How to get an expert to talk


You can’t Google the truth. Newspapers and websites are pretty useless for information. Most editorial pieces either miss crucial facts or are pre-manufactured. Opinion pieces are also mostly claptrap*. But as a copywriter and marketer, I find newspapers and the internet useful. How?

A copywriter must be able to write about almost everything, so finding product and market knowledge is important. But although you’ll rarely find useful information in newspapers or through Google, they can be used to provoke and initiate discovery, to learn the truth about a subject.

How to get an expert to talk

An analogy would be to wave a red rag at a bull to provoke a reaction. In subscriptions marketing, the bull would be a recognised expert in the field you are writing in. And you would be trying to get the real story behind the news.

The truth, if used carefully, is highly valuable when selling subscriptions to a product. Truth resonates and connects. But getting to the truth behind news stories and popular opinion is difficult. People are naturally reticent about the real facts and articles are often agenda-driven or merely telling us what we want to hear.

But a copywriter must discover the inside story because that is what will motivate people to read his copy and buy a subscription.

Provoking discovery: using news as a red rag

You can use an opinion piece or news as a ‘red rag’: quote the article to an expert and he will swiftly put you right and give you a more accurate account. Clever, huh?

You then use that candid account to motivate your readers to buy.

Here’s how it works in practice. When writing subscriptions marketing copy I first look at current news and opinion pieces. Let’s take the property market as an example. We know through the news that property values in Spain have fallen:

“The residential property market in Spain has not yet reached bottom and could drop another 27% in 2010, according to a new report. Overall property transactions in 2009 dropped by around 41% compared with 2008, the report by Spanish property consultants and analysts Aguirre Newman, also shows.”

A headline along those lines may be news, but it won’t sell a thing:

‘Spanish property transactions to drop by 27%’

That is pretty uninteresting. We think we already know about falling property prices, so the headline is no surprise. Readership will be low and your copy is unlikely to attract potential property investors.

Looking behind what we think we know

Is there a real story behind what we think we already know? If so, what is it and how to uncover it? Will the real story surprise and move the prospect into reading a subscriptions promotion?

This is how I use that ‘useless’ editorial piece: I repeat it to some property owners and I am met with derisive snorts, head shaking and big smiles. Their houses overseas have increased in value by 50 per cent, because of their location and favourable movements in currency exchange – the Euro has risen 40 per cent against Sterling in just a couple of years.

The same is true of property in the USA.

Those owners have made money because they used expert advice and didn’t follow the hype and rush to buy in popular areas at inflated ‘British prices’. So they are also good prospects for the kind of information we will be selling through the property website.

What response do you think I would get to a promotion that put that knowledge to work in the first paragraph? Far higher!

“How my Spanish and USA properties just increased in value by 50%”

What you need to know about your customer

The most important sources of information for marketers, copywriters and salespeople are: (1) the customer and (2) the prospect. By asking those two groups the right questions, the subscriptions copywriter can develop the approach most likely to attract more customers. In summary, a copywriter must know:

That list is in the right order: ‘Know your customer and how your product can help him’ summarises the correct approach. Logically therefore:

So the copywriter leads. This isn’t just about subscriptions copywriting, it’s about ALL copywriting. Once the copywriter knows the facts he can create his promotions to test certain premises. Next he must look at what to offer a prospect to close the deal – the price, discount, free gift, risk-free trial and other incentives. Closing the deal, as any salesperson will tell you, is the toughest part of the sale. But it’s made easier if the subscriptions marketer has laid the ground beforehand.

*P.S. If you need proof of the poor standards in journalism, read a news report on something you know about: you’ll find factual errors, important omissions and a confusing ‘slant’ to the story. That being the case, do you think the other reports in the paper are more accurate? Hardly likely…

The same is true of articles on the internet. When people ask if I use the internet to research my copy, I try to be noncommittal: “It’s very useful”. But it’s only useful to research the questions I need to ask.

That extra research is the reason, by the way, that copywriters, especially subscriptions copywriters are paid so much more than journalists. The truth is more valuable.

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