Your Product Will Never Be Good Enough To Sell Itself

& The Question To Reveal Why It Flopped: “Which Appeal Did You Use?”

James Mathison
Jul 2, 2017 · 8 min read

“Build a better mousetrap and they’ll beat a path to your door.”


Inventors have created dozens of mousetraps since the standard Tom & Jerry monstrosity. The majority are far better. Safer to handle. More humane to the mouse. Resplendently styled.

Guess which one still makes the most sales.

Your product will never sell itself. That’s not it’s job. It’s like asking a hammer to make you breakfast.

Want to get your product the sales it deserves?

Design sales material that grabs the prospect by the heart and pulls them through the buy button (or through the shop door, or the telephone line).

The Foundation Of Good Sales Copy (Often Ignored)

Select the right appeal.

I love the way the old copywriting legends talk about their craft.

An “appeal” — it’s such a clear and oldy-wordly term.

You’ll see the word used a lot in time-tested old copywriting books like How To Write A Good Advertisement and Tested Advertising Methods. I’ve been studying such books lately. I guess it’s rubbed off on me.

Think You Know What An Appeal Really Is?

Any aspect of your product that appeals to your customers does so through “an appeal”. The feature itself is not the appeal. The appeal is the benefit gained. More than that, it’s the emotion behind the benefit.

People don’t want a drill for its chrome spiral shaft. They want it for the pride they feel when they step back from the cabinet they’ve hacked together. That’s the appeal.

Use MANY Appeals In Your Copy, But Only The BEST For Your Headline (& Core Message)

An appeal that hits will pull in attention, get the copy read, and sometimes trigger desire strong enough to send money your way!

You can and should use ALL the major appeals your product has hidden within it. By itemising features and presenting them as mini-headlines, you have many shots at bat. If one appal doesn’t hit a reader in the face, maybe the next one will.

The main appeal, however, must be chosen — and chosen well — because the main appeal will draw people in through the headline of your sales copy. Therefore, it needs to be one of the appeals that defines your market.

And every market is defined by a certain set of appeals.

Appeal Theory — How To See Through Your Customers’ Eyes

From Tested Advertising Methods, there are four primary categories of appeals:

  1. Sex
  2. Greed
  3. Fear
  4. Honour

Sex & sex appeal is misleading in its attempt to be pithy and memorable. It actually refers to all forms of attractiveness, love, and affection from others.

Greed is any form of benefit that comes from acquiring desirable things or resources. Money is the obvious one. It can also refer to power and prestige — status.

Fear is the pain of loss — a huge driver. We only do things because we either want to acquire gain or avoid loss. If your product helps someone avoid something bad, select an appeal based in the fear of that bad thing.

Honour, duty, or professionalism. This is how the prospect will feel about themselves for taking you up on your offer. Will they be helping their colleagues, friends, or superiors? Will they be a better patriot, or a better parent, or a better p- …hm, I need a third ‘p’… pack-animal?

John Caples goes into a lot more detail in that chapter. Here’s an expanded list of appeals from John. I’d recommend saving it so you can refer to it later.

Does Sex Really Sell?

I want to reiterate that the “Sex/sex appeal” listed above is just a memorable way to refer to all emotions related to love, affection, and to a certain extent, social status.

Sex, in itself, is a red herring.

(Don’t imagine having sex with a red herring)

Don: We’re talking about businessmen.

Peggy: Right, businessmen who like short skirts. Sex sells.

Don: Says who?

Peggy: ……

Don: Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this.… You are the product. You, feeling something. That’s what sells.

Remember Don next time you’re writing sales material.

I love this clip for its lesson in headlines and slogans too. Clarity is king. Is your headline completely fool-proof? Is it impossible to mistake what it means, or how to say it?

Jon Morrow’s 2am Test — The Core Question

What keeps your prospective customers up at 2am in the morning, while your current customers are sleeping soundly?

If your product doesn’t solve something quite that painful (or at least top-of-mind), think around it. There is always pain related to any solution you may sell.

Eg: Few people are up all night worrying about whether their teeth are clean, but some might be painfully aware of having bad breath, while others are in literal pain from toothache.

Eg: If your product makes company servers more reliable, you’re high and dry, right? Wrong! How many times have server problems kept an entire team up until 2am, trying to fix a customer-enraging cock-up?

The best way to get your product to sell well is to get far away from it. Leave it on the workbench and walk over to the people who’s money you will be asking for.

Jaw-breaking sales figures are possible only when you understand certain things about your prospective customers better than they do.

If you understand every facet of the problem, the pain, the objections, and all the other emotions whirling around in every prospect, then you are almost sure to select a selling appeal that will make it rain.

Unless — you know — your product sucks. I can’t help you there. ;-)

Go forth and prosper!

– James

This Week’s Daily Copywriting Tips

Every day I share with my mailing list a lesson, hack, or hat-tip to someone awesome – to help my beloved subscribers become better copywriters.

Below are little synopses (…synopsi?…) of what I put out this week.

Monday: A fascinating ex-copywriter — Jonas Ellison

Now a minister-in-training for a non-denominational spiritual organisation in Chicago (that I’m desperate to visit one day), Jonas used to be a freelance copywriter. That life wasn’t for him, but he’s kept his skills. I recommend joining his mailing list just to study the copy of his welcome emails. They actually make you feel welcome!

I discovered him through this interview on The Fizzle Show.

Tuesday: The Character of Money

Taken from Dan Kennedy. Like any natural phenomenon, money is impersonal. If you ignore its nature, it’ll ignore you right back!

I’ll include #3: “Resents the attitude of entitlement.”

Implication: To earn more, drop any thoughts about what you deserve. Such feelings block your earning potential by distracting you from the actions you need to take. Money doesn’t care how much you think you’re entitled to.

Wednesday: The MOST IMPORTANT factor of business success (from 7 Steps to Freedom)

“Standard business teachings don’t start with that number one, all-important item, that one thing you need to nail down and secure before anything else happens. This number one item is the start of it all. But it’s the one thing that only a relative handful of people in the country know how to produce, and it’s the most difficult thing to generate. That item is SALES.”

– 7 Steps To Freedom 2, page 1–31

Thursday: Martin Stellar’s Rules For Success

If you followed all 8 of these rules, it would be pretty hard to be a fail as a freelancer (or artist, or entrepreneur, or even as an employee, come to think of it).

Martin originally wrote about the list here:

Friday: WOAH! I almost gave a fuck (Silliness in Business)

In this podcast episode, Jon Buchan made me feel something — a little jolt of excitement, as I realised that you can actually be playful in business, and get better results in the process. Jon has had huge success cold-emailing, and now he’s teaching about it at Charm Offensive.

Saturday: Sleep-Deprived Productivity

I’m ashamed to say, I did an all-nighter on Friday. Arianna would not be pleased! Among the practical methods I shared, a surprising key to staying productive(ish) was to “own it”.

By accepting the deplorable state of your sleep-starved mind, you can end up laughing at it! It’s much easier to to deal with it then.

Btw: I slept ten hours that night, and the rested state I’m in now is heaven!

Sunday: A No-Cost, Moron-Simple Way to Grow Your Email List

I can’t believe I’ve never done this before .

Just put a link to your optin page in your email signature (the one that goes out in your every-day email, not to your list). Include a little slogan, outlining the benefit.

Every little helps… (and this method is set-and-forget).

Sign up to get next week: