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Want Better Sales Copy? Take a Tip From Zig Ziglar

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In his keynotes and recordings, world-class motivational speaker and sales trainer Zig Ziglar often talks about the importance of having meaningful, specific goals. And he'll drive home his point with the rhetorical question, "What would you rather be in life, a meaningful specific or a wandering generality?"

As marketers and business owners, if we want our sales copy to produce profitable results we would do well to heed Zig's admonition. Because nothing will hold the attention of your reader and advance your selling proposition as well as specific and meaningful benefit-oriented copy.

But many sales letters and direct response mailers I receive—especially those from small businesses—show little regard for this fact.

For example, I recently received a sales letter from a commercial real estate broker. Here are the opening few paragraphs:

Few decisions are as important to your company's future success as where you choose to locate your company and under what parameters.


Fewer decisions still are as difficult to make and feel secure that you made the right choice. And yet few you will make can be made with as much confidence as relocation with the help of BKP Commercial Tenant Advisory Services. That is because with BKP as your exclusive representative, you can be assured you are not only seeing all your options, you are entering into the most economically favorable transaction.

After salaries and wages, rent typically is your second largest cost of doing business....

Let's overlook the overuse of the word "few" and the fact that the opening lacks any real attention-grabbling power. That said, what do you notice about the second paragraph? If your answer is, "It doesn't offer up any meaningful specifics to justify its claim" give yourself an "A." In fact, nothing in this paragraph or the entire letter explains or even hints at how it is that when I work with BKP I can be assured that I am seeing all my options.

Does BKP have a national up-to-the-minute database of available space that can be queried and searched by a multitude of parameters? If so, it should tell me. Is it part of a nationwide network with access to up-to-the-minute lease rates in all 50 states across 873 local markets? If so, it should tell me. Simply put, BKP should give me meaningful specifics instead of generalities and unsubstantiated claims.

Quality, Service, Value, etc.: Meaningless without specificity

Want to set your sales copy and your business apart from the overwhelming majority of organizations you're competing against? Here's a simple but powerful strategy you can start implementing today. Specify exactly what you mean when you use such words and phrases as quality, quality products and services, customer-service-oriented, we put the customer first, value, etc.

Because these words and phrases—in and of themselves—are meaningless. Yes, they sound good. Yes, they look good on your stationery and in your email and on your Web site. But the sales impact of using them, without defining and detailing what you mean, is virtually nil.

Here's an example of exactly what I mean taken directly from a company's homepage:

Our Commitment to Quality

  • Quality Training
  • Quality Tools
  • Quality Lighting Systems that enable you to see the "entire dent"
  • Quality Staff to Support You
  • Quality Training Facilities
  • Quality Instructors to Educate You
  • Quality PERIOD!!!

That is exactly what The Ding King Training Institute will provide you with—Quality!

There you have it. We know exactly what they mean by quality. They mean, uh, Quality PERIOD!!!

OK. I couldn't resist having a little fun. But the flip side is that if you translate terms like quality and value into specific, benefit-oriented, "reasons-why" copy, good things can happen. For instance, in his book, My Life In Advertising, Claude Hopkins tells of the time when his agency landed the Schlitz Beer account:

All brewers at that time were crying "Pure." They put the word "Pure" in large letters. Then they took double pages to put it in larger letters. The claim made about as much impression on people as water makes on a duck.

(Is there any business today that doesn't claim to have a quality product or service? Yet a majority of them do not define what they mean by quality. Substitute the word quality for pure, and the situation is nearly identical.)

So what did Hopkins do? He toured the Schlitz brewery and witnessed the beer-making process. Specifically, he observed the many detailed steps that went into making sure the beer was pure.

In My Life In Advertising he recounts what happened next:

I came back to the office amazed. I said: "Why don't you tell people these things? Why do you merely try to cry louder than others that your beer is pure? Why don't you tell the reasons?"

"Why," they said, "the processes we use are just the same as others use. No one can make good beer without them."

"But," I replied. "Others have never told this story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print."

So I...told a story which had never been told. I gave purity a meaning. Schlitz jumped from fifth place to neck-and-neck with first place in a very few months.

By the way, Budweiser had a campaign a few years back that reminded me of this story. It was the "born-on date" campaign. I thought at the time, "I'm sure every brewer could make that claim if they wanted." But Budweiser made it a point to—and anyone else who used this approach after them would only look like a copycat. Budweiser, of course, is the leading beer brand in the United States.

2007: Amica Insurance effectively defines and sells value and customer service

More recently, I received an excellent sales letter from Amica. It seems that Amica wants to give me a quote on my car insurance, and I'm going to take it up on its offer. The letter tells me that when it comes to car insurance I have options:

You can choose to get great coverage and exceptional service at a low price—for a better all around value.

Then a few lines later it defines value:

"Value" is a combination of what you get, what you pay, and how you're treated.

Early on, the letter talks about how the folks at Amica have been "making quite a name for ourselves by employing a simple, but often-forgotten principle of good business: putting the customer first." A couple of short paragraphs after that the letter offers up proof of that claim:

[O]ur commitment to superior service has earned us a prestigious distinction. J.D. Power and Associates has rated Amica "Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among National Auto Insurers" for seven years in a row.

Objective, third-party substantiation of the claim that Amica puts the customer first. From a well-known, well-respected source. Excellent! Then, for good measure, the letter includes several testimonials from satisfied customers. This is a very effective letter. In my book it beats a suave, talking lizard hands down. I mean, I may love listening to that English accent of his, but I'm going to get a quote from Amica.

Now, as I wrap up this article, I'd like to leave you with another quote by Zig Ziglar: "Every choice you make has an end result." And so it is with your sales copy. Every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page has an end result.

For the most profitable results, forego generalities and infuse your copy with lots of meaningful, detailed, benefit-oriented, response-producing specifics. Do this consistently and—to quote Zig one final time—"I'll see you at the top!"


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Ernest Nicastro is a copywriter and marketing consultant with Positive Response who strives always to conduct his and his clients' parades with precision and professionalism. Contact Ernest via enicastro@positiveresponse.com.

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