Get to the point already…
This was one of my first best lessons in copywriting.
You can’t assume your reader is going to stick with you, if you take too long to get to the point.
You can’t bury the lead (or, lede).
As much as you want to take the reader on a journey, you’ve gotta earn it.
This is a good rule in general. It’s even more important for marketing. And it’s most important for marketing to people with whom you have zero relationship.
Dive right in.
Get to the value.
Get to the meat of it.
Then, zoom out, back up, and tell the rest of the story.
(Note, I don’t always follow this rule with YOU, because through these daily emails I assume we have a relationship that allows me to be more casual. I often get the feedback, “yours are the only emails I read consistently.” But if I’m going to a cold audience, the style is very different.)
Let’s come at this from a few directions…
“Get to the point,” as taught in Sales 101…
Since we write to persuade and to sell, we can turn to traditional sales wisdom for hints about what to do.
And if you’ve ever been in sales for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with WIIFM.
WIIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?” Which is exactly what your prospect wants to know, in order to first give you their attention, and second to buy from you.
They want to know the benefit you offer. The problem you’ll solve.
And so in sales you’re taught to focus your pitch on this.
Find out what your prospect wants, and then tell them what’s in it for them.
That’s a decent approach to marketing and copywriting. You could do worse.
Come out of the gate and tell them what’s in it for them.
A-list copywriters who write indirect copy for the most competitive markets do it with a little more finesse. For example, if you’re going to tell an investing story, you have to figure out how to convey that an opportunity will juice your reader’s greed glands, without hitting them over the head with a stock pitch.
And yet, every really good advertisement or marketing pitch considers what it is that the prospect wants, and finds a way to put that up front.
Then, they back that up with all the support they can muster.
“Get to the point,” as taught in journalism…
Journalism can be a very effective training ground for copywriters, as long as you can also learn to put a call-to-action at the end. Because good journalism emphasizes getting readership, and telling a compelling story in a way that’s easily digestible for mass audiences.
And in journalism, there’s a technique for structuring articles called the “inverted pyramid.”
Following the inverted pyramid, you pack the core of the story in the first paragraph. Answer as many of the Ws as possible: who, what, when, where, why, how.
Next, you fill in the most important details, in the next couple paragraphs.
And to round out the article, you can add whatever relevant details you see as adding to the story.
This gives the core of every story to a reader who only scans the publication, reading headlines and first paragraphs. And it quickly rewards those readers who want to go deeper, continuing to deliver the most important details in descending order of importance.
How does this apply to copywriting? Well, a direct response marketer who is honest with themselves knows only a small portion of their readers will be particularly interested in the promise they’re going to make in any one ad. By putting the most important detail (or, in marketing, benefit) up front, you call out to those potential buyers and tell them it’s relevant to them.
Those are the people who will read the rest. Those are the people who will read thousands of words of copy, then pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Your goal is to sift and sort early. Catch as many qualified prospects up front, and get them interested. People who aren’t qualified or aren’t a real prospect can move on with their day. Then, give the qualified prospects as much information as they need to become interested in your promises, desirous of your offer, and to make them actually respond and take action.
“Get to the point” also works in content marketing…
Yesterday I was interviewed for a private interview series.
The host wanted to start like a typical podcast interview. Start with background, how you got here, and so on. Then go into the various chunks of valuable content he wanted to cover.
I asked him to flip it. We’d start with what he thought were the most value-provoking questions first. The things his members would most want to hear. And then we’d eventually circle our way back around to the bio and background story.
This has become my modus operandi for these interviews. I know as a listener, I’m disengaged when you’re 15 minutes in and you’re still not to the end of the guest’s origin story. Especially when it’s essentially the same script they’ve clearly rehearsed and can be found on every other interview.
(Not hating, I’ve got my origin story, too, and many elements are pretty much word-for-word — in fact, I even teach this in the Story Selling Master Class.)
I’d much rather be thrust into the valuable content the guest can offer. They’re clearly being interviewed for a reason. Let them show the value they can offer first, that all that experience is meant to have built, then tell me where it came from.
I call this “100% value out of the gate.”
It’s all about getting to the point.
It’s all about capturing the listener (or viewer’s) fleeting attention, and convincing them that what I have will be worth sticking around for.
It’s buying their engagement with the content. Justifying the time I’m implicitly asking them to spend with me.
Then, once that’s done, they are far more engaged in my background, as well as any calls to action I may have later in the content.
This isn’t always easy…
Sometimes you’ve gotta kill that story you love.
Sometimes you can’t make yourself — as the writer, or the marketer — the star.
Sometimes you have to even make yourself invisible to make it about your prospect and reader, and what they want.
It’s a hard lesson to learn.
And I often have to be reminded of it.
But when you truly follow this lesson well, you’ll get more readership. And more importantly, more response.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,