Hi. This is an old, unmaintained blog. You may find these sites more to your liking:

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Different strokes...Online copywriting informed by offline experience...

I didn't start writing for a living right away. Before I received my first dollar as a writer, I did a series of other things. I was a corporate guy. I was a radio guy. I was a teacher and coach. I was a student (on several occasions). I was an industrial laundry dryer room operator. I pulled third shifts at convenience stores. I did focus group recruitment. And, for a block of about three or four years, I sold.

I sold reasonably expensive, non-essential items to a tremendous cross-section of a fairly major metropolitan center. I can't say that I loved it, but I was pretty good at it. I learned something while selling that has served me well with respect to copywriting and I thought it would be a potentially interesting point to ponder...

My boss was an old-school, hard sell kind of guy. Unlike many business owners, he was on-site every day and was still selling. He was one of those in-your-face, high-hype, arm-twisting, overexcited salesmen that you probably thought disappeared from the face of the planet after the two-millionth time they were parodied on television. At first, I thought it was a joke. I couldn't believe anyone still pushed product like that. It seemed outdated and transparent to me.

He sold like crazy.

Moral to the story: Just because it won't sell you doesn't mean it won't sell someone else.
Additional moral to the story: The hard sell can get results.

Now, those who know me wouldn't be able to imagine me getting jumpy and exited about much of anything. I could never hope to do the old school salesman thing with a straight face. It just wasn't in me. So, I took my own approach. Where the boss yelled, I was quiet. Where he might have claimed our product was life-changing, I would say it was a nice little addition. He was over the top and I was understated. He was emotional and I was analytical. He was bombastic and I was friendly.

I sold like crazy. I didn't outdo the boss (but, in my defense, he had about thirty years of experience on me), but I pulled down very good numbers.

Moral to the story: Different sales approaches work for different salespeople and customers.
Additional moral to the story: A soft sell can get results.

As a copywriter, I take that to heart. I'm often called upon to write long sales letters that have a certain "hard sell" direction. I know how to do it and can turn out material that converts. I draw from my experience in copywriting, my research, education and my time on the sales floor with the boss, whose hard sell pitch was just about flawless.

I also know that there are other ways to get the job done. In some instances, a more analytical style, a certain calmly confident tone and other "softenings" can perform a lot better than the "YOU WON'T BELIEVE THIS MIRACLE--IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE COMPLETELY" sort of thing.

The trick is knowing when to switch gears. That has a lot to do with the product's probable audience, the product itself, other branding and marketing efforts on the part of the seller, and a host of other factors.

I read a post at Bob Bly's blog that raised some of these same issues. For those of you who aren't familiar with Bly, he is well-known copywriter and author of some great books on how to produce high-quality copy. If you have an interest in developing your copywriting skills, you should keep an eye on his blog.

Anyway, he discussed an email he received that chastised him for using a hard sell approach. Bly observed:

"Given the hundreds of hard-sell, long-copy Web and email promos that are making money hand over fist, how can this Web designer or anyone else possibly state as if it were a law of online marketing that 'the hard sell won’t work on the Internet'?"

Bly then opened the topic for comment from some copywriters. The series of replies, when aggregated, tends to reach the same conclusion I have...

It isn't about a hard sell or a soft sell. It's about making a sale.

Different strategies work under different circumstances and when utlized by different people. Different strokes, and all of that...

I don't believe in limiting my copywriting work to a singular style. I believe the best copy is written by those who choose the right combination of tools for the individual job. I like to keep the Content Done Better toolbox full.

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