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It Not What You Say But How You Say It

Copy is all about words. Or is it?

Copy is about using words to describe the benefits of your offer. About using words to paint vivid mental imagery. About using words to stir the senses, press all the "hot buttons" and push the reader to take some kind of action.

But is it really ALL about words? I mean, just words? No.

Some copywriters claim that graphics, formatting and photographs should NOT be added to a salesletter because they distract. They can take the reader's focus away from the message. I agree. But not entirely.

You see, it is definitely true that words are extremely important. And the words you choose can make or break the sale. You must describe your offer in a way that gives it sex appeal, a sense of urgency and dose of emotion.

But the cosmetics are just as important, too.

They help to direct the reader's eyes. They also help to drive important points home. But above all, they help to replace the cues, nuances and nonverbal subtleties that occur in traditional, face-to-face sales encounters.

They are Proxemics, Haptics and, most importantly for us writers, Kinesics.

Proxemics is the science of personal space. The distance between individuals during, for example, a conversation, a meeting or a shared activity.

This is not some metaphysical "Feng Shui-ish" thing. I'm talking about our psychological (and often subconscious) reaction to the distance we maintain with other people -- such as, for example, during a sales encounter.

For instance, sitting across from someone at a desk may unconsciously convey that the other person is being confrontational. That's why some sales training programs tell you to sit side by side with your prospect.

Haptics, on the other hand, is the science of touching. Some psychologists have studied the effects of touching during conversations. For example, they tested how people would react when they were told a certain statement.

Here's what they did.

In some cases, the speaker would simply tell the listener a story.

In other cases, they were told the same story. But at times, the speaker would lightly touch the listener on the forearm for no more than a few seconds, particularly when he was saying something important.

According to the study, subjects in the second test felt that the speaker was more believable. They had higher recall scores. Physiologically, they felt more relaxed and comfortable with the speaker. They felt a certain "connection."

Of course, there's more to proxemics and haptics than that. And you can't really use those in copywriting. But the one type of nonverbal communication you can use (and the one I want you to focus on) is Kinesics.

Kinesics is the science of body language. Nonverbal gestures, postures and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states, and communicates nonverbally with others.

These messages delivered through nonverbal cues, which can be either verbal or physical, can support, emphasize or contradict what is being conveyed.

In face-to-face selling, Kinesics are often used to emphasize key benefits. But they are particularly important because they can drive important points home -- such as by adding emotion to a sale pitch, which go beyond words.

Uncrossing of the arms or legs. Raising of the brows. Rubbing of the chin. Leaning forward. All of these can indicate that you're interested in your client -- or if the client does it, it can tell you she's interested in your offer.

But verbal cues are usually those conveyed through the qualities of the voice, such as tone, volume, rhythm, pitch, pausing and inflection.

All of these can be interpreted as many things and used in different ways.

For instance, inflection is the musical quality of the voice -- the verbal ups or downs of a part of a word, a whole word or a series of words. In selling, vocal inflection is probably the most often used Kinesic form of communication.

Why? Because it can virtually change the entire meaning of a message, even when a single word is inflected. Take, for example, the following sentence:

"I didn't say I love you."

It's pretty straightforward, right? But instead, if I said:

"I didn't say I LOVE you" (where verbal emphasis is placed on the word "love," as in "loooovvvve"), then I might be implying that I simply "like" you.

On the other hand, if the word "you" was emphasized (such as "I didn't say I love YOU"), then it could imply that I love someone else altogether.

If I inflected the word "didn't," as in "I DIDN'T say I love you," then it could imply that I wrote it, or I said or meant something else instead.

In essence, it's not what you say but how you say it.

In copy, we're limited, not by what we want to say but how we want to say it. That's where cosmetics, formatting and certain "visual triggers" come in.

Sure, you shouldn't add graphics willy-nilly. But you should add graphics and photos that support (and perhaps even emphasize) the sales process, and not graphics that could distract the reader from the sales message.

Auction giant eBay reports that listings with pictures outsell those without pictures. While anecdotal, I've heard of boosts in bids as high as 400%.

Therefore, if you can add a photograph of your product (or if you sell a service, a picture of you in action with a client), you will likely achieve greater results.

But graphics and pictures aside, the look of the copy is just as important as the the words themselves. That's why, when I write copy, I usually pay close attention to the cosmetics. I even call it "copy designing."

How do YOU do that?

Incorporate visual triggers, cosmetic "commands" and response devices into your copy, usually with formatting, in order to boost readership and response.

Now, I'm not talking about going crazy with different fonts and colors.

I'm talking about strategically placed bolds, italics, typestyles, font sizes, boxes, bullets, colors, white spaces, borders and so on. (Take, for instance, the way I emphasized certain words in the inflection example earlier.)

As copywriter Martin Hayman noted: "Michael Fortin is right. The way the copy is set out on the page makes a massive difference to the way the reader responds. Typographic practitioners have known this for, oh, centuries."

Here's just one example.

Over 60 years ago, Frank H. Johnson, a direct mail copywriter, decided to start a new technique to boost the readership and impact of his salesletters.

He would highlight the offer in a centered, rectangular box placed at the very top of the letter above the salutation. Why? Because he wanted to summarize his offer upfront in a way that saved his readers' time and hassle.

Instead of forcing readers to wade through a mass of copy before making the offer, he gave them the essentials, right upfront. The results were astonishing.

Direct mail copywriter Ivan Levinson reports he has seen claims that adding a "Johnson Box" to a plain letter can shoot response rates up by 40%.

This technique can also be applied to boxes placed within the heart of the copy in strategic locations, such as right before any call-to-action or when highlighting some of the most important points of your copy.

So in your copy, put your bonuses, premiums, guarantees, testimonials, factoids, key points, stories and sidenotes in Johnson Boxes.

Take a look at http://Copy-Doctor.com/, or a recent salesletter I wrote at http://SuccessDoctor.com/partners/nitro/. You'll notice Johnson Boxes interspersed throughout the copy, often in different colored or shaded tables.

My theory of why they are so effective is this: These boxes tend to direct the readers' eyes and force them to read their contents. They help to inculcate into the readers' minds those key points you want to drive home.

There's little your prospects will retain from your copy. But if you use Johnson Boxes, the likelihood they will remember their contents more -- and over any other point stated in the rest of the copy -- will be stronger.

Nevertheless, the moral is this...

Copy is not all about what you say. It's also about what you mean.

Copyright © 2003

About the Author  - 
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. His specialty are email, direct mail and web sales letters. Get a free copy of his ebook, "The Ten Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly email newsletter, "The Profit Pill," at http://SuccessDoctor.com/!




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