. For example, a product’s sturdy construction is a feature. The benefit is that it won’t break if you accidentally drop it.

Home in on the headline.

The most powerful element in any sales copy is the headline.

So don’t use it as the opportunity to show off your literature skills or write funny quips. You need to get to the point. There are three main categories of headline – in order of what works best – that cover pretty much everything you need to say in a powerful way. Here they are:

  • Headlines offering a benefit.
  • Headlines presenting news.
  • Headlines arousing curiosity.

Match these up with Rudyard Kipling’s six serving men – what, why, when, how, where , who – and you have all the parts you need to create great headlines. For example, a famous hair shampoo combined a news approach with the ‘how’ style for its sales copy and wrote: ‘Seventy of your hairs will drop out today. How are you looking after the rest?’ A benefit approach using the ‘why’ element could say: ‘Our xyz product gives you superior results. Here’s why.’ Or, using the ‘what’ mode mixed with curiosity, how about: ‘What’s the secret to ultimate data security?’

Body copy: make it personal.

Once you’ve got this all-important part of your sales copy sorted, you can go on to write the body – the main part of the sales copy – covering all the benefits and details of your offer, based on what we’ve already covered. The key point here is to make it as personal as you can. Use the word ‘you’ as a keyword, aiming for at least three uses of it to every ‘I’ or ‘we’ you write. Follow the ‘inverted pyramid’ approach to writing the copy: most important points first, details and background information afterwards. That way, even if the reader only scans the first paragraph, they’ll get a good idea of what it’s about.

 So, what do you want them to do?

It’s unbelievable how many sales letters, web landing pages, emails and other sales copy ends with nothing except contact details. It’s a waste of time to write a selling message unless you have a CTA – a Call To Action – for your readers. Do you want them to phone, email, visit your store, fill in a coupon, agree to a meeting, or get a free trial of your product or service? Make your CTA crystal clear. Add a sense of urgency where you can: ‘Only ten left, so buy now’ or ‘Hurry, offer ends midnight on Friday’, ‘I only have room for one more client, so let’s meet soon.’

Every day we dump hundreds of sales messages aimed at us, mainly because they’re not interesting, don’t address our needs and wants, and are generally boring. Using the above tips may not make everyone want to buy your product or service, but you’ll definitely improve your chances of creating an impact with your potential buyers. Here’s to your successful sales copywriting!


Brand Doctor: A brief bio.

I’ve spent nearly 40 years in advertising, marketing, design and branding. Starting life as a graphic designer and copywriter, I worked for Top-100 companies. I then progressed to heading up brand consultancies responsible for sales and marketing, branding, corporate identity and advertising for Yellow Pages, Virgin, AVIVA, EMI and British Telecom to name a few.

Throughout the years, I’ve also helped smaller businesses dramatically improve profits through building a powerful brand. (Not-for-profit organisations have seen their donor income increase using my brand approach too.)

I’m also a qualified psychotherapist. How people think and behave is crucial to knowing how to brand a business, and with 15 years of experience in the field of psychology, I'm better equipped than most to deliver brands that connect and engage with customers.

Psychology is a rare ingredient in marketing, but it should really lead the way. My psychotherapy work greatly influences the approach to branding I teach and formed the basis for my international best-selling book Branding Your Business.

‘James gave two consecutive keynotes for the past three years at our annual Indonesian Superbrands Conference. He is a breath of fresh air, bringing clarity and understanding to an audience of 400 senior marketing executives hungry for knowledge of ways to create leading-edge business and branding strategies.

James also gave two brilliant keynotes on the subject of sustainability, in advance of his new book The Starfish Business. He is now a Member of the Board of Advisors, Most Valued Business Indonesia, an exciting new initiative to recognise brands not just for their revenue, but for their social responsibility.

Whenever James comes to Indonesia, his fans eagerly await the latest from the Brand Doctor – and they are never disappointed. Thanks James – and good luck in all you do.’

– Alistair Speirs OBE
Chairman, Superbrands Indonesia
and Most Valued Brands

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