Thursday, January 10, 2008

Come the revolution... 6 steps to proof yourself against lousy sales offers

Continuing on with all our work in upgrading sales, sales pitches, marketing, ad nauseum...

Look, marketing exists for a single purpose - to help you to improve your life by helping others with theirs. The action is to let them know you have a product which can help them live their life better.

Marketing by itself (if governments would stay out of its way) would actually create World Peace all on its own - since everyone likes to buy great products and improve their lives. Violence and war just cut across the free exchange of goods and services. Any government's job is actually to keep the peace, preserve property ownership, and protect the trade routes - and very little beyond that.

All this crass silliness which goes for Madison Avenue "latest and greatest" is like the "awards" they hand out to movies these days. They just get worse and worse. When the Golden Globes got cancelled and the Oscars became threatened, I wasn't upset.

Movies and what is served up on TV has gotten worse and worse. Ratings have gotten more and more lenient - such that even a "G" rating can have foul language, violence, and various sexual innuendos included. No more "Sound of Music" or "Gone With the Wind."

Movie and TV awards now days do not reward quality, or public service - instead they are rife with political comments (strange bedfellows, that) and have no relation to actual box-office performance and popularity (the strongest metric of public service and inherent value).

It's like the last I heard of the "Cleo's" - that was supposed to be awarded to the best and greatest in advertising. However, it got a reputation of only awarding to companies that ended up going out of business that next year. And the products they advertised didn't sell (and so didn't renew their contract with that advertising company...). The Cleo's are no more - and you should have read about their last "awards event".

Advertising is the same way. It's filled with such garbage that it actually has an incredibly bad name for itself. Sales pages and advertising are both built on the same basics. Once you know how a sales page is built, then you can analyze what is good and bad advertising.

You have to look at the rules which make up a truly good sales pitch and see why they are that way:

Headlines propose solutions to problems people have - they tell the benefit your product will handle. Common sense, isn't it? You are trying to help someone with your product. A product isn't any good if it just rips someone else off.

(I won't diverge here into 17 page e-books of "incredible value" being sold for "the low, low price" of "only $37.95 for a limited time..." -- limited because once people open that package, that person won't "sell" very many more.)

But the best headline, promising the most vital benefit is worse than worthless if you don't deliver that promise. Benefits could be described as "touchy-feel-good" emotional appeals by those hardened cynics out there - but while benefits brush emotional buttons, they do connect with real essential needs as described by Maslov and others.

Sub-heads simply amplify what you've already got there attention with in the headline. They can be simply non-sensical or can actually bring the reader in to what you're offering. The best sub-heads simply set the scene for the story to follow.

If you took Macbeth and it's first scene about witches, you'll have a good example of a headline and it's sub-head. The reader says "What's a Macbeth? Can I get fries with that?" and then gets all involved in three witches foretelling a story about a the death of a Scottish king and what's to happen his progeny. (Now that's a story line - who wouldn't like to be king or solve a mystery?)

The all-time best sales letters are stories. See Collier's letters and compare them to the really memorable ads. Even Volkswagen's "Ugly" series about their Beetle left you wondering what was going to be told about that cheap-but-rugged car next.

Next you build your own credibility. And here's an easy way to see these guys fall on their face. Because their story doesn't hold up. It's either too good, too slick, or unreal. I don't know if you remember those old ads which sold pears, but they start out with the very real slang used in the orchardist industry. One old guy is talking to his partner who has a crazy idea to sell their fruit by mail-order instead of just on the roadside...

Too-slick sales people jump in with all these nice screen-captures of all the money they made with their gimmicks. They don't tell you that they can only help you do anything but "make money in double-handfuls" and "sit back while your deposits just roll in"...

Oh, come on. You have to get inspired and really take action to get anything rolling in this universe. Even Elvis had a long runway of hard work playing backstreet bars before he started any sort of fame for his particular style. Charles Schultz is probably still the most well-known cartoonist today - but how many years and years did he spend drawing kids and a dog?

But as I've said over and over and over, there is a certain small percentage of people who will buy anything once. And that is THE basis of all advertising - and spam. P.T. Barnum knew it and said it more than once - you know, the one about suckers born every minute...

Next you talk about the benefits of your product - not its features. Because in order to get someone emotionally involved, they have to see how it will improve their lives. Emotion is used because this is a short-cut psychologically to get them to act. You are actually just bypassing their logic circuits in order to get them to act on what you tell them at the bottom of the page.

Look over this (rant) above. It gets you into how despicable these lousy so-and-so's are who pollute our emails with garbage. Am I really upset with them? Not really. But the reason I'm writing this is so that you can educate yourself and wise up your friends and family.

Earl Nightingale, Robert Allen, and others say if you just save 10 percent of what you take home each week, just through the laws of compound interest you'd have a million to retire on after about 30 years. (Beats the hell out of Social "Security", doesn't it?) So if I could tell you how to save 10 percent of your income by not buying worthless junk, would it be worth it to you?

Now look over what you just went through in your own mind. That is a sales process. Take a hot-button subject like money and add in another one called "retirement". I just told you how to make a million dollars to retire on. All you have to do is wise up and buy smart. Now you got interested - unless you are already rich...

Continuing on --

Next on the list is testimonials. These are used to show how great your product is and how the reader should buy it. Often these are done by (paid-for) celebrities-as-prostitutes who may or may not have used the product. Or they are simply made-up people (or character actors) - or affiliates who are working to sell that same product themselves. Or a family member, or a "friend" or, or, or...

The reason you use testimonials is because you can't give them the product to try out. (Oreck does just that now days, even giving free shipping both ways. I'll tell you how that particular approach works in just a few minutes.) This isn't an open-market bazaar, so we deal with the amount of stars or "thumbs up" that people leave when they like a product. Ebay and Amazon both have their own systems in this. The idea itself has built huge social networks, by linking networks like "Stumbleupon" and "Digg".

People want to express their opinion and so are open to listen to others'. You use other people's opinion and results in your sales copy to reassure your readers that your product is a good one. And you include pictures of the product and give away downloads of the operating manual - all sorts of ideas come in here. You are creating a virtual bazaar, where they can all but touch and taste the actual thing.

Here's where the "instant gratification" of online sales, especially digital products comes in. People can get what they ordered right off the bat. Like the rage of ring-tones. If you don't like it, you can get a refund - almost as instantaneously.

However, in this culture, we've been styled, coifed, and trained to demand instant gratification in every part of our lives - and we live pretty spoiled lives in general these days. But you can avoid this particular bad habit from ruining your life -- I'll tell you more at the end (and it won't cost you anything...)

This leads us to guarantees. These are a fail-safe mechanism. You want to tell the person that their purchase has no risk to it. The funny part is that all mail-order sales require a 30-day guarantee, so this is a no-brainer. But many don't know that.

Now veteran sales people also know that out of every set of orders there will be a certain percentage which always demand refunds. That's just in their overhead calculations. (But online sales of digital products save on shipping and handling. ;-O)

When you are telling people your data - use bullet points. Why? Because people want their data in bite-size, chewable amounts - like your parents used to cut your steak for you.

Overdone, or misused, it's like also dividing your peas or salad into bite-sized portions. Or dabs of peanut butter, each cracker-sized. Use bullet points for benefits. Your other paragraphs should be the story itself, the gravy sauce which keeps your meal moist and tender - or your peas on your knife.

Bonuses - yuck. Real bonuses add value. Overdone, they cheapen the product. You want to give them a reason to purchase your item that helps them out. I have a standing offer: buy my 800 page book, send me the receipt, and I'll burn and personally ship you a DVD full of over 4 gigs of sales and marketing data at my cost. (Actual offer.)

The idea is that you are giving them something that will add value to their purchase. Oreck, above, not only gives free shipping, but also a mini-vacuum and a steam-iron to boot.

You are looking to improve peoples' lives with your product. Digital downloads have this easy, just include more products in the .zip file, or more .zip files.

However, it's also over-done. And this brings us right back to where we started. Some people give away literally hundreds of free stuff (most worthless e-books that no one can sell anymore) just for your name on an opt-in mailing list. THEN, they just send you offers for theirs or others' products which are similarly worthless. So you opt-out - with a sour taste in your mouth.

(I've even run into an online set-up where they give away "hundreds of free items" every year. Trick is that this is a network of people who each get you to opt-in to their list so that you can now get even more inane offers to throw your money away.)

The close is where salespeople end up their pitch. During the course of this, they've used an old sequence called AIDA, for Attract, Interest, Desire, Action. You get their attention (headline). Then you Interest them in your product pitch (sub-head). Then you fan their desire (benefits, guarantees, bonuses). Finally, you tell them what they should do - you ask for the sale.

Now go look at a few TV commercials and tell me they don't all have these.

Often you'll see an artificial limit - which is exploited by ticket sales to big events. There are just so many tickets and the curtain goes up at a certain time - and you aren't going to see this again, no matter how many lifetimes you spend on this planet. So the price is now 3 or 4 hundred percent of what I paid for it -- but since you have a nice face, I'll drop it down to just 250 percent... Or, call this free number in the next five minutes and we'll double the offer (while this commercial is run 80 times a day for the next two months).

Another thing is to use a postscript (P.S.) - here you can add another bonus, reinforce the guarantee, or insert various tactics to close the sale.

Does length have anything to do with sales copywriting -- only if your writing quality is poor. For me, the jaded buyer, I usually skip right down to the cost. I have a general idea of what it's worth and what they had to do to produce it - and if I can get that same result for a little Internet research on my own. Good stories are always worth reading - even wordy Charles Dickens' (at least his good stuff, anyway - I could only get through "Great Expectations" when I found a cartoon adaptation - true!).

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There you have the bulk of what makes up a sales page.

Now:
How to proof yourself from these knuckleheads out there and save yourself some money:

  1. Print this off and start watching commercials and newspaper/magazine ads to see how they are selling you stuff. See how many of these points are present in every sales talk you encounter. You'll soon see what is good salesmanship and what is really stupid nonsense. And, you'll be able to see when they are pushing a garbage product.
  2. Learn to budget your money and time. Practice delayed gratification. Take up a hobby which takes a long time to get a truly great product - like painting, or carpentry, or hand-knitting. Lots of practice, plus the right tools and techniques will improve what you produce over time.
  3. Save what you don't have to spend. Turn off the TV, radio, and video machines. Go to the Internet sparingly for news and less for entertainment. Read books, or listen to classics (this includes rock and pop, not just opera - but doesn't include rap) - stuff that makes you feel good, peaceful. Rent, don't buy DVD's - unless you find yourself watching them three or more times.
  4. Get a hobby that is gratifying. My sister likes Sudoku - I like writing (and farming). My mother raises chickens, has her garden in summer, and half-a-dozen social clubs to attend weekly or monthly.
  5. Anything over 10 percent of your income (which you save only and never, ever spend), invest in something that gives you at least a 10 percent dividend each year. There are plenty of good books that can tell you how to do this (but if you have to go through a pitch like above, caveat emptor).
  6. Attend to your spiritual side. Go to a local church, read some self-improvement books. Start listening to personal development cassettes or MP3's during your commute or when you're exercising. Grow yourself.
Doing the above will give you a very satisfying life - and very rich in more ways than one. By saving and investing, you'll be financially independent sooner than you think was possible, even if you start relatively late in life.

The key point is that you will be able to take more control over your life and quit being one of that small mindless percentage who buy any and everything offered.

Oh - and your email spam might be less (but your mileage may vary)...

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About that offer above.

I've got a high-priced book I cobbled together after several years of research just into online marketing. It's just under 800 pages because that's as many pages the printer would let me have for a single volume. (And I won't cut it down to 700 to fit on Amazon - I've already had to come down from around 1200 in the original.)

What I found was that there were only a few misused basics in marketing and about 8 or so key ways to market online. And the people who used these effectively and routinely made literally millions doing so.

But don't take my word for it. I've put the original 1200 words in several books at Lulu - all under "An Online Millionaire Plan" title, and you can read each of these in their preview completely from start to finish.

If that isn't enough, you can sign up for the newsletter and right now I've got 7 extra-long articles out of the first section (on marketing basics) which each have its own PDF and audio file. I'll send these to you email, or at least give you the link for download. When I get some more time, I hope to get the bulk of the book available through that email subscription.

Now, if you decide to get the near-800 page book for yourself through Lulu, send me a copy of your reciept and I'll burn and send you a DVD with as many of the original files I extracted thsi book from - over 4 gigs of data, programs, scripts, articles, etc.

P.S. Yes, if you don't like the book, Lulu will refund the cost to you - but the DVD is yours to keep.

Or, you could do like I did and spend a year or so signing up for all sorts of offers and downloading countless packages of marketing materials, as well as haunting article directories and burning up Google's servers looking for data.

Your choice.

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As usual, I wish you the best of luck -- and Good Hunting!

Update 080113 - podcast now linked as enclosure.
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