The Power of Words…To Sell

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As a copywriter, my stock-in-trade is words.

Words are powerful. They have the power to wound, to woo, to mend a broken heart and build new worlds.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” 
― Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale

Our hope as copywriters is that the words we use have the power to make our prospects believe in—and ultimately buy—the idea/product/service we’re selling. In a sense, we play a game of verbal seduction. And if we’re lucky enough to get an assignment to promote something we believe in, our words become even more potent because passion is our springboard.

Artfully strung together, words become stories, and good stories translate into emotions.  If told well, our reader (or prospect) is thrust smack into middle of our drama. As a child, no matter how many times I heard my favorite story, I always experienced the same nail-biting tension just before the heroine was saved from the clutches of the villain.

This response to stories is common. As a species we’re hard-wired to be empathetic, and stories appeal to our emotions. If things turn out well, we’re happy. We feel pleasure and experience satisfaction. If not, we’re disappointed.

When I started out as a direct response copywriter, I cut my teeth writing direct mail packages for American Express. I sold fine jewelry and expensive furs by mail. At first, I found it hard to believe that a prospect would buy anything as personal as a diamond ring, jewel encrusted watch, or fur coat BY MAIL. But I learned fast.

I quickly realized that the better the story I told, the better the response.  Our prospects were mostly men with little time to shop in stores for their wives and girlfriends. Actually, some of our customers shopped by mail for their wives and girlfriends. I know this because we often received two orders for the same ring or necklace and were asked to send each order to a different address. This happened a lot. (I assume these men thought they could avoid being tripped up by forgetting which gift they gave to whom.)

In any case, based on romances I knew about or conjured up, I told stories about how relationships (no matter how tarnished) could be rekindled, or how an unlikely love might bloom, or how a broken heart could be mended with the perfect gift. These stories generated millions of dollars in sales.

Today’s stories told by content marketers are not meant to sell. They’re about brand, developing relationships and engagement. Although content certainly has its place, I believe it won’t be long before content marketers start incorporating direct selling techniques. With more clients chanting, “show me the money,” they can’t afford not to.

In the world of digital marketing, the basic rules of direct response are as effective as ever. Changes are made to accommodate specific channels: mobile, email, landing pages, microsites, etc….along with modifications for a prospect’s limited time and shortened attention span. But the basic tenets of direct marketing remain the same. Sales are made and companies stay solvent. Here are a few of those money-making golden rules…

1. Humanize the stories you tell. Your story needs to show the problem your protagonist/prospect may be experiencing, and how your product will solve it. The prospect has to know you understand his pain point or goal, and you can make that pain go away or help him achieve his objective.

2. Make it easy for your prospect to identify with your story. My goal when writing for AmEx was to make a prospect “relate” to the story. If giving a luxury gift could work wonders for others, it could also work for him.

3. Show your own passion. If you’re not a fan of the product you’re selling, others won’t be. When I wrote these promotions, I lusted after some of the things I sold. So much so, that on a few occasions, I also became a buyer.

4. Back up your story with facts. The time to cover the technical aspects of your product (size, shape, weight, number of carats, etc.) is after you’ve captured your prospects’ imagination and they are predisposed to buy. Emotions come first. Facts second. Always.

5. Follow up with a call to action. Show your prospect how quick and easy it is to order your product. Make the offer as irresistible as you can—and impossible to ignore.

6. Always include a guarantee. This will put your prospect at ease and boost sales.

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