They call me Death.  And I MAY be a little too intense to include in your copy.  Although you MIGHT want to bring your readers to my door...  Mwahahahahahahaha!

They call me Death. And I MAY be a little too intense to include in your copy. Although you MIGHT want to bring your readers to my door… Mwahahahahahahaha!

Well crud, Rainmaker… I made a note to myself about what I wanted to talk about today, but I can’t remember where I got it from…

As you know, I like to tell the story behind what I’m writing about. While some folks might think, “Get to the point, Roy!” I think this slice of life detail is what makes my essays human and interesting.

I could spend all day writing “just the facts” essays meant to inform only, but when you do that something interesting happens. Nobody cares. Sure, some folks get some value out of it. But it’s very rare that talking all logic and no no emotion actually builds and sustains a readership base.

There’s a reason that a large chunk of my readers open nearly every email within an hour of when they get it.

It’s not JUST because of the facts I include. It’s the stories and context around what I teach that make it interesting, and worth reading regularly for many, religiously for some.

So now here I’ve managed to work a slice of life story about my forgetfulness and inadequate notes to myself into the intro of today’s issue.

But now let’s get down to something really, really interesting.

Holding your prospects and readers by the neck, out over the edge of a cliff, threatening their imminent demise, then pulling them back at the last moment to spare their life!

By that I mean, Negative Emotion Copywriting.

And before you say, “But that sounds too sleazy for my copy!” I want you to take a step back and realize two things:

FIRST: The belief that “my business is different” is wrong, we’re all selling to people, and people are fundamentally the same no matter what business they’re in or what culture they come from. We all have similar emotions, similar desires, and similar fears — even if they’re expressed within different cultural contexts. And I don’t just mean North or South American culture versus European culture versus Asian culture versus African culture versus Australian culture. I also mean engineer culture versus entrepreneur culture versus writer culture versus salesperson culture versus you get the point…

SECOND: I’m going to present the extreme case, and in most applications I don’t actually use the extreme case. There’s a big spectrum of negative emotions and sometimes making the sale can involve only a slight excitation of these negative emotions, and sometimes it can involve invoking them in earnest. Context is key — in this, and everything in life.


On the assumption that negative emotion can be applied fruitfully to nearly any and all selling situations, when done with respect to context…

Let’s look at how to take your reader to dark, dark places — and then show them the light!

Here’s the particular expression for which I can’t find my source, that I thought perfectly captured the scenario you’re looking for in bringing negative emotion into your copy or selling approach…

“Survivable Catastrophe.”

When I heard or read it — and dang, it’s bugging me a lot today that I can’t remember where! — I thought that’s perfect.

I’ve written a lot of negative emotion copy recently — for one client in particular. And it’s done really well. So well, in fact, that I volunteered to work with this client on an ongoing basis, royalty-only, to maximize the results we generate from the copy I’ve already written. I believe this will be extremely lucrative for all of us.

But, back to the “survivable catastrophe.”

That’s exactly what you want to write about in order to invoke negative emotions in a selling situation.

The ideal emotional trajectory of a good piece of negative emotion copy is captured in the “PROBLEM-AGITATE-SOLVE” copy formula…

You show the reader a problem that they either know exists, or can believe easily.

You connect it to their life, and the impact it will have on them, and agitate them emotionally around the problem.

And then you present your product or service as the solution.

This is a simplified formula to explain what you have to do, but in its essence it is a very good basic outline.

But how do you come up with that problem that you offer to solve?

Well, it can certainly come from your product. If your product or service was built specifically to solve a problem, maybe your selling story is built around that problem. You could do worse — a lot worse!

Maybe the problem is in the market. Since I write a lot of investing stuff, I can come up with these examples easily. There’s a problem in the market right now that investors are scared of what will happen when interest rates rise across the board, as a result of the Federal Reserve raising their rates. That’s a market-driven problem, that you could potentially solve.

Maybe the problem can come from your prospects or customers. Do some research. Do some interviews. Figure out what their biggest challenges are (they’ll shut down if you call them “problems” but open up if you call them “challenges”). And if you can tie that back to your offering, great.

But how do you know when you’ve found “the one” problem worthy of a promotion?

This is where we loop back around to the idea of a “survivable catastrophe.”

Let’s define it, so I can stop using those silly quotation marks.

Catastrophe: an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

Survivable: (of an accident or ordeal) able to be survived; not fatal.

So, a survivable catastrophe is a really, really bad event that’s not so bad it kills you.

The death knell of negative emotion copy is to take the reader to such a dark place, that they believe they’ll never ever return. If you go too dark, you’ll trigger the “fight or flight” response, and they’ll never buy because they’re too wrapped up in their own fear and desire for survival.

But if you paint a picture of a survivable catastrophe — one where great suffering is possible, but it won’t be fatal — then you’re in a good place. Because simply by the fact that it’s survivable, you give them hope. And in that hope is the opportunity for your product to help them.

This may seem really sinister, but I have a favorite image that really spells out what you want to do with the negative emotion copy. You want to grab your prospect by the throat and hold them over a steep cliff. You want to show them what’s below, and get them right to the point that they believe they could fall. And then, you want to pull them back. If the sale is complex enough, you may need to hold them over the edge for a while — even alternating between pulling them back and pushing them back out there — before you finally offer refuge and solace by pulling them back.

Having the right survivable catastrophe is like having a scary enough cliff to hold them over. It’s very, very important to the success of your copy.

Now, as I should be hitting publish, I realize you’ll benefit from a few examples…

— Selling investments: painting a very clear picture of what will happen when a highly destructive financial event hits… (End of America is a perfect example worth a career of study.)

— Selling health supplements: showing someone else with the condition, who neglected it and let it get as bad as it could get without dying…

— Selling industrial assembly line robots: showing the financial losses from having an assembly line failure in an ultra-high-value, high-precision manufacturing situation…

— Selling computer security: showing the enormous technological, financial, and business reputation losses that come from something like the Target hack that made news not too long ago…

— Selling high-end haircuts: telling the story of the just-out-of-school hairstylist who ruined someone’s big day (or night) by botching a haircut and making the person feel miserable.

— Selling coffee: telling a tale of a day that was ruined, all starting with a bad cup of coffee…

— Selling roofing: sharing the story of an everyday family just trying to save money who went with the no-name roofing company who’d cut corners to offer the lowest bid, who ended up having tens of thousands of dollars damage to their house because the job was done poorly…

And so on…

Have fun with it… You could no doubt come up with your own!

Then the key is bringing it back around to your product or service, and showing how you will help them avoid the survivable catastrophe in the first place — or if it’s totally unavoidable, how you will help them survive and thrive when it hits.

That could lead to a big breakthrough promotion for you!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets

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