Integrated direct marketing


Persuasion secrets of the top marketing pros


By Robert W. Bly



            I’ve started working on a major long-term project. The book, tentatively titled The Persuasion Manifesto (the name a copycat of the pretentious Cluetrain Manifesto), is a compilation of the most successful persuasive communications techniques ever developed.

            My primary research method is to e-mail direct marketers I know who consistently achieve superior response rates and ask them how they do it. My secondary research is a careful study of the few dozen marketing and psychology books every direct marketers should read, to extract the one or two best gems from each (I’ll give you a quick round-up of the best of these in a future column or two).

            Because I may never finish or publish The Persuasion Manifesto, but am getting such good stuff from my e-mail queries, I’m going to reprint some of the best persuasion techniques I’ve collected in this column. So here goes with the first installment:

            1. The “so what” test. After you write your copy, read it and ask whether it passes the “so what” test. Copywriter Joan Damico explains: “If after reviewing your copy, you think the target audience would just respond with ‘so what,’ then keep rewriting until they’ll say something like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for. How do I get it?’”  Copywriter’s agent Kevin Finn adds: “When copy is being critiqued, you should ask after each and every sentence, ‘So what?’ It’s a technique that can assist in changing copy to be more powerful.”

            2. Use the key copy drivers. Make sure your copy hits one of the key copy drivers as defined by Bob Hacker and Axel Andersson: fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, anger, salvation, or flattery. “If your copy is not dripping with one or more of these, tear it up and start over,” says Denny Hatch.

            3. The drop-in-the-bucket technique. “You have to show that the price you are asking for your product is a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the value it delivers,” says copywriter Mike Pavlish. Fred Gleeck says this is a function of product quality, not just copywriting. “Produce a product that you could charge ten times as much for,” says Gleeck. “If you really have a product that is so much more valuable than the price you’re charging, it becomes much easier to sell it hard.”

            4. Know your audience. Understand your target market -- their fears, needs, concerns, beliefs, attitudes, desires. “My way to be persuasive is to get in touch with the target group by inviting one or two to dinner for in-depth conversation,” says Christian Boucke, a copywriter for Rentrop Verlag in Germany. “I also call 15 to 40 by phone to get a multitude of testimonials and facts, and go to meetings or exhibitions where I can find them to get a first impression of their typical characteristics. Ideally, I accompany some of them in their private lives for years. By this, I understand better their true underlying key motivations.”

            5. Write like people talk. Use a conversational, natural style. “Write like you talk,” says Barnaby Kalan of Reliance Direct Marketing. “Speak in language that’s simple and easy to understand. Write the way your prospects talk.”

6. Be timely. “Pay very close attention to goings-on in the news that you can and should link to,” suggests Dan Kennedy in his No B.S. Marketing E-Letter (June 2002). “Jump on a timely topic and link to it in useful communication with present clients, in advertising for new clients, and in seeking media publicity.”

7. Lead with your strongest point. “When I review my writing, or especially others, I find they almost always leave the most potent point to the last line,” says John Shoemaker. “So I simply move it to the first line. Instant improvement.”

8. The Tremendous Whack Theory. “I employ Winston Churchill’s ‘tremendous whack” theory, which says that if you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever,” says Richard Perry. “Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time -- a tremendous whack.”

9. Build credibility with your reader. “In my experience, the number one key to persuasion is this: communicate trust,” says copywriter Steve Slaunwhite. “If you do this well, you at least have a chance at engaging and persuading the reader. If you don’t do this well, however, no amount of fancy copywriting techniques will save you.”

10. Don’t use an “obvious lead.” Instead of writing your lead as if you are just starting to talk to the customer, says Bryan Honesty, write as if you were already engaged in a conversation with the customer -- and are just responding to her last statement. Examples: “You have the gift. You just don’t know it yet.” “You can’t quit on your dreams now.” “So why is it so hard for you to lose weight?”

Note: Please e-mail your best persuasive marketing technique to me at If I use it, you will receive full credit, of course. Thanks!

            Also, to be notified if and when The Persuasion Manifesto becomes available, go to and sign up for my free e-zine, Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter.


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is and his Web site address is