Content Tells. Direct Sells.

by Rosann Bartle, 21 Feb 2019

Good content is all about telling a great story. Like with a good book, you can tell within the first few pages if it’s going to be worth the read. Does it capture your attention? Do you want to continue to invest your time? If the answer is no, the reader will put it down and move on to the next one.

That’s why, as marketers, we must learn to capture our consumers’ attention from the very beginning. So, the question we must ask ourselves is this: When do we craft stories where we can educate and provide value-added, interesting content, and when do we take a hard-sell approach? It’s a delicate balance, of course. But there’s a time and place for both approaches.

Guiding the conversation

When you write about a brand’s product or service, use the purchasing funnel as your outline. It’s a great platform to help you understand where the prospect is in the purchase process and how you should engage with those prospects.

What’s the purchasing funnel? It’s a series of four key phases that a consumer goes through when considering a product or service:

  • The Awareness Phase. During “Awareness,” your content needs to educate readers just enough that they want to find out more. As you pique the prospect’s interest, they begin to form an opinion about your brand. It’s easier to sell a product or service once you have the consumer’s interest. Now your story can move from an informational approach to direct selling, thereby increasing the likelihood that you will complete the sale.
  • The Consideration Phase. At this point in the purchasing funnel, the consumer has done their research. They’re starting to weigh the pros and cons of your product versus the competitor’s and narrow down their decision. This is where your content has to become more overtly persuasive. The audience has engaged with your website (or clicked through to a landing page from an email), so you know a little something about what their interests are. Leverage that information in your copy by speaking directly to them about that product, highlighting the key benefits, or providing feedback from others who purchased this product so they can help influence the prospect’s decision.
  • The Decision Phase. Closing the sale is one of the hardest parts of selling. The copy has to be very direct — but, at the same time, reassuring, especially when the sale involves a big-ticket item. One helpful approach is the offer of a money-back guarantee: If you are not completely satisfied, you can return this item for a full refund. This is what we call a standard practice in direct sell copywriting. It offers the prospect assurance that they have an out, which minimizes risk and eliminates a barrier to purchase.
  • The Loyalty Phase. In this phase, your consumer becomes a brand loyalist. They love the product they have purchased and may have even told a friend about it. This is your opportunity to continue to keep the customer engaged by offering value-added content — i.e., content that doesn’t sell but helps to educate the consumer about other topics that are important to them. The brand becomes an advocate for the customer (and vice versa) and begins to build a relationship that goes beyond just the products and services you offer.

Well-crafted copy sells, engages the reader emotionally by tapping into their needs, and leads them to a conclusion about the product/service they are looking to purchase.

When to be informational vs. direct selling — and why does it matter?

People make purchasing decisions emotionally. They decide according to a feeling or a need, not always through a logical thought process. That’s why intangible benefits are the keys to persuasion. When you’re writing, you should ask yourself, “What is the emotional hot button here?”

Most people shop out of want or need. Let’s say they’re looking at something relatively expensive, like a pair of shoes. They may fall in love with them, but the want has to be backed up by how badly they need those shoes. At this point, they begin to look at the details, like the quality of the product, to see if the shoes justify the purchase cost.

The best way to distinguish which type of content is appropriate is to know where the consumer is in making the purchase. Once you understand your target audience, and what they need at that moment, you’ll know whether your content should be telling or selling. And you’ll be all the more likely to have a happy (and profitable) ending.