How to Sell Well: No Cleavage Necessary

The most powerful sales copy in the world is often the most simple.

It creates the least friction. It shapes existing beliefs in to motivation for taking action.

Something I try to get across in every landing page I build is that the user is always right. That doesn’t equate to being smart, and it certainly doesn’t mean rational. It means the user’s beliefs and motivations are worth infinitely more than any of the bullet points on my page.

When we start replacing product benefits with nods to the user’s belief systems, we erase all friction and speak directly to the identity of that user. This is powerful because a customer will only buy what he believes in.

Look around you.

Your possessions are a testament to who you are and what you believe in. Everything from the pile of books, to the brand of laptop, to the type of drink you’re swigging is a mark of who you think you are.

So, if a swaggering arsehole were to fall from the ceiling, slap you in the face and pitch you something that didn’t match your predisposition or beliefs… you wouldn’t buy it.

And yet many affiliate marketers will try this technique regardless.

To give you an example of a particularly embarrassing howler I made in the past, I once tried to sell the angle of ‘dating at Christmas‘ to a target demo of 250,000 Jewish women – who weren’t necessarily even single.

Doesn’t sound like a profitable campaign, does it? No shit.

While my clanger is an extreme case, the mistake I was committing is the same that many marketers are committing every day. They try to sell a story, a concept, an idea, that simply isn’t relevant, wanted or desired.

When it fails, what do we blame? Probably a bad offer that didn’t convert, or a banner that didn’t draw enough clicks. Rarely do we criticize the story being told. We’re reluctant to question the authenticity of our sales message, and how it might be received by the people with the pleasure of experiencing our ads. Why are we so deluded? Because that shit takes skill! It’s no lazy man’s cup of tea to connect with real people.

We too often take it for granted that our target markets are packed to the ceiling with numb nuts who need only see a “Click to Order Now” to part with their cash.

There’s a real lack of authentic storytelling.

What happened to that priceless ability to sell not by preaching what the user doesn’t give a shit about, but by tapping in to their beliefs and convincing them that Product X is who they are?

The best sellers in the business rarely sell. They reassure. They mould their products in to extensions of the customer’s belief systems. Sometimes those beliefs are deluded, stupid or wrong; but the customer never is. Selling requires that you embrace that insanity and shine a light on it.

How effectively are your landing pages selling the story behind your product?

Yesterday I found myself scanning through the holy motherload of landing page collections.

It’s probably not the most glamorous way to spend a weekend – peering shamelessly at the work of other affiliate marketers – but it’s an excellent source of inspiration, and a reminder of the thousand scandalous ways to skin a cat.

What struck me is that while our industry never tires of finding new and inventive ways to build trust – usually through association and brand misdirection – there are very few affiliate marketers who truly ‘get’ the art of selling.

You sense that affiliates are making money in spite of their copy and headlines, rather than because of them. That’s a testament to some of the sick creative minds out there, and their ability to find the perfect amount of cleavage that steers clear of the Facebook Banhammer while still popping a monster CTR.

I do have to wonder though, from a career advancement perspective, what is going to take you further? A library of 56,000 high-CTR 110x80s… or the ability to use words that spark conversions through the power of classic story-telling?

The next time you launch a campaign that bombs in the first hour, resist the urge to throw new offers, images and landing pages at the wall. Ask, instead, if your message is consistent. Is the total sum of your product benefits a person that the target user would want to be?

If the answer is no, you’ve sold the wrong story.

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About the author


A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.


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  • Great point, Finch. This is something that Eugene Schwartz talks about a lot in his book Breakthrough Advertising (great book, by the way). Lots of marketers are so busy selling that they forget that people enjoy buying, if you let them. The best campaigns don’t try to “create the market”… they channel the desires, wants and beliefs that are already there.

    Something else that helps me tell the right story is to write about who the offer isn’t for. Disqualifying does a bang up job of defining the market and making them say, “yeah I hate that ish too!” All of the sudden they trust you, and you’re seen as more than a sleazy affiliate in the business of collecting souls for a $5 CPA.

    (Perception is reality?)

  • Yeah, that’s a great point about disqualifying users. If you can create a sense of an in-group bias, or a Us vs. The World aspect, you’re golden to sell well.

  • Good post. Really hits home. I think you’ll find this is just the same within the Corporate world too. So many campaigns are launched where I currently work and they are poorly executed and hell bent on SELL, SELL,SELL. They are obsessed with call to actions and all the cookie cutter crap you have mentioned above.

    My take on the affiliate marketing/make money online industry is that it’s a pure popularity contest. Although there is a craft at selling ultimately the successful sales are either through someone who is deemed an ‘internet celebrity’ or a dude who’s endorsed by an internet celebrity.

    The key to success otherwise is what you have mentioned. Write a great story and make sure the customer base are sold by what you have an offer. If you can do that then it doesn’t matter how green the call to action button is.


  • Very interesting point – but surely everyone (or almost everyone) who’s putting together an ad believes that they’ve targetted the buyer’s interests?

    I’d be very interested to see some examples of what you consider good and bad ads from this principle alone, as I suspect I haven’t quite latched on to what you mean yet!

  • So, are you saying that.

    rather than focusing on High-CTR, cool headlines, or cool copies.

    The main focus should be on “Angles?” that is relevant to the users you are targeting?

    Good post btw!

  • Sometimes what people say and what they actually do can be two completely different things. In (offline) tests carried out by Professor Cialdini (yes, he of the ‘Influence’ book fame), he found that people were influenced by their neighbours, but when surveyed they claimed were not. So, in many cases, we can only find out what copy works by testing.

    Speaking of sales copy, if you promoted offers for an affiliate network with good conversions, then one day they turned around and said that you must put a ‘disclaimer badge’ above the fold on every page of your affiliate site’s containing the following text: I [name or company name] am an affiliate marketer. I receive a commission on each sale made on this site. Blah… Blah…”. Penalty for non-compliance would be removal from the network. Would you still promote them?

  • @Raphael – Yes. There has to be a balance. You can’t expect to get profitable with even the most expertly written copy in the world if your CTR is 0.01%. But angles are just as important. The way I look at it, you have to make the user feel like buying the product is the most logical decision based on his own actions in the past. He has to sell it to himself.

    @Pete – Probably not. But I can’t imagine any situation where disclaimers would be forced above the fold for the majority of offers I promote. Maybe hidden in the footer, but not in a way that shatters conversion rates.

    Remember, it’s not just affiliate marketers who use affiliate marketing. Some of the biggest companies in the world have business models that rely on taking commission. I’m sure they’d put up a very vocal fight if they had to slap text along those lines in prime view.

  • @Finch
    Yes, I agree that it’s likely to kill conversions, but this particular network has been working with the OFT to improve transparency for the consumer and come up with this affiliate disclosure badge (please scroll down):

    The network claim it won’t affect conversions much, but as you’ve mentioned the biggest brands have nothing like this, so why should affiliates.

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