Before I got my hands on the 20-point outline I’ll break down for your below, I was a nobody copywriter…
Yes, I had talent and experience. I’d worked hard for years developing my understanding of marketing and copywriting.
And in fact, I’d helped grow a non-direct-response business from around $2 million to over $6 million in annual sales, in less than half a decade.
But so much of my success there was NOT based on copy. At least, not in the direct response sense. We had landing pages, ad copy, emails, product descriptions, the works. But like a lot of non-direct-response businesses, we didn’t spend $1 on advertising with a reasonable expectation it would generate $1 in return, as a direct result of the marketing itself. Instead, we threw a bunch of ideas and efforts out there (many of them based on what made the owner of the company feel good), and hoped that between the individual and cumulative impact we’d keep growing.
And, it worked. In fact, I regularly think about that business as a great case study of how getting a few things right (product, market, offers) can lead to huge success, even if you’re NOT the kind of A-list marketer I’ve worked hard to become.
In fact, that business uses good (not great) marketing and has continued to grow to multiples of what it was when I left, still due largely to the fact that their product, market, and primary offer are such a good fit.
But I knew all along that I wanted more than that. I wanted the challenge plus the glory of living and dying based on the results of my copy in the marketplace. It’s a sick, sick obsession.
But I knew that if I could figure out how to write long-form sales letters that could be sent to a list to generate cash, I could literally write my ticket with companies that were multiple-times bigger than that first company I helped grow.
And so in 2009, I found myself in Delray Beach, Florida, at the AWAI Bootcamp. There, I met Clayton and Wendy Makepeace. Who were handing out a big poster with the outline below on it.
It completely changed the way I wrote copy. It was my crutch for my first few years as a copywriter. I wrote my first few million-dollar promotions based on this outline.
Today I’ve internalized it. I seldom use it by wrote, but I often refer to it to make sure I’m not missing anything important.
If it weren’t for this outline, I probably wouldn’t be half the copywriter I am today. It was that seminal to my development.
That’s why I probably can’t re-publish this issue enough times, and it definitely deserves a spot on our “Best of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets” list…
This 20-point copywriting outline was behind my first million-dollar sales letters!
“Who the heck reads all that copy?”
For someone not well versed in direct response, that’s the most common first reaction.
They see the length of the sales letter, and they wonder how the heck you’d ever convince anyone to read it.
The answer to that perennial question, by the way, is BUYERS.
If someone is compelled through your message, they will read all the way to the end to make sure they’re making an informed buying decision.
In which case, you can’t really give them too much information… You can only give them irrelevant information, or information that’s presented in such a boring way they stop reading and don’t buy!
The trick then, if you’re going to sit down and churn out a 10,000-word sales letter or video script to get someone to buy, is knowing what the heck to say.
After all, long is wrong if you don’t do it right.
I was very fortunate right before becoming a full-time freelance direct response copywriter to be handed this outline…
It was from superstar copywriter Clayton Makepeace, and it came as a handout at the 2009 AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair. (Actually, I got it from his wife Wendy.)
And for the first couple years of my copywriting career, nearly every long-form direct response sales letter I wrote conformed to this outline.
It led to my first million-dollar winners. It made my name in direct response. It allowed me to make the leap from 9-to-5 guy to calling all my own shots.
AND, even though I don’t follow it today, its lessons have stuck with me.
Way back when I was starting Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, about two years ago, I shared a link to this outline.
Now, I’d like to do one better — I’d like to reflect on how I use each point of the outline…
So, without further ado, this is Clayton Makepeace’s 20-point “Pretty Darned Good Outline” for long-form sales copy, with my comments on how I interpret and use each point.
- Grab ‘Em by the Eyeballs
First and foremost, you have to make the attention sale. You need to do something to flag down your ideal prospect, and get them to read or watch. That means you have to wrestle their attention away from the million other things that are competing for it right now.
As I mentioned yesterday, the #1 most useful way to do this is to combine the most compelling benefit with something to spark their curiosity. Some people use “pattern interrupts” with great results. Others are more straightforward with a promise.
Either way, you must, Must, MUST succeed at this step to have a hope of making the sale.
- Support and Expand on Your Headline
Once you have their attention, you have to pay off whatever you used to pull that attention away from everything else. A common rookie mistake is to write the headline last — and forget that the opening copy would be a hard left turn from whatever this headline is.
The headline needs to be connected with the opening copy, which needs to flow nicely into what comes below. Here, you can reinforce the benefit promised and continue to stoke the flames of curiosity.
- Establish Credibility
One of the biggest challenges in advertising today is believability. There are too many shysters out there making the same promises you are — especially in crowded markets. What can you do to prove to the reader that you’re a credible authority on the topic, worth paying attention to… And especially, who they can put their trust and belief in.
- Bribe Him to Read This
This should all be happening pretty rapid-fire. Even in a big 10,000-word promo, we’re likely less than 300 to 500 words in by now.
And even though you got their initial attention, you have to make sure you keep it. The best way to do this is with a readership bribe. These are promises of what will be revealed in the advertisement itself.
Ideally, these promises will point to something in the ad itself that gives them some of the benefit they’re after. The more perceived value of what they’re getting in the ad itself, the more likely they are to stay until the very end.
- Deliver Value
This can be tricky business. Because the best ads give away a ton of value, without revealing all. By the time you’re through, you feel like it was time well invested in learning something, but that you still need more.
It’s common for novice copywriters to try to over-tell and over-teach (it’s definitely a mistake I’ve made). Don’t do that.
Instead, what you’re doing here is illuminating something the prospect wants to know about, and stoking their curiosity to get more.
My favorite way to do this, these days, is to really help them understand the problem my product will eventually solve. If they feel fully educated on the problem, and have a set of criteria I’ve helped them uncover for what a solution needs to look like, it’s easy for me to set up my product as the solution.
- Present Your “Big Promise”
Here, you’re starting to reveal the major benefits of your product. Up until this point, you may not have even hinted that you had a product to sell (especially if you’re trying to acquire new customers with your ad).
Now, you’re promising the benefit they want or the solution they crave.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re officially introducing the product yet — although you might. Rather, now is when you’re saying, “I can help.”
- Prove Your Point
Your prospect has been made a ton of big promises before. And a lot of people who’ve made those promises have failed him or her.
So their natural reaction to your big promise is, “Yeah, right!”
You must counter that with clear and compelling proof that you can deliver on exactly what you’ve promised. This is a great place for demonstrations, case studies, and stories.
- Snapshot of the Future “Him”
Once your prospect believes that you can deliver on your promise, you have to make it feel real for them, in their life.
Here you use the strategy of “future-pacing” — paint a vivid word picture of what their life will be like once you have fulfilled on your big promise.
What will it feel like to be free of their fears, frustrations, and failures? How will it feel to be living their dreams, desires, and destiny?
Important: it’s more powerful to state this part in present-tense.
“Just imagine… We’ve set this all up for you, and it’s starting to create results in your business…”
- Present Your Product and Prove Each Benefit
Here’s the best place to actually convey that they’re going to get the big promise fulfilled by buying a specific product.
You go from saying, “I can solve this for you,” to “It’s all part of XYZ product.”
Present your product, and its unique selling proposition.
Explain how it’s been specially-created to actually fulfill on that promise, to meet all the buying criteria you set out, and fulfill the many benefits you’ve promised.
And, as you go, make sure you’re making it believable by establishing proof and credibility that you can deliver.
- Make the Offer
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road. You’re probably not getting to this step until the last 25% or so of the promotion. But your success will live or die on the offer. (The old rule that 40% of your success is your list, 40% is your offer, and 20% of your creative really does apply.)
Present the offer itself in a way that sounds as risk-free and slanted toward the buyer as possible. Really present the great lengths you’ve gone to in order to over-deliver, and make sure they get the result you’ve promised.
You want them ready to whip out their credit card right here, right now.
- Trivialize Your Price
It’s not enough to have made a really compelling offer, really illustrate how great of a deal they’re getting at this price. It is possible to ham this up too much, especially in video or live presentation scripts. But if you’re concerned, you’re probably not going to go anywhere near that line.
Explain all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making this available. Compare apples to oranges — if you were to deliver this value in person, it would cost 100X what it costs in product form. And so on.
Make it sound like they’re getting the deal of the century — and they should be!
- Add Value
As if everything you’ve done for them to make this an incredible deal isn’t enough already, now you’re throwing in more value.
Add extra bonuses. Pile value on top.
If they thought it was a great deal before, now it should feel like the irresistible deal of a lifetime.
- Relieve Risk
And yet, there’s still doubt. Will you ACTUALLY deliver on the promise? Have you been piling on value, or just stuff?
It’s up to you to counter this objection. And the way you counter it is YOU have to take on the risk of the transaction, NOT the buyer.
Present your guarantee. The bolder, the better. 100% money-back guarantees are a minimum. The longer, the better — and the good news is people are actually less likely to take you up on a longer guarantee, in most cases. (I.e., you get less refunds from a 1-year guarantee than a 30-day guarantee.)
If at all possible, find a way to make the guarantee even more generous. 200% money-back guarantees are used by the world’s best marketers for a reason. At the very least, let them keep the premiums.
I’ve offered guarantees where if they weren’t satisfied to the n-th degree, we’d give their money back AND they could keep everything.
Will some people take advantage of it? Sure. But that will be more than made up, in most cases, by the increased sales volume.
- Sum Up
At this point, you’ve made it a no-brainer proposition. Now, point that out, and lay it out again.
Quickly sum up the details of the offer. What they’re getting, at what price, and under what guarantee conditions. Remember to tie it back to the big promise you’ve made, which should really be a continuation of the narrative from the headline down.
All you’re doing here is making sure they remember everything they get as part of this incredible deal.
- Ask for the Sale
Finally, once you’ve tipped the scales so heavily in their favor in terms of the offer you’ve made, it’s time to tell them to order.
Be direct, be clear. You’re writing sales copy because you want them to buy — tell them to buy.
Don’t get timid here, because it will come through. The prospect will not believe that you believe in yourself and your solution.
Be confident, because you know their life will be made better by buying.
- Make Ordering Stupid Easy
You’ve made it really easy to order, right? Well, tell them! Tell them the exact process they need to go through to order.
Tell them what will happen when they place their order, and what you will do to fulfill.
Here’s where you include the multiple methods of response, and anything else they need to know to make sure you get their order.
The more you can eliminate confusion from the ordering process, the better off you’ll be.
- Place Him at the Crossroads
Now, emphasize that they have to make a decision.
Lay out for them what happens if they do take action, and if they don’t. They’re at a fork in the road. They can choose to have your big promise fulfilled, or go on living life without it.
It’s their choice, but make it dang clear which direction they’ll be better off going in — buying your product!
- Ask for the Sale – AGAIN
Again, be direct and clear. Tell them to order. Now! Because that’s what it’s going to take for them to start to have that big promise fulfilled in their life.
- Sweeten the Pot
They still haven’t ordered? What the heck? Well, you must not have piled on enough value!
Add something else in. Make it even more compelling to respond. Maybe this is a fresh look at something that was already in the product — maybe it’s another bonus completely.
Either way, you want to make it even more compelling!
- Add an Urgency Element
Finally, add a REAL urgency enhancer to get them to get off their duff. If it’s a physical product being delivered, emphasize the limited quantity. If it’s a time-based product, emphasize the deadline. Even better if you’re able to combine limited time AND limited quantity.
It’s important that you don’t fake urgency here. At the very least, find a way to create urgency around a factor in their life. (E.g. “Before your next payday” for a business opportunity product, “Before this stock has XYZ happen to it” for an investment, and so on…)
Well, there you have it!
I used that very outline — and all the thinking I revealed — to create multiple million-dollar promotions for my clients.
(I also know other top copywriters who secretly used this outline to jump-start their long-copy writing abilities.)
While I don’t necessarily use that same outline today, I have internalized most of the thinking behind it, and continue to be influenced by it on every piece of copy I write.
It truly was one of my first really big copywriting breakthroughs.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
P.S. — Clayton still has the original handout online — and while I think the outline is the most valuable part by far, it’s packed with even more A-lister copywriting secrets. Click here to download the PDF.
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