Updated: Mar 14, 2018
Anatomy of a "control" that is...
A control is the promo that big mailers mail to the majority of their list because it's proven successful in producing the desired results.
Just like how the control in an experiment is the one with the known or easily-predicted outcome. (I love direct response...it's all science!)
Even smaller companies have controls. And you have them online, too--with sales pages, landing pages, emails, Facebook ads, etc.
Even if you've never tested your copy, your control is the one you keep using because it works (until it doesn't).
That's why smart marketers and business owners are always testing against their controls to try to improve upon them (and to prepare for their inevitable fatiguing and weakening.)
I've written dozens of successful controls in the 19 years I've spent as a freelance copywriter.
Today I want to share with you one of my first major controls and do a little "anatomy" lesson. This promo was featured in a column called "Anatomy of a Control" in the publication Inside Direct Mail.
I wrote this promo for an investment newsletter called Personal Finance. It beat the legendary Jim Rutz's control promo not once, but twice...and put me on the map as an A-level copywriter.
It was an "issuelog" format that looked like something valuable the prospect may subscribe to. The copy throughout provided enough free content to give prospects a taste of the publication, but not too much to spoil the offer (i.e., plenty of tease).
My favorite part of the copy is at the beginning of the close section. This is where I throw down the gauntlet: subscribe or wallow in financial purgatory (it's one of the few times in the promo where the focus shifts from editorial to sales).
It goes like this...(the following 8 paragraphs are an excerpt from page 16 of the promo):
The shift from big cap stocks and other financial assets to a select group of real assets and small stocks is already underway. The question is: will you join Wall Street’s most savvy investors in time to profit?
Or will you sit out on the sidelines and watch your money earn a measly 3 percent a year—and try to choke down fears of not being able to retire or outliving your savings?
Without being too dramatic, this is one of those rare moments in your life when you’re faced with a decision that can have a monumental impact on your financial future.
Like whether you’ll be booking an inside cabin on a budget cruise ten years from now, or simply phoning Raoul to get the yacht ready.
Whether you’ll be ordering the $12 bottle of house red with a cheeseburger,or the $312 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild with chateaubriand.
Whether you’ll be weeding through the bargain bin at Wal-Mart for jeans and a t-shirt, or having custom-fitted shirts and suits shipped from your personal tailor in Hong Kong.
You can choose to ignore the trends...and they will ignore you. Plenty of other investors will get rich,while you worry yourself to sleep each night wondering if you shouldn’t just stuff your money under your mattress and be done with it.
Or you can request a risk free trial subscription to Personal Finance. I’ll immediately rush you up to nine in-depth reports I’ve personally prepared to jumpstart your wealth-building efforts in this new era of shortages and inflation—and aging baby boomers who somehow manage to make both even worse... or better, depending on the action you take now.
Now here's where we're going to take this control apart and look "inside"...
Perhaps you've heard of "future pacing". This is a powerful copywriting technique where you paint a vivid picture of where the prospect wants to be, and how your product (and ONLY your product) gets them there.
Those 8 paragraphs make the prospect see not just the upside of subscribing to the newsletter, but also the downside, a nice mix of greed (or hope), along with fear of loss.
This sets the stage for another technique I use later on the same page: complete removal of all risk. This involves not just laying out the guarantee, but dimensionalizing it so it really builds the value relative to the minimal amount of risk involved in saying "yes".