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When you sit down to write a new promotion for your company, one of the most important decisions you have to make – really a whole set of decisions – is how to organize the material. Because how you present it greatly affects how people react to it. And that ultimately determines the response your piece will generate and the return you’ll get on your investment.

But how do you know what to say first? What comes next? What goes in the middle? How to conclude?

Well, if you read last month’s article, you have a good idea how to answer that first question. But what about the rest?

Well, you’re in luck. In the world of direct response advertising, those questions have long been answered.

Direct response copywriters follow certain ‘formulas’ or ‘sequences’ that have been proven over the years — decades even — in millions of promotions. Some have been formulated for specific types of promotions, like sales letters or case studies. But others are more general formulas that work for a wide varitety of marketing projects.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of the latter — one of the most effective and versatile of these “persuasive writing formulas.” It can be used for ads, sales letters, emails, web pages, brochures…even trade journal articles. It’s the formula I use most often. In fact, I’m using it right now as I write to you.

This handy five-step formula for writing copy that sells was developed by Bob Bly, the reigning “dean” of business-to-business copywriters. I doubt anyone has written more on direct response B2B marketing than Bob. He calls his formula, “The Motivating Sequence”.

Here’s how he describes in his book Business to Business Direct Marketing (second edition):

Step 1:     Gain the prospect’s attention.

Step 2:     Engage the reader’s interest by identifying a problem the reader has or a need that must be filled.

Step 3:     Position your product, service or company as the solution to the reader’s problem.

Step 4:     Offer proof to convince skeptical readers that your claim you can solve their problem is true.

Step 5:     Invite the reader to take action toward implementing your solution. This might be to request more information or to order the product or service.

Let’s look at an example. The following advertisement is one I wrote to promote my own services. After you read the text we’ll break down the steps.

(1) More Leads and Sales…with Less Stress.

A better way to get your marketing communications written and approved on time.

(2) As an technology marketing professional, you know how tough it can be to get sales literature approved on schedule. It’s difficult to find writers who can handle the unique challenges of promoting a technical product or service.

(3) That’s where I can help.

(4) I’m John Cole, the copywriter/engineer behind CopyEngineer  With 20 years experience as an avionic systems engineer, I’m used to quickly coming to grips with new technologies and cutting-edge systems.

Plus, I’ve trained extensively in both direct response copywriting and business-to-business marketing communications, having learned directly from such legendary copywriters as Michael Masterson, Bob Bly, Clayton Makepeace, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Paul Hollingshead, John Forde and Steve Slaunwhite.

Whether you need a sales letter, case study, white paper, advertisement, article or brochure, I’ll write you a compelling piece that gains easy approval in the review process…and grabs the attention of engineers, buyers and executives alike.

(5) For a free, no-obligation quote on your next project, or for more information, call (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at You’ll get your project approved on schedule – and more leads and sales – without the stress.

Getting attention (1) is most often accomplished with a headline, as I’ve done here. Since I’m targeting aerospace marketing professionals, I try to gain their attention by stating a benefit (or two, in this case) that will appeal to them: increasing the ROI they get from their marketing communications, while making their job easier.

You can get attention in other ways, as well. If a headline is inappropriate, a simple salutation like, “Dear Technology Marketing Professional:” can do the trick. If you’re sending a mass mailing, you might put some benefit-oriented “teaser” copy on the envelope to encourage your prospect to open it. Your job here is to identify your prospect and let him know this message is for him.

Next, you identify a problem or need (2) your prospect has – one that your product or service solves or fills. This should be brief, just enough to engage the prospect’s interest and let him know you understand his problem.

Then, once you’ve identified the problem, you immediately and swiftly position your product or service as the solution (3). This is often just a short transition sentence like the one I’ve used in this example.

One of the reasons the Motivating Sequence works so well is that business readers are always on the lookout for information that will help them solve their problems, improve their productivity and make their jobs easier. By identifying your prospect’s problem and offering a solution at the outset, you answer his most burning question right up front: “What’s in it for ME?”

Now that you’ve grabbed his interest, you offer proof you can indeed solve the reader’s problem (4), as you’ve claimed. As Bly states in Business to Business Direct Marketing, “This proof can be any of the following:

  • A description of product benefits and features
  • An explanation of how your service is rendered
  • Testimonials from satisfied customers
  • A list of prestigious clients
  • Research or laboratory test results that prove the superior performance of your product
  • Case histories that demonstrate the success your product or service has had solving problems similar to the prospect’s problem
  • The credentials, track record, and experience of your company
  • Awards, licenses, degrees, certifications, affiliations and other demonstrations of your reputation, expertise, and stability”

In our example, I’ve opted for credentials and experience, because I want to position myself as a superior alternative to my prospect’s two usual choices for writing highly technical marcom projects: ad agency or freelance copywriters with little or no technical background, and engineers within her company who have no copywriting training.

Finally, I make my call to action (5) by inviting the reader to call or email me for a free quote or more information. This is where you discuss your offer and how the prospect can take you up on it. You’ll notice that I bracket my call to action with strong promises of what my prospect will get if she heeds it. And I’ve included the reply mechanism — my phone number and email address — so the prospect knows exactly how to respond.

As Bly says, “The action step is the simplest portion to write, yet it is the most frequently omitted by the inexperienced marketer. Avoid weak closes such as ‘We look forward to serving you’ or ‘Let us know how we can be of service’.”

So there you have it – The Motivating Sequence. Try it out the next time you have to write a promotion for your company. Just follow the steps I’ve listed above, and you’ll have that piece ready to go in no time.

Take-Away Points

The easiest way to write copy that sells is to “follow the formula”. And one of the most effective and versatile of these formulas is “The Motivating Sequence”.

An easy mnemonic for remembering the sequence is the palindrome “APSPA” (Attention, Problem, Solution, Proof, Action).

A Little Extra Added Value

Want another example? Go back and have another look at this article. I use the headline (and the subject line of the email) to get attention. The first three paragraphs pose the problem – how to organize a B2B promotion that sells – and three more short paragraphs position “The Motivating Sequence” as the solution. The bulk of the article then offers the proof, as I describe the steps and how to use them. And to conclude, I call you to action by inviting you to try the formula yourself.

Oh, and if you want a terrific reference on how to generate more leads and sales with your marketing, pick up a copy of the book I quoted from today: Business to Business Direct Marketing by Bob Bly.

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