How Writers Can Exploit The Universal Selling Formula
How to deliver what your reader craves
When I first started in marketing and copywriting, my mentor shared with me his secret for generating unlimited sales. It was a simple formula anyone can understand.
When he told me this formula, I marveled at its simplicity. I assumed I’d be up and running in two weeks and I’d bank my first million a month later. No surprise, that didn’t happen.
The implementation of the formula challenged me a bit more than I had expected. I achieved some small successes but never mastered the technique.
Writers have an advantage
But the formula is much easier to master as a writer than it is as a product designer or marketer. Lots of writers have mastered it even if they don’t know it. You can learn it too, but there’s a catch.
Even if you know the formula, you might choose not to follow it. It can feel frightening. When we feel scared, we often revert to what feels safe.
So, what is this magical formula?
Sell something everyone wants but nobody else in the world sells.
Two requirements encapsulated in eleven words. That’s all it takes to succeed. Of course, success lies in the details.
It’s easy to sell something nobody else sells.
In most cases, nobody sells it because nobody wants to buy it.
It’s easy to sell something everyone wants.
Every market is saturated with sellers who peddle what the market wants. Succeeding in a crowded market will challenge even the most skilled and dedicated.
Selling what nobody else sells while also selling what everyone wants is near impossible. But writers possess a distinct advantage over everyone else.
Let’s rewrite the formula from a writer’s perspective.
Write something everyone wants but nobody else writes
The easy part
As a writer, you already possess something nobody else in the world can ever match. Your voice, life experience and perspective make you unique. Even if someone tries to imitate you, they cannot. They can try to copy your voice, but they will never understand your life experience and unique perspective.
Problem solved. You only need to be true to yourself.
In theory, it’s easy. In reality, fear often motivates us to stifle our unique voice. We deploy various tricks, sometimes unconsciously to suppress our uniqueness.
Toning down your voice
Have you ever replaced an active verb with a weak verb to avoid taking an aggressive posture? Have you ever refrained from stating a belief because you worried what people might think? I hate to admit it, but I’m guilty of both transgressions.
Qualifying your positions
Do you write I think instead of I believe? Do you use words and phrases like:
- This might not apply to everyone
- It’s okay to believe “x,” but if you believe “y” that’s okay too.
- I apologize if this might offend you.
Writing what you think people want to hear instead of what you believe
Nothing will destroy your morale and long term success more than betraying your own beliefs.
You can rectify these slip-ups with ease. Be mindful of these common flubs when you edit. Be strong and take corrective action when you find these indiscretions.
Now, the hard part
You can write in a distinctive voice, inspire and push controversial opinions. None of that matters if your topic fails to interest people. Is it possible to write a viral story about something arcane like backgammon or antique tea sets? Sure, anything’s possible. But that’s the wrong question to ask. The right question is, “can I find a passionate crowd about the subject I’m writing about?”
The reach of the internet makes any theme viable, but that does not mean you can find your audience easily.
You have two options to reach those readers.
1. Go out and find them — Where do they congregate? What do they read? It takes a lot of work to follow this path.
2. Let them find you — Write on a platform where an audience already exists. This technique works for the most popular domains: self-help, sexuality, relationships, politics, health and technology to name a few. Sure, you can write about obscure topics here too, but don’t expect miracles.
You cannot always predict which stories will resonate with readers even in the popular categories.
The ones that stand out spark insatiable curiosity. Most of them imply a big promise. They drive their point home without meandering onto unrelated ideas or tangents. When I looked back at my most popular stories and compared them to the duds, I found the popular ones shared three things in common.
- Specificity — Think small instead of wide-ranging. A story about how to change one small aspect of your life works better than a story about how to change your entire life.
- The rule of one — Keep your stories focused on a single goal. Avoid fusing multiple concepts into one story. It confuses readers.
- Speak to the reader as an individual — I always picture someone like me as my audience. The simplest way to resonate with another human being is to accept them the way they are in spite of any perceived faults or shortcomings. I titled a recent story, Quiet People Rule The World. It was a message to people like me — quiet and introverted. Instead of telling them how to be more outgoing, I wrote that it’s okay to be quiet. There are natural advantages to our personality. It resonated with the person who fit that description.
Embrace the inconvenience
You can create something new each day. It costs you nothing other than time. If you fail today, you can try again tomorrow.
Writing this way will inconvenience you.
It takes time to hone your voice. It takes much effort to clarify your opinion. It takes guts to share vulnerable moments. It takes discipline to stick to one specific topic when you have so much to say. And thus, we disregard the universal selling formula. Even experienced writers break the rules. Why? We convince ourselves it’s justified with self-talk like this.
They really need to hear what I’m saying
I know. You have a message your tribe needs to hear, but they refuse to listen. What do you do? Make it personal for your reader. How does it affect them? How is it in their self-interest? Recall the first part of the formula: write something everyone wants.
What do they want and how can you tie it into what you want to write? That’s the hard part of writing.