nine thoughts on copywriting for hippies

My dear colleagues Jeffrey and Suzanne are hosting a call all about their take on ‘Spiritual Copywriting’. You can check it out here.

So it had me want to jot down some of my thoughts about this whole ‘writing sales letters’ thing.

I’ve already written a few blog posts on sales letters but I’ve never put down my own unique thoughts on it in one place.

Here’s the deal: You’ve got this cool thing. You know it’s cool. You know it helps people. You know it’s got a lot of value.

But you’re having a hard time getting that value across to people.

Of course, once they experience it, they often rave about it.

But . . . how do you even get them to have an experience? How do you get them to even be clear about what it is you do? If only you could find the right words (and express yourself without sounding salesy and gross).

My Wake Up Call

Years ago, I got an email from someone on my list asking to be unsubscribed. I asked them why and they shared honestly,

“Well, I just find your e-mails are kind of “in your face.”  All the BOLD print and BIG letters with FREE this and FREE that….  I get the feeling you were a car salesman in your previous life or something.  I just get the feeling you’re yelling at me… I worked for a communications company in my previous life and have done a lot of research into how to market myself as a nutritional consultant.  I have a very successful practice and what works for me is building relationships, public speaking, connecting with people on a personal level… and pull marketing as opposed to push marketing.  Have you ever read the book “How to Build an Ideal Private Practice”, by Lynn Grodski?  It’s a fabulous book…  a must read. Anyway – your approach likely works for many – but just not for me.”

Ouch.

The tragedy of it was that when people met me in person and come to my workshop they had the exact opposite experience. I was constantly told that I felt very safe, warm, welcoming etc. somehow my marketing materials weren’t reflecting the “vibe” of who I was.

So to hear this feedback was really painful.

I had, somehow, become (in her eyes) what I hated.

But I didn’t know any other way at the time.

This is the problem with the written word. when people meet you in person there’s 93% more of the communication spectrum in play. People can feel you. But words are only 7% of communication. So, you’re being judged 100% by 7% of who you are.

So then that 7% needs to really count and have some care and thought put into it.

The problem is you seem to get one of two extremes:

1) the business card ad: boring and generic and unclear.

2) the hyped ad: sounds like a used car salesman.

So, how do you write an ad that really grabs people without pushing them away? How do you make it hot without losing the warmth? How can you write something that sells without losing the sincerity? How do you trigger a positive response? How do you not trigger the “used car salesman response?

How can our ads be bold without triggering “bullshit?”

There’s a lot to say about writing good sales copy but here are some of my thoughts from the hippie angle.

The Basics of Copywriting:

First of all, here are some basics.

  • The Beginning and the Ending: By far, the most important parts of what you write will be the beginning and the ending of it. In a sales letter this will be the headline and the p.s. at the bottom. These should get the lion’s share of your efforts. First, you need to get their attention so they even bother to read your sales letter. Second you need to engage them more deeply (which stories are great for). Third, you need to help them really experience what it might be like to own the product. And lastly, you need to make it really easy for them to buy it from you.
  • Keep it simple: No more than five lines per paragraph. Use short words. Use short sentences. Write at a grade seven level. Don’t use industry jargon. Write like you would normally speak.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #1: It’s not about the sale.

I’m not just saying this to be contrarian.

The purpose of your sales letters isn’t to try to convince everyone that what you’re offering is the most amazing thing ever and that they should buy it now. That’s genuinely not the purpose.

The entire purpose of a sales letter is about helping them figure out – quickly – whether it’s a fit for them.

Period.

That’s it.

But, if your agenda is the sales letter is to ‘get the sale’ then it will come across as gross, contrived, condescending, pushy, slimy etc. The agenda to close people is what creates the resistance.

So, how do you help them figure out if it’s a fit for them?

First of all you need to do the work to figure out who’s a perfect fit for you (and let go of trying to please everyone).

You make sure that your platform is clear to them. You make sure that you speak directly to their problems and symptoms and also to the results they’re craving. You acknowledge their secret fears with empathy. You share your point of view about the best way to solve their particular problems. You need to share why you’re doing what you’re doing.

The real issue in poor sales copy is less often about writing skill and more often about the lack of clarity about our own platforms. If we’re not really clear about it, how can we hope to clearly express it to others?

You need to let them get to know you a bit better. And you need to help them understand, in clear and direct terms, what’s in it for them. You need to be clear about what you can promise and what you can’t.

A sales letter is not a huge net that you try to throw over everyone. It’s a filter you use to make sure that only the right people buy what you have to offer. After all, if the wrong people buy it then they’ll be pissed it didn’t work for them, bad mouth you and demand refunds.

Who needs that drama? No one.

Your sales letter isn’t a blackhole trying to suck everyone in – it’s filter trying to keep people who aren’t a fit out.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #2: Remove ‘hype’ triggers.

These hype triggers tend to appear in sales copy where the idea of ‘fit’ is unclear and they’re trying to get everyone to ‘buy now’.

First of all, watch out for the ALL CAPS. It really seems like you’re hyper and/or shouting. Try italics instead. Much softer.

Secondly, remove all exclamation marks. Seriously.

Thirdly, try removing any universals: always, every, never. These lose you credibility fast.

Fourth, remove any sense or tone of shaming someone into buying. Any notion that if they don’t buy from you then it’s prove that they don’t believe in themselves has got to go.

Fifthly, don’t lie about there being scarcity where there isn’t. Be real about why you’re deciding to limit supplies if you are. People will respect that. They will not respect being lied to. I’ve seen sales letters saying things like, ‘i don’t know how much longer I can keep this online because once my competitors find out about this they’ll want it taken down because it’s so effective and such a threat to them.’ . . . bull. shit.

Another fellow had a clock counting down on this sales page saying, ‘this offer will only be up until the clock hits zero’. Fine. But when you refreshed the page – the clock started over. Bull. Shit. Be humble about the scarcity. More of a, ‘Sorry we have to limit it but here’s why we are going that route’ rather than arrogantly lording it over them.

Sixth, limit use of superlatives. Saying you’re the ‘best’ is a sure way to arouse suspicion. Use testimonials. Show other evidence, awards, certifications, tell stories etc. Be wary of your stuff is the awesomest.

Seventh, don’t over promise. You might consider avoiding statements like “you will absolutely leave with _________” results and try “it’s our deepest hope that you leave with _________” or “we’ve set up this workshop to help you ______”. Promise what you can deliver on and not more.

Consider the occasional use of understatement – “hopefully”, “our intention is . . .” “let’s see if we can’t” “We think this might”  etc. in your copy and let your customers give the “raving reviews”. Let your customers and the case studies you use demonstrate the strength of your case. Let your point of view be so clear and compelling that it inspires their trust rather than just saying, ‘trust me’.

Eight, admit limitations and flaws. One of the most compelling things I ever saw in an ad was one for holistic nutrition where it said, ‘come and learn the possibilities and the limitations of natural nutrition’. And the limitations. Wow. They were admitting that this couldn’t help everyone all the time. My trust in them went through the roof in those three words: and the limitations.

If you are a boring lecturer, admit that (e.g. “I’m not a compelling speaker but I think you’ll find my ideas could double your profits this year.”). Nobody really believes there’s a perfect solution out there, so share your imperfections and learn to even endorse your own worst weaknesses.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #3: Tell stories.

The more you can weave story telling into your sales letters, the better.

When I run my workshops, I’ll have everyone introduce themselves at the beginning of the day. People smile and nod. Later I have them share stories about what they do and then I hear people saying, ‘Ohhhh. Now I get what you do.’ (note: they never mentioned not getting it before).

There are two basic kinds of stories you can share . . .

The story of what got you into this business: this story showcases your bigger why, builds your credibility and also shares your humanity.

The story of the impact of your work on your clients: these stories help to deepen their understanding of your point of view and approach as well as deepening your credibility. You can do these stories in the third person (case studies) or have them share them in their words (testimonials).

The beauty of testimonials is that clients can say things about you that you’d sound like a pompous ass saying about yourself.

Here are some great websites to check out about the power of storytelling in your marketing:

http://www.getstoried.com/

http://www.storiesthatsellguide.com/

http://www.byebyeboringbio.com/

And some blog posts I’ve done about stories in marketing: http://marketingforhippies.com/tag/stories/

Hippie Copywriting Thought #4: Sleep on it and trust your gut.

This one distinction will save you so much pain.

Recently, I wrote a blog post about the idea of slow marketing. And I think this applies hugely here.

Once you’ve written your sales letter, sleep on it. For a night. For a week if you can manage it. Then look at it with fresh eyes. Read it out loud to make sure it sounds like you. Like a normal person talking.

And the sit with it. And pay close attention to how you feel about it. Does anything feel ‘off’ or uncomfortable? If so, trust your gut. Meditate on it. Close your eyes. Notice where it doesn’t feel right and make the changes you need to make.

Ask a few trusted clients and colleagues to read key materials and do a “vibe check” on it.  Ask them, “Is this clear? Does this feel right?” You’ll get great feedback.

Give yourself time. Don’t rush this. If you know it needs to be written in a month, start on it now with a first draft. Give yourself the whole month to really steep in it. Sit with it. Let it ripen. Make it something you’re proud of. You’ll be surprised how much better you can make a salesletter with a little bit of space.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #5: Be yourself.

In both the wording and design, be yourself.

Here are a bunch of examples of sales letters I’ve seen that look cool and quirky – but are still really clear:

http://www.thenewaboutme.com/

http://rightbrainersinbusiness.com/

http://spiritualmarketingquest.com/

http://www.irresistiblewriting.com/websiteprogram

http://www.marketing101forholisticpractitioners.com/weekend.php

http://www.fluentself.com/monsters/

http://www.pinkelephantacademy.com/how-to-write-a-sales-page-the-sweetly-selling-workbook/

http://www.heartofbusiness.com/training-programs/momentum-course/

http://healthybabycode.com/signup

Let your own style, vibe, voice come through. If you’re nerdy let that come through. If you’re a jock, speak like a jock would. If you’re cranky, let yourself be cranky. Don’t you want clients who will love you for who you are? So then put yourself out there and let the sales letter be your protective filter that only brings you people who love you for who you are.

It can be hard to find your voice – but when you do, your sales letters will sing.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #6: Learn about the art of copywriting.

There’s a reason that professional copywriters are paid so much.

They’re good.

They can take what you do and translate that into something that your ideal customers will immediately ‘get’.

You likely can’t afford a top notch copywriter.

You can read over some of the case studies where I’ve worked with clients on their copy but here’s the best resource I know of that can help you learn how to write a wonderfully warm sales letter: Selling Sweetly: A Step by Step Guidebook to Writing a Sales Page.

I also commend checking out: http://irresistiblewriting.com/blog/

Hippie Copywriting Thought #7: Use warm words vs. pushy words.

Consider all the hyped up words that get used in sales copy you hate (e.g. ‘you must’, ‘you have to’, ‘you’d be a fool if you didn’t’, ‘buy now’ etc). Here’s a starter list of warmer words you can use that might help create some more connection . . .

  • warm
  • conversation
  • intimate
  • connection
  • join us
  • small
  • invitation
  • welcome
  • no pressure
  • open
  • you are warmly invited to . . .
  • feel free to . . .
  • please consider . . .
  • it’s our hope that . . .
  • we hope that you . . .
  • probably
  • very likely
  • chances are that
  • i’m guessing that
  • my intention is

Hippie Copywriting Thought #8: It’s not about the words, it’s about the idea.

At the end of the day, the success of your sales letters won’t be determined by how hot or warm the words are but by how strong the core concept or offer is.

I’d rather have a poorly written letter expressing a strong concept than a brilliantly written letter trying to sell a weak concept.

The quality of the core offer you’re presenting is what will make the biggest difference – not how you articulate it.

If your offers aren’t getting the kinds of responses you want, you might consider that it’s just not that compelling an offer. And if that’s true . . . then go back to the beginning. Who is this for? What’s the problem it solves? Why should they pick me to help them vs. the plethora of other choices they have available to them? How do I help them get the results they’re craving most? What’s most important to them when they’re buying what I sell? And am I giving it to them? Can I prove it?

An idea like ‘free pizza delivery’ was a new solid idea. People wanted that.

If you’re struggling with this – I recommend reading Seth Godin’s brilliant book ‘Purple Cow.’ If you want to get inspired by a tonne of great business ideas to see what a ‘hot idea’ is like, go spend a few hours on www.springwise.com . If you want people to make remarks about what you do, make it ‘remarkable’. Sometimes we need to step back and innovate what we’re doing before we can market effectively.

Someone who says, ‘Oh. I teach yoga.’ has a dull offer.

You teach yoga? So what. So does everyone else.

But someone like Tiina Veer has a very compelling offer: Yoga for Round Bodies.

A good idea + good words = a very good chance of success.

Hippie Copywriting Thought #9: It’s not about the words, it’s about the messenger.

There’s an old Gaelic proverb that translates as, ‘if the messenger is worthy then the business is’.

Who people hear about things from has a far more profound impact than how well you word it.

Do both, of course.

But I can’t tell you how many people have come to my workshops and never even bothered to read the sales letters. Seriously. They came because someone they trusted told them to come. And that was enough for them. You might not need a sales letter ever. Some people succeed in spite of their terrible copywriting and lack of any website. But . . . why not have an incredible quality thing, strong relationships with hubs and well written copy?

As someone who’s a bit of a hub I can tell you that I am dramatically less likely to refer someone to a seminar or workshop or practitioner if their copy sucks.

Why?

Because now the burden is on me to explain it all for them. I’d rather just be able to say, ‘go check out their homepage. i think it’ll all make sense.’

When working on your sales letters make sure you also consider how you can get key hubs to be sending people to it. They will read your words much differently if a trusted source sent them your way than if they stumbled across you cold.


About Tad

  • Carrie

    YES! x 9 (sometimes you do need all-caps and an exclamation mark)… Love to you for your generous sharing of wisdom.

  •  oh you. thanks :-) you’re the best.

  • Wise words as always Tad. I’ve been guilty of sounding a little ‘hypey’ especially when I’m excited about what we have to offer.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone back and reread my copy, groaned and then pressed delete. It’s so important to let go of ‘trying to convince’.  I didn’t really get that until I came to your  workshop.  It’s so funny because I give the same advice to my clients :-) 

  • Me too. I’ve so had that feeling of being mortified when read something I wrote years ago. Appalled at myself. And I think your website – http://themagneticman.com/ – keeps becoming more and more of an embodiment of this. So clear. So compelling. And so gracious. I love it. I love you.

  •  Thank you Tad you are so generous :-)

  • Wow! I LOVE this blog! I second Carrie’s comment as a response!
     
    And I see the desire well up in me to try to captivate, impress, excite folks and that gut response you mention Tad is a great signal to heed… to trust the idea, myself, and not try to dress it up but rather reveal it in simple honest ways.

    There are so many nuggets in this (more than 9, you over delivered again! There are 8, by my count, nestled with #2!)

    Thank you for the reminders, Tad. I needed to read this today. 

  • This is great, Tad. Even thought I know I hate it and it makes me feel gross, it’s so easy to get caught up in hype-y, scarcity-style marketing…just because that’s what most people do + teach. It leaves me with this yucky, I-hate-everything fatigue after a while…until I remember there IS another way. It’s awesome to see it all laid out like this. I think it’s time for me to go give my own webcopy the hairy eyeball with these steps in mind…not to mention my work for others!

  • Judith

    Nine Steps is so helpful and validating.  And I like the innovative idea of filtering – so the right people finding your business makes for good customers.  I am pressured to compete in the “used car sales” approach, which is uncomfortable, and which in the end I can’t make myself participate in.  Your approach is conducive to creating your own reality.  Thanks for creating your path and sharing it. 

  • hey david. yeah. excitement can translate as hype so easily. even in person. and hype can translate as pressure. can be hard to reign it in a bit. it’s a sweet process to see messages getting cleaner and clearer over time.

  • hey ainslie :-) thanks so much. i know this feeling so well of being caught up in it all. i still do sometimes.

  •  thanks judith :-)

  • Cindy

    Thanks Tad for the reminders and the new insights. I find writing fun and at the same time scarey and intimidating at times. I know what I like and don’t like of someone else’s stuff and find it so much more difficult to figure out my own. I will be referring to this blog for quite some time. :)

  • Peter

    rockin’, as always, Captain!

  • I love this – I’ve bookmarked it to read again, as it’s Friday evening and my local pub has an organic cider on right now that I have to try :)
    One other thing – I hate it when I read “we” in a sales page when I know it’s an “I”. I guess I’ll never buy off someone who’s pretending to be a faceless corporate. And if people need me to be a faceless corp in order to buy off me, I don’t want them as a client.

  • jenny. yes. i used to do that back in the day. pretend i was a bigger deal than i was. say ‘we’ all the time and posture. you might like this blog post – http://marketingforhippies.com/collapse-posturing-and-composure/

  • Marilyn

    Lots of great stuff here, Tad, as always!  To add one thought… a while back I heard Katherine Woodward Thomas (Feminine Power / Women on the Edge of Evolution) interviewed about her approach to business, not something she often talks about.  She said she saw writing copy as an opportunity for transformation, that she wanted the person reading it to undergo a profound shift, whether or not they ever bought anything.  What if we were all writing from this place of contribution rather than wanting? 

    Keeping being who you are…

  • Angela

    Tad, I love your ability to break it all down. So clear, so honest, so real. Thank you. I’ve definitely felt pulled toward the hype-y approach–especially when that was all I saw modelled in the coaching marketplace, and I so appreciate the authentic, intelligent, and effective alternative that you model so beautifully. Many thanks for the great reminders and tips for keeping it real :-)

  •  thanks angela :-)

  •  yes. i love that. writing in such a way that, even if they don’t buy, they’re uplifted. beautiful.

  • Gabriella

    I’m so grateful to have found you.  I feel wobbly stepping out into this new paradigm…will this type of marketing work?  Will we lose sales?  Can I really let go of the exclamation points :)  It feels risky but I’m willing to go out there bc marketing based on the old paradigm is so out of line with who I am on the inside and that feels awful 

  • Hi Tad, 
    Your posting is so timely for me.  I’ve tended not to “sell” at all because what I see and experience leaves me feeling so soiled (and sometimes fooled).  I just finished reading an old-style book on copy-wriiting, and though I learned a great deal, some of it didn’t feel very fresh, and some of it didn’t feel very honest.  Your list of thoughts was a very-helpful reframe of what I had just read and paraphrased, and leaves me feeling much more ready to begin writing some straight-forward and heart-felt invitations to the people I want to help.  Many thanks, and hope the travels have been many-ways rewarding,
    Cheers, Jackie

  •  yes. let marketing feel good! why not :-)

  • Indigo

    This is such a clear and useful article, Tad.  I appreciate your insight, not just for own use, but as truth that I feel bound to share with others because I know it will help them (and I did share :).

  • Tad,
    I LOVE this. There is some real synergy in our philosophies. I was recently interviewed on a tele-summit about sales letters and how to create them without being offensive (the old school approach is turning people off — especially women who now influence over 85% of purchasing decisions). There is a new, softer, better way and it involves my new copywriting formula “Challenge. Solution. Invitation”.  It’ feels better (and connects with readers) than the antiquated “Problem. Agitate. Solve.” method.  I’m excited to help facilitate the change and look forward to collaborating soon. 
    Write on!~
    Lisa Manyon 

  • Laing Stokes

    Thanks Tad. I really enjoyed this article, it is so good that you are summarising a complete alternative. Very refreshing. I can definitely relate to the temptation to exaggerate – but I know in the new paradigm that it is impossible. My personal experience is that now I can tell immediately whether someone is being for real, so I know that my clients can tell too. I absolutely believe that this awareness will grow and that eventually, non-legit marketing will be forced to surrender.