I refer to my dog Tika as my “learning experience” dog.
In her youth, she made Marley of Marley and Me fame look like a paragon of obedient canine virtue.
Tika had a troubled past and by the time I adopted her, she had pretty much every behavior problem in the dog training books. My husband couldn’t actually touch her for the first six months we owned her.
Want to test the health of your marriage? Get a bad dog.
Tika flamboyantly flunked two obedience classes and after consulting with vets and behaviorists, I embarked on a massive behavior modification campaign.
The good news is that it worked, and she has evolved into a wonderful dog.
The bad news is that you can’t let up on the basics. Tika is 14 years old and if we slack off even a little, her bad behavior returns.
Copywriting is the same way. You can’t slack off. If your last sales letter, or email campaign, or landing page fell flat, maybe you’ve forgotten some of the basics.
1. Get their attention
Tika flunked out of obedience classes because she couldn’t focus on anything for more than a nano-second.
After clinical testing, we learned she has doggie ADHD (called hyperkinesis in canines).
Getting the attention of a dog with a brain chemistry problem is challenging. Treats didn’t work, since Tika never actually looked at anything. Praise and happy voices sent her spaz-o-meter through the roof.
Most people reading your copy are at least as distracted as a dog with ADHD.
They need a reason to pay attention, since they’re bombarded with messages thousands of times a day. Why should they read yours?
You’ve read it before, but I’ll say it again: your headline needs to stop people in their tracks either by arousing curiosity or by saying something so mesmerizing that people feel compelled to read on.
If your headline doesn’t get the reader’s attention, it’s all over.
2. Make a promise
Teaching Tika the “sit” command was crucial, since stillness helps her focus.
After I got that far, I had to give her a reason to keep sitting, otherwise, she’d leap back up. The key is using a “release word.”
At our house, dogs have to sit until I say “okay.” Something good happens after I say the magic word.
Tika might get to eat, she might get verbal praise, or she might get some petting. Whatever it is, she knows it’s going to be good.
In much the same way, after your headline has captured the reader’s attention, you need to lead off with a strong promise that causes your reader to visualize what it’s going to be like to experience all the joys your product or service will bring.
In fact, your content itself has to be a reward for the reader — something delicious that will make her pay even closer attention next time.
Copy that works often reinforces beliefs your readers already have and describes some type of transformation they want. The reader may not know exactly how everything will work yet, but she knows it’s going to be something great.
3. Lead them where you want them to go
Tika was about 5 months old when I adopted her. In other words she was a canine teenager.
The adolescent period in dogs can be as unpleasant as it is in humans. Part of Tika’s behavior issues revolved around the fact that no one had set boundaries or told her what she should do.
In the absence of leadership, doggie mayhem ensues. A 5-month old dog left to her own devices is not a good thing.
By having Tika “sit” before she could do anything, I started to establish myself as a benevolent leader.
Your copy also needs to lead your readers down the path you would like them to follow.
If you meander or waver in the path, readers will just stop reading and go away. Each sentence must naturally flow into the next toward the conclusion you want the reader to make.
Your copy should provide compelling proof that you are an authority who can be trusted and that what you are offering will do what you say.
4. Have a call to action
Although teaching Tika “sit” was a good start, it wasn’t enough.
We needed a lot more commands to keep our sanity, particularly in the early years with Tika the Nutbird. So we added commands like “down,” and “go to your bed” to her repertoire.
We even taught her subtle differences like “go lie down” (which means, you can go find a place and lie down) versus “down” (which means lie down right here, right now). Any time Tika seems to need something to do, I give her something to do.
To be successful, copy needs to spell out the response you want.
You need to give the reader something to do, whether it’s sign up for a newsletter or buy a product.
If your copy doesn’t convert, it may be that you simply haven’t done a good job of asking for the sale.
5. Reward good behavior — ignore bad
When I was working with Tika, I looked for opportunities to tell her she was a good girl when she was actually doing something right.
So, I would praise her when she was curled up quietly on the floor. Or when she ran up to me and spontaneously sat in front of me, instead of jumping all over the place.
One principle of positive reinforcement training is that you reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior.
You can include positive reinforcement techniques in your copy too.
You might offer incentives for signing up early, such as a lower price.
Or you could set up attractive product bundles, add bonuses, or create repeat-customer reward programs.
Not everyone is going to be your customer. Don’t give your valuable attention to people who won’t ever buy from you.
And when customers do buy from you, shower them with as much love and appreciation as possible. Give them great service, fantastic value, and a superior product.
Persuading a dog that being calm and collected actually is better than running around a room like a Tasmanian Devil on crack is not easy. It takes a lot of time and patience.
Learning to write persuasive copy is no different. You’ll have to work at it. But as I found with Tika, it’s worth it.