Really good direct-marketing copywriters know that their copy must be “in dialog” with the reader. The copy has to gain credibility in the reader’s mind, and thereafter bring up salient points and concerns precisely when and in the order in which the reader is apt to raise them.

So how does a good copywriter know how and when to address what points along the way? One time-honored practice is to be acutely aware of one’s own inner dialog when on the receiving end of the sales process. Here, for example, is the inner dialog that I’ve been personally paying attention to while considering the purchase of a reclining lounge chair (a process that is still underway) …

Barcalounger #1: Macy’s had a sale. There were an overwhelming number of lounge chairs to look at, plus swatches, plus catalogs filled with even more lounge chairs. Yikes! None are what you’d call attractive. But then again, these things are built for comfort, not looks.

Friend Silvia found one that was at least handsome. It was leather, though I was looking for cloth. Nevertheless, the leather color solved matching issues with a brick wall, an olive drab couch, and my light wood floors. I sat in it. I thought I was in heaven. Turns out I wasn’t.

I had spent the entire morning mowing, weeding, raking, and bagging – so whenever I sat down it felt like heaven. But I didn’t realize this at the time. The $970 chair was delivered six days later. I sat in it … and realized my feet didn’t touch the ground. I felt like a Lilliputian. I couldn’t gain any traction to use the rocking mechanism. Back it went.

Barcalounger #2: I went to another store and saw an oxblood Barcalounger that looked pretty good. I was very aware of the need to be able to touch the floor in my stockinged feet. They did. Bingo! The sales guy was writing up the order. I pointed out that the chair felt nice and low … maybe too low. He paused – but what could he say? “Kids were playing on the floor model and broke it,” he said. “It’ll be fine,” I told myself. The salesman continued to close on the sale by asking for my shipping address. This chair was $1,250.

I left feeling relieved, thinking this buying process was over. But that chair really was too low, so low that the footrest bumped on the ground as it swung up and into position. And I kept thinking about the price. My thoughts crystallized when I said to myself, “It doesn’t have that thousand-dollar ‘ah’ feeling. For $1,250, it should feel like home and the best place to be in the universe.” It didn’t.

Now, there was a funny feeling in the pit in my stomach. Was I obsessing? Or did I just not want to go through the uncomfortable process of calling off the sale? The fact that I was talking to myself (out loud) whilst walking down the street told me I had to blow it off. Okay, how? Yechh.

I called the salesman, apologized for taking his time, and explained that the chair wasn’t working for me. And so chair #2 bit the dust.

I passed a furniture store that sold only very low-slung furniture. I went in and tried out a few chairs. Once I sat down in one, I just couldn’t get up again. I felt good about having rejected chair #2. My faith in my furniture decision-making abilities was restored.

I then went to M. Katz Furniture on the Lower East Side – the only La-Z-Boy retailer in Manhattan. The guy in the doorway was saying something smartassed about my using a cell phone. I know how important it is for me to feel comfortable buying from someone I feel I can trust (in case it isn’t right), so I figured it was doubtful I’d buy anything from this place.

I walked through this store thinking I wasn’t going to find much. I almost left. But I saw something in the back. It was a stationary rocker with a footrest. It leaned back and didn’t look like some animal out of “Star Wars.” It was very comfortable, even with my shoes off.

I began to picture it in my home and how I’d use it. I thought of the objections I had to buying it. The fabric, the color, and the attitude of the sales guy I had encountered on my way in. It was a Sunday and sales guys are hard to come by. That in itself puts a type of pressure on the customer.

They gave me a few hundred thousand swatches to look at. I found a nice burgundy corduroy. I was proud of myself for weeding out the only tasteful sample in that mound of fabric. I was emotionally vested in this chair now. But how would I know if it would work in my apartment, against the brick wall, the olive drab couch, and the light wood floors? And what about that cranky sales guy?

Then another, more “accessible,” salesman comes over and asks what I’m thinking. I told him I was not sure about how it would look in my place. He cuts a piece off the swatch and tells me to take it home and see for myself if it worked. My skepticism melted instantly. I put a down payment on the chair. He told me I could get it back if I changed my mind.

I wanted to test my buyer’s remorse. Maybe I’m a masochist. So I went to the store that handles Ekornes chairs. These are very unusual looking, but ergonomically very good – and I’m into ergonomics.

The sales guy came over and made himself available to me. I set his expectations straight by telling him I was researching and not buying just then. He understood but advised me that the free shipping offer expired in two days. He didn’t dwell on trying to close me. Rather he explained the benefits of the chair.

He talked (in first person) about how his muscles would tire after sitting for hours in most chairs. He said that after the muscles initially relax, they start to work again because most chairs don’t fully take the burden off. That’s why he’d be stiff after getting up from most chairs. I related totally to his story. He really had me.

I asked him for his card and said I might be back in touch. He gently reminded me about the free shipping. It wasn’t intrusive. I knew and he must know that customers more often than not change their minds. They think they’re looking for one thing and fall in love with something else. I was looking for a cloth chair and wound up buying two leather chairs before I went back to looking at cloth chairs.

I’ve been buying and returning lounge chairs for the past three weeks. Yes, it’s a joyous thing to buy such an item, as it fulfills a primeval nesting instinct to further define my rustic abode and, by extension, myself. But there’s also stress mixed into the process. What happens if I come to dislike the purchase? I’m stuck. So inside me rage the forces of joy and angst. A good salesman or copywriter knows this to be universally true of every potential customer.

[Ed. Note: Larry Chase is the publisher of Web Digest For Marketers.]

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