Why Good Sales Copy Is Priceless

About a week ago, a subscriber called to inquire if my direct-marketing agency, Response Ink, would build a website for him. Although we are not looking to add new clients at this time, his company has an intriguing – even ingenious – business model. And so my curiosity got the better of me.

As we talked, it became clear that, instead of searching for the best marketing strategies and sales copy that money can buy, he was price-shopping us! And so I politely quoted our admittedly outrageous price (which includes a commission on each sale we produce), then let him off the hook by apologizing that we couldn’t get his site done in the time allotted… and politely wished him good luck.

At this moment – unless I miss my guess – he’s now discovering the joys of working with the lowest bidder: a company that agreed to his deadline and quoted a dirt-cheap price. My prediction? He’s about to endure a painful and costly object lesson in the true value of great marketing.

Here’s what typically happens:

  • The lowest bidder proves (surprise, surprise!) incompetent. The sales copy stinks, the Web pages are ugly and unreadable, functionality is limited – and the third, fourth, fifth, etc. drafts blow the deadline to smithereens.
  • The lowest bidder is fired. The next-lowest bidder is hired and starts from scratch. This step is often repeated two or three times until a website – of sorts – is finally finished.
  • Sales stink. Months after the initial deadline, the website finally goes live, and promptly disappoints by producing pathetic sales.

Whether from hubris or ignorance, this otherwise very bright man is making one of the most common blunders in the business world. Believing that they have “built a better mousetrap,” folks like him expect the world to automatically beat a path to their door.

They evidently understand that they need sales copy – although they’re probably not sure why. And they’re certainly ignorant of the fact that great marketing can often produce many times the sales, revenues, and profits that mediocre, lukewarm promotions do, thus multiplying the size of their business in a fraction of the time.

To “penny-wise, pound-foolish” guys like these, marketing strategies and copywriting are merely a commodity. Just another business expense. No more important to their company’s success than ink cartridges, yellow pads, or toilet paper.

One can only hope that, sooner or later, they will have an epiphany. That they will finally realize that great marketing strategies and sales copy, combined with flawless execution, is AT LEAST as essential to their success as the quality of their products. Quite possibly, even more so.

98 Years Ago, Albert Lasker Already Knew What These Poor Guys Are Learning NOW…

During the early days of the twentieth century, advertisers begged for a coveted spot on advertising agency Lord & Thomas’s client list. And they happily paid L&T’s outlandish fees. Whether they sold washing machines, Palmolive soap, or Lucky Strikes, every company that experienced L&T’s sales miracles knew full well that the great copy the agency produced was well worth the price.

Albert Lasker – the so-called “founder of modern advertising” – knew it too. That’s why he gladly hired John E. Kennedy for a whopping 205 times more than he was paying another copywriter at the time. And it’s why, in 1908, Lasker jumped at the chance to hire a 42-year-old copywriter named Claude C. Hopkins for a mindboggling 4 million (in 2009 dollars).

Hopkins had already carved out a stellar advertising career for himself by using the very “Salesmanship in Print” and “Reason-Why Advertising” principles Kennedy and Lasker so fervently believed in. And his brilliant copy took the sales of numerous products to the moon – including Pepsodent, Quaker’s Puffed Wheat, and Chevrolets.

How to Make Any Product Feel Truly Unique

Of all his great campaigns, Hopkins is probably most famous for the one he created for Schlitz beer in the early 1900s.

In those days, a beer’s purity was of paramount importance to consumers. And knowing this, most breweries claimed – but never really proved – that their beers were the purest available.

Hopkins reasoned that he could lift Schlitz head and shoulders above the competition by proving his claims beyond the shadow of a doubt. Instead of merely claiming purity, he would trumpet the reasons why Schlitz was purer than the rest. To do that, he needed to become an expert on the brewing process. And to do that, he would have to visit the brewery.

Now, picture this… Here’s a guy who makes millions as a copywriter – arguably the greatest word-juggler of his time – and he realizes that second-hand research isn’t enough.

Hopkins could have simply visited a library (remember them?) to do his research on the brewer’s art. Better yet, he could have saved several valuable days of his time and just sent an eager young apprentice to the brewery to do it.

But, no. Hopkins understood that, to write the most compelling ads possible, he needed a deep personal understanding of the product. He needed to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of beer making – and get answers to every question that sprang into his mind.

Only, after his tour of the brewery, did Hopkins begin writing. In meticulous detail, he described the 4,000-foot-deep artesian wells from which Schlitz drew its water… the wood pulp filters that ensured the water was 100 percent pure… the spotless plant… the way Schlitz’s bottles were sanitized with germ-scalding steam… and more.
But Hopkins did leave out one teeensy-weeensy little fact: Pretty much every brewery made its beer just like Schlitz did!

In reality, Schlitz’s beer wasn’t one iota purer than its competitors’ brewskis were. But by being the first to tell the public about the steps they took to ensure purity, Hopkins convinced the entire nation that Schlitz was the purest beer anywhere.

More than that: By making Schlitz the first brewery to reveal how beer was made, Hopkins ROBBED competing breweries of their purity claims. After his ads ran, any brewery that claimed its beer was pure came off looking like a second-rate, “me-too” competitor.

RESULT: In no time flat, Schlitz soared from America’s fifth-biggest-selling beer… to NUMERO UNO!

Hopkins described his strategy beautifully in his book My Life in Advertising:

“This is a situation which occurs in most advertising problems. The article is not unique. It embodies no great advantages. Perhaps countless people can make similar products. But tell the pains you take to excel.

“Tell factors and features which others deem too commonplace to claim. Your product will come to typify those excellencies. If others claim them afterward, it will only serve to advertise you.

“There are few advertised products which cannot be imitated. Few who dominate a field have any exclusive advantage. They were simply the first to tell certain convincing facts.”

Although Claude C. Hopkins may be best known for his Schlitz campaigns, he also pioneered sampling and the use of coupons, replaced reckless claims with money-back guarantees… and much, much more. In fact, he reveals so many powerful copywriting techniques in My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, that nearly all of today’s top writers still worship the ground he walked upon.

If you have not read him – or have not read him lately – I strongly suggest that you remedy this situation post-haste.

[Ed. Note: Master copywriter Clayton Makepeace publishes the highly acclaimed e-zine The Total Package to help business owners and copywriters accelerate their sales and profits. Claim your 4 free moneymaking e-books – bursting with tips, tricks, and tactics that’ll skyrocket your response – at MakepeaceTotalPackage.com.

“The time has come when advertising in some hands has reached the status of a science.” Claude C. Hopkins