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Are Long Copy Salesletters Scams?

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A passionate debate is currently raging in the Copywriters Forum about long versus short copy. (If you haven’t joined, do so. Click the “register” link the top. It’s free. There are tons of tips from other very successful copywriters.)

The debate was originally sparked by a comment a very well-known Fortune 500 “guru” made about Armand Morin’s AudioGenerator.com.

I love it, because debate ignites passion, provides insights and shows some very interesting clues in the way people think – and feel. Which is the very point I’m bringing up with the issue of “long copy.”

Before we begin, let me remind you of a truth we must keep in mind…

Copywriting is “salesmanship in print.”

And that hasn’t changed since former Canadian policeman John E. Kennedy changed the face of advertising forever with those three words in 1905. (Selling has been around since the beginning of time. As sales trainer Zig Ziglar once noted, selling is the oldest profession in the world. Not that “other” job.)

Because long copy is exactly that: a printed form of a sales pitch. Every question, every handled objection, every attempt the close, all the way to asking for the order, are elements that are applied in long copy salesletters.

Copywriter Paul Myers made a wonderful point: “Your copy needs to be as long as is needed to make the sale, and not one paragraph more.”

Gary Halbert once remarked: “There’s no such thing as ‘too long’ but ‘too boring’.” In other words, if the copy seems too long, it’s probably not because of the length, but rather, because at some point it started to bore you.

But the best advice on this comes from Dan Kennedy…

The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy’ makes the mistake of thinking they are the customer. And they’re not. We are never our own customers. There’s a thing in copywriting I teach called ‘message-to-market match’. It is this: when your message is matched to a target market that has a high level of interest in it, not only does responsiveness go up but readership goes up, too. The whole issue of interest goes up.

The truth about long copy is that, first of all, there’s abundant, legitimate, statistical research, that’s split-testing research, to indicate that virtually without exception, long copy outperforms short copy. There’s some significant research has been done that indicate that readership falls off dramatically at 300 words but does not again drop off until 3,000 words.

The conclusion you can draw from that is this: If they’re NOT targeted from the “get-go,” they won’t read 50 words much less 5,000. (I urge you to read http://dankennedy.com/paulson.html for the entire interview.)

If they are targeted and genuinely interested in what you have to offer, then they’re going to want more information about it, not less. And that is the key – because the debate really boils down to three important issues:

  • Market.
  • Objective.
  • Results.
  • Respectively, in that order.
  • 1. The Market

    The approach you take (long or short, institutional or direct response, and hypey or toned-down) depends on the product and the offer (such as the price), because both depend on something more important: the audience.

    Long copy does outperform short copy in almost every case. But I do say “almost.” Different audiences warrant different types of approaches. In a handful of cases, shorter copy is best. It’s all about targeting your market.

    Target marketing will tell you everything you need to know about how to write your copy. A common obstacle I see is when business owners are “married” to their products and write copy for their products instead of their audiences.

    Second, if your message is not targeted to the right audience, no matter how long or short the copy is, no matter how emotionally charged or not it is, and no matter how innovative or poor the product is…

    … The copy won’t sell. Period.

    Find out who your market is. If you have more than one, I also submit that you should have a different salesletter directed at each different market – it’s market segmentation, pure and simple. Even if it’s the same product.

    As the saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.”

    2. The Objective

    The approach itself will be based on the objective of the copy. Personally, I love direct response marketing (whether it’s a long copy salesletter, a direct mail piece or an infomercial) specifically because it’s measurable, quantifiable and immediate. It’s one in which you ask for the order outright.

    Or one in which you directly ask the reader to do something. Anything.

    It’s different if you wanted to use institutional advertising in order to build the brand of your product, penetrate a new market or create top-of-mind awareness – and not attempting to sell and generate orders on the spot.

    Some people choose institutional advertising over direct response advertising. That is, short, pithy, clever copy, with a lot of whitespace, corporate logo and highbrow, highfalutin language. No phone number. No address. No selling.

    And no urgency.

    That’s fine, but this will require a massive advertising budget, a lot of repetition and a ton of patience before knowing if the approach works. But if it does (and once it does), orders will start pouring in. Still, it’s very risky at best.

    Nevertheless, the question is, what is the copy’s goal? Think about this. Is it to educate and inform? To build a brand and penetrate a new market?

    Or to make an offer and SELL?

    3. The Results

    You will approach each market differently. And the language, and particularly the offer, must fit THAT specific market. Again, it depends on #1 and #2.

    For example, do you use hyperbole, emotions and even “used-car” vernacular to make your pitch? Maybe. Maybe not. But consider this: while the language may or may not be hypey, “go to the court of last resort,” as Claude Hopkins said. That’s “the buyers of your product.” And that’s the key: testing.

    If the language is indeed turning them off and causing them NOT to buy, that’s what’s important. Again, your audience will ultimately dictate your approach.

    Is it too hypey? Too cheesy? Too “scammy?” If so, how do you know? Aside from your market and objective, the language you choose depends on your offer. But more important, it all depends on the results your offer creates.

    Whether the reader likes the language or not is not the issue: if the language makes the sale, that’s the true test. In the end, your prospects will cast their votes on your copy not with their opinions or feedback but with their wallets.

    Projecting a professional, poised and credible image doesn’t mean you can’t be emotional in your pitch. People buy on emotion first and justify their decision with logic. Even engineers, C-level executives and politicians.

    You can still fire up hormones and press hot buttons and stir emotions – without appearing cheesy, overbearing or downright crude.

    Some final words.

    Don’t go on long-winded tangents, and don’t add copy just for the sake of making it long. Keep your eyes on the prize. Stick with the sale. Be relevant. Make your case, tell your story and provide as much information as is needed to make the sale… And not one word more.

    Because the bottom line is this: the length and tone of your copy are dictated not by what you think, and not by what a copywriter or advertising agency thinks, but by your audience, your objective and, above all, your results.

    Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning,” when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, “The Profit Pill.” See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

    Are Long Copy Salesletters Scams?
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    About Michel Fortin
    Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now! WebProNews Writer
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