Imagine you’re living a roguish life as a bank robber in the Wild West…
You drift from town to town ‘sticking-up’ the local bank…
You’re damn good at it too.
Just yesterday you moseyed on in, stuck your gun in the bank teller’s face and delivered your usual “this is a stick-up” line.
The teller knew the score straight away and handed over the bag of swag. You moseyed on out.
But you have a secret past…
You weren’t always this good. You used to get yourself in some real scrapes; almost caught by the Sheriff every time you tried a stick-up.
Well, back then you’d mosey on in to the bank and it would go something like this…
“I am known as the Wild Man of Wyoming. I’ve travelled for many days and I have arrived upon your town…
“I have entered your bank and intend to leave with the contents of your safe…
“You can see here I have a gun and I will use it if required…
“I don’t want to have to use this gun so please take this empty bag and fill it with the contents of the safe I mentioned before. While you do that I will…”
Already someone has sneaked out of the bank and has run to the Sheriff’s office.
You see the problem with your old approach is that you said too much. Your new line – “this is a stick-up” – says everything your previous approach did…
But in just four words.
Writing direct response sales copy is the same…
So many copywriters make the mistake of ‘waffling’.
Years of testing has proved that ‘long’ copy works well – long letters and adverts that take the time to argue and prove the case for a product or service are effective…
But too many people confuse ‘writing’ a lot with ‘saying’ a lot.
Just because you write a lot doesn’t mean you’re saying anything more than if you wrote less. Take Hemingway’s famous and often-cited six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Just six words but it says so much more.
So how do you avoid waffling and make sure you’re saying what you need to say as effectively as you can?
It’s not difficult; you’ve just got to be strict with yourself.
Start out as normal. Write as much as you want. Waffle on. And then, when you’re through waffling: forget about it.
Walk away. Leave it a few hours, a day even, and only then go back to what you’ve written.
Keep in mind the point you’re trying to make and re-read the piece. Anything that doesn’t refer to your original point in some way, get rid of it.
As I say, be strict and if in doubt take Hemingway’s advice and cut it out.
What you’ll be left with is a much more effective piece of writing that is easier and more enjoyable to read.
By practicing this technique you’ll start to write less and less waffle first time round and you’ll see that your initial draft will become much tighter and require less editing.
The ‘3 strike process’ – how to write better advertising copy
Now, this is a little technique you can use to ensure that your writing is always direct and to the point.
It might seem quite clinical and drastic but it does work…
Read through the piece of writing and after each paragraph ask yourself…
If you can answer that question, or the next paragraph does so, then that’s fine. But if not, consider that a ‘strike’.
Read the next paragraph. Ask the question again. Is the reason for that paragraph explained? Is there a clear benefit? If so, good stuff. Reset your strike count and continue. If not, clock up another strike.
Read through your whole piece following this process.
If you get to 3 strikes and a reason or benefit of continued reading is not obvious: stop. Work needs to be done.
It’s at this point that you run the risk of losing any potential reader. So, it’s incredibly important you insert a benefit related to the product or service. You need to make it a benefit that gives the reader a reason to continue reading the story.
For example, take a look at this section from a direct response sales letter I wrote a while back:
“This guy’s never set foot on a trading floor. The most he’s ever won on the lottery is two lots of £10. His parents haven’t got anything more than a regular couple in their 60s. And he’s straight up, not a dodgy deal in sight.”
So what? At this point there’s no clear reason why you should read on.
“He’s got a load of angles, different income streams, different systems. But he’s adamant: the systems themselves are irrelevant.”
So what? It’s a little intriguing but if we’re clinical about it, there’s no clear reason to read on.
“This is key. Get it and seriously: you’re already half way to a regular second income. You’ll see how if you do what this man did, £1,960, £2,438, or even £3,828 a month is easily within reach.”
Bingo. An explicit benefit and an obvious reason why the reader should read on.
The strike count can be reset and you can continue assessing the rest of the piece.
As you write or review more copy, you’ll get a more natural feel for when this point occurs and it won’t always be necessary for you to go through this ‘3 strike process’. But it does help. And following it will increase the effectiveness of any piece of copy.
Indeed, this technique can be used no matter what the ultimate length of the piece.
A three line advert for example: if you’re still saying “so what?” after the third line – you’ve got a problem.
Or if you’re writing a CV: if your potential employer is reading your CV and asks “so what?” more than three times you can be pretty sure you’re not getting an interview.
So, next time you need to sell anything with a piece of writing – whether it’s a product to a customer, or yourself to an employer – ask “so what?” and use the 3 strike process to see how you can improve the piece.