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My Absurd Claim about Writing (3 of 3)

Piano hands

Do you prefer any particular music or silence while you write?

I find my productivity sometimes goes up when I’ve got the right music and the right cadence. Which phase I’m in determines what kind of music.

Sometimes I will just shut everything off and write in silence, but that’s unusual. I like music, and I think that in a lot of ways, I treat my writing as music.

My keyboard is not any different than the keyboard on a piano. I want to create an image in someone’s head that could be compared to the way music appears in people’s heads.

And when I think of the people who inspire me, it’s almost always musicians.

Now, I have my favorite writers, but musicians really inspire me because I think there’s something about music that I would like to be able to do, but create as a writer.

I don’t play any instruments, so I have to pretend like I play the keyboard.

Excerpt my Writers File interview with Kelton Reid.

Absurd claims one and two.

A Simple Way to Get People to Believe Your Big Claim

Open Pickle Jar-001

Another way to get people to buy into your claim is to explain the mechanism behind it.

For example, let’s say a fitness trainer makes the claim that in just 14 minutes a day customers can add muscle to every inch of their body.

Notice what is NOT suggested: that these will be particularly big muscles. The implication is, at the very least, customers can achieve a toned body.

That’s still a big claim, but the trainer can bring it into the realm of believability by explaining how this can happen.

In this case, let’s say the fitness program involves a chair. The value proposition can be summed up like this: a 14-minute chair routine that builds muscle on every inch of your body.

Notice, too, the trainer used several of the previous tips to accomplish this.

One, the claim is very specific about the amount of time it takes and the equipment necessary. In other words, it’s heavy with details.

In addition, as part of the live presentation the trainer could demonstrate with a video. All of these factors help sweep aside skepticism.

Finally, he could add a creative guarantee, and his close rates are sure to go up.

This article originally appeared as part of this Salesforce article (which I am told by a source close to the company is their most socially popular post). 

P.S. Want a daily, but small, dose of essential web writing advice? Then check out my new podcast Rough Draft.

Image source

Is This the Proper Response to Fame?

Cathedral Corridor

Our anticipation and response to fame should mirror the anticipation and response of the ancient acolyte to a visitation from the gods.

During the new moon the acolyte enters the temple, dons the vest, lights the incense, and prepares the sacrifice. In that prescribed order. There is nothing more he can do.

And then he waits.

With each piece of content the writer performs a similar ritual. She crafts the headline, neatly lays out one sentence at a time, shapes short paragraphs, selects the appropriate image, closes with style, and publishes it. That’s all she can do.

Then she must wait.

When the gods arrive the acolyte falls flat on his face, overwhelmed by a sense of fear, respect, and awe. He can not control whether they arrive or not. He is at their mercy.

When the audience arrives the writer falls flat on her face, overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and obligation. She can not control whether they arrive or not. She is at their mercy. And grateful for any attention at all.

And that is the proper response to fame. Do you agree? Drop a comment.

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?

What the End of the World Can Teach Us about Being Specific

Great PlainImagine it’s late afternoon, Sunday. You are curled beneath an afghan, still bloated from the fried fish you inhaled for lunch. You are sleeping heavily. Until your doorbell erupts.

You shuffle to the front door and open it. An autumn thunderstorm blew through while you slept, bringing frigid air with it. You are surprised to see a young woman in a peasant top and floral pencil skirt standing at your doorstep. She’s drenched to the bone.

“My goodness, are you okay?” you say.

“Hi,” she says, “I’m fine.” She extends her hand. You take it. It is a firm grip. “I’m Madeline,” she says.

She looks over her shoulder. A tall man wearing a black button up oxford and white tie nods from the sidewalk. He’s leaning on an umbrella.

She then looks you square in the eye and says, “Are you ready for the end of the world?”

You shake your head, clear your throat, lean forward. “Eh, pardon me?” You suddenly think you might be dreaming. That your brain is punishing you for having engorged on fried fish.

She doesn’t flinch. “Are you ready for the end of the world? It is coming.”

“Really?” you say. “When?”

She shrugs. “Soon.” She then launches into how you should prepare, even as you shut the door.

In another version of this story she says, “In the next five years.”

You chuckle, belch a wee bit of chardonnay. “Yeah, the way the economy is going, that doesn’t surprise me, ” you say, closing the door. Five years is still ambiguous. It does nothing to dispel doubt.

But it’s this next version of this story that gets your attention. This time she says, “Three months from now. On October 29, 2015. Seven-o-five in the evening. In Munster, Indiana.”

Whether you believe her or not, she’s at least got your attention. At the minimum you’ll ask her how she came to that conclusion. See, it’s not so easy to dismiss someone when they are precise with details.

In what’s known as the strategic use of evidence, lawyers and criminal investigators can often discover if a suspect is lying. Here’s how it works.

During interrogation the investigator asks the suspect a general question. If the suspect replies with a fuzzy answer that contradicts what the investigators already know to be true, then the suspect is probably lying.

However, if the suspect shares details that match what the investigator already knows, then the suspect is probably telling the truth. The specificity of his answer builds credibility.

The moral of the story is to be ultra-specific in your headlines, testimonials, stories, offers. Add facts, research, quotes, and numbers. Be clear and concise. If there are vague or estimated numbers, you’ll look suspect or like you’re fudging.

Steer clear of ambiguity. And if you are curious about situations where specificity might get you in trouble, read this article by Chris Garrett.

Part of this article originally appeared in this Salesforce article (which I am told by a source close to the company is their most socially popular post). 

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast: Rough Draft?

Gimpy Web Copy? Use This 4-Step Formula to Make It Killer

Donut Messs

Do you want a simple, sticky formula that turns your listless copy into something that rivets attention, stokes desire, and gets action?

If you said “yes,” then the 4 Ps is what you are after. Let’s start with an example.

Here’s a short ad promoting a fantasy

Wanted: Ugly Men
Listen, ugly men, with one little pill, I can make you so attractive that women will throw themselves at you every time you walk through the mall.

Want proof?

Just ask Marty Feldman or Michael Berryman. They now beat women off of them with sticks.

Call 1-800-ugly-men now if you are interested.

See any pattern in the above copy? I’m using the Ps. So, what are the 4 Ps?

  • Promise
  • Paint
  • Proof
  • Push

Let’s break this little ad down so I can show you how this formula works.

The promise to ugly men

Listen, ugly men, with one little pill I can make you so attractive.

In two words I’ve identified my audience, and in six words I gave them a promise that will most certainly appeal to them: easy beauty.

The trick to writing a good promise is to identify a customer’s pain point and how your product can solve that problem. That’s the benefit and the essence of your promise.

Wondering how you find out a customer’s pain point? Try this:

  • Ask them. Hit the street or the phones and start asking your target audience what keeps them up at night, their worst fears.
  • Take a survey. Google Forms or Survey Monkey are decent and free tools. If you are using WordPress, try Gravity Forms (that’s what I used for the native advertising and online business surveys).
  • Research. Lots of companies like Forresters, eMarketer and Neilson have reports that you can mine for information.

Once you have the promise nailed, you’re next step is to paint a picture that shows them what they’re life will be like when they take you up on your promise.

Paint the picture of a better version of themselves

…that women will throw themselves at you every time you walk through the mall.

Heck, most half-way decent looking guys wouldn’t mind if more women threw themselves at their feet when they walked through the mall. Someone who’s ugly? He’s desperate and can relate.

He’s a thirsty crowd and should be ready to fall in your lap. But not just yet, because a claim by itself isn’t convincing. People are skeptical. They want evidence. So now you have to provide proof.

Prove you can deliver on that promised picture

Just ask Marty Feldman or Michael Berryman. They now beat women off of them with sticks.

Two high-profile, and sadly, ugly men have hypothetically taken this pill and are now living with the pleasant consequences.

In other words, if you don’t listen to me … listen to these guys … objective third-party sources who’s lives have been changed just as the ad promised.

Keep in mind that whatever you promise you MUST deliver. No ifs, ands, or buts. And if you over promise, you will probably lose prospects.

Speaking of credibility and believability, always tell the truth, even if it’s ugly. (No pun intended.)

Okay, now that you’ve whipped your prospect into a lather, what’s your next step? Now you’ve got to get them to act.

Push your prospect to act

Call 1-800-ugly-men now if you are interested.

That’s your call to action. It doesn’t get any easier.

Listen, not asking for the order in a clear and compelling way is the best way to cripple your conversion rates. You have to tell your prospect what to do. You’ve won him over. He’s yours. Now tell him what to do. And make it clear and concise.

Pay attention to this part

Can you tell me anything about the pill?

  • What does it look like?
  • Smell like?
  • How many do you have to take?
  • Is it the size of a man’s thumb or a mircrochip?
  • And how does it actually make an ugly man pretty?

You don’t know very much about the pill, do you? The only feature I’ve shared was that it was little.

Here’s why …

Your prospect doesn’t care at this point. He just wants to know how he can solve his problem and turn his life around. He’ll worry about the actual pill once he’s ordered.

His emotions will convince him to buy. His questions about the features will justify that purchase. But the answer to those questions come second, not first.

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast: Rough Draft?

Original article appeared here.

Introducing My New Podcast: Rough Draft


And then there was the podcast: Rough Draft.

Essential writing advice you need to succeed online, in about four minutes a day, four days a week.

It’s a sequential show. A journey. I start from the very beginning and work through principles and practices of writing for the web. Tomfoolery included. With the occasional semi-robotic surprise guest host.

If you’re a pure writer, and you wonder how you’ll be able to build your own online platform that actually gets seen, this show is your shortcut.

Subscribe to Rough Draft on iTunes

While you are at it, check out some of the other shows in the Copyblogger podcast network: RainmakerFM.

I’m particularly fond of Sonia Simone’s show art (Confessions of a Pink Haired Marketer). Intrigued by the angle on editing Stefanie Flaxman takes in her show (Editor-in-Chief). And smitten by the name of Loren Baker’s podcast on SEO (Search and Deploy).

And not to mention the next four episodes of The Lede (with Jerod and I) are going to be good. Like so good the world will end, children will forget their names, and birds will bring us food.

Come, join us.

How to Be More Successful When You Ask a Favor

Big Belt Buckle

While Enlightenment-era thinkers would like you to believe otherwise, we are not as rational as we think we are.

Books like Irrational Exuberance, Emotional Intelligence, and Descartes’ Error teach us that even the most analytical among us make decisions with emotions. Furthermore, we learn that without emotions we can’t make a decision in the first place.

In the sales context, this means people buy based on desire.

Whether someone wants a promotion at work or a healthier lifestyle, they desire these things for emotional reasons like prestige, approval, sex appeal, or security.

However, those desire-based decisions are eventually justified with logic. That’s where “reason why” advertising comes in.

In essence, if you make an offer, state a claim, or ask a favor, expect your prospect to wonder why you are making that claim. Satisfy her curiosity. Sweep away her skepticism.

Kill the troll.

For example, explain why you are giving away a free sample of your book (because you know the advice in the first chapter will help them survive Manhattan traffic that very night).

Explain why you are throwing in a free 30-minute consultation with every contract (because this helps clients warm up to your strange coaching process).

Elizabeth Langer’s famous 1977 Copy Machine Study demonstrates we don’t need much. Your reason why could be as simple as “I’m just a generous person” or “because.”

Whatever it is, make it clear. Otherwise people will wonder if there’s a catch and remain skeptical.

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?

This piece originally appeared as part of this Salesforce article (which I am told by a source close to the company is their most socially popular post). 

Want to Sweep Away Skepticism? Demonstrate Your Product

Elevator Sign

The first mention of an elevator is thought to be around 236 A.D. It was nearly seventeen hundred years later before the first working models were actually installed (in English and French palaces, no less).

There was just one problem. If the lift cable broke, the cab dropped – wounding or killing everyone inside.

In 1852, Elisha Otis hoped to save lives (and make money) by introducing his safety elevator. And he did it with a very dramatic demonstration. In front of a crowd of onlookers at the Crystal Palace in 1853, Otis raised his safety elevator three stories high, and then cut the cable – while he was still inside.

Everyone gasped.

But instead of plunging into the ground below, the elevator stopped when knurled rollers engaged. Otis was shaken up, but unhurt. As you can imagine, orders came in hot and heavy.

Otis’ demonstration proves an important principle about belief: If you want people to believe in the hard to believe, then simply demonstrate what your product does.

The blender company Blendtec’s attention-getting “Will It Blend?” YouTube videos are examples of dramatic demonstrations. To dismiss any skepticism about their claim that their blenders could grind anything and still remain sharp, Blendtec blended iPhones, hearing aids, rakes, and so on.

Views of the videos blew through the roof – as did sales.

Of course car salespeople rely heavily on this principle. Instead of wasting hours talking about a car they simply hand the keys over.

You must do the same. Find a way to demonstrate your product. Whether it is software or a service. You’ll have to be creative. And don’t forget: the more dramatic, the better.

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?

Image source: Thomas Hawk

This article originally appeared as part of this Salesforce article (which I am told by a source close to the company is their most socially popular post). 

Do This When a Monster Project Paralyzes You

Alexander 2

Floss just one tooth every day. That’s not a big commitment. But it is what dentists tell people who have trouble remembering (or feel overwhelmed) when it comes to flossing.

Sounds lame, actually.

Flossing isn’t laborious. Pull out a twenty-four inch string of floss. Wrap one end around the index finger of your right hand, the other end around the index finger of your left hand. Work it between your teeth.

I just timed myself and the whole affair took me fifty-two seconds. And I was being particularly lifeless.

We don’t floss because we are lazy. And look for any excuse not to floss. This mindset holds for big projects. Take writing a book, for example.

I’ve got this side project I so want to finish. But, to be realistic, will involve at least a year or two of writing and research. That’s overwhelming. And the project only continues to grow. For every book I read I discover three more I want to read.

Add my mounting responsibilities at Copyblogger and, naturally, there is a logjam. I may go days without touching my side project. Unless I think about it like flossing just one tooth.

Why would a dentist tell patients to floss just one tooth a day? Because she knows once someone goes through the trouble of getting the floss out for one tooth, they are more than likely to floss every tooth. And flossing just one tooth doesn’t seem like a big deal.

So what I’ve committed to is at least 24 minutes every 24 hours. Even if all I do for those 24 minutes is re-read what I wrote the day before. That doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. And usually that’s enough to get me back into the momentum.

By the way, there’s nothing special about 24 minutes except that it mirrors 24 hours. Which makes it handy. Easy to remember. Cute you might say. Like your pearly whites (if, of course, you floss everyday).

What’s your gimmick to trick your mind into doing stuff it hates? Share in the comments.

Image by Alexander Rentsch

Deathbed Advice for Your Landing Page Copy


Last Friday I participated in Page Fights: Copy Edition.

Covered a lot of material critiquing ten landing pages in under 40 minutes. And would sum everything I said in this simple statement:

Your landing page copy is nothing more than a conversation with your ideal prospect.”

Your landing page copy is not some random facts about you or your product. It’s a conversation that begins with an understanding of what is in your prospect’s mind.

And you enter that conversation by saying, “Hey, you’re not alone.” The four most powerful words in our language (sans “hey”).

Once you have her attention, then you make her feel like you care. Like you really understand. That it doesn’t have to be this way. That there is hope.

So you paint a picture of what her life will be like if she takes you up on your offer. You show her a better version of herself.

Then you prove you can deliver on your promise. That you are someone she can trust.

Finally, tell her what to do. Push her in the right direction.

Every single word should support and advance that conversation. If it doesn’t, cut it.

By the way, can anyone name the formula I used to frame this conversation? Share your answer in the comments.