Actualities: Details that Make Sales

"Beware of a man who won't be bothered with details." - William Feather

Mies van der Rohe, a twentieth-century architect, once said that God hides in the details.

And says writer Anne Lamott, "There is ecstasy in paying attention."

That's some pretty high and mighty talk about the fine points. What is it that they know that we don't?

Not much, actually.

Since, after all, any good copywriter also knows that when you really... really... want to make for a powerful sales pitch, digging into the small details can be your most powerful technique.

Allow me to give you a demonstration...

INTRODUCING THE "ACTUALITY"

Which sounds better to you?

I live on a big street in the city.

Or...

I live on a leafy, sun-dappled boulevard in Paris?

For me, both are true. Because they're one and the same. But doesn't the second "option" sound better?

Here's another example...

Some years ago, I gave a copy seminar in Poland. I knew nothing about the country, honestly, except what I'd seen on the news about labor strikes in the 1980s... and what I'd read in history books about World War II.

I came away, however, as travelers often do after seeing a totally new place up close. In fact, some of those images still stick with me today.

It was, in short, a really nice place.

Oh... wait... you wanted to know more?

Yes, this is why generic descriptions like "nice"... and "big"... and even "really great" fall flat.

Okay, here's more: Outside of Krakow, we saw an underground cathedral -- with a dozen crystal chandeliers and life-size statues -- made entirely of salt.

In the Royal Palace, the walls were covered with etched leather. On Sunday, we fed walnuts to the peacocks that wander Warsaw's park. We dined on spinach-filled perogi and drank warm honey wine.

Now... does that sound like the Poland you were thinking of? I'm not writing a travel brochure here, but I'm sure you get the point.

What I'm using there, those details that make the images more alluring, are what some writers call "actualities."

And they can make all the difference when you're trying to persuade somebody to do anything in print.

Here's why I bring it up. Many new copywriters get in the bad habit of painting their word pictures in only broad strokes.

Sometimes that's fine.

For instance, when you're breezing past a point that's already clearly imprinted on your prospect's mind... and that's been illustrated ad infinitum elsewhere.

But other times, you've got a lot of selling power locked in the "actualities" or fine details of the images you're presenting or the product you're selling.

Dig out the right ones and trot them past your prospect, and you could just unlock the selling opportunity that otherwise might have passed you by.

Here's another example...

A LEAD THAT WORKED FOR DECADES

For just over two decades, the newsletter INTERNATIONAL LIVING has mailed a sales package that begins:

"You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees...amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.

"The sky is clear blue. The sea is a deeper blue, sparkling with sunlight.

"A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings you breakfast in bed.

"For a moment, you think you have died and gone to heaven. But this paradise is real. And affordable. In fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream lifestyle...as it would to stay in your own home!"

What makes that work, in your mind?

The newsletter is about retiring overseas... it's about travel to exotic, undiscovered places... it's about a life transformation that begins when you take a step out into the world.

Could a letter selling the product possibly start in any other way? As it happens, in this case, they've never really beaten it... except with other letters that were just as focused on those fine and enticing kinds of travel details.

And even then, only for a short while.

Too much detail, of course, is just as much of a hindrance as too little. But just the right touch, like a dash of paint in just the right spot on a canvas... or a splash of the right spice in a stew... can make your copy incredibly powerful.

Here's a rundown of what a really well chosen "actuality" can do...

IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE "REAL": The right "actuality" can give a story a much greater presence, a feel of truth.

IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE UNIQUE: Getting specific is often the fastest way to make average copy rise above the mean. Why?

Because the details prevent the reader from lumping your message in with other ones that would otherwise sound so similar. Simple enough.

IT CAN EXPRESS MORE IN A SMALL SPACE: Again, good description doesn't mean writing longer. In fact, it often means the opposite.

A good word-picture example can make a message clear faster than a drawn-out explanation of a point.

IT CAN TRANSPORT THE READER: Like a good movie or book, where the audience gets lost in the story, careful use of detail can draw a prospect into getting "lost" in (wrapped up in) the excitement of your sales message.

How much detail is TOO much?

You need just enough detail to stir emotions and put images inside the reader's head.

Some other tips...

* Try delivering the detailed image first, then follow up with a promise... either to deliver on a good image or to help a prospect avoid a bad one, depending on what you've presented.

* Focus on sensory details (touch, sight, sound, taste, smell) and numbers. The former appeal most to emotions, the latter to logic.

* Use details to show transition or improvement: "Jeff Johansen used to take a city bus to the unemployment office. Now he drives an S-class Mercedes to the gym..."

* Describe an emotional reaction you want your prospect to feel. "Dear Friend, When I read the latest report from the FDA, I just about dropped my coffee mug. Let me show you what it said...

You get the point.

The goal of the actuality is simple. It is to allow the reader to see your writing as more than just word patterns on a white page.

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