Attack of the Killer Copy


Article by C.J. HaydenKiller copy frightens me. Some days I think if I see one more hype-laden email, web page, or direct mail piece promising to solve all my problems for only a small investment with a value of ten times its price, I’m going to run away screaming.

ScreamThe truly scary ones arrive by email from complete strangers. There I am feeling safe and secure in my office, and all of a sudden someone I don’t even know is hitting me over the head with twenty-seven reasons to buy, buy, buy, now, now, now.

The scariest thing to me about these killer copy assaults is that I see independent professionals — consultants, business advisors, coaches, designers, freelancers, and others — adopting the over-the-top style of these messages to sell their professional services.

Have you ever chosen a financial advisor because she offered you a free set of steak knives? Or decided to work with a personal trainer because he promised to reveal the seven hidden secrets of how to lose weight with zero effort? Or hired a graphic designer who declared she would blow you away with the brilliance of her breakthrough work guaranteed to produce instant results?

Of course you haven’t, and neither has anyone else. Unrealistic promises, overblown claims, and bonus gifts that have nothing to do with what’s being sold are not what convince us to hire a professional service provider.

Copywriting come-ons like these may have their place. Marketing studies indicate this approach actually works to sell consumer products like nutritional supplements and kitchen gadgets. On the Internet, long, superlative-laden sales letters have (unfortunately) been proven quite successful in selling e-books and home-study courses. But convincing someone to hire you to do financial planning or personal training or graphic design is an entirely different affair.

There are three things the typical buyer wants to know before choosing professionals to do business with:

  1. Do they know what they are doing?
  2. Can I trust them to deliver what they have promised?
  3. Will working with them be a pleasant experience?

Can those questions be adequately answered by a page (or five pages) of overly enthusiastic, breathlessly-paced killer copy?

Not likely.

In fact, if you want to convince people that you are knowledgeable, trustworthy, and easy to work with, you’re probably going to have to employ much more than just marketing copy. To build the know-like-and-trust factor that makes people hire a professional, it’s likely you’ll need to spend time getting to know your prospects personally, visibly establish your expertise through writing, speaking, or volunteering, or initiate more referral relationships to bring you prospects who are pre-sold.

Your marketing copy alone isn’t going to do the whole job, no matter how good it is.

But that said, you do still need marketing copy to use in sales letters, on your website, in your brochure, etc. So if it shouldn’t be full of hype and questionable promises, what should it contain? Remembering the three questions above that your prospects want the answers to, here’s what your copy should address:

  1. What is the source of your expertise? Refer to your professional education, specialized training, credentials you hold, and prior work experience. List former clients or describe completed projects.
  2. What specific results do people get from working with you? Describe the tangible benefits clients receive from your work. Give examples, present your portfolio, share case studies, or cite statistics.
  3. What has been the experience of former clients? Use testimonials to have them express this in their own words. Ask clients to describe in detail what working with you was like, not just praise you.

If you focus on clearly and honestly addressing these three points, speaking in your own authentic voice, your copy will ultimately result in more closed sales than any amount of hyped-up verbiage ever could.

So don’t let the prevalence of killer copy out there scare you into thinking you should be using it to market your professional services. Instead, every time you see it, let it be a reminder to run in the opposite direction.

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Reader Comments

Finally, someone recognizes that the “service industry” does not function like the “product industry”. Thank you. I struggle with trying to determine how to market my bookkeeping/tax service business online. After reviewing various websites, I have determined that they don’t know how to market their services either. My niche is the independent business owner and there is so much that they struggle with. Trying to determine how to reach them has been my struggle.
Thanks again, for the guidance.
Terri K

Terri, thanks for your comment. I think regarding a website for a service like yours, the most important thing to recognize is that it’s very unusual for someone to find your site on their own and decide to contact you. It’s much more likely that the biz owner hears about you in some other way, and then comes to your site to find out more. That suggests that what you really need to focus on with your site is “why hire THIS bookkeeping/tax service vs. any other.” See if looking through that lens could be helpful in deciding what copy to have on your site.

First of all, I *love* your book “Get Clients Now!” It’s helped focus me in a way that “winging it” just doesn’t accomplish.

I think “killer” copy in this context is just bad copy. This genre of Direct Response … getting someone to respond right away … can be done poorly. “Unrealistic promises, overblown claims, and bonus gifts that have nothing to do with what’s being sold” have no place in *truly* killer copy. Promises always have to be fulfilled. Claims — even if sensationalized — need to be rooted in reality (“reason why” copy). And gifts should have some bearing on the product or service.

I also agree that professional services should not be sold in the same way products are sold. Asking for the order from a sales letter for professional services … probably a bad idea. On the other hand, Direct Response done well can lead to inquiries for more information or appointments. Maybe even a sale or two right off the bat.

The basic elements of a good Direct Response piece … getting attention, swiftly leading the reader along, countering all possible objections, and asking for a response now that can be measured and tracked accurately … can be used effectively in emails, sales letters, website copy, and so on.

It just has to be done right.

Thanks for publishing “Get Clients Now!”