Hello and welcome to another Mailbox Monday!
I’m hoping not to cause any personal offense today.
That is, after last week’s debacle that ended up losing me exactly two subscribers — the one who wrote Monday’s question, and one who unsubscribed because I was unapologetic in my follow-up on Friday.
Not that I regret it. It’s just that I generally try to build people up, and reserve the uncompromising “harsh reality” posts for few and far between, and only when they’re totally necessary.
Thankfully, this week I get to comment on a broader industry trend, and there’s very little likelihood I’ll make a sworn enemy out of anyone…
Before we get to the question, I need your help…
If you really like these Mailbox Monday issues, you should know that they depend on YOU.
And so I want you to take a moment and think of the single-most important question you have about YOUR business or YOUR marketing…
And go ahead and shoot it to me via email, at [email protected]. I’ll answer your question in an upcoming issue.
On to today’s question…
As a relatively new copywriter, I want to know what’s up with video sales letters. Are they a fad? A new trend? A step toward something greater — or, perhaps worse?
What’s your take?
I missed my first opportunity to learn the whole “Video Sales Letter” thing, from the self-professed creator of the format, Jon Benson…
This was when I was just getting to know Brian Kurtz at Boardroom. Now about 4 years ago.
It was long before Titans.
I heard from friend and fellow copywriter Brendan Talty that Brian was having a closed-door, invite-only workshop with Jon Benson on video sales letters.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the next year, he’d have Perry Marshall — which I’d go to. And the year after, this would morph into the incredible Titans of Direct Response.
But that first year, I opted to stay home. (I choose to do that a lot — for better or worse — while my kids are young.)
Later, I’d get to experience it in the second-best way possible, through the DVD recordings. In hindsight, I do regret not going though.
Apparently these video sales letters were becoming a big thing…
You see, one day — so the story goes — Jon Benson got lazy.
He’d been doing these fitness and diet videos online, and they were “live” videos that took a ton of production to put a 5-minute video online.
They were taking a bunch of time and energy, and the payback was pretty small.
Then one day he didn’t have the time he needed to do the video he would normally do, so instead he put text on slides, and recorded himself reading them and making some side comments.
Sales from this video versus all the others he’d been doing were HUGE…
“Hmm…” he thought, “I may be on to something here…”
So he refined the format, actually putting his sales letters into this video format.
He seemingly couldn’t do any wrong, and sales exploded.
This attracted a ton of attention, and suddenly two things happened…
ONE: Everybody started copying him… And…
TWO: He was asked to teach his formula… Which just led to a lot more of the first thing…
And that’s what led to today’s online direct marketing world being dominated by what Jon affectionately calls “Ugly Video Sales Letters.”
Now, the specifics vary from situation to situation, but there are some pretty constant trends…
— These ugly video sales letters work. They tend to outperform text-only sales pages by 10% or more. Not always, but that’s the trend. While initial numbers were more dramatic (probably due to the novelty of the format), this appears to be where they’re settling at on a more long-term basis.
— People in the industry almost universally don’t like them, despite the fact that they work. We all claim they wouldn’t work on us, but that’s not what sales data says.
— Making them pretty doesn’t necessarily increase performance, and often decreases it. Remember, this format was discovered BECAUSE it worked better than the fancier alternatives.
What makes these things work?
Frankly, it doesn’t matter.
Let’s imagine for a moment that I were to offer you two dollar bills for every dollar bill you brought me. No catch.
If you brought me ten dollar bills, I’d give you twenty. If you brought me one hundred, I’d give you two hundred.
If there’s truly no catch, you’re not going to care why it’s happening, you’re just going to want to bring me dollars as fast as humanly possible, until I stop giving you this two-for-one trade.
While it’s nice in marketing to know why something works, it’s less important than simply knowing that it does.
And these ugly video sales letters — even after the novelty effect wore off — appear to still work very well.
My guess is it’s all about attention.
That you can direct the prospect’s attention through your entire sales message. Without them jumping around, scanning, and skipping away.
Yes, they can pause or close the page (at which time there’s usually a dialog box that allows them to read the script or just see the offer). But if they’re hooked, they’re watching the sales presentation from beginning to end, in the order you structured it.
If you’ve mapped the structure of your persuasive presentation to a sound decision-making process, this has huge advantages for you.
So… When are ugly video sales letters going to die — or at least be replaced?
Despite so many people in the industry looking down on them, scoffing at them, or even rejecting them outright…
I think the rumors of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
As I said, the novelty effect has mostly worn off. Most internet users have stumbled onto one or more, and recognized that they are indeed sales presentations.
But the good ones continue to work — and work well.
I have another one headed for testing in the next few days.
Clients still want them, because they’re generating sales.
And even efforts to replace them haven’t paid off.
Good video production — for a well-produced news- or documentary-style sales video — can run $1,000 per finished minute, or more.
Whereas a Video Sales Letter can be produced on a $1,000 laptop, with a $30 USB microphone.
When you’re talking a production budget of $60,000+ — or less than $600 — only a few marketers really have the ability to do high-end video. And it takes A+-level copywriting to have a hit with the live video format… Whereas most B-level copywriters can make most VSLs they do profitable ventures, if not home runs.
Even the direct marketers I know who are doing higher-end video are often starting off testing a VSL production. Then when they know that works, and are able to roll profits from that campaign back into the business, they re-record a high-production version of the same core presentation.
I do have one comment on a middle ground that’s being established right now, that’s worth mentioning, but first I want to answer…
What’s the scorecard on video sales letters?
Going back to J’s question, “Are they a fad? A new trend? A step toward something greater — or, perhaps worse?”
I think the “fad” phase has mostly blown over, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead and gone.
The novelty and excitement has worn off, but left a very viable online direct response marketing format in its wake — with distinctive advantages and proven higher response rates and profits.
I guess that means they’re a new trend — something similar to magalogs and bookalogs in the direct mail business in the 1990s. They’ll probably stick with us for a long time.
A step toward something greater? Maybe… The experimentations in “live” video sales presentations that feel, at least at first, like a documentary or news program are — in a word — compelling.
A step toward something worse? For some… If your finer sensibilities are offended by the fact that what’s ugly works better, then you probably think it’s a step toward the worse, especially because they appear to be here to stay.
And maybe for copywriters, it may make your life a tad more difficult, because it does require some additional effort to write for and help with the production of a VSL. But if sales are 10% higher, so are your royalties — making the extra effort worth it.
A middle-ground that seems to be working very well right now…
Stepping back, “ugly” video sales letters may be morphing toward something slightly more visually pleasing, that’s also working better.
There are two incredibly important principles to video sales letters, that are worth remembering. This is a bonus to you for reading to the end of this letter — as it’s by far the most valuable content.
First, advertising tends to attract the biggest audience when it actually provides value to the reader/prospect in and of itself. This is what made magalogs and bookalogs such successful formats. They’d be packed with valuable tidbits along with the sales message. Readers would dig in because of the tidbits, and higher readership would yield higher response. If you make your presentation actually deliver value to your viewer (so they actually want to watch), your videos can leverage this principle.
Second, demonstrations are incredible selling tools. There’s seldom an infomercial that succeeds without a demonstration. Your video sales letter is a great way to demonstrate the value you can provide. Using words and images that demonstrate the problem you’re solving, its solution, your product itself, or any part of the offer are great ways to up the selling power of your video.
What I’m finding is that more and more examples are coming to light of hybrid video sales letters that are using graphical or video elements to either deliver value to the prospect, or to provide demonstrations.
Graphics for graphics sake are worthless. But you can add some graphics to the “ugly” and actually boost engagement in response. As long as those graphical elements serve the selling purpose of the video.
This may be the next breakthrough evolution of the ugly video sales letter, though probably not its death!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets