Try Negativity: Make It a Privilege to Buy

Here’s a little quiz for you.

Who said the following?

1. “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”
2. “The Golden Rule is, there is no Golden Rule.”
3. “Will you sleep with me for a million pounds?”

Well, the man who said all those things was the Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw.

But I bet the last one is the one that really got your attention. He asked it of a lady at a swanky dinner party. The reply was in the affirmative.

Shaw then asked, “Will you sleep with me for a shilling?”

“What do you take me for?” replied the lady indignantly.

“We have already established what you are,” said Shaw. “Now we are just discussing the price.”

After that little gambol in the annals of literature, let’s return to Shaw’s first oft-quoted statement — which is good fun but not always true.

My Brilliant Friend, the Professor

Some of those who teach can also do. One example is my friend Professor Srikumar Rao.

We first met when he was Chairman of the Marketing Department at Long Island University, where he used my book Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing as a text.

Today, Srikumar runs one of the most talked-about executive education programs in the world. It is the only business school program with its own alumni association. And he has been interviewed by much of the world’s most influential media. (You can see him speaking here.)

Unlike many teachers, especially business school professors, Srikumar is no mere theorist. And one thing he does exceptionally well is write copy to sell his own products and services.

His remarkable ability drives from a deep understanding of what he can help people achieve, coupled with real insight into the art of persuasion.

An Example to Show You How It’s Done

Here’s a piece of his copy (drafted by him and edited very slightly by me) that sells one of his seminars by providing an excellent analysis of why good marketing matters. Notice that because this is aimed at a serious audience, he uses almost academic language.

“Let’s do some math. Assume your current marketing program yields two qualified leads per hundred contacts and that one of these becomes a customer. Further assume that, as a result of techniques you learn in this seminar, you are able to increase lead generation by 2% and the conversion rate remains the same. You now get four qualified leads per hundred contacts and two customers.

“Say you need a 10% increase in your marketing budget — which is 20% of total expenses — to achieve this. This means that a 2% increase in expenditure has yielded a 100% increase in profits. Where else can you get this kind of leverage? And what becomes of the numbers if you can achieve this while spending less on marketing? And we have not even talked about increases in the revenue per customer.”

I often feel like reading that to clients who don’t understand why it pays to invest in good copy.

Another Example: The Negative Pitch

This next piece of Srikumar’s copy is a perfect example of an approach known as the “negative pitch.”

“The Advanced Leadership Clinic is a unique program designed for exceptionally talented executives actively looking for exponential improvement in performance. It will enable you to smash all previous achievement records and take you to new highs of personal effectiveness. Expect it to turbo-charge your career and take you to a higher orbit of performance and accomplishment.

“Admission to the clinic is highly competitive. It is only for driven individuals who are so drawn to it that they would, literally, be prepared to blast through brick walls to participate. DO NOT APPLY if you are not ready to disrupt your life considerably for the rare privilege of joining a group of highly talented managers in a collaborative life-changing experience.

“There is no other program remotely like this one in format, intensity, or effectiveness. Expect and be prepared for this clinic to completely take over your life for two months. You will be given, and learn to work with, transformation tools of great power. You will continue to work with them on your own after the formal end of the clinic until you have mastered their use. And you will find your life has altered beyond measure.

“Read the program details below to determine if this clinic is for you. Pay particular attention to the clear descriptions of who should and should not apply and some of the possible outcomes of this concentrated happening.

“This is not a program for the faint of heart or for those who are merely curious. The application alone will take you hours and there will be assignments you will have to complete before the first meeting. The clinic will take up virtually all your spare time while it lasts and it will seep into every part of your life. Embrace this intensity. This is what will enable you to make deep changes in your life.”

Make Them Beg to Buy

Do you see what he is doing? He is not saying “Please buy my program.” He is telling you it will be a privilege to take part, and you are going to have to work just to get in. (He also gives a list of books you must read before attending.)

Actually, he is using the same psychology as when you say an offer is limited. But he is being infinitely more subtle.

Perhaps the most famous example of this approach was written by an old friend of mine, Bill Trembath. It began: “Quite frankly, the American Express Card is not for everyone.” And I doubt that any piece of copy has ever made as much money.

So, next time you’re about to do the hot ‘n’ heavy hard sell, try exclusivity instead: Make it a privilege to buy.

[Ed. Note: Veteran copywriter and direct-marketing strategist Drayton Bird has worked with American Express, Ford, Microsoft, Visa, Procter & Gamble, and scores of other clients during his five-decade career, which included a stint as international vice-chairman and creative director of Ogilvy & Mather. In 2003, he was named by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

Drayton is a featured presenter at Early to Rise’s Information Marketing Bootcamp this year — which is going on right now in sunny Delray Beach, Florida. Yesterday, he spoke about copywriting and marketing strategy, and shared some of the “war stories” from his decades-long career in the industry. And we recorded the whole thing. In fact, we’re recording the presentations of all of our marketing and Internet business experts — more than a dozen of them.

Ready for more marketing insights from Drayton Bird? For 101 ideas, free case studies, and articles on topics like the one you just read — and a 28-day free trial of Drayton’s Commonsense Marketing Series — go here.]