Today, on this Copy Tuesday, perhaps THE single-most important copywriting skill…
Proof Point #1…
My second freelance copywriting client ever was Ken McCarthy. He’s the guy that put on the very FIRST internet marketing seminar back in 1994, featuring Netscape’s Marc Andreessen as a speaker — right as Netscape was helping give birth to the visual internet.
Ken went on and over the course of a decade-long run of The System Seminar, he taught internet marketing to today’s gurus. It’s true. Nearly every internet marketing expert you know of today has a lineage back to The System Seminar, and to Ken. Some acknowledge it. Some hide it. Some are just too dumb to see it.
Ken also has a long background in direct response and copywriting.
He used to be Dan Kennedy’s web guy. He convinced Boardroom, Inc. to buy the Boardroom.com domain name — actually, he bought and registered it for them.
When Gary Bencivenga was retiring, and had NEVER given a public interview in 40 years of copywriting, he came out from behind a veil of secrecy for Ken, giving a 3-plus-hour interview.
Oh yeah, and this September Ken was the top internet expert speaking at The Titans of Direct Response.
When I worked for Ken way back in 2007, still a fresh-faced young copywriter, he told me that the single-most important skill a direct response copywriter could possess was the ability to “write bullets that wound, with the only remedy coming from buying the product.”
He also told me that I wrote powerful bullets.
Proof Point #2…
When Boardroom ran some of their classic ads that built the company from scratch to well into the tens of millions of dollars per year (one $39 book at a time, paid for AFTER delivery)…
They used to run these multi-page “sales letters” and full-page ads that were nothing but bullets..
Not only that, when they were in direct mail they used to cover the envelopes themselves with these things…
– How to refund airlines’ non-refundable ticket…
– Vitamins never to buy at health food store…
– What never to eat on an airplane…
– Instant revenge against obscene phone caller. You never got this kind of advice from the phone company…
– Assets that should never be mentioned in your will… never…
– How not to wait in line. Best times to be at bank, post office, doctor’s office, dentist’s office… get tickets to hit show.
– Painkillers that make pain worse. Page 214.
In fact, this was such a big part of Boardroom’s copy strategy that they gave their bullets their own name — fascinations…
And their best bullet copywriter was a guy by the name of Mel Martin, who you may have never heard of because he was on an exclusive deal with Boardroom, and was under strict orders to never reveal to anyone who his employer was.
Proof Point #3…
A friend of mine just got a gig with one of the top “up and coming” direct marketing industry leaders.
You may not recognize a lot of their brands, because they’re not competing in traditional spaces. But they’ve created a scientific model for dominating niche after niche online, and are rapidly expanding.
They’ve been recruiting copywriters, and they have one test they give copywriters…
They give you a 3-page script from one of their videos. You have as much time as you need. All you need to do is dig into the script, and come up with all the bullet points and fascinations you can.
They tell me, “You can’t fake it. You can either write great bullets, or you can’t.”
If you can write good bullets, they figure you’re at least a good enough copywriter to test out.
If you can’t, adios!
Even more proof points…
Parris Lampropoulos is one of the most successful copywriters in the world today. He frequently emphasizes that the bullets are the most important part of every copy project he does. And he’ll write 300 bullets for a package that only needs 70. He spends a substantial amount of his time here for a reason.
John Carlton is well-known for his bullets. Some of his classic sales letters were 8-pagers, with a solid 4 pages in the middle of wall-to-wall bullets.
Gary Halbert, Gary Bencivenga, Eugene Schwartz… No matter how many greats I list, I will certainly miss too many more, so I’m stopping there…
Great copywriters write great bullets.
For good reason, too.
For one, often customers will report buying a product simply to satisfy their curiosity around a single bullet. And not just $39 books, either. A product can cost thousands, and one bullet can be the deciding factor between making the sale and not.
Also, bullet-writing is a universal copywriting skill. Need a headline? Write it just like you’d write a bullet. Need subheads? Use bullets. A punchy opener? Bullets. If you can condense and make interesting a piece of information in bullet form, you have 90% or more of the “writing” part of copywriting down.
And if you want to get good at this, one of the most important things you can do is to study great bullets from other writers.
So what are we waiting for?
Let’s look at some bullets…
Here’s some bullets John Carlton wrote, that Gary Halbert shared in an issue of The Gary Halbert Letter… I’ve put my observations in (parentheses) below the bullets…
– The 7-step formula that even an illiterate drop-out can use to write advertising copy 100 times more potent than the best Madison Avenue ad agency!
(Includes a number, promises specific formula, dramatizes the minimal intelligence and writing ability needed, offers extreme comparison to Madison Avenue advertising.)
– The Real Reason people choose to buy anything — the secret truth long known by master salesmen, sociologists and “con men” finally revealed!
(Real reason is busting myths and revealing secrets, promise implied is that you’ll be able to get people to buy things, “con men” reference makes it feel even more powerful and maybe a bit sneaky or illicit which even interests prudes.)
– How to use a little-known “positioning secret” to completely cancel out the superior size or experience of your attacker! (Size and strength are meaningless when you know this secret!)
(Specificity of claim about “positioning secret” and named mechanism increase believability, counters objection in self defense about being smaller than attacker, promises secret information.)
And here are some Bencivenga bullets from his retirement seminar DVD sales letter…
– The easiest way to control the process of persuasion rather than merely guess at it. You’ll learn that persuasion, like music, comes down to a few simple notes. Master them, and you can play an infinite variety of melodies that are music to your prospects’ ears.
(Easiest is a big trigger, offers solution that takes away guess work, promises simplicity with an image, creates a pleasing picture of a future positive scenario.)
– You will dissolve price resistance and may even be able to double or even triple your original price point because your product will create such white-hot demand from the core of your market.
(Promises an idea result directly to the reader, presents ideal scenario of increased profits, gives reason why behind promise.)
– The best defense against being cheated in a performance-based agreement is to do this …
(Points to a problem and a solution, seems to provide a simple preventative answer.)
And while we’re at it… Some of MY bullets from my workshop sales letter…
– What most copywriters I supervise or review copy for TOTALLY SCREW UP… This is the clarion call of “rank amateur” copy — and completely unacceptable once you start competing in the “Big Leagues.”
(Point to problem and unwanted scenario it creates, makes it feel like a very common problem, positions authority based on experience, implicitly promises solution.)
– 10 questions that reveal “leaks” in your copy — ask these before you send it out, plug any leaks, and it WILL increase your response.
(Offers a simple test, promises better results, includes specific number to attract attention.)
– Which “dark” emotions are REALLY behind great copy… (If you believe “benefits sell” this is going to be a huge wakeup call!)
(Busts myths, points to illicit secrets, reveals path to greater success.)
I could go on…
One of the things you can do is pay attention to which bullets grab YOU. Write those down on a 3X5 card, and keep a deck of ‘em somewhere near your desk. Then when you need inspiration, flip through the cards and read the bullets.
Also, do what I did. Don’t just look at the bullets. Don’t even just copy ‘em out by hand. Get in there and try to pinpoint all the things the copywriter was trying to do (both consciously and unconsciously) with the bullets.
We actually spent a ton of time digging into this — an entire dedicated session — at my workshop.
And here’s the really cool things. That copy test I mentioned above — where they just wanted to see how well you can write bullets… Well, one of my attendees used what he learned at my workshop, and got his foot in the door.
One gig alone there could easily pay back his investment in the workshop.
Now, I’ve just sent out MP3s of the workshop to all the attendees, and I did mention once that I may do some pre-sell of the DVDs with immediate download of the MP3s.
I’d pay particularly close attention to any emails from me for the next few weeks if you’re interested at all. When I do that, it’ll be on a LIMITED basis. And it will be the best price I’ll ever offer these materials at.
That’s all I’m going to say for now.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets