Thursday, September 30, 2010

ETR: Paralyzed by Worry

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Issue No. 3104 - $1.00 Home Archives Contact Us Privacy Policy
Thursday September 30, 2010

"Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."

Arthur Somers Roche

Is Your Customer Too Paralyzed by Worry to Hear Your Message?
By John Forde

What keeps your customer up at night?

When he sits on his bed, one shoe on and staring out the window... what's he thinking about?

When he looks in the mirror, half-shaved... when she dials the doctor... when the mail comes, marked "Urgent"...

What sound buzzes between your prospect's ears, so loud that your sales pitch drowns in the din?

Could it be the un-payable bill... the unruly child... the rosy red zit on the tip of his nose...
or the gray hair she found this morning?

Maybe it's a nagging ache... or last night's awkward date. Maybe it's a car that pings when it shouldn't... or a job in a cubicle that's going nowhere.

Heck, maybe it's all those unreadable road signs dotting the path to total enlightenment.

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How to Unlock a Worried Mind

While you watch, I'd like to do a deep-think on a copywriting concept called the "problem-solution headline."

This, I'll bet you can gather, is the persuasion technique where you identify a prospect's problem...

then imply you've got a quick and painless way to solve it.

If you study advertising at all, you've seen this at work many, many times.

The ol' classic "Are you ever tongue-tied at a party?" is just one of many blockbuster examples.

It was a hit because it identified an emotionally drenched issue... the fear of knowing what to say in a social situation... and implied, just by the asking, that there's a way to escape that embarrassment.

Another great headline -- "Do you make these mistakes in English?" -- works almost the same way. "Yes," say the grammar-challenged. "I might make some mistakes and I worry about that." And what makes this headline even stronger is that it implies they're probably making more than one mistake. It ups the ante while also implying there's a solution.

Of course, not all problem-solution headlines have to be stated as questions.

"When doctors 'feel rotten' this is what they do" is a rare example where being general about the problem works -- because it's the unidentifiable aspect of simply "feeling rotten" that's at the core of the worry.

What's also brilliant about this one is that it's not only sympathetic -- just "feeling rotten" is a common worry -- but that the doctors who know what you're going through are also the source of the solution.

And all that happens in just nine words.

What are some other great problem-solution headlines that you might recognize?

  • From a famous book club ad: "How often do you hear yourself saying 'No, I haven't read it -- I've been meaning to!"

  • From a parenting-product ad: "Whose fault when children disobey?"

  • From a pre-Prozac era drug ad that broke ground by inventing a name for a condition: "Have you these symptoms of 'nerve exhaustion?'"

  • An old investing ad that might resonate today: "Have you a 'worry' stock?"

  • A classic non-question example that might get your psyche to vibrate: "To people who want to write -- but can't get started"

  • And two more that state, not ask: "Little Leaks That Keep Men Poor" and "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride..."

  • One more bonus example: "For the woman who is older than she looks..."

For all their differences, you'll find that the best problem-solution headlines and leads track pretty much the same formula.

First, you set aside your big benefit. You make this the time to talk about your reader -- and let him or her know you're doing it... by giving a name to the elephant in the room. It could be a big problem. It could be one that's embarrassingly small. The key is that it's deeply felt and emotionally unresolved.

Feel their pain. Let them know it. And let them feel justified for feeling that way, too. Never mock or make light of their worries, unless you're laughing with them at the awkwardness of feeling a certain way -- as a means of drawing the problem out in the open.

Then imply a solution. Either by saying or showing outright that you've got the answer... or by hinting that a solution exists. Even just seeing lots of copy below a "have-this-problem" headline could suggest as much to your reader.

What Else Do You Need to Know About Problem-Solving Headlines?

One reason problem-solution headlines are so effective is that, all too often, people want to make sure their concerns are being heard and are regarded as legit. Only then do they open up to hearing about how to fix things.

Another reason? Humans are just hard-wired to fix stuff. Even problems we don't have ourselves, we want to be the smart guy in the room who knows what to do. At least, that's going to be true of some of the prospects you'll draw in.

Simple as they are, there are lots of secrets to making problem-solution copy work.

Let's start with these...

  • If you identify the prospect's problem with a question-based headline, naturally you're gunning for a "yes" answer or anything else that opens rather than closes the door on a discussion.

  • What works isn't targeting gigantic problems. Rather, you want to aim for the one that's most deeply felt and persistent. Emotional engagement is always the key.

  • The best solution isn't always the biggest, either. Usually, it's the easiest, the cheapest, the fastest, the most widely accepted, the most precious... or some combination of the above.

  • While every problem-solution lead needs to offer answers, you're always keeping something back until after you've made the sale. That might be the name of the solution itself. Or it might be a last or most essential step that you'll reveal for a price. It might even be something you promise never to share, like a secret ingredient or formula.

  • If you claim to have answers, you'll need proof. Some problem-solution ads do that with the "before-and-after" setup you see so often for all kinds of health products. Others do it with testimonials -- either quotes, success anecdotes, or customer profiles. The reason testimonials are so powerful is not just because they show a solution in action, but because they also do the "I feel your pain" work that's special to this kind of lead.

I could say much more.

For now, let's leave it at this:

If you find yourself writing to a prospect who's so focused on his problems that he can't quite hear your promises...

this could be the way out that you're looking for.

Let him know you hear what he's worried about. Give it a name. Justify it. And THEN watch doors open to your solution.

[Ed. Note: Copywriting is just one skill you can master to help your online business grow. Learn the ins and outs of copywriting, marketing, search engine optimization, and more from some of the best experts in the business at ETR's Info-Marketing Bootcamp. Find out how to reserve your spot here.

And to get more of John Forde's wisdom and insights into copywriting (and much more), sign up for his free e-letter, Copywriter's Roundtable. If you sign up today, you'll get $78 worth of free gifts -- including John's special "Power Brainstorming Toolkit" and his e-book "15 Deadly Copy Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid"... plus a third secret bonus. For details, see John's sign-up page.]

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The Language Perfectionist: An Overused Word to Avoid

By Don Hauptman

An online search turned up these specimens:

  • "Decline in fog threatens California's iconic redwood ecosystems"

  • "The 100 Most Iconic TV Show Intros Of All Time"

  • "I'm going to show you how to make an iconic poster using the new Vector Set 18 from Go Media's Arsenal."

Originally, iconic meant "characteristic of an icon" -- an image or representation, often of a saint or other sacred personage. The adjective, perhaps aided by marketers and publicists, evolved into an all-purpose term for making people or things seem more important or desirable.

These days, iconic is used to describe just about anything, even commonplace objects. (Prell is an "iconic shampoo," according to news reports earlier this year.) As the examples above demonstrate, the word has become a tool for exaggeration and is now a cliche. In fact, iconic is often nominated for annual lists of "words that should be banned."

If something truly merits an accolade, consider such synonyms as celebrated, distinctive, famous, inimitable, legendary, original, peerless, and singular.

Fun Footote: Matters become even worse when the speaker or writer can't get the word right. A few months ago, the mayor of Boston praised local athletes whose achievements were "ionic." (Ionic is one of the three orders of ancient Greek architecture.)

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]


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