Updated: Feb 12
Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.
Is a long subject line better than short? Do green envelopes do better around Christmas? Is a postcard enough copy?
There’s no reason to guess!
Instead, you can apply tested principles in preparing your promotional materials that increase their effectiveness. Advertising legend Robert Collier called it “taking the guess out of advertising.”
Collier understood that writing advertising copy (or any form of persuasive material, for that matter) should be something of a science. He liked to refer to the work of the Tested Selling Institute and Word Laboratory Inc., which identified words and phrases salespeople could use to get customers to buy. These “Tested Selling Sentences” were to be memorized and used by salespeople in one-on-one interactions with customers.
Collier believed that taking this kind of approach to selling would be just as effective when applied to the printed word. For example, his research showed that in writing sales pieces, there were certain tested openings to letters that would invariably win readers’ attention, which, of course, is the first step to making a sale.
Of all these openings, the word “how” seemed to work the best. In some cases, using the word “how” in a headline could greatly increase the pull of a sales piece. This rule is certainly used widely today, as “how” frequently appears in headlines, blog posts and article titles.
This magic word seems to work no matter what product is being sold. People want practical solutions to their problems, and the word “how” is an immediate signal that if they will just spend a few minutes reading the sales piece or web page, they will be sure to learn something that will improve their lives. According to Collier, other “magic” words that impelled people to give their attention and ultimately buy were:
Facts you should know about ...
If you read magazines or surf the internet today, you’ll find these words popping up again and again. They seem to be as powerful as ever.
The value of feeding vanity
Another principle Collier followed was to appeal to readers’ vanity. For example, giving the impression that the reader has been specially selected to receive an offer because of his or her unique qualities can lead to a huge response.
This approach is used a great deal today. The word “exclusive” appears everywhere, and people still have a positive response to it. Statements like “Read ONLY if you’re serious ... ” help pull the reader in by complimenting them, while keeping out less-qualified prospects.
Can you think of ways to play up to your readers’ egos? Whether your aim is clinching a sale, getting them to sign up for your newsletter or getting them to join your website, this is an effective strategy. Make them feel that only people who are discerning, properly ambitious or with finer taste can realize the value of what you offer, and they will want to prove they have those qualities by doing what you want them to do.
Successful letter openings Collier gave a number of examples of ways to open letters that proved to work very well.
Here are two of my favorites: Do me a favor One company he knew of received a great response with letters that began: “I wonder if you would be good enough to do me a favor?” It worked so well they started all their letters using those words.
“Give me ___ and I’ll give you ___” Collier also found great success with variations on the idea “Give Me Five Minutes, and I’ll Give You [This or That].” For example, “Give Me Two Minutes -- And I’ll Give You the Secret of a Goodly Profit Without Investment.” Another successful opener to a letter selling a new set of books was: “Give Me Five Days -- And I’ll Give You the Secret of Learning Any Subject!” Or there was this one: “Give Me Five Days, and I’ll Give You Relief from Itching Feet.” You can see how easy it is to take a good idea like this and adapt it as needed to different subjects. You just have to keep testing it and examining the response rate to make sure the approach is still working.
It’s just a question of finding the keys that “take the guess" out of advertising, and then applying them to whatever product you’re selling. The keys work because they have more to do with human nature than they do with merchandise.
You have to understand your prospects and their hidden desires and motivations. Then, gear your promotions to appeal to those aspects of human nature. Once you find one thing that works, keep adjusting and adapting and testing what you do so that you get a better and better response with each new campaign.
Sugarcoating the pill In addition to using the right words, another way to “take the guess” out of advertising is to sugarcoat the offer by throwing in a bonus or premium.
The cost becomes easier to swallow when a special gift is included in the deal. This approach works with just about anything you’re selling, from magazine subscriptions to dental implants. Always offer some special bonus, and you can see a huge increase in your rate of response.
Suppose you want to get people to subscribe to your blog on financial predictions. Perhaps there’s a yearly fee and you wonder if potential subscribers will be put off by that. You can sugarcoat the pill by offering a free book to new or renewing subscribers. Really emphasize how much they will benefit by reading and using the information in the book. You’ll probably find that sign-ups increase.
But, don’t stop there. Try offering a different book and compare results. If you’ve managed to move your buyers to an online platform, test the difference between offering a hard-copy book vs. an ebook; the latter will cost you much less to provide, but people may prefer it because they can receive it immediately. Do the testing to find out what works best with your target audience.
Conversely, if you start your marketing online, don’t underestimate the perceived value of a “hard premium” (not something digital) to add to the richness of the offer. Even people who are on their computers all day have mailboxes, and if you can capture their physical address, you can expand the ways to communicate with them and deliver quality information and products. As Collier taught us, human nature doesn’t change. There are certain ways you can approach people that really do “take the guess” out of advertising.
You’ve been given some of the most effective rules here, but the only way you can find out what works best for you is through testing your own sales pieces and other promotional materials. Once you discover what works, you can use it again and again for better and better results.