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Persuasion Secrets of Marketing Pros

I’ve started work on a long-term project. The book, tentatively titled “The Persuasion Manifesto” (the name a copycat of the pretentious Cluetrain Manifesto), is a compilation of the most successful persuasive communications techniques ever developed.

My primary research method is to e-mail direct marketers I know who consistently achieve superior response rates and ask them how they do it. My secondary research is a study of the few dozen marketing and psychology books every direct marketer should read, to extract the one or two best gems from each.

Because I may never finish or publish the book, but am getting such good stuff from my e-mail queries, I’m going to reprint some of the best persuasion techniques I’ve collected in this column. So here goes with the first installment:

The “so what” test. After you write copy, read it and ask whether it passes the “so what” test. Copywriter Joan Damico explains: “If after reviewing your copy, you think the target audience would just respond with ‘so what,’ then keep rewriting until they’ll say something like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for. How do I get it?'”

Copywriter’s agent Kevin Finn adds: “When copy is being critiqued, you should ask after each and every sentence, ‘So what?’ It’s a technique that can assist in changing copy to be more powerful.”

Use the key copy drivers. Ensure your copy hits one of the key copy drivers as defined by Bob Hacker and Axel Andersson: fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, anger, salvation or flattery. “If your copy is not dripping with one or more of these, tear it up and start over,” says Denny Hatch.

The drop-in-the-bucket technique. “You have to show that the price you are asking for your product is a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the value it delivers,” says copywriter Mike Pavlish. Fred Gleeck says this is a function of product quality, not just copywriting. “Produce a product that you could charge 10 times as much for,” Gleeck says. “If you really have a product that is so much more valuable than the price you’re charging, it becomes much easier to sell it hard.”

Know your audience. Understand your target market – its fears, needs, concerns, beliefs, attitudes and desires.

“My way to be persuasive is to get in touch with the target group by inviting one or two to dinner for in-depth conversation,” says Christian Boucke, a copywriter for Rentrop Verlag in Germany. “I also call 15 to 40 by phone to get a multitude of testimonials and facts and go to meetings or exhibitions where I can find them to get a first impression of their typical characteristics.”

Write like you talk. Use a conversational, natural style. “Speak in language that’s simple and easy to understand,” says Barnaby Kalan of Reliance Direct Marketing. “Write the way your prospects talk.”

Be timely. “Pay very close attention to goings-on in the news that you can and should link to,” suggests Dan Kennedy in his No B.S. Marketing E-Letter (June 2002). “Jump on a timely topic and link to it in useful communication with present clients, in advertising for new clients and in seeking media publicity.”

Lead with your strongest point. “When I review my writing, or especially others’, I find they almost always leave the most potent point to the last line,” says John Shoemaker. “So I simply move it to the first line. Instant improvement.”

The Tremendous Whack Theory. “I employ Winston Churchill’s ‘tremendous whack’ theory, which says that if you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever,” says Richard Perry. “Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

Build credibility with your reader. “In my experience, the No. 1 key to persuasion is this: communicate trust,” says copywriter Steve Slaunwhite. “If you do this well, you at least have a chance at engaging and persuading the reader. If you don’t do this well, however, no amount of fancy copywriting techniques will save you.”

Don’t use an “obvious lead.” Instead of writing your lead as if you are just starting to talk with the customer, says Bryan Honesty, write as if you were already engaged in a conversation with the customer. Examples: “You have the gift. You just don’t know it yet.” “You can’t quit on your dreams now.” “So why is it so hard for you to lose weight?”

Note: Please e-mail your best persuasive marketing technique to me at [email protected] If I use it, you will receive full credit, of course. Also, to be notified if and when “The Persuasion Manifesto” becomes available, go to www.bly.com and sign up for my free e-zine, Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter.

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