How to know great sales copy when you see it…

A few years ago I was reading something from Clayton Makepeace. He really nailed it when talking about how people who think they could arbitrarily read a sales letter or any piece of marketing copy and say with any certainty that it was going to work or flop.

It’s important to know that there is criteria for gauging the structure of copy, but when someone tries to tell you that an expert evaluating a piece of direct response is just giving a personal opinion, they are missing the point.

To a professional, the ONLY question that is EVER open for debate is how effectively a piece of copy has fulfilled fourteen critical criteria that have been established over more than a century of scientific testing in millions of direct response promotions.

The process of writing copy, then, is simply the practice of creating a conversation with the prospect in which these criteria are met.

The process of critiquing copy can be thought of as the practice of determining a) whether these criteria are met and b) how well they are met.

The process of improving copy is the practice of increasing its effectiveness in satisfying these criteria.

Good Copy …

1. Makes four sales:

  • The attention sale – which stops the prospect and compels him to look at the copy (usually through the use of a subject line or a headline and deck) …
  • The readership sale – which converts attention to readership, then sells the prospect on continuing to read with each sentence and subhead that follows …
  • The product sale – in which every benefit the product or service delivers is made credible, three-dimensional, palpable and desire is created, and …
  • The call to action sale – in which the prospect is persuaded to take the steps prescribed by the writer; most often to make a purchase or provide lead information.

2. Is written in the APPROPRIATE TONE for the subject matter.
If an alarming message is delivered with a passive tone or a reassuring message is delivered in a strident tone, the credibility and therefore the effectiveness of the message will suffer. If you whisper “Your house is on fire,” nobody will believe you. If you scream “I LOVE YOU!” you’ll sound like a lunatic.

3. Activates a relevant and actionable DOMINANT EMOTION in the prospect. Because human beings almost never make purchases for logical reasons, but as their emotions dictate, the copy should activate a fear, frustration and/or desire that the prospect already has, then offer him a way to fulfill or assuage that emotion.

4. REWARDS prospect for reading. To maximize readership, the early copy should send the message that the simple act of reading the copy will result in the reader receiving a benefit – improve some aspect of his life, deliver useful information, give him emotional validation or at the very least, entertain him; possibly by solving a mystery or through the use of irony or humor. To retain readership, the copy itself must, of course, deliver on that message.

5. Has CLARITY OF VISION. The copy should begin with a mutually agreed-upon proposition and then lead the prospect from the point at which he is found to the point where he needs to be to take the desired action. No meandering; no side trips. Sentences and paragraphs should contain one or at most, two thoughts that move the conversation forward.

6. Has SPECIFICITY. Peppering copy with specifics makes it feel more tangible, more believable and also makes it easier to read and understand. Ethereal, nebulous, hazy, imprecise copy demands that the prospect work to figure it out – or worse, confuses the reader – thus killing readership.

7. Is INTERESTING. It must hold the prospect’s attention and also send the explicit or implicit message that the writer is passionately interested both in the reader and in the subject at hand. Failing to do so will absolutely kill readership and by extension, response.

8. Has MOMENTUM. The reader should feel that he is moving through the work quickly and effortlessly. The organization should be linear; the copy should never meander or return to points already covered. And each succeeding section should be shorter than the one before it.

9. Is EFFICIENT. Points should be made using the shortest, clearest, most precisely chosen words possible, then organized into tight, lean, punchy sentences and paragraphs.

10. Is PERSUASIVE. Great copy presents all the reasons why the prospect should act in the way the writer desires. These “reasons why” are the practical and emotional benefits that the promotion, the desired action and the product or service being sold will bring to his life.

11. Is CREDIBLE. Not only must the copy be believable on its face, various types of proof should be used to establish every critical point as fact. The effective types of proof most often used in direct response copy include:

  • Empirical proof – proven by the prospect’s own life experiences
  • Social proof – testimonials and case histories involving ordinary people much like the prospect
  • Authoritative proof – citations from respected authorities
  • Logical proof – the use of reason and absurd-isms to prove a point
  • Abduction proof – creating an explanatory hypothesis; a reason why a certain proposition is true
  • Conditional reasoning – “If x, then y”
  • Visual proof – photos, charts, tables, etc.
  • Demonstrable proof – as in a promotion for a book or newsletter in which delivering information or advice in the copy demonstrates and proves the author’s expertise

12. Effectively addresses most common OBJECTIONS. Eliminates the prospect’s objections – most typically cost, inconvenience, dissatisfying past experiences, monetary risk and social pressure. Ideally, these objections should be addressed without naming them.

13. Tells the prospect precisely what to do. Describes the desired action in specific detail – as in “complete the enclosed order form, then return it in the postage-paid envelope provided to Absolutely Brilliant Concepts, Inc, 00000 Copywriting Street, Chandler, AZ 00000.”

14. Is LONG ENOUGH to do all of this, but not one word longer.

So the next time you hear someone say…that looks like a great piece of copy…or that looks like it will/won’t work…you can ask em..”on what critera are you basing your opinion?




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