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Few great businessmen have ever reached such stratospheric heights and stumbled as far as the infamous Gary Halbert.

During his lifetime Gary became an unquestioned master of direct sales letters.

Every bit as talented as , Gary saw all his hard work go down the drain during a stint at Boron Federal Prison in Nevada, but rose to the top once again by the end of his life.

Yet despite the grim circumstances of prison life behind barbed wire fences, Gary used his time wisely and created what would become his most famous work in the .

These candid conversations between Gary and his son Bond were Gary’s way of teaching Bond the art of copywriting at the young age of 16 years old.  The letters are touching, insightful, and outright one of the best lessons on writing ever put together.

In just 25 short letters Gary left so much detailed wisdom to Bond that practically any writer can enhance their craft just by a quickly clicking through them. (Note: The letters require you to sign up for an email list, but are otherwise completely free to read.)

But just in case you can’t be bothered to enter an email address, here are Gary’s most important lessons from The Boron Letters.

 

1.  Keep Moving

Halbert never let anything stop him from improving himself.

Even a federal prison sentence for mail fraud didn’t stop him from creating numerous direct mail order ideas for Bond to use.

Keeping yourself moving is great advice when you are struggling with a bout of writer’s block.

Rather than avoiding that pesky project, put the pen down to the paper and write about anything that comes into your mind.

The act of writing, even if it’s gibberish, will do far more for you than starring at YouTube videos.

 

2.  Become a student of markets

Gary was a huge proponent of knowing what people were buying first, and then creating a product for a carefully chosen segment of the marketplace.  Gary’s long body of success helped prove that a good product in a hot market will almost always outsell a great product in a lousy one.

Bushels of money can be yours too if you find a profitable niche and create a product to satisfy its needs.

 

3.  Describe the world around you

I bet you noticed the bushels of money comment didn’t you?  That little gem is actually Halbert’s and it shows his true mastery of descriptive writing.

From Gary’s writing we learn that it wasn’t just hot at Boron Prison, it was so sweltering that Halbert needed a “blue handkerchief” just to stop from sweating on the paper.

Your stories will come alive like Gary’s just by describing what you are seeing, smelling, and felling.

 

4.  Even in business your family comes first

Gary won and lost a fortune enough times that he could have set a land speed record, but he never let money take over his family life.

The Boron Letters are first and foremost about making sure Bond got the fatherly advice kids so desperately need in their formative years.

Halbert knew teaching his son would brighten up his day more than any $40 million sales letter ever could.

Never forget those who you care about most.

 

5.  You don’t need to act tough; you need to be tough.

Without ever shanking anyone, people knew not to mess with Gary at Boron.  Gary was notorious for cutting people out of his life who were not positive influences rather than surrounding himself with people who wanted to see him fail.

This lesson bears repeating: Surround yourself with well-minded people if you want to have to be successful. All the fights in the world won’t make you appear anywhere near as tough as continually dominating your niche in life.

 

6.  Be a copycat

Put together a collection of the all-time best direct sales letters and copy them down word for word.

This is easily the easiest to implement piece of advice to Bond, and one that can improve any writer’s ability.

Over time copying down others masterpieces will help your own words mimic theirs.

 

7.  Short and readable text

Readers love brevity so you would do well to make most of your writing easy to follow.  Keep sentences short and paragraphs to 3-4 sentences.

Parentheses are another neat trick that helps provide eye relief for your audience. (Not to mention a chance to make witty remarks)

Breaks in your text like these will help keep your readers glued to the screen longer.

 

8.  Catch their attention

Are you more likely to read a plain letter about real estate, or a letter about Hawaiian beach front properties with a bag of sand attached to it?

Gary perfected the art of using specific locations and relevant mementos like a bag of sand to make an impression in the readers mind.

In fact it must have worked, because most of his best-selling letters contained some form of attention grabbing object.

This technique is still used by internet marketers today, but just with a free e-book, or white paper as a substitute for a physical object.  Don’t miss your opportunity to follow his winning formula.

 

9.  Write headlines so effective that they will still pull decades later

The headline “” made Halbert a killing back when it was written in 1973.  But as the comments on the link show, even 38 years later the ad still draws plenty of interest from buyers.

The power of a simple headline that delivers your message in a clear fashion is essentially self-explanatory here.  Make a headline that offers what your market wants and you too can make a killing.

 

The ultimate collection of FREE writing lessons around?

The Boron Letters are about as thorough a writing education as you can get in such a short time.  Requiring less than 2 hours to read, these 25 letters still manage to pack an emotional punch stronger than most inmates.

But don’t stop there, because every single newsletter at tells a great story with lessons from a master writer at the top of his game.

So if you want to find out became of Bond’s copywriting career, or how Gary picked himself up and amassed another fortune after his time at Boron, check out rest Gary’s .

 

John Caples top 5 tips for eye-catching headlines

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They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play…

John Caples’ often copied but never duplicated headline for one of the greatest of all time, seemed like the perfect jumping off point for this week’s review of .

Caples complete mastery of creating compelling copy is still felt today as writers from to the Cosmo Magazine staff still keep swipe files of the attention grabbing techniques he helped pioneer almost 100 years ago.

When a headline template appeals to sales letter writers and women looking for the latest sex secret, you know Caples must have been onto something.

So what are the top headline secrets that made Caples so great?

1.  The essential headline groups

  • Self-interest headlines universally pull the most responses by shifting the focus directly on the user.
  • News headlines also help drive interest by delivering thrilling new content.
  • Curiosity headlines tend to confuse many readers and are ineffective when used on their own.

Whereas bad headlines will ignore these three groups entirely, the best headlines include multiple elements of each.

Additionally make your headlines happy as often as possible as gloomy titles don’t always leave the audience wanting to hear anymore from you.

2.  Write a ton to get your best ideas in front of you

How often do you sit down to write a headline and are stuck staring at a blank computer screen?

When you are just starting out with writing creating the perfect headline can feel like you are trying to learn quantum physics.

Although he was a great advertiser, Caples was certainly not a physicist and used a painless method to create headlines.

  • Write as many headlines as possible for each story
  • Let your headlines sit for a day
  • Read them again as a typical bored consumer
  • Have others read them

With a huge list of choices, a fresh mind, and a different set of eyes reviewing your work, you can be assured that your headline will intrigue more people than one hastily created headline ever could.

Putting these suggestions into practice, I wrote over 30 different potential headlines for this article.  Although it was time consuming, I feel the end result was vastly improved over the original title, “Five great headline tips: Tested advertising Methods Review”

3.  Swipe the Reader’s Digest template

Page through any issue of Reader’s Digest and you are guaranteed to find opening paragraphs that deliver the same qualities time and again.

  1. Fact packed
  2. Specific
  3. Arouse interest
  4. Concise
  5. Story Driven
  6. Shocking

The editors of Reader’s Digest are masters at engrossing their audience quickly.  With very few words they are able to hook their readers into a story.

In this case, what works as an opener will also help you create headlines that are good enough to go viral.

4.  Appeal to your customers

  • Sex
  • Greed
  • Fear
  • Honor

These four simple words are the basis for the most powerful appeals to your consumers.

Successful ads contain a strong appeal within their headlines that entice interested consumers to continue reading the rest of your work.

Caples reminds us that we need to convince the buyer why they should buy from us.

Headlines that appeal to these feelings make it much easier to write copy that converts.

5.  Formatting headlines

A very common mistake is to try and write in a style that is different than what people are used to reading.

Cramming a bunch of giant text will surely grab the reader’s attention initially, but doing so will make your message very difficult to read.

A quick look at some of the possible formats for this blog post really drives this point home.

1.  JOHN CAPLES TOP 5 TIPS FOR EYE CACTHING HEADLINES
While it does jump of the page, the all caps style leaves the text with no natural flow for the reader.  Despite grabbing their attention, many people will disregard your whole article when they can’t easily look over title.

2.  John Caples Top 5 Tips For Eye-Catching Headlines
I think you will agree that this is much easier on the eyes than all capital letters but we can even go one step further

3.  John Caples top 5 tips for eye-catching headlines
Simply formatting your headline to appear as a regular sentence drastically increases readability.

The above examples may be an oversimplification of headline formatting, but they are based on sound principles formulated after years of extensive testing by Caples and other copywriters.

Pitfalls

I honestly have a hard time thinking of any as my copy of Tested Advertising Methods already is dog eared on just about every other page.

As of right now  I consider it the most complete text on copywriting I have gone through yet, with a ridiculous amount of great information on each page.

Is the book worth your time?

Even if you already are a master of creating great headlines, you could pick practically any chapter out of this book and learn something new.

For those who are interested creating amazing headlines and copy, John Caples Tested Advertising Methods is an essential resource for creating dynamic advertising.

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“I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”
Estée Lauder

I wanted to take a step back this week from your standard “how to” copywriting book and focus my attention on the bigger picture.  Learning about copywriting is only one tiny step in the grand scheme of an online business and no matter how well you write you eventually must get others to pay you their hard earned cash.

Rather than blindly creating a promotional sales pitch for Jump Start Copy, I decided to enlist the help of Neil Rackham’s . SPIN is an acronym devised by the Rackham to explain the four types of questions the overwhelming majority of sales calls progress through. (Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need Payoff)

SPIN Selling’s main focus is placed on major account sales where the interaction between the buyer and seller is more complex than the “one-off” sale of smaller accounts.  Although the book is not specifically about the small web-based products many copywriters sell, there is still a ton of information that can drastically improve any writer’s ability to sell.

If nothing else SPIN Selling is impressive for the intense research that went into compiling the book. Over $1 million dollars of research and 35,000 sales calls were documented first hand by Neil Rackham’s company Huthwaite Inc. and are concisely summarized in the book to form the bible of large account sales tactics.

Unlike many self-proclaimed gurus who make shoddy sales courses only to make a fast buck, SPIN Selling does not offer some hackneyed new sales ploy, but rather a summary of how the best sales professionals sell day in and day out. Although SPIN is not a revolutionary new tactic, the cold hard facts show that virtually 100% of sales representatives trained with SPIN increased their sales numbers, which leaves no doubt about the power of the SPIN method.

Even if you don’t have a major product to sell yet, what can copywriters apply from the book?

1. What is SPIN Selling?

In one sentence SPIN Selling is a scientifically proven method where the application of four question types asked in a sales call are the single biggest factor in making a sale.

The four SPIN questions and their importance to closing a sale are as follows according to Rackham:

1. Situation – Establishes an initial rapport with the customer through the use of basic questions.  Generally buyers become wary rather quickly the more you use situation questions as little value is added in answering questions like how long you have been in business. (Least important)

2. Problem – Helps to draw out the issue the customer is currently facing. These are very important in small sales, but less so in large sales. (Somewhat important)

3. Implication – Shows the problems experienced are drastic in nature.  After problem has been established, the implication question uncovers the buyer’s implied need stemming from the problem.  (Most important)

4. Need Payoff – Answers the customers implied need by developing an explicit need.  The existence of an explicit need is where your product comes into to the picture. (Very important)

The four SPIN questions are the most effective way to sell because they allow the customer to explain the problem at hand in their own voice and not be sold to using some crappy gimmick.  When used correctly, the SPIN method brings the buyer’s voice into the equation and leads to the buyer talking about themselves, which is a very good thing for sales, because clients are just like the rest of us, they love to talk about themselves.

2. Large vs. small sales

Small sales do not progress the same way as large sales progress.

While the situation and problem type questions are enough to sell small value products; large sales require skillfully using all of the SPIN questions, especially implication and need-payoff questions.

Why do large and small sales function differently?

Large sales require establishing a lasting relationship with a client, the approval of many peers, and a significant capital investment.  Human nature leads us to avoid embarrassment wherever possible, and committing a mistake with so much potentially on the line makes even the most seasoned of buyers squirm in fear of public humiliation.

For small sales generally all that is required is a quick fix to a problem of the buyer. (e.g. Gum buyers want their breath to smell minty and avoid having breath that smells like the bag of Dorito’s they just finished off).

However, buyers in large sales need to be assured that they have a very explicit problem that needs to be solved, and that your solution is the absolute best remedy for their issues.

When sourcing copywriting client’s, make sure that you do not make the classic mistake of thinking you can sell a large value service the same way you could a small information product on .

3. The surprising truth about closing

Ask most people about sales and they will tell you the ABC guide is “Always be closing”.

Not so says Rackham.  His studies show that the amount of times successful sellers try to close large sales only one time.  In fact for every additional time you try to close a sale, you become more and more unlikely to sell anything at all.

Large sales require a lot of time, people, and resources so a sale usually cannot be closed in only one visit.  To avoid irritating a client and losing their business Rackham’s research shows the best sales people “advance” a sales call.  In other words if a sale is not possible at that very time, they establish a logical point of advancing the call further, such as another meeting with a manager higher up the chain of command.

By advancing a sale you avoid sounding like a pest, and more importantly, keep the client interested in your services.

4. Practice one new skill at a time

Although SPIN selling seems to dilute the process down so much that a caveman could do it, selling is a complex and often difficult to conquer beast.  Where many salesmen go wrong is that they try to implement all the topics of SPIN Selling at once.  As proven , after , after , humans are notoriously awful at multitasking.  Trying to learn multiple new skills at once is not a valid way to save time, and attempting to do so will inevitably leave your brain a tangled mess of misinformation.

Despite the complexity of sales, there is still hope if you want to learn its many new skills.

In fact you can generate more sales than the average salesman simply by implementing one new step at a time. Through implementing and extensively reviewing only one new step each time in a sales call, you can easily track how much you have to work on the new skill for it to contribute to consistently lead to new clients..

Rackham’s one variable testing echoes the principals that clearly pointed in .  Since one variable testing works best for these two sales authorities (and countless other salespeople) there are absolutely huge benefits available to you if you choose to implement one variable testing in your sales pitches.

Pitfalls

Really the only gripe is a minor one, in that the book has not been updated with any kind of research specific to internet sales. But the SPIN method is meant to be universally applicable to any kind of sales so this omission is easy to overlook.

Is the book worth your time?

Without a doubt yes! There is so much fantastic and actionable sales information contained within these pages that just about everyone can benefit from it.

What do you think can small businesses improve their sales using the large sales framework established in SPIN Selling?

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“Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life” ~ David Ogilvy

When Claude C. Hopkins’s work is held in such high regard by an industry , is it any wonder that he is widely considered as the grandfather of modern advertising?

Hopkins forever changed the advertising game with inventions such as the split test and traceable coupon, and was kind enough to share these breakthroughs in .

But can the modern writer still learn from the tricks contained within these 90 pages, or have 88 years eroded away the power of Hopkins techniques?

Fortunately for you, the sands of time have yet to erode some indispensable takeaways for the aspiring writer.

1. Get rich or die trying

“The only purpose of advertising is to make sales.  It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.”

I tried to think of a witty way to break apart this quote, but Hopkins captures it so perfectly here, that any alteration would likely fail to capture how important making money really is.

Copywriting and advertising folks get paid, (and get paid well), to spur sales of a product by conveying a targeted message to the user. Period. End of story.

Still, all too often modern advertisers are content winning awards for creativity without any regard to the underlying benefit of the product at hand.

But the good news is you can avoid this type of error by asking “will this message really help a salesmen sell my product?”

Paying the bills will be the least of your concerns as long as you can help clients keep the cash register ringing and forget about winning awards.

2. Test everything

Split testing is really the only way to be scientific in a field as subjective as advertising.

What split testing really boils down to is taking one particular part of an ad, like the headline, and simultaneously running two different versions of it on a small scale. By running a small test with an A and B variable, you can cheaply determine which method generates a higher response rate, and then implement it in your sales letter for a higher profit.

Hopkins was notorious for having his people meticulously test every single word in his advertisements over and over again until the copy was near perfection.

That’s right even the founder of modern advertising didn’t dare try and guess what the average person thought and refused to roll out his latest work without first knowing the results through sound science.

The good news is that you can emulate Hopkins, without the hassle of hiring scores of employees thanks to modern tools like Google’s .

3. Be factual

Facts sell better than almost any other form of advertising.

Why?

Because consumers see facts as uniquely identifiable and trust that great research has gone into obtaining them.

Whereas any retailor can use a forgettable superlative laden slogan like “Cheapest rates around”, the use of a factual statement like “Our profit margin is only 3%” shows the user that you are not just another soulless pitchman.

Provide as much actionable data as possible. People are likely to only look at your ad once, so you need to ensure that they get the full TRUE story about what you are selling.

Finding unique facts about a client may take weeks of research to do, but this grunt work is necessary, because a new fact often makes the difference between a sale and wasted money.

4. Show off the goods!

No not those goods; but do give your users a free sample of the product/service that you are trying to sell whenever possible.

Hopkins found that free samples are actually the most profitable form of advertising, despite the seemingly high upfront cost.

You have to get your good into the users hands for FREE and let them see how it works.

The importance of your sample being free cannot be understated.  Half price samples may seem like a good business decision since they help you retain some cash, but it is equally as hard to make half a sale as it is to make a whole sale. But free samples convert better than any other form of sales.

Imagine for moment if a car dealer would not let you test drive a car without paying half of the first monthly installment.  It is extremely unlikely that this dealership would be in business for long as people are already skeptical of car salespeople to begin with.

By placing a restriction on a potential customer before the game even starts, you are likely to permanently alienate the very people you need to sell to.

Remember that people like positive vibes and nothing in business gives this feeling to them faster than free samples.

When you provide true value to someone for free, you let your product speak for itself and show the potential customer you are serious about exceeding their expectations.

Customers will be impressed that you stand by your product so much, and will gladly line up to buy from you soon enough.

Pitfalls

Unless you speak like an extra in Boardwalk Empire, Scientific Advertising is a tough read.  Many of the terms and dollar amounts quoted within are so dated at this point that they are flat out confusing to the reader. (Useful hint: A 1923 dollar is roughly worth $12.66 today. )

Additionally some topics  have not aged well. Niche markets were lamented in Hopkins’ time for their high costs and low sales, but today are relevant business models thanks to the relative low cost structure of internet businesses.

Is the book worth your time?

Even if Scientific Advertising requires you whip out an inflation calculator and watch Boardwalk Empire just to understand 1920’s slang, the information contained within is well worth the effort.

Add this classic text to your reading list today and reap the same benefits it has provided to generations of great advertisers.

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If you are in the business of copywriting and have not gone through this book so many times that the binding is only hanging on by a thin thread, you are costing your business stacks of money.

was a titan in the advertising world, but unlike Mad Men, the drinking and sex appeal contained in Ogilvy on Advertising is restricted to colorful advertisements.  For over 40 years Ogilvy crafted timeless advertisements, founded Ogilvy & Mather, and amassed such a great fortune that he literally lived in a castle.

Ogilvy doesn’t paint some self-serving picture of his career and is frank about his failings and triumphs alike.  We quickly see that his rise to the top was filled with setbacks and aha moments.

So how can an aspiring copywriter benefit from the secrets that made Ogilvy so great?

1. Meticulous research

Sure we could just wing it as copywriters and hope for the best, but will that ever lead to great copy? Ogilvy certainly believed otherwise and made informed decisions on every piece of advertising he created.

Whereas Ogilvy used statistical reports from Gallup to drive sales, today’s copywriter has the power of keyword research to make copy that stands out to the reader.

2. Emphasize benefits

Readers of the famous “” VW Beetle advertisement seemingly sprinted to their local dealer to buy a Beetle.

Why?

Quality!

While other manufacturers were notorious for costly repairs, Ogilvy masterfully showed Beetle owners will NEVER have to worry about even the slightest defect.

Emphasize benefits like quality and you can be well on your way to killer copy.

No one cares about features

The reason “why” something works is useless to a client, because the “why” promotes a feature.  Concentrate on benefits and you connect with your audience by solving a problem.

3. Layout: Keep it simple stupid (KISS)

How do you craft advertisements that convert?  The answer is deceptively: easy to read formatting that has a concise message.

Selling comes down to your ability to create the simplest possible message that gives the reader a definitive call to action.

Despite access to some of the best artistic minds alive, Ogilvy witnessed time and again that “creative” advertisement layouts actually confuse the reader thus drastically reducing the ad’s effectiveness.

Decades of research are not needed for us to know that people will only look at your advertisement for a ridiculously short period of time.  Rather than loss sales with edgy, but hard to read copy, stick with the proven methods and enjoy the financial windfall.

4. Client Winning

Choose only those clients that have the same standards as you.

Although it is tempting to take a big payoff from a bad source, knowing when to say no to a client will increase your credibility and allow you to create work that you are proud of.

It may take some time, but when others see that you only settle for top notch quality, you will land the best clients.

Pitfalls

The chapters on television and international commercials are dated at this point, which made skimming through the all too easy.  You will be hard pressed to find any other flaws though, as most of the methods Ogilvy describes in the book will still help you write killer copy.

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Is the book worth your time?

Do yourself a favor, buy the book and read it until the pages fall out.  Your clients and wallet will thank you for it down the road.