Rubber boots and sales copy

My wife and I were out with some friends on Saturday night. It was raining pretty heavily and had been raining all week.

When we got home that evening, our basement had flooded: It turns out that there was so much rain, the drainage system around our house was overwhelmed and couldn’t handle it all so it flowed into our basement.

From 9 pm Saturday night to 6 am Sunday morning I ran a pump; I got a few hours of sleep and then I continued to clean. On Monday at 8 in the morning, a cleaning crew came to clean and treat our carpets.

Not a fun experience. My office has been temporarily moved to the living room (it’s normally in the basement) and my wifi and even my landline are temporarily out of commission until I can get back into those rooms to plug them back in. So if you’re trying to get in touch with me, I’m around but not always near a phone. Between writing and the occasional email, I’m bailing and cleaning.

On Saturday night at about 10 pm, we observed that my water pump was not able to keep up with the inflow of water – just too much was coming in. So I grabbed the Yellow Pages and the phone and started calling 24 hour drain companies and plumbers who might be able to bring over a truck with a bigger pump.

Predictably, no one was available because the flooding was basically city-wide and I was the umpteenth caller… if they answered the phone at all. I ended up going to my neighbor’s house (who had an extra pump) and borrowing his.

I was willing to pay anything for someone to come over and solve my problem. Anything. Prior to this watery mishap, I would turn down calls for carpet cleaners pretty regularly. And I never called a plumber because I can usually handle most pipe-related issues pretty quickly myself. But during a flood, it’s different: The cost of having someone come over to my house to keep the flood from happening in the first place is worth, literally, thousands of dollars to me. Since it didn’t happen, I paid a carpet cleaning company plus there was an incredible amount of downtime and furniture moving and clean-up… plus the general annoyance and hassle of living in a house that is insanely humid.

Now here’s what it has to do with sales copy: Your sales copy needs to work someone up to that point in order to convince them to buy. Your sales copy – whether it’s an email, a long-form sales page, direct mail, whatever, needs to identify the problem, focus the prospect’s mind on the challenges of the situation, outline in vivid detail exactly what the consequences and costs of not buying the solution are.

I see a lot of sales copy that offers an attention getting headline, a list of benefits, a justification of the price, and several “buy now” buttons. Those are good elements. But if that “pay anything to solve the problem” need isn’t there, then it doesn’t matter. There won’t be a sale. The first job of a sales page is to capture attention. Most people understand that and try to accomplish that with a headline. The second job – and the one most often missed – is to aggravate the need; highlight the need; exacerbate the need. (I think Dan Kennedy calls it “agitate”, which is an apt word).

So if you’re hiring a copywriter to do some work for you, the most important thing you can do for them is to outline in vivid, graphic detail exactly what the problem is. Help the copywriter create content that has your client standing in rubber boots, ankle-deep in rising water, and willing to pay whatever they need to pay to have the problem solved.

[Photo credit: jronaldlee]

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