Quick take: When you know the golden words your audience will respond to, your sales will grow to much higher levels. Discover how to find them for your business.
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Today’s episode is part 2 of an interview with Michel Fortin, a legendary copywriter and full-stack marketer who currently serves as the director of marketing for a medical clinic in Ottawa, Canada.
In part 1, we dug into his choice to take on a dedicated role inside a company, the principles of kaizen that he brings to his leadership style, and how he is still able to scratch his entrepreneurial itch.
This week, I get Michel to reveal his approach to copywriting that yields 7-figure results. Central to these kinds of results are knowing how to find the right words to use in your messages across all your marketing channels. This includes his OATH formula, what he does before typing the first word of a sales letter, and where he finds the golden words to convert visitors into eager buyers.
Transcripts, resources, and top-takeaways are below.
Michel Fortin has turned words into significant revenues for companies of all sizes. He gained internet marketing fame as the copywriter behind John Reese’s Traffic Secrets launch in 2004, which is believed to be the first time an information product earned $1 million in a single day. He’s a powerlifter, drummer, actor, philanthropist, and a leading voice in copywriting.
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If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
- The source of writers block: disconnection. If you have writer’s block, it’s likely because you haven’t researched your market enough.
- Meet them where they’re at. Write your copy to match which stage of awareness their at (see OATH below), and bring them along to an obvious conclusion.
- Find the centers of complaint. Where do your target market talk about the real issues your product or service solves? Find those places and listen to the way they talk about their problems.
How to prepare to write a sales letter
Bob: Speaking of multi-million dollar ideas, I know we don’t have much time left for our conversation, but it would be a disservice to our audience to not have a couple of tips around copywriting.
Bob: You obviously know this, but for those that are listening, you may not know that, I guess it’s been 15 years since you had your million dollar day with John Reese’s Traffic Secrets which really put you on the map.
You had already been writing for a long time before then obviously. And you’ve gone on to do lots of great successful campaigns, too. The point I’m making is, you have street cred when it comes to putting the right words to the right people. So I’d like to maybe ask three questions. I’m not really sure which ones they’re going to be yet. But the first question I’d like to know is when you do sit down to write a sales letter, or a landing page, or an email, and there’s nothing that previously exists for your business or client, what are maybe two or three questions that you want to know before you start typing? In other words, what do you need to know before you can say, “I’m ready to start typing, or ready to start putting pen to paper.”
Michel: Here’s the thing. I am a true believer in this old saying, and I may be butchering this, but Abraham Lincoln said, “Take 80% of your time sharpening your ax,” I can’t remember how the quote goes.
I think that applies very well in what I do, because whenever I write copy, I might have a lot of great ideas. But again, the fundamental issue is to have a sales message that connects with your audience. And I come back to the issue that your audience is the king. It’s not the content that’s king, it’s the audience, or the connection with your audience that’s king.
I found that the biggest successes that I’ve ever had in copywriting have always been pieces of sales, pieces of sales copy on websites, landing pages that have a complete, or a better connection with the audience.
In order to make sure that there’s a better connection with the audience, it is a fundamental thing to know who you’re writing for, who you’re writing to. To answer that question, I need to do market research. Market research, and knowing the market, serving the market, asking questions in the market, interviewing the market, it’s not only fundamental, it’s the key. Putting a sales letter together, it’s like the end. It’s like 10%, even 5% of the whole sales writing process.
I spend a lot of time trying to see what clients see. Trying to understand what makes them tick. Trying to understand why they would want to know more about this product or this offer. Sometimes I will call them up on the phone, I will record the conversation, and then transcribe the call, and I pretty much have my copy written for me. Because they’re all selling me on why they love the product, why they brought the product, why they didn’t choose competitors’, or why did they decide to buy the product at that point in time.
Plus it’s a great way to battle writers block. If you have writer’s block, it’s because you haven’t researched your market enough. The more and more you go into your market, the more you research your market, the more aha moments you’re going to have, the more ideas that are going to come out at you. The more you’re probably going to have, maybe you had a hard time coming up with one headline, but after you do that you might come up with 50 headlines.
I think it was Brian Keith Voiles, another copywriter, a great guy, he says, “Never stop at one headline, always write at least 50 to even 100 headlines. Because that way you’ll get your best headline, not at the beginning, but at the end.” Because it’s when you force yourself to come up with these other ideas, sometimes you have to stop and you have to go back and read questionnaires that you had with clients, maybe look at some of the websites they’ve looked at. Maybe look at competitive products and competitive offers.
I’m not sure if this really answers your question, but to me it’s the fundamental question that needs to be answered is the connection of the market, and more about knowing about the market as much as you possibly can. Sometimes they say, “Oh, well it’s demographics, or even psychographics.” I think it’s a bit deeper than that.
Creating a good buyer persona, understanding who you’re writing to, creating yourself an idea the person in front of you, who you are actually writing the sales letter for. When they read that, what did they think? What are they going to do, what action are they going to take? What keeps them up at night? What is the problem that’s the most pressing? What’s in their mind at the time they’ve hit your sales letter? Sometimes it might not necessarily be what you’re offering them. Sometimes you need to take them through a process.
Earning an OATH from your audience
Michel: There’s a formula that I use called OATH. It’s to really understand the stage of awareness that your market is at. I look at it as a pneumonic because it’s like saying, how prepared is your market to, or how willing are they to take an oath. And OATH stands for:
- Thinking, and
Are they oblivious about the problem? So now you need to educate them. You can’t hit them over the head with an offer because they don’t care.
Apathetic is, they don’t care. They know they have a problem, they just don’t want to do anything about it. That way, you need to sort of increase the urgency, the importance of solving this particular problem. Bring it to the top of their minds.
And then they’re thinking. So yeah, they have a problem, they want to solve it, but they’re shopping around. So what makes you different? What makes you special? What’s your value proposition?
And then of course Hurting is, that’s the lowest hanging fruit. Those are people who just want to look for the buy now button because they want to solve this problem now. And of course life would be great if we all had hurting markets, right? Hurting audiences.
Anyways, coming back to my point: knowing where your market is at, and interacting with your market where they’re at is a fundamental critical component of writing fantastic copy that will sell. And then if you do launch a sales letter, or you write your sales copy and it’s not working really well, the bottom line is you misjudged your market. You haven’t done your market research. You haven’t connected with your market. There’s something missing. And that’s probably where you have to go back and see, go back and do more market research.
Bob: I always love getting into the internal thought processes with this thing, because I think it’s very instructive and helpful.
Michel: Yeah. Just to give you an example, whenever you talk about the Million Dollar Sales Letter that I wrote for John Reese, at that time, the biggest thing that was pretty common was these huge, big-ass headlines in all red, and there was like a whole paragraph. And at that time, there was a lot, this was at the beginning of the dot com boom, and a lot of people were looking at a lot of offers that were exactly like it. And everybody was like Joe Blow. When I wrote John’s letter, I decided to A, stay with one word headline, and it was “PROOF,” and that was it. And a big chunk of the sales letter were just testimonials from his seminar that he gave that he recorded, which he packaged and sold in Traffic Secrets.
But the point is, a one word headline. It went against the grain. It created a bit of a constructive process, which is fantastic, because especially at that time, everybody was doing long sales letters with long headlines.
The second is, a lot of people who have not bought his product, or people who have not bought other products, a lot of times is because they’re risk-averse. They weren’t sure about going ahead and taking that step. And that’s why I decided to connect with them by giving the one thing that they wanted, was proof. And that’s what the headline meant, and that’s what it drove the idea for, and that’s what made that sales letter the Million Dollar Sales Letter.
Moving your audience between phases of awareness
Bob: The next thing around this that I want to tease out, let’s go back to OATH for a second.
Bob: It’s also, to me, a job of a good marketer to help people transition between those phases.
Bob: It’s great if you already have them hurting and they come across your sales letter, but most of the time, I find that people are typically at least in the thinking phase if not in the apathetic phase. They come across your stuff, they’re just starting to kick some tires, look at some things. And between ads and landing pages and lead magnets and emails, and all those things put together, you’re transitioning them, right?
Bob: What goes through your mind as you look more holistically at a campaign, where you know you’re bringing people from one stage to the other and not just on an isolated single piece of marketing collateral?
Michel: Right. It depends on the goal of the campaign and if there’s any kind of funnel process. Sometimes we can’t just do that instantaneously. I can write a very long form sales letter that takes them from one level to the next, to the next, to the next, and hopefully they buy. But oftentimes I find that people who are in one of the earlier stages of the OATH formula, they’re not really ready to buy at that point. So maybe it might be some white paper that they should download, or some newsletter they should subscribe to. Or the free demo of whatever software you’re selling. And anything that can help raise their hand and indicate that they’re actually a lead, that they’re interested, they are thinking.
Then you want to take them from that to hurting, which is maybe some drip campaign that you do after the fact. Maybe it is a nurturing process. In enterprise marketing we talk about going from a marketing qualified lead to a sales qualified lead. MQL to SQL and eventually of course to a conversion. Granted, those are a longer sales cycle, and those are also for multi-million dollar contracts sometimes. But it’s still the same process, you’re taking them from the O to the A to the T and to the H.
Now, can you do that in a sales letter? It depends on the value of the product, the price point, and how willing the market is, or how effective is it to use a message to bring them from one level to the other. And that, again, takes some investigation and some research to find out. Sometimes you can do that with a very small product that is maybe $25 and that’s easy. But if you’re looking at, I don’t know, an event seminar that’s two, three thousand dollars a seat, maybe you need to take them through a better qualification process.
Sometimes you might have, let’s say affiliates who do a lot of that pre marketing before they hit your sales letter. But then, they’re no longer at the apathetic stage. Or maybe even thinking, they may be hurting. So they’ve done the pre-sell for you. They’ve done that process of taking them from one level to another. It really depends on where the market is coming from, and again, what is their mindset at that point? What is going through their mind? I think David Garfinkel, copywriting coach, very famous copywriter himself talks about continuing the conversation that goes on in people’s minds is a critical component of connecting with your audience.
That’s what I mean; if you know that and know that well, then you’ll be able to show them that you connect. And that’s why when I write copy, the first few parts of that copy is going to be more about, I understand how you feel. I know what you’re going through. I know it sucks, this and that and the other. Tell a story that relates to their situations, that there’s a connection. Because you can’t take them by the hand when they’re far away anyways. You need to make sure there’s a connection.
Once you’ve done that, then you’re able to then take them by the hand copy wise, and then bring through the steps. And I think that’s applicable to any level. Whether it’s O, whether it’s A or T and H, whatever. Because people need to know that there’s a connection. Because your job, if your copy, your copy can be fantastic. It can do all of this stuff really well. But if you haven’t connected with them at their level from the get go, you’ve just lost. You’ve just wasted all that energy for no reason.
The important thing, and that’s key, is to make sure that you connect with them, that they feel there’s a connection, and that way you can take them from that. It’ll be easier for you to take them through that process. And then to understand what they’re thinking about not only when they hit the copy, but at every step of the way how their mindset changes, and how you can then properly qualify them, whether it’s within your copy, or whether it’s in a funnel.
Where to find the Golden Words for conversion
Bob: Very good. My final question for you for copywriting, and I think we’ll then start to wrap up our conversation.
Do you have, and are you willing to share secret locations on the interwebs where you find some of the best language to utilize in copy as you’re doing market research? You mentioned talking to people on the phone, or Skype, etc., but are there some more, I guess researchy places on the internet where you find just golden words that you like to use?
Michel: Golden words. Wow! That’s a loaded question, because I think that there’s a lot of places on the internet you can go into. Fundamentally, the key is to speak the same language that your market is speaking, right? If you can, hang out where they hang out, go where they go. Sometimes Reddit is a great source of conversations that you can understand what the market is thinking about, and how they’re thinking about it, and how they’re talking about it.
David Garfinkel, come back to him because I love the way he teaches, he talks about, it’s not about who talks about your problem, it’s how they talk about it. If you can go into locations on the internet where people are talking about their problems, you can then get a sense of how they’re talking about it, the words they use, the way they describe their pains, the way they describe maybe possible solutions. Maybe alternatives, maybe competitive products and offerings. That way when you write your copy, you’ve got a great handle on the language that you need to use in your own sales messages.
I use, there’s a lot of places. There’s no one specific place anymore. I trimmed down my bookmarks from like 20,000 bookmarks to maybe 500. Because I got so much. I think that now I go by what the market tells me. Before any client hires me to do any copy work, I have a questionnaire, a 25 point questionnaire that I send them. Some of them are, “Tell me about your market, tell me about the problem, tell me about how your market talks about the problem.” And if they can’t answer that, “Tell me about where I can connect with your market. Where do they hang out?” And things like that will give me a great springboard on where I should go on the internet to find out more about them and then be able to connect with them.
I’m coming in as a third party sometimes. So it’s easy for me to come in and join in the conversation. I’m just like the rest of them, and I get an understanding. It’s getting in to their heads. It’s really trying to understand what is their thought process. And that’s golden. That is the most important thing that will allow me to write killer million dollar sales letters.
Bob: Love it. I really thank you for joining me for today’s session. I know we covered a wide range of topics, which is not a surprise, given your propensity for diverse pursuits. So thank you so much for everything you added in today.
Michel: You’re very welcome, and thank you for having me on.
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