What we're really selling right now

By Kim Krause Schwalm                          

Issue #95—March 20, 2020

I don't have to tell you this, but things are getting weirder by the minute. A few days at the grocery store things seemed relatively normal (outside of the lack of toilet paper and many shelves and meat department completely cleared out). This morning there were taped lines you had stand behind until you were called to check out...and the cashier was spraying and cleaning every surface before you put your groceries down (except notably the payment pad, for which I whipped out a wipe to clean off). These are not normal times. So what does that mean in terms of copy? If you were to sit down and do the PRISM exercise I had my mentees in my Fast Track to A-List program do this past week, you'd start by taking a fresh, deep look at the following... 1) What are the things my prospect wants? 2) What does my prospect fear? 3) What does my prospect believe? By flushing out the answers--fully and in a detailed manner (not based on a "hunch", but on true avatar research)--you can put together a clear picture of where your prospect is right now and how you can best resonate with them in your copy. (You may even get actual word-for-word copy you can use in your promotion.) And that leads us to today's mini-topic of writing copy in this age of the coronavirus pandemic. What we're really selling right now, more than ever One of the biggest things we're all selling right now--and that we've all been selling since long before COVID-19 hit--is control. To be more precise, what we're really selling as marketers is the illusion of control.

That's definitely true when it comes to health and supplements. People want to take control of health conditions they have (or think they have). Sometimes they want to take steps to prevent them, though prevention isn't what really sells. What really sells is that gnawing want or fear or worry that keeps them up at night or that they physically feel day in and day out. The same is true for financial. As one of my mentees put it in his PRISM exercise for a financial newsletter, his prospect wants a sense of that while others are panicking in fear, he has the means to survive. The good news--and the bad news We're making people better off in ways they desire when we help give them more control over their lives so they can satisfy their wants and quell their fears. Yet we're always walking that fine line between over-promising them the answer to their dreams versus what our product or service is realistically able to deliver. It's the age-old moral dilemma we as copywriters and marketers face. We believe in our products (hopefully) and know they can help people. But the bad news is, we also have no control over whether our prospects are going to believe it's the total solution and think they don't need other help. And that's where things can go tragically wrong. I referred to some of this earlier this week in my "Over the line!!" edition of "What's in Kim's Mailbox". It was regarding different degrees of claims risk with an immune supplement. We don't want people thinking all they need to do is take XYZ supplement, and they're protected against COVID-19. (I'll be sharing an outrageous example of a promo that's really crossed the line in this vein in an upcoming edition of "What's in Kim's Mailbox".) Here's where it gets personal for me. It's a heartbreaking example of how things can go wrong. It has nothing to do with marketing or copy, but it illustrates what can be the downside of selling this illusion of control. This is personal for me A few decades ago my father was having high PSA levels (unbeknownst to me). I was running the Healthy Directions supplement business at the time and had given him some saw palmetto among other supplements that he asked for. Unfortunately he experienced some delays in seeing his doctor since the doctor was in the middle of moving offices. In the meantime my dad went back and forth with another, less experienced doctor about various misdiagnoses as to his fatigue and other symptoms he was experiencing. My dad also apparently was trying to "self treat" his high PSA levels with the saw palmetto (again, unbeknownst to me), though at the time his urologist didn't think any further treatment was necessary. Finally, when my dad was able to see his regular doctor, he got his real diagnosis: he had a highly-aggressive form of stage 4 prostate cancer. Sadly, my dad passed away just 3-4 months after his diagnosis. He was only 68. (I had hoped he'd make it to see my first child born, but he passed away when I was halfway through my pregnancy.) Because of my dad, the few times I've written a prostate supplement promotion since then, I've insisted on including some copy along the lines of "If you are having specific symptoms, it's always best to see your doctor to ensure nothing more serious is going on." I don't want my avatar to think they can treat their prostate problems if it's actually something serious with a mere supplement. We need to be similarly vigilant during this coronavirus crisis. While we may know our supplements can help people boost their immune systems, it's unethical (and illegal) to suggest that it's THE answer and total solution to dealing with COVID-19. We simply can't say our products prevent or cure diseases. I've always made sure I work with companies that I feel not only offer high-quality products, but also have high-quality ethics in terms of how they market. In fact, I just had a call this morning with one of my long-time clients, where we discussed not only the compliance constraints regarding some claims for a particular supplement promo, but (his main concern) making sure we weren't misleading people and instead building and maintaining TRUST. That's the real opportunity you have in front of you right now with your customers and lists. Building and maintaining trust and long-term relationships, versus abusing trust and risking relationships in order to make a quick profit. Here's the bottom line... We can't control what our prospects base their decision to buy our supplements on. We can't control whether they see their doctors, or if they try to "self-treat" at home. We can't control whether they see our products as part of their solution "arsenal" or as the one "magic bullet" that fixes everything. But what we can control is, even if we are selling the illusion of control which our prospects so greatly desire, that we always give it to them straight. We shouldn't use excessive fear to exploit them and destroy trust. And we shouldn't promise benefits that can't be backed up by real studies or actual portfolio performance or other facts. That was a hard story to share about my father. It conjures up great sadness to tell it, but I hope you can learn from it. We are all marketing to our dads and moms and grandpas and grandmas. So let's do it ethically and responsibly. Yours for smarter marketing, (off to have a good cry) Kim

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