It’s not Monday — but it’s still time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

“Sales letters don’t live in a vacuum…”

I’ve written and said it many times.

Today, someone challenging me to go deeper — and explain my meaning behind the maxim.

Remember: it’s not Monday, but I’m doing a week of Mailbox Monday issues.

That’s where I answer YOUR questions.  About marketing, selling, copywriting, business, and more.

I’m answering questions all week to shorten the queue of questions I have to answer.  So if you have a question to ask, simply fill out this quick form and after this week, your answer will come sooner!

Now, on to today’s question…

Hey Roy,

You mentioned before that sales letters “don’t live in a vacuum”

And I was wondering if you could elaborate on that idea when you have the time.

Like where sales letters (offline and online) fit into a marketing strategy. And how strategies can change, dependent on the specific situation / circumstance.



Big picture: this is all about CONTEXT…

Think about this…

A conversation with someone you know well — say, an old friend — is very different than a conversation with someone you’re meeting for the first time.

Alternately, a conversation at work is very different than a conversation at someone’s home.

And if you’ve already established a conversational thread or topic, that’s very different than if you’re just starting to talk with someone.

You do this all the time.  Naturally.  Without thinking about it.

Combining the examples above, let’s say you’re talking to a co-worker who you’ve worked with for 10 years, at a dinner party at their house, as a continuation of a conversation you started earlier that day at work.

That’s a very specific conversational context, and the way you’ll approach that is very different from how you’d approach speaking with your friend from high school if you ran into them in the street after not seeing them for years.

Understanding this context is critical in your selling messages, too.

Imagine, your prospect is sitting there in an empty room, with nothing going on around them, and really not thinking about anything, as they wait for some kind of stimulation.  Then, you stick your sales message in front of them.

How often does this scenario happen?  NEVER!

And yet, to treat every piece of copy the same is to basically assume that this fictional scenario is the default setting for how your prospect will receive your message.

When in reality…

Their day is busy and their life is full and their attention is elsewhere in the moment before they get your message…

They’re checking the weather.  Then they click on an animated gif of a moose flipping over a fence, with the headline of “Watch: Moose Recovers From Massive Fail.”  As they’re watching the video of “Moose has Epic Fail Trying to Jump Fence,” they get bored and start scrolling the page.

That’s when they see your first ad.

It has to be so hyper-relevant to them that it’s more tempting to click than “Travel Blogger Wiped Out by Wave During Selfie Attempt.”

(Seriously, getting all this stuff “live” as I write this…)

Maybe it shouldn’t just be epic fail clickbait.  Because that won’t advance the sale.  And it will likely attract the wrong audience.

But it has to be more personally-relevant and appealing to your target audience than everything else on the page.

It needs to grab their ATTENTION, perhaps by somehow signaling the market you’re speaking to.  It needs to convey a BENEFIT, probably in line with the three big ideas (i.e. it is tied to either a problem, an opportunity, or a prediction that will create a problem or opportunity).  And it should do something to spark their CURIOSITY, perhaps by opening a loop or posing a question that can only be answered by clicking.

If your ad succeeds against all the competition in this context, you’re still only just getting started.

Because they’re still distracted, even if you momentarily have their attention.  They still have the entirety of the internets out there, available to them, with a single click of the back button.

And so you must present SOMETHING that feels more relevant and interesting and attention-worthy than everything else they were just looking at.

You must trigger their emotions.  You must make them feel.

You must take them away from all that distracted them before, with a message more relevant and more interesting than what they were consumed with before.

But the only way to do that — and to have a good sense of whether or not what you’re doing now will be successful — is to take on their perspective and recognize that you’re simply the latest blip on the radar, in a screen full of distractions.

Every ad faces this same challenge — and yet sometimes, it’s different…

For example, the unique challenges of advertising in print media is different than online.  Direct mail is different than email.  Broadcast TV or radio are, of course, unique.  And even seemingly similar mediums, such as radio and podcasts, or even internet radio (e.g. Pandora, Spotify) and traditional radio.

The medium is a context.  How it’s consumed and experienced is a context.  Life going around your prospect while consuming the media is a context.

And all of this is on top of things like the customer awareness model…

Using the UPSYD acronym, awareness is a huge factor in context.  An unaware prospect has a certain mental context and conversation going on around the market.  Once they’re problem-aware, it changes the context.  The conversation shifts yet again once they become solution-aware.

There’s a HUGE shift that happens, too, when they become you-aware.  And once they’re deal-ready, the conversation and context shifts yet again.

So, for example, a retargeting ad on Facebook for someone who is on your email subscriber list is a different context than someone who has compatible interests but no known connection to you or your offer.

And even that same prospect you retargeted on Facebook will have a different context and experience if you show up in their email inbox.  And it will vary whether you show up in their work or personal email.

All of this is context.

Here are three big tips for being successful with CONTEXT…

First, think about it.  Being aware of it, and considering it, is a hyper-critical first step toward honoring it and succeeding at making it work for you (or at least not against you).

Second, assume the worst.  Just because someone is on your email list doesn’t mean they know you well.  A follower on Facebook may barely know who you are.  Even if someone bought from you in the past, you may not be on their mind and thus you have to re-earn their attention.

Third, build a system to handle it.  I once used a metaphor of a river to explain how to create a flood of customers.  A huge river has thousands of tributaries.  Think of your main sales message or funnel like that big river.  Then, create ads and articles and all kinds of other smaller conversation starters that carry someone from the context they’re in to the point where they can join the main selling message.  (Click that link for a much more in-depth article.)

Context-thinking in action…

I won’t go too deep into it here, but you’ve probably seen the huge success of product launches and webinar campaigns, and wondered what made them so successful.

Most often it’s a system built around context.

I had one client that I did a series of webinar campaigns with, where I had a flowchart with 28 moving pieces.

This included the webinar and sales page, yes.  But it also included emails before and after, a webinar registration page, invitation emails to the list, and so on.

Most of the moving pieces were emails.  And here’s the really important part: we conceptualized and defined the CONTEXT of each email before we even decided what it needed to say.

So, for example, the first invitation emails that went out before the webinar were designed to get as many people to sign up for the webinar as possible.  In that context, we wanted to emphasize value-first, and so we explicitly did not mention an offer or product (in fact, we didn’t mention any offers until almost the end of the webinar).  The context was giving the email subscriber value.

Another example from later in the campaign.  After the webinar, we had four groups.  People who never registered.  People who registered but didn’t attend (and so didn’t see the offer).  People who registered and attended, but didn’t buy.  And people went through it all and bought.  Each of these got different follow-up, because their CONTEXT (as determined through their behavior) was drastically different.

Another quick example, from an unrelated campaign.  You probably know that the vast majority of people who start watching a VSL never finish.  Sometimes, marketers will use a pop-up to try to get the person to see a text marketing message, if they try to exit the video.  I’ve seen tests where this is changed based on their progress through the video, for good results.  So in the first few minutes, you get a transcript of the entire video.  If you watch for a while, maybe up to the offer, you get redirected to a very long order form that’s basically an offer-driven promo that fulfills on the big idea of the VSL.  And if you watch all the way through the offer and CTA, you get a quick-recap order form that’s designed to minimize time to order.  Again, even the length of engagement with a selling message is a marker of context, that you can use to influence what you show to a prospect.

The best marketers know this.  Understand it.  And consider it in every decision.

And now you’re among them.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr