7-Steps To Killer Ad Copy
(Including 25-Question "Client Questionnaire")
By Russ Phelps
Welcome to this email course "7-Steps To Killer Ad Copy".
My name is Russ Phelps, and I'm your "Tour Guide" through
the world of killer copy writing. Before we begin, a few words
about what to expect.
First, you won't get any fluff, airy theory, or re-hash of
old concepts that don't work any more. There's already too
much of that floating around these days.
Second, what you will get is the truth about what I've learned
from my actual experience of writing thousands of marketing
pieces for more than 600 clients since 1978. I'll take you
inside the actual 7-step process I personally use to write
killer copy. This process actually works, as proven by the
results from my confidential client files, and my own experience
with my personal projects.
STEP #1) Do Your Homework
Almost nobody does enough homework before they write a word
of ad copy, make a marketing plan, or start selling. And that's
the main reason why most ad copy and marketing tactics are
anemic, weak and ineffective. Frankly, about 80% of the ad
copy I see is:
full of puffery instead of power
loaded with generalities instead of specifics
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
Here's what I mean by "doing your homework". Before I write
a word of copy for a client, I have them fill out a 25-question
Client Questionnaire. In its original form, it runs to 5 pages!
Below is a list of those 25 questions you can also use to
get your thinking focused. Feel free to print out these questions
in your own form, and use it for your own projects.
Make sure you do the research necessary to get the answers
to these questions before you write the copy.
Now here are the 25 questions:
- CLIENT (Company name)
- DESCRIPTION of product/service. (In 50 words or less,
what are we offering?)
- PURPOSE of product/service. (What does it do? How does
it work? How is it used?)
- PRICE. (How much does it cost?)
- What is the OFFER? (Special introductory savings? Premium?
Limited-time offer? Buy one, get one free? Free information?
- What are the FEATURES of the product? (All facts and specifications.)
- What are the main BENEFITS? (What will it do for me? What
specific problem(s) does it solve? What need(s) does it
fulfill? How will it make or save me money? Save time, work
or worry? Make my life easier or better?
- OTHER SELLING POINTS? What will it give me that I can't
get anywhere else? How and why is it new, better or different
than what's already available? What is unique or exclusive
- What is our ASSIGNMENT? Direct mail package, sales letter,
display ad, brochure, press release, insert, catalog, self-mailer,
postcard, information kit, TV spot, radio spot, web site,
- What is the OBJECTIVE of the project? To generate leads
or inquiries, make a direct sale, answer inquiries or leads,
make an announcement, build image, etc.?
- What is the BUDGET?
- What is the SCHEDULE? When do you want it? Any deadlines
or project schedules we should be aware of?
- Who is the MAIN PROSPECT? In business, what is his title/responsibility?
What are his biggest goals, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams,
attitudes, possible objections? How will he use your product
to get ahead or keep from falling behind? For consumers,
what main interests/desires/fears/hopes and dreams does
it appeal to?
- Who (if any) are your SECONDARY PROSPECTS? Are there enough
prospects in this secondary niche to create specially targeted
copy versions that appeal directly to them?
- What MAILING LISTS/MEDIA have you used in the past? What
worked and what did not? What is the actual sales performance
- What TESTS do you wish to conduct? What copy, price, offer,
mailing list, media, etc.?
- What selling points MUST be included?
- What TABOOS do you have? What must never be said or promised?
- Who are your COMPETITORS? How to you compare on product,
service, price, terms, features and benefits, etc.? Where
are you strongest and weakest by comparison?
- Any IN-HOUSE COMPETITION that might affect positioning,
copy approaches, etc.
- Any operational RESTRICTIONS? (e.g., no 9" X 12" envelopes,
- What is the METHOD OF PAYMENT? Cash with order; bill-me
later; purchase order required; Credit cards VISA, MasterCard,
American Express, Diners Club, Discover?
- How do you receive ORDERS? What percentage of your sales
comes in by phone? Internet? Mail? On-site retail? Through
- What GUARANTEE do you offer? (100% money-back any time?
30-day free trial? Refund of unused portion upon return?
- What is your COMPANY PROFILE? Company history, personality
or bio of the owner, founder, main spokesperson; position
of prominence in the marketplace; special achievements;
public/community image; industry awards or kudos; or anything
else that might enhance sales or goodwill?
PLEASE BE SURE TO INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:
- Product sample if possible.
- Any testimonials or endorsement letters from happy users;
media coverage; publicity; celebrity endorsements; industry/peer
- Any complaints letters from unhappy customers, etc.
- Copies of your past advertising/marketing efforts.
- Copies of competitors' advertising/marketing efforts.
- Any other research or background material you can supply.
- Recommended background reading and names of key resource
people I should talk with.
Pretty thorough beginning, ain't it?
WARNING: If you try to weasel out of getting the answers to
these questions, you might be a "marketing accident waiting
Sure, some of these questions might not relate exactly to
your project. If so, fine -- omit them or modify them to fit
your situation. However, make sure you are not kidding yourself,
or trying to cut corners. If you are, it will come back to
HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS: If you do this homework, you are 50%
of the way to having killer ad copy that can make you lots
of money for years to come - maybe even set you up for life!
So, then, I ask you: Is it worth it? Of course it is!
How does this work in actual practice?
Here's an example from my own client files:
In 1993, I started working with Laughlin Associates, Inc.
of Carson City, Nevada. They have a wide product line (books,
tapes, seminars, newsletter, consulting services). But their
target customer is very well defined; they cater to business
people and investors who are concerned about reducing taxes,
protecting their assets, and maintaining financial privacy.
My first assignment was to create a direct mail piece to
sell their flagship product, a 500+ page book titled "The
Corporation Manual." Before I wrote a word of copy, here was
the "homework" I did:
- Got the completed Client Questionnaire from the client.
- Interviewed three key people at the client company and
took careful, detailed notes on every aspect of their business.
- Got copies of every ad, mailing piece, brochure, press
release, etc. they had ever used, with data on how they
used it, what the results were, etc.
- Got copies from them of every competitor ad they had
- Contacted six of their competitors, acted like a prospect,
collected all of their marketing literature, talked with
their sales people, and took copious notes on how they acted,
what sales approaches they used, what I learned, etc.
- 6Bought and read the four best books I could find on the
same subject as The Corporation Manual.
- 7Called and interviewed five of the client's key customers.
- After that, I took the next step, which I will reveal
to you in Part Two of this course, "7 Steps To Killer Ad
By the way, you may ask, what was the result of my ad copy
for Laughlin Associates? Well, I'll let them speak for themselves:
"We tested you against seven other copy writers and our own
in-house control (which we had used for more than five years).
Your mailing piece beat second place by more than 3 to 1 in
sales! Since then, the only one who has been able to beat
your control is YOU, with your steady stream of new copy ideas
and marketing innovations. Not only that, the series of 17
back-end sales letters you wrote has been converting leads
to paying customers in droves -- and the direct mail pieces
you wrote promoting our seminars have been filling the room
consistently. We've been successful in business since 1972,
but you increased our customer base by more than 50% in just
three years! You're a genius! Keep it up!"
Lewis Laughlin, CEO, Laughlin Associates, Inc, Carson City,
Phone: (775) 883-8484 WEB: www.laughlinassociates.com
STEP #2) Make An Offer They Can't Refuse
In the previous lesson, I taught you how to "Do Your Homework."
Now, let's focus on making an irresistible offer to your prospect.
The Offer is, simply put, your statement of what you offer
to the buyer in exchange for what you want from them in most
cases, their money.
In making your offer, you have to make them want what you
have so much more than the money they have to pay you to get
it, that they will quickly do what you ask them to do in order
to "seal the deal" and buy from you. Simple as that.
In the 25-question Client Questionnaire I gave you in Lesson
#1, your answers to questions #2, 4, 5, 22 and 24 will give
you some of the raw material you need to create your offer.
But, before we do that, think about, then answer, these two
- What's the biggest promise you can make, that you KNOW
you can fulfill?
- What's the MOST you can offer for the price you are asking,
without hurting yourself?
It's vital that you answer these two questions, because,
as a seller:
- You might try to get away with making a smaller promise
than you could. Maybe you're afraid, and you want to play
it safe. Or maybe you are giving in to your greed, and trying
to get more than you deserve in the deal.
- You might be trying to get as much as you can from the
buyer, while holding back what you could be giving in return.
You're not really "going the extra mile."
If so, don't worry. You're just being human. (We are amusing
creatures, aren't we?)
Now that you know that about yourself, also please realize
that if you act on these impulses, you will lose sales and
So get over it, OK? Here's how:
- Make the biggest promise you can, that you KNOW you can
- Give as much as you can for the price you are asking,
without hurting yourself. In other words, give until just
before you say "Ouch I'll LOSE money if I do that!"
There are exceptions to number 2 above; for example, "loss
These are offers you make to "buy business", in which you
intentionally take a loss on the front-end in order to get
a customer that will make you profits on the back-end. For
example, record and book clubs give you tons of product for
peanuts when you join. They happily lose money on the first
order, because they know they will make money from your back-end
purchases. Another example is giving away something for FREE
in order to introduce yourself to a prospect.
If that's true of you, fine. Create your offer accordingly.
But most business people I know would like to make money on
the front-end, back-end, in-between and forever. You can too!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let's back up a bit.
Here are the 4 key components of the offer:
- Product & Bonuses
Each of these four key components have many elements that
you must test in order to find the most profitable offer for
your product or service.
Now lets' look at each key component in turn, and I'll
give you some suggestions you can test to jump-start your
- Product & Bonuses:
Basic Product or Service
FREE gift for inquiring, trial order, or basic purchase.
FREE bonus, multiple bonuses for basic order
FREE bonus, more bonuses based on size of order
Surprise FREE bonus for bigger purchase
Discount introductory offer
Discount for paying cash
Refund or rebate after trial
Early-bird discount price goes up the longer they wait
Cash or charge in advance
Charge my card in 30 days unless return for refund
Cash, check, credit card, barter
Time limit this entire offer expires within 10 days
Time limit for bonuses order within ten days and get this
extra free bonus
Promise refund for any reason at any time
Unlimited, unconditional lifetime guarantee
Time limit for refund 30-day, 6-month, one-year, lifetime
Keep the bonuses just for trying even if you request refund
Double or triple your money-back if not satisfied
Performance guarantee money back if you don't make at least
within one year using our system
Now create your "Offer Architecture." This means you make
a series of offers that create a relationship with the prospect,
then build the relationship through making a series of offers
to upgrade them to a long-term buyer of your product/service.
Here's an example of Offer Architecture you might want
- 1) FREE offer
- Introductory offer for your "flagship" product
- Upsell to your next back-end product
- Offer your complete product line, catalog, etc.
- Offer back-end support services such as consulting
- Create joint ventures so that you offer the products/services
of other companies who serve the same market you do.
- Create joint ventures/affiliate programs whereby you offer
your products/services to other companies' customers in
order to further build your customer base.
Orchestrate your Offer Architecture so that it proceeds in
a series of logical steps as outlined above.
In doing this, you are creating a money machine in the form
of a customer base to whom you continually make offers throughout
As a baseline goal, you may want to create 10,000 prospects/buyers
in your database. For example, you have 10,000 people who
responded to your FREE offer; 3,000 bought your basic product;
2,000 bought your upsell; and 1,000 buy your various back-end
offers, including joint venture offers.
Do the math for your business. You may find that if you get
10,000 prospects, and orchestrate your Offer Architecture
properly, you are well on your way to creating a fortune.
STEP #3) Sell The Benefits
Sell the benefits.
Feature the features.
Simple as that.
Unfortunately, most people try to sell the features. They
bore the reader, miss the point, and lose sales as a result.
Don't do that!
This is a Feature: briefly put, it's a fact about
your product size, shape, color, specifications, performance,
durability, maintenance required, etc. as well as what it
does and does not include in its basic package, if applicable.
This is a Benefit: it's the favorable result(s) the
buyer gets, enjoys or derives from buying and using your product!
This includes both tangible and intangible benefits.
For example, some benefits are: making or saving money, feeling
happier, more powerful, more joyful, sexier, healthier, smarter
or wiser, more attractive or energetic, safer, more secure,
more personable or likeable, more respected or rewarded, etc.
So here's your homework:
Satisfy the two prime motivators that drive all people.
The Two Prime Motivators:
- Get more of what you want (greed)
- Avoid losing What You Have (fear)
People Want More:
Profit: money, property, possessions
Passion: sex, love, joy, happiness
Power: mastery, spiritual attainment, magic, mystery, wonder
People Want To Avoid:
Loss of Profit: lose money, lose property, lose possessions
Loss of Passion: lose sex life, lose love, lose joy, lose
Loss of Power: lose mastery and ability, lose spiritual status,
You must promise that they will:
Get more of what they want,
And/or avoid losing what they have,
And/or avoid losing the opportunity and/or promise of getting
more in the future
The key is to get the reader to focus the prime motivators
onto your offer, and to become convinced that buying from
you is the next thing they must do before anything else in
order to move ahead in life.
People are motivated by emotion, and justify it by logic.
So you sell them the benefits, and justify it logically by
explaining how the features will give them the benefits they
STEP #4: Hit 'Em With a Headline
You may have heard that 80% of the success of any ad is dependent
on the headline. This may be true. No matter what, if the
headline doesn't hit 'em between the eyes, and arouse enough
interest to keep them reading, you will not sell them.
Simple as that.
Tests have shown that one headline will outpull another by
up to 18 times! Would you like to get 18 times as much sales
revenue than you are now getting with your weak headlines?
Then read on.
Here are some of the most powerful types of headlines you
- Communicate your strongest benefit(s).
- "Here's How To Avoid Probate --
Pass On Your Estate Quickly To Your Heirs - And Keep The
Government From Taking 70% Of Your Estate When You Die!"
- "Here's How You Can Triple Your
Reading Speed In Ten Days Or Less Without Losing Comprehension
- "Here's How To Cut Your Taxes To
The Bone, Protect All Your Assets With An Iron Fortress,
And Maintain Complete Financial Privacy And Anonymity"
- Simply State Your Offer in the headline.
- "Enjoy A Delicious $99 Steak Dinner
For Two For Only $1 If You Reserve It Before Friday, March
- "You'll Get This New Eye-Opening
Internet Marketing Course Worth $495 For Only $97 Plus Five
FREE Bonuses Worth $1497. But You Must Act Within The Next
- "Take 30% Off Our New Stock of Designer-Label
Men's Suits! But Hurry! Sale Ends Monday, April 7!"
- Take a customer testimonial that
sells your best benefit(s) and feature it in quotes in the
headline. For example:
- "Your Ad Copy Tripled Our Response!"
(from one of my clients)
- "I Saved $35,676 In Federal And
State Taxes Last Year, Thanks To Bob Smith's Advice! It
Was The Best $1500 I Ever Spent!"
- "I Was Lucky If I Could Please My
Wife In Bed Twice A Month. After Using Your Prostate Health
Formula, Now We Have Great Sex At Least Three Times A Week!"
- Take your target reader's biggest
problem that you can solve, and build a headline around
it that offers your solution. For example:
- "Termite Problems? Here's The Quickest,
Cheapest Way To Get Rid Of Termites Once And For All!"
- "Tired Of Slow Internet Connections?
Get Lightning-Fast DSL For Only $29.95 Per Month!"
- "Jock Itch? Cruex."
- Make your guarantee right up front in the headline. For
- "Get Rid Of Back Pain Forever In Six Weeks Or Less Guaranteed!"
- "If You Earn Over $100,000 A Year, I'll Show You How
To Pay Zero Taxes Next Year Or Else I'll Pay Your Tax Bill
- "New Natural Remedy Cures Insomnia Or Your Money Back"
Now here's your homework:
- Write at least one headline for yourself using each one
of these models.
- Then, test each one to see what pulls the best response.
- Then, keep testing new headlines to keep increasing response.
- Think of how much more profit you will add to your bottom
line with only a 20% increase in response.
- How about double the response?
- It's worth the work! Now go to it!
STEP #5: Weave The Web
By now, you have done your homework. You have crafted an
offer the buyer can't refuse. You have made a list of your
key features and benefits. You have written at least five
headlines for your ad, sales letter, web page, or other marketing
And now, you're ready to write a first draft of your piece.
In this part of our 7-Step course, I'll show you how to weave
the web that captures the reader, and gets them to buy from
you. Here is a basic outline of how to structure your ad:
- Subhead(s) that elaborate on the headline
- Opening or first paragraph that elaborates on the headline
- Benefit Feature Testimonial cycle. Here you state a benefit,
tell the feature that delivers the benefit, and include
a buyer testimonial that proves they enjoyed that benefit.
"This widget will double or triple your assembly-line speed
[BENEFIT], because of the state-of-the-art proprietary chip
developed by our engineers [FEATURE]. In fact, Bob Adams
of TechHound Systems says, "Our production capacity
is up by 217% since we installed your widgets in our plant
and my controller tells me that it increased our bottom-line
profit last quarter by 32%! Best investment we made in the
last five years!'[TESTIMONIAL] "
- More benefit "bullets"
- Re-statement of your offer
- Reasons why you can make this offer
- Credibility and proof
- Scarcity offer won't be "on the table" for long, because.
- Call to action - ask for the order NOW
- P.S. Here you can restate the offer, add on another bonus
for ordering within the next ten days, warn the reader of
what they will miss if they don't order NOW, use another
killer testimonial, etc. Many readers scan the letter and
see the PS before they read the entire letter, so make your
- Order form or other response device. Elements to include
here are: re-statement of your headline, offer, guarantee,
call to action, payment information, all ordering options,
your contact info, etc. A good order form will tell the
reader everything they need to know to buy from you even
if they never read the rest of the ad!
And there you have it! There are many other variations and
options you can use in an ad, but this basic outline will
work in many of the cases you will confront in your advertising
STEP #6 - Copy Checklist
In the previous lesson, I showed you how to Weave The Web
of copy so you can produce a first draft of your ad. Now here's
a Copy Checklist I use to make sure I haven't missed anything
that should go into the final ad.
- Have you done all your homework in Step #1?
- Have you created the best offer you can afford to make?
- Have you listed all Features and Benefits?
- Have you collected testimonials that are specific, believable,
and related to your key features and benefits?
- Have you written a collection of headlines and subheads?
- 06) Have you listed all the credible reasons why a buyer
should buy from you NOW?
- Have you listed all the reasons why you are a better choice
than your competitors?
- Have you chosen what elements to survey- price, offer,
- Have you chosen the format? Sales letter, space ad, web
page, email, postcard, insert, TV, radio, press release,
- Do you have a clear mental picture of the buyer? Do you
really know what makes them tick?
- Are you set up to receive orders in the way(s) the buyer
wants to buy from you?
- Have you overcome all the weak points, if any, in your
offer, and introduced and overcome any objections in the
- Have you had someone read your copy OUT LOUD to hear how
it flows in the buyer's mind when they read it? And have
you smoothed out any rough spots, so it flows like a greased
slide from opening to close?
- Is your call to action as strong as it can be?
- Have you used all the appeals to Greed and Fear that are
- Have you introduced scarcity and urgency?
- Have you created a "self-contained" Order Form or Response
Device with all the elements mentioned in Lesson #5? Could
the buyer get all the key info here even if they never read
the whole ad?
- Is your copy full of enthusiasm, passion and promise?
- Does the worst skeptic you know really believe your ad?
- Are you sincerely proud of what you are doing?
- If you have passed the test in this checklist, then go
back and re-write your final draft. Then run the ad and
get ready to count the money!
STEP #7 - Keep Your Creative Juices Flowing
Many people fee l they are just not creative. It's true,
some people are more talented and creative than others, and
some have their creative muscles in better shape than others.
But, let's face facts. Writing ad copy is not writing a Shakespeare
sonnet, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or composing
a Bach fugue.
It's darn hard work, with a practical application to help
you make more money.
And sometimes it's a challenge to keep the creative juices
flowing. Here's what I do personally, and w hat some other
"Idea Generators" do, to stay sharp and creative. Take what
works for you, and go with it.
- Collect and study ads in your field, and many others.
Create a "swipe file" of ads, sales letters, bookmarks of
URLs of key web sites, etc
- Read books and publications in your field, as well as
general publications, and even a few kooky ones. I like
the tabloids, women's and men's magazines, financial news,
health publications, self-improvement and how-to stuff,
expose and scandal pubs, and culture-sensitive magazines
like Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, etc.
- Cruise the Internet. Start with a keyword search on a
cool search engine like Google, AskJeeves, GoTo.com, etc.
Input key words related to your field, and start cruising
and bookmarking sites. Do this regularly, as there are new
sites coming on line every day.
- 4) Visit and participate in discussion forums and newsgroups
in your areas of interest, and a few that you have NO interest
in. It's amazing how one idea or approach in an odd field
can be applied or modified to solve a challenge you face
in your own life and business.
- Think outside the box, then bring those ideas into your
existing box in order to enlarge it. Keep growing your box,
and you'll grow too.
- Take a hike - literally, as in spending time in nature.
Nature is one of my greatest teachers. Not sure how to explain
it, but if you spend enough time in nature, I don't have
to explain it to you. It clears my head, renews me, and
gives me fresh juice.
- Maintain a Sense of Wonder. That's where you kind of wander
around all day going "Wow, look at that! What's going on
over there? What's that? How does that work? Why did that
happen? Why are they doing that? What is the meaning of
this? What is emerging or unfolding regarding this or that?"
And so on. Get involved with life by asking focused questions.
- Stay crazy. Most copy writers I know are at least a little
eccentric (including me), and some of them are downright
crazy compared to most people who have "real jobs" or wear
suits all day. That's good. I guess it goes with being creative,
but don't quote me on that or I'll go crazy.
- Laugh, sing and fool around a lot. Humor, music and play
somehow get the creative juices flowing, and help disarm
the left brain logic to let good ideas bubble up from the
- Get physical. Besides hiking, get fresh air, exercise,
dance, make love, move your body. It keeps your brain fresh,
fed with oxygen, and flowing with "happy chemicals.
- Cultivate a spiritual practice such as meditation, prayer,
yoga, chanting, visiting the world's sacred sites and "power
spots", studying sacred texts, feeding the poor, becoming
a Big Brother, or serving humanity in some form. It will
expand your perspective, and just might transform your life.
- If nothing else, cultivate the practice of what I call
"Active Compassion," which is simply finding what others
need the most and giving it to them. This is a direct reflection
of what smart marketers do, which is "find a need and fill
- 3) Immerse yourself in popular culture. Keep up on news,
events, controversies, scandals, issues, people's problems,
hopes and dreams, etc. It makes you better able to love
and serve the market you are selling to.
- Get out of your ivory tower if you find yourself stuck
in one for too long. Mix with people. All kinds of people.
Ask them open-ended questions. Act like a journalist from
time to time. Ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
- Spend at least one day a week NOT writing copy or thinking
about business. It helps you stay fresh and avoid burnout.
- Travel. Experience the "Otherness of Others". You will
expand as a person, and your creative capacities will expand
at the same time.
- Once in a while, break a habit or a routine, and/or substitute
a new one. Adopt a whole new way of doing something you
normally do. Ultimately, be willing to change anything and
everything about your life if you find it serves your "Higher
- Keep your heart open, even if it hurts sometimes. If you
close down in order to avoid pain, you'll stop the flow
of joy as well. And your creative well will dry up, too.
Let the joy AND the pain in and out as quickly as possible.
Don't hold on to anything for too long. Experience yourself
as a Creative Vessel, through which flow all the forces
of this thing we call "Life." As a result, your life will
become a mighty river that never stops flowing.
Well, my friend, I hope you have found "7 Steps To Killer
Ad Copy" helpful.
Good luck, have fun, and make lots of money. And send me an
email once in a while to let me know how you're doing, OK?
Russ Phelps is a master copy writer and
marketing consultant, with more than 600 clients nationwide
since 1978 - including Fortune 500 companies and many smaller
businesses and entrepreneurs. He has created thousands of
marketing campaigns for direct mail, print, publicity, Internet,
TV, radio, back-end marketing and ancillary marketing. Contact
him at (www.russphelps.com)
or call (858) 831-1668
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