When marketers and copywriters get together to develop a marketing promotion, it’s a good idea to start with a message platform.

message platformWhether it’s a formal document or just a discussion, a message platform helps all parties get on the same page before too much time is invested in writing and design.

A message platform outlines all the copy points that will be made in the promotion.

Very often at this stage, we will get into the familiar long copy vs. short copy debate – and we’ll hear about how in this online era, people don’t read any more, and that long copy is boring, etc. etc.

I understand their argument, but I don’t agree with it.  And the numbers don’t agree with it either.

In my view, everyone will read long copy if it’s important to them … or if it interests them … or if it’s needed to make an important decision.

When people are about to make a big purchase – buying a home, a car or a computer – they do their research, they ask their questions, they look for third party advice and social proof, they ask about every detail from delivery to set up/installation to guarantees and return policies.

They may do their research online, offline or in person, but they leave no stone unturned to make the best possible decision.  They are willing to take their time before they spend their money.

As a marketer or writer, you need to anticipate how much information – and what kinds of information – your audience will need to make this purchase.  You need to understand what it will take to persuade your audience to take the desired action.

This is the “persuasion hurdle.”

As writers, it’s easy to get bogged down with word choice, phrasing and sentence structure.  But before you go through that painful process, you need to build your message platform.  You need to make a list of everything that needs to be said to persuade the reader (or listener or viewer) to take the desired action.

The “desired action” is the key variable here.

If the desired action is to get people to request a white paper (or something similar), the message platform will be short and the persuasion hurdle will be relatively low.

  1. You introduce a problem your audience is having.
  2. You offer a solution to that problem in the form of the white paper.
  3. You provide a simple process for acquiring the white paper.

If instead of the white paper, you want your “solution” to be a face-to-face meeting (like a free consultation) – a more qualified lead – you will need to work harder to convince your audience to take the desired action.  You’ll need to add to your platform with a more convincing argument for taking up your prospect’s valuable time of your prospect and perhaps a stronger presentation of your credentials – all of which means your persuasion hurdle will be higher.

But if the “solution” is the product or service you’re selling – and the desired action is to get an order – you can expect the persuasion hurdle to rise to Olympic levels.  This will vary depending on the size of the order (price) or the complexity of the message (familiarity with the audience).

  1. You introduce a problem your audience is likely having
  2. You offer a solution to that problem in the form of your product or service.
  3. You explain your product or service in complete detail – especially if it’s unfamiliar to your audience.
  4. You drill down and provide details on individual components of the product or service.
  5. You provide assurances with real customer testimonials.
  6. You add photos or videos to give your testimonials more credibility.
  7. You anticipate and address every objection your audience will have.
  8. You anticipate and answer every question your audience will have.
  9. You build credibility by providing background information on your company.
  10. You cite awards, endorsements and other recognitions from third party organizations.
  11. You spell out your pricing details leaving nothing open to question or misinterpretation.
  12. You explain your shipping process and costs.
  13. You offer discounts and payment options.
  14. You consider free trials or reduced entry level pricing.
  15. You consider adding a premium to increase orders.
  16. You create urgency with pricing incentives or product/service availability.
  17. You relieve the reader’s anxiety with a solid and very specific guarantee.
  18. You provide a process for responding

Keep in mind some of these items won’t apply to every promotion.  If you were working for Apple, for example, you wouldn’t have to spend much time justifying your technology expertise.  

How much is too much?

You may be thinking this is too much to put into a letter – and you would be right if you were simply asking people to raise their hands if they are interested.  Then most of this information will be delivered by your sales people.

But when your desired action is to get an order directly from your letter, you are the sales person and you need to pack it with information.

It’s difficult to say how much is too much information.  I don’t think there is a optimal number of testimonials or sales points.  It will depend on the prospect.  Some will need everything you can throw at them.  Others might only need to be satisfied with a few facts.

But if you make your copy easy to scan so readers can find the information that’s important to them, you can meet the needs of both groups.

How to present this information

You also need to consider how you want to present this information.  In today’s online world, we have more options.

If you are using direct mail, the traditional approach is put everything into one package with a long letter, a brochure, reply form and additional inserts as needed.

While this still works (and should be tested), another approach would be to use a smaller package – a shorter letter and maybe no brochure – that would send readers to a landing page where they would find a longer sales letter (possibly with video) and an order form.

I can’t say with any confidence which is better because there is an advantage to putting the entire sales message in one place.  But a large direct mail package can be expensive which has to factored into the equation.

You can apply the same two approaches to email – full message in one email vs. email linked to a sales page.

The point is you have many options in how you present this information.  But be sure to start with a message platform and persuasion hurdle.


Written by Bob McCarthy

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Bob McCarthy is a direct response copywriter and lead generation specialist.

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About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."