Challenging Times Call for Old Solutions

One of my favourite books on writing sales copy is The Robert Collier Letter Book. First printed way back in 1937, it introduces many concepts that work as well now as they did then. One of these concepts is the advice to produce copy that enters the conversation that is already taking place in the mind of your prospect. This, he proposes, is a lot easier than trying to replace what is there with your own. As a theory it sounds fine, but it is only recently that I have begun to see the power behind its use, especially based on recent economic events.

The date that this book was published provides some clues to the relevance of its message. It was first released at a time where there had been, and were about to be, a group of deeply felt ‘conversations of the mind’ experienced by many a prospect. The great depression, which had started in the early 1930s, was now gradually being replaced with a time of steady economic growth.

While we are not experiencing economic ails as bad as those of the early thirties, only a fool would ignore the effect the current economic situation has in placing conversations in the mind of their own prospects. Your prospects read the paper, watch the news and listen to the radio – they are not immune to the media onslaught that rains down on us on what seems to be a daily basis about how badly our local and international economies are fairing. This is one ‘conversation of the mind’ that you can guarantee your prospect has – to what degreedepends on his/her own personal situation, but it will be there. Your job is to use it as best you can, rather than ignore it and hope it will go away. Somehow, you want to harness the emotional force your prospect has with this current ‘conversation of the mind’ and use it to help you add impact to your sales message.

For instance, during times like these, business owners are more careful and considered with their investment plans and have a preference towards those that provide a strong chance of quick success. Additional levels of proof may also be required to substantiate any claims you make in your copy, with verification that points to fast revenue growth and/or even quicker cost reduction being well received. Testimonial and other credibility-building content all needs to be bolstered up during times like these, and then presented repeatedly during any early prospect communications.

However, sometimes there are events (both good and bad) of such a large international and emotional scale that the conversations they set off in the minds of those that experience them are more far-reaching than would normally seem possible. Not many events equal the impact of what took place on the morning of September 11, 2001. The Price family was on a short break in Rotorua at the time. The girls were up early and it was my job to turn on the TV in their room to the Disney channel so Claire and I could snooze for a bit longer. I still remember to this day turning on the TV to see the image of a bright blue New York sky and what seemed like a shining arrow of a jet liner heading towards that tower. We all sat and stared at the destruction that followed – Claire and I struggled to explain to two girls under 6 years old what this all meant, when we really had no idea ourselves.

We all remember the immediate effect this had on the US. Planes stopped flying, businesses shut for a few days, NFL football games were canned – the country went into a period of shock and then came out as one determined to do whatever it took to find those responsible.

Last week, I read of how this tragic event had triggered a conversation in the mind of Americans that I would have never picked, but its effect rippled all the way to an outdoor clothing manufacturer in Christchurch – slashing their sales overnight by 30%.

Published as a case study in the latest University of Auckland’s Business Review, the article documents the story of Macpac from its founding in 1990 to its sale to Mouton Noir in mid March 2008, and provides a fascinating insight into how 9/11 had such an immediate impact on their business.

"The outdoor industry experienced a massive shift from being hardcore, involving adventure travel, mountaineering, and multi-day tramping to being softer and more focused on fashion. The fashion area end of the market continued to grow but the hardcore end collapsed. People stayed at home and stopped doing adventurous activities."

The last sentence points to the conversation running through peoples’ minds, which made such a dramatic shift possible. It is a conversation that I don’t think many people would have expected as an outcome from events that unfolded that morning.

I hope that we never again have to deal with managing the outcomes of an event as tragic as 9/11 – and whilst economic ails are with us, they are nowhere near as bad as those experienced in the 1930s by Robert Collier.

However, his theory of entering the conversations already going on in your prospect’s mind when crafting your sales copy are as sound now as they were in 1937. So, my advice is to face it head on – start talking about it in your sales copy and enter the ‘conversation’ already running in your prospect’s mind, to better frame the opportunity your product or service provides.