Secrets of sales copywriting from Dan Kennedy

Insights from The Ultimate Sales Letter

A number of very successful internet marketers, such as Frank Kern and Yanik Silver, reference Dan Kennedy and his teachings as fundamental to their success. I wanted to see for myself what insights could be learned in the The Ultimate Sales Letter, and to share these actionable ideas with you.

The Ultimate Sales Letter Dan Kennedy

Unfortunately the Ford Mustang promo is over now.

As the title implies, the the book is focused on writing sales letters, but the thing to remember is that these ideas can be applied to other communication tools, such as landing pages and email campaigns.

How well do YOU know YOUR target customer?

The Ultimate Sales Letter goes into great depth about gathering background information –  what you need to know about your target customers before you start writing your sales letter. Kennedy referred to this as market diagnosing and profiling and asked questions such as:

  • What keeps them up at night?

  • What are they afraid of?

  • What makes them angry?

  • Which trends will affect them?

  • What do they really desire the most?

  • Do they have an inherent bias in the way they make decisions?

  • Do they use their own language?

  • Who else has tried to sell to them and what level of success did they have?

Answering these questions before you start writing your sales letter helps you keep your target customer front and centre in your mind. If you start writing your sales letter before knowing the answer to these questions, you run the risk of sending messages that won’t resonate with your target audience.

You know your features. But do you know the benefits?

Another critical thing Dan Kennedy recommends, before writing your sales copy, is writing a list of all your features and benefits to help you choose the ones to use in your sales letter. You want to emphasize the benefits, but there may be buying audiences who want to know the features as well. It comes down to knowing your target customers, how their needs differ, and then addressing them appropriately.

One clever idea is to look for what he refers to as “hidden benefits”. The example given was for a professional conference. While you want to convince a prospect to attend your conference for professional reasons, there may be other “hidden benefits” of attending, such as being able to play golf while attending the conference.

Once you’ve written out the features and benefits, he suggests then writing a list of every potential objection, concern, fear, doubt, and excuse you may encounter from your target audience. When writing your sales letter you will address these concerns and convince your prospect to see your product in a positive way.

AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action)

While Dan Kennedy didn’t come up with the AIDA acronym (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action) he referenced it in The Ultimate Sales Letter, and it serves as a useful reminder of the stages you need to take a reader through with your sales copy.

First, get their attention with your headline, and appeal to their interest. Your first sentence must continue to interest the reader, as well as the content that follows, until you’ve hooked the reader (as Joseph Sugarman refers to it, the ‘slippery slope’, where they feel compelled to continue reading).

You can’t create desire, where it doesn’t already exist within the reader, but you can certainly awaken it with powerfully written sales copy content. Knowing the benefits that your product/service can deliver, and how that maps back to the customer’s desires, is critical.

If you’ve addressed the attention, interest and desire, the final step of action should be effortless. If you’ve done your job well with your sales copy, you should simply be able to tell the customer what action they must take, without needing to do any further convincing.

“From Annoying Pest to Welcome Guest”

This was a great sub headline from the chapter about Getting your Sales Letter Read. If you are trying to sell something to someone who feels they don’t need or want what you are offering, you are perceived as a pest. If, however you have something they do want, suddenly you’re a welcome guest.

You need to figure out how to make your communications a welcome guest so the reader welcomes it and is open to it. How do you do this? Make sure you are offering the reader something of value. Something they value.

More Headline Ideas For Your Arsenal

While all books on copywriting talk about the importance of headlines, The Ultimate Sales Letter included a few headline formulas I hadn’t seen referenced yet. Add some of these to your swipe file of headline ideas:

  1. “They didn’t think I could ________, but I did.”

  2. “Who else wants _______?”

  3. “How _______ made me ______.”

  4. “Are you _________?”

  5. “How I ___________.”

  6. “If you are _______ you can ________.”

  7. “Secrets of _________.”

  8. “Thousands now _____ even though they _______.” (Refers to a challenge they have overcome)

  9. “Warning: ____(Fact/stat)___”

  10. “Give me _______ and I’ll _______.”  (e.g. “Give me a month, and I’ll show you how to lose 30 pounds.”)

  11. “_______(number) to ______ (result).” (e.g. in “101 ways to achieve financial independence”)

 You can see how these headlines play into a lot of different ideas I’ve discussed on this site before. Most (if not all) of these headlines speak to the reader’s self-interest, and also overcome objections, arouse curiosity, use storytelling and illustrate results.

How to effectively deal with price

The Ultimate Sales Letter gave some good suggestions for addressing price in your sales copy. Others (like Brendon Burchard) use the expression price juxtaposition, but whatever you call it, it’s about helping your customer view your price from a different perspective.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give the customer a detailed idea of how much ‘stuff’ they’re going to get when they buy your offering. The idea being that people equate value with volume (quantity) they will receive.

  2. Mention how much it cost to develop the product. This may or may not be relevant for your audience, and what your are selling. Show your prospect what they would have to invest to develop their own solution to their problem. If your solution saves your customer a lot of time in achieving their desired result, there is a lot of value associated with that, which could make your price seem small in comparison. Make sure they understand this.

  3. Make the parts worth more than the whole. If you are selling a product bundle to your customer, the idea is to show the customer what the individual prices would be for each offering if they were purchased separately.  For example, “if purchased separately, these offerings would sell for over $5,000, but I’m going to offer it to you for only $2,000”.  The customer thinks “wow, sounds like a great deal!”

  4. Conceal the price. This approach is used when you someone offers to sell their offering for “three easy payments of $37”.

Quantifying the costs associated with the customer’s pain helps you to present your price in a way where it will seem small in comparison to the value the customer receives when you solve their problem.

Final thoughts

The Ultimate Sales Letter goes into many other topics, including how to leverage psychological triggers, writing style, visual appeal, reviewing your content, testing to see what works, and much more. Those topics have been covered many times in other books on copywriting, so they are not addressed in this post.

I highly recommend you read The Ultimate Sales Letter. There will be sections you may skim over (e.g. lots of sales letter examples included), but there is a lot of great detailed information you may go back to as useful resource in future. This book is a must if you are serious about improving your direct response marketing skills.

Now over to you – have you read The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy? Which sections stood out for you? Did you learn things you continue to use in your sales copy?

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About The Author

Eric Moeller

Eric Moeller is the Managing Director of Copy Dojo, an agency which helps startups improve their sales copywriting to rapidly grow their business. He has two decades of experience in high tech marketing and product management. Eric has an MBA in marketing, and completed Seth Godin's altMBA in the summer of 2015.

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