According to Business Insider the average conversion rate for an e-commerce site is between 2-3 percent. By contrast, the publication goes on to say, top performing websites convert as much as 23 percent of visitors to customers. The differences between the typical and the top-performers will include a number of different factors: the product itself will be one; the offer will be another; the sources of the visitors will have an effect too. But the quality of the copy will be vital, and in particular the ability of the copy to create a desire in the user to buy.
That desire begins even before any words are offered. The ability of Apple’s products to dominate their markets has little to do with the sales copy, although it certainly helps, and much more to do with the products’ designs. Apple has no copywriting equivalent of Jonathan Ive, the company’s Senior Vice-President of Industrial Design. When promoting a physical product then, it helps to start with an image as well as an eye-catching headline.
Whenever You Can, Show, Don’t Tell
Dell’s sales page for its iPad rival, the Inspiron Duo, for example, uses almost the entire space above the fold for an image. There’s a headline and a couple of lines of introductory text, but it’s the picture of the computer with its bizarre screen shape that wins attention and creates in the viewer a desire to pick the device up, play with it and learn more. The movement along the sales funnel from landing to page to more information is made natural with a call to action inviting viewers not to “read on” or “learn more” but to “See the difference,” complemented with graphic hints of what they can expect to see.
It’s a strategy that makes the most of the product’s strongest sales point: its unique appearance, an advantage held by most technical gadgets.
A picture then can say more than words when the product is a new design and therefore hard to imagine. For products that aren’t visual, such as information products like magazines and nonfiction books, marketers will need to rely on words alone to generate the desire to learn, trust and purchase.
The challenge for the copywriter though is that readers don’t just begin with no desire for the product. They begin with no desire for the sales letter. No one ever wants to read an advertisement. They want to read the content around the advertisement, and it’s up to the copywriter to make the copy so interesting that reader is pulled in.
One effective way to generate a desire to read is to tell a story.
Tell a Story with Plenty of Drama
Frank Kern’s sales letter for his launch course, Mass Control, calls itself “The Inside Story of the Biggest Launches in Internet Marketing History.” Like most Internet sales letters, it’s long. Unlike most sales letters though this one isn’t filled with testimonials from people who might not exist or lists of the features the product offers. Instead, it focuses on telling a story:
“the real story …the true story that only I can tell you, because I’m the guy that made it all happen.”
That’s an opening that has more in common with a novel than piece of marketing, a style that pulls people into the copy. The sub-headings, the summary of the story that viewers will read as they flick down the page, deliver not the features but the drama. We’re told that Frank Kern was “scared out of my mind,” “ignored” and on more than one occasion, “screwed.” And in between those low points, we’re also given the million dollar figures that the turnaround generated.
It’s a bit like a movie script in which the hero constantly finds himself cornered against a bunch of bad guys before battling his way out to find the treasure. It delivers the same kind of drama, the same type of story-telling — and the same ability to keep an audience engaged while still pushing the idea that author knows how to create results. It’s not until right at the end of the sales letter that we even learn that he’s selling a product, let alone what that product contains.
That’s not an entirely new approach. In fact, one of the most effective sales letters of all time, The Wall Street Journal’s tale of two young men was written by copywriter Martin Conroy in the same manner. Issued for more than 25 years, it’s said to have generated over $1 billion for the Journal.
Each of those stories though was written in a different style. Frank Kern’s letter is colloquial and breathless, as you might expect of a marketer attempting to grab the attention of other marketers. Martin Conroy’s tale is more literary, as you might expect of someone pitching to the WSJ’s middle class market. Both, though, seek to make the reader feel special.
A sense of being special is a powerful driver in any instinct to buy. Customers want to be able to show people how smart they were in having the sense to spot the benefits of a product and buy it. Their desire to buy increases when they feel that buying makes them part of an exclusive club.
Frank Kern creates that feeling by repeating that the story he’s telling is “true,” “real” and “inside.” Read the letter, he suggests, and buy the product, and you’ll be part of an elite group that really understands how products are launched.
Martin Conroy’s tale is really the secret of success. In practice, that’s unlikely to be knowledge alone, as his letter suggests, but that’s what his story is trying to say: if you want to be part of the small group of people who can become presidents of companies, you need a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. A sales letter issued by American Express that began:
“Quite frankly, the American Express Card is not for everyone. And not everyone who applies for card membership is approved.”
does the same thing with a little less subtlety.
Communicate to the lead that they’re getting something no one else has and they’ll want it more.
The desire to buy is an essential goal of any piece of sales copy. It can be done with a picture, it can be done with a captivating story, and it can be done with a sense of exclusivity, among other strategies. But it is part of what pushes those conversion rates above 2-3 percent.