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Sales copy

Why read this? : Sales copy helps drive trial and purchases. We share how the customer’s needs and involvement level affect what you write. We also look at how it fits with brand, media and e-Commerce activity. Learn the different types of sales copy and how to use it to influence buying decisions. Read this for ideas on how to get better at writing sales copy. 

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Sales copy

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Understand how context influences the way you write sales copy.
  2. Learn the differences between factual and emotional sales copy writing.
  3. Read about key psychological triggers which boost the impact of your sales copy. 

Sales copy writing sits at the sharp end of business writing. It’s where you persuade customers to buy. 

Your advertising copy, your blogging and SEO writing all move customers down the customer experience journey towards a sale. They drive awareness, build consideration and generally “warm” customers up to think about buying. 

But your sales copy closes the deal. It persuades customer to buy. And makes them feel good about doing so.

As David Garfinkel puts it in Breakthrough Copywriting, sales copy is something you do for the customer, not to them. (see our books about writing article for more on this). 

The key goal of sales copy is to move customers from consideration to trial. You want them to buy. Sales copy must drive action!

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

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Sales copy context

But driving action through your writing can be a tough challenge. There’s a lot of context to consider. Broadly that context for sales copy breaks down into the :-

Sales copy and level of involvement and information

The first context question for sales copy, is what role the product or service plays for the customer. 

How much information to include varies depending on the value and level of involvement. It also varies based on the types of needs met by the purchase.

Some types of products or services are better suited to rational and factual based decision-making. Others work better when they appeal to emotions and experiences. 

The Rossiter and Percy model  classified industries and purchases into 4 key groups, based on these needs and involvement levels. They were everyday or irregular, low or high value, and low or high fun purchases. 

Sales copy - advertising and sales planning grid

Low involvement and informational 

These are products which are everyday or regular purchases. They’re likely to be low value per spend and products you need to buy. They’re not “fun” purchases. 

So, many typical grocery purchases like cleaning products, food staples like bread, milk, fruit and vegetables and basic medicines like aspirin would fit in here.

When you write sales copy for these types of products, you need to land simple, clear functional messages. They need to be easy for the customer’s brain to process quickly. In these types of categories, advertising copy and sales copy are similar. There’s not much time between the message and the purchase decision. 

You want to land the functional benefit clearly and directly from the start because the customer makes a quick decision. A headline based on a clear fact works best for this type of sales copy work.

For example, sales copy like these headlines would work well for these types of products :-

  • “Removes 50% more stains than competitor A”.
  • “Fresh baked every day”.
  • “Maximum strength pain relief”.

Low involvement and transformational 

The products in this type of category, are fairly regular purchases and still relatively low value.

But, they have associations with more emotional and enjoyable actions and activities.

They’re generally less “necessary” purchases. But, they come with a ‘feel good’ factor. The purchase and consumption associations are positive. 

So, for example, snacks, alcohol, skincare and perfume fall into this group.

For these types of products, your sales copy needs to play more to perceptions and emotions.

Close up of wine bottle label - reads Reserve Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2013 Chile

Try to create more emotional benefits which connect with an occasion, an experience or a feeling.

There’s more opportunity to engage beyond the headline. And obviously, the sales copy needs to work with any photography or video content which also help to boost emotional engagement.

For example, see how these famous advertising copy headlines are different from the previous group :-

  • “Helps you work, rest and play”.
  • “Good things come to those who wait”.
  • “Because you’re worth it”.

High involvement and informational

For products with high involvement, this generally comes from the value and impact of the purchase. The customer perceives a risk they may make a bad decision. They take more time and look for more information to justify or rationalise their purchase. However, the actual product or service itself generally performs more of a functional role in their lives. There’s no real positive “fun” association. 

So, categories which fall into this group include household appliances, computer equipment and financial services like insurance and banking, for example. 

There’s usually a fact driven headline with these products – think, “5 year guarantee” or “Delivers x% better return over the next 5 years”. But the sales copy also has to rationally detail the benefit, the reason why and the reason to believe from the positioning statement.

High involvement and transformational

The final group are where there’s a high level of involvement AND there are positive and emotional associations linked to the purchase decision.

Classically, cars fall into this group, as they’re a high ticket purchase, that play an important role in people’s lives.

And while there are rational and factual considerations which go into the purchase of a car (like fuel efficiency), there are also many emotional and non-rational factors.

For example, the status associated with the car brand, or the style and aesthetic design of the car itself. Sales copy for Audi sounds very different to that for Ford as an example. 

Front on image of the bonnet and grille of a black Audi car

The sales copy you write for these types of products needs to understand the key decision making criteria used by the target audience.

You use market research to shape the direction of this type of writing. You need to listen to customer feedback, and get under the skin of the customer to understand the deeper psychological drivers behind the decision.   

The brand choice funnel

The level of involvement and whether the customer needs are informational or transformational isn’t the only thing to consider with writing sales copy however.

It’s also important to understand at which stage of the brand choice funnel the customer sits. 

Traditionally sales copy is most directly associated with driving trial. It’s when the customer actually tries the product that generates the sale, after all.

But for low involvement products as we covered above, where the customer won’t spend much time on the decision, the sales copy might have to cover awareness – consideration and trial at the same time. 

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Direct response advertising for example, where a promotion or offer might be “new” and only run for a limited time. The sales copy requirements here need to drive awareness, consideration and trial at the same time. 

But other categories might have a much longer gap between the stages of the brand choice funnel. You might see a car advertisement, but not check out their website for another 6 months. And it might take another month after that to decide to buy, for example. 

These types of categories need advertising headlines which grab attention, and website or brochure copy to drive consideration before the customer ever sees the sales copy which will ‘seal’ the deal. 

Sales copy and media context

Which brings us to our final context area for sales copy, which is where and when the customer will actually see it.

You need to consider the media plan which defines the physical location, and the time the customer will ‘experience’ the sales copy. 

For example, is the message delivered in a tangible and traditional way such as with advertising copy on a billboard or in a magazine?

If so, you need to make the process of completing the sale obvious and part of the copy. How do they actually buy and what do you need them to do?

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

Or, is the sales copy being delivered digitally through a website or through an email from your CRM program?

If so, you need to consider the timing of the sales copy. Will the customer read it at a certain time of day or day of the week. For digital channels, you’ve also got access to  digital data and insights. You can specifically target a key moment in the customer’s journey.

From a sales copy point of view, because online is interactive, you can also link the sales copy directly to the check-out. The call to action will be Buy Now. 

It’s important to identify how, where and when the potential customer will see the sales copy. Are they just browsing or are they ready to buy?

This helps clarify how much you should say. It clarifies what you need to focus on. And how best to write the sales copy to be relevant and motivating.

E-Commerce example

For example, in e-Commerce, there’s a lot of research about what online shoppers need and want when they shop online.

As per our what online shoppers really want article, there are consistent benefits like ease and convenience, range and price comparisons customers look for. 

You can see these in this e-marketer example on why US shoppers use Amazon for example. 

You can use these insights to write more relevant online sales copy. It makes it sharper and more effective because it’s based on what customers are looking for.

You use it to decide how many and which selling messages to focus on. It can help define the order in which you should write them. 

In fact, online shopping is a great area to learn how to write sales copy.  

When you manage your own online store, you can easily test different options. You can check the data to see what type of sales copy works best for your audience. 

e-marketer amazon shopper driver study

Types of sales copy

These different contexts means there’s different types of sales copy.

At its simplest level, there’s sales copy which gives factual information about the product. This type has the most impact with low involvement and rational purchase decisions.

Next, there’s sales copy which creates a more emotional connection to drive a purchase. Sales copy which evokes an experience to resonate more strongly with customers and drive them to buy. 

And finally, there’s sales copy which uses psychological triggers. These come from behavioural science which looks at what drives buying decisions. You apply these to your sales copy, to make it more likely to drive a sale. 

Factual information based sales copy

When you share detailed information about a product to a customer, it’s a way of building trust that the product will do what you claim it’ll do. 

You can make this factual information available at different parts of the customer experience as it’s needed.

You have to include it in areas like packaging, and to appear on product pages with e-Commerce retailers, as you have to fill this detail in on their product information management systems. 

Amazon Item Template screengrab

You can also include it on your website, and include highlights in your advertising or social media.

When shoppers look for specific features in a product, it’s a way for them to validate your product has those features. How much of an influence this information has, depends on the category and the customer themselves. 

In some categories, it works as a hygiene factor. Customers want to know it’s there, but won’t check it. But in other categories, it’s needed so customers can fully evaluate your products, and compare them to competitors. 

You need to be clear, consistent and comprehensive when you write factual information-based sales copy. 

Clarity

Clarity comes from the way you show the key points. Don’t aim for fancy or clever. Use words customers understand. 

For example, on your packaging or website product pages, create a short list of key bullet points of what the product does. Include any relevant specifications which helps make the sales copy clearer. 

The specifications depend on the product itself, but could include :-

  • size and weight
  • colours
  • flavours
  • ingredients and materials. 

Other, typical information you need to include, especially in e-Commerce, include the Manufacturer Name, the Brand Name, the category the product should appear in (e.g. ‘baby food’ or ‘biscuits’), the EAN barcode number, and usually some limited descriptions of the product which would normally be lifted from the packaging.

Depending on the category, you may also need to provide other items of information like shelf life, whether the product is affected by temperature, if the product is glass or fragile and if there are any usage warnings or restrictions. e.g. in the food world, these could be allergy restrictions.

Consistency

Consistency comes when you are able to apply these details in the same way and in the same detail on all the different touchpoint where they appear. 

It’s important with product information to be consistent. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers to find the right product. If your product comes in different colours, make sure these are clear in the product name. If your product comes in different sizes, then the same thing applies. 

Consistency helps the shopper find the right product and be sure it’s the right one when they do find it. Online shoppers expect to be able to find the right product right away. If you haven’t set the naming up properly, you may lose the sale.

Comprehensiveness

Finally, comprehensiveness comes when you’re able to make the widest range of information available. Not every shopper will want every detail, but you can progressively disclose the information, so that if they do need it, they can find it. (see our article on design psychology for more on progressive disclosure). 

Every time you leave an information gap, you run the risk of losing a customer by not making that information available. 

Think about for example, allergy information on food products. Or material sourcing for consumers who are worried about environmental sourcing. If you miss this information out, the customer will assume you are hiding something, and you won’t get a sale.

Every time you can credibly and legitimately provide this sort of information, you reduce the risk of losing a sale. 

The good news about this type of sales copy is that 

  1. you probably already have the information available, so you don’t need to create it from scratch and, 
  1. it can often be relatively automated and put into a product information system, in particular in e-Commerce channels. 

For example, in our article about product management information systems, we cover how the likes of Amazon and Google set up standardised templates to hold these types of key product information details for individual products. 

Their systems are set up so you can access and manage the information directly.

This also means you can make this product information available to the shopper just when they need it.

It’s also worth checking out this great article on how to write better product information for Amazon.

Samsung mobile phone with amazon logo on screen

Emotional based sales copy

Though most shoppers would argue they make purchase decisions logically and rationally, in actual fact, there’s a lot of more emotional and irrational factors which drive their decisions. This is an important factor in  writing sales copy.

If you can tap into emotions, you make it more likely a customer will choose you over another similar brand. 

Emotions and irrationality are part of what makes us who we are. When you connect with emotions, it’s a much more human connection than the unfeeling connection which happens with factual and logical sales copy.

It’s why toilet paper with pictures of cute puppies sells better than supermarket own label toilet paper that’s essentially the same product. 

It’s why people buy expensive bottled waters, when it’s the same product they can get for free from their taps. 

And, it’s why some cars – basically hunks of metal with wheels, seats and engines – sell for 3 times as much as other cars which have the same basic components. 

White round badge with a read heart symbol against a dark grey background

Use your market research

It’s important the sales copy links back to any market research you have about what drives purchase decisions beyond the purely functional choices. Because in almost all categories, purchase decisions are a combination of functional and emotional drivers. 

In categories, where customers perceive product factual benefits to be similar, then how you bring in emotional factors to your sales copy can be what swings the purchase choice to your brand from a competitor. 

You should use market research to identity key motivations, drivers and feelings of your target audience. 

If you’ve developed a customer experience persona as part of your customer experience development, this gives you direction on how you might use sales copy to appeal to emotions, feelings and experiences. 

Beyond the rational features and benefits of the product, how do you want the potential customer to feel after they buy the product?

Will it make them happier and feel more fulfilled? Will the purchase only benefit themselves or will it benefit a wider group of people like family, friends and work colleagues? 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

This is more of a challenge to write, because it needs you to understand the potential customer at a much deeper level. But when you can connect at this much deeper level, the impact of the sales copy can be much stronger and longer-lasting. The sales copy can build a much stronger connection to the brand.

Link with brand identity

With sales copy which taps into emotions, these emotions need to be consistent with the brand identity.

For example, look at the essence, values and personality of the brand.

How do you use your sales copy to bring these to life at a more emotional level? Is the brand about bringing happiness and joy for example? Or is it more about courage and daring?

These change how you write the sales copy. 

Consider the outside of the brand wheel where you look at how the brand makes the customer feel. And what buying the brand says about the customer.

Brand identity wheel showing elements of brand identity including essence, values, personality, and benefits

Try to make the sales copy “fit” to these type of key messages you’ve already worked on.

Your aim isn’t to persuade the customer to buy something they don’t need. Your aim is convince them that your product or service can satisfy the need they have. They need to recognise the sales copy as selling benefits that are relevant to their needs. And ideally, they’ll feel a connection to what the emotional benefit will be.

Psychological based triggers and sales copy

The final area of sales copy uses more psychological insights into what drives purchasing behaviour. These psychological insights can act as ‘multipliers’ on the impact of factual and emotional sales copy. These are sales copy trigger words or concepts you can build in to your writing to nudge a potential customer closer to a sale. 

These types of sales copy triggers are easier to apply where you have control over the message and where and when it’s seen. If you have to go through a third party such as selling though an e-retailer, you can still use these. But you may have to pay or be limited to how and where you can use them.

However, when you manage your own online store, they can be a powerful way to boost your sales copy. There are many books and articles about these types of psychology triggers that come from the world of behavioural science. If it’s a topic that interests you, we recommend reading The Choice Factory by Richard Schotton as a great place to start. (see our article on business books that stand out). 

“How” is the message presented in context?

So, first thing to consider is that normally when we talk sales copy, we mean the words you use to sell.

But the selling experience is much more than words. 

So, for example, you can tap into associated areas like the psychology of colour.

If the words appear in print or on screen, can you tap into mental associations such as using red to indicate danger?So, when a sale offer is about to expire for example, have it flash in red to capture attention.

If your sales copy talks about the environmental benefits of the purchase, have the signature colours and buy now buttons be green to tap into those mental associations. 

Colour psychology - an applied use of colour in marketing

Remove the pain of payment

A big part of sales copy writing is then often how you frame the price and offer. 

When customers spend money, it’s essentially like a small “pain” they feel when they give something away. So aim to use psychological factors to try to remove some of this pain.

And a lot of that pain relates to the price and payment. 

Charm pricing

For example, think about “charm pricing”, where the price ends in a .99.

Going back to the rational and emotional parts of the buying decision, rationally, taking .01 away from the price should not make a big difference.

But it has been repeatedly shown, that this has a disproportionate impact on the chances of a sale.

When it comes to charm pricing, it’s believed that consumers prioritise the first part of the price. And pays less attention to the second part.

So, when comparing a $9.99 and $10.00 price option, the “9” and the “10” are what the brain focus on, and not the “99” and “00”. The brand sends a 10% cheaper signal, even if the reality is a 0.1% difference.

Range pricing and primacy

This can also be used when you have to list out a number of prices. Customers judge prices by the first price that they see. This is known as the primacy effect, where the first number becomes an anchor for all the rest.

If you want to have a range of prices perceived as good value, start with the lowest and work up. But if you want to have a range of prices perceived as premium or high quality, do the opposite.

Consider also, that most people rarely pick the most or least expensive option, and tend to go somewhere in the middle. You can deliberately choose the most and least expensive options to make your middle option seem more attractive.

You can also use factors like highlighting convenient payment options in your sales copy. It’s less ‘painful’ to pay by card than it is with cash, because you don’t see the money during the transaction. If you offer options to pay in instalments, focus on getting the payment per instalment as low as possible. People tend to focus more on the amount they need to pay each time. Not how often or how long they need to pay.

Positive and honest sales copy sells more

Another way to remove the ‘pain’ or a purchase is to focus on the positive elements of the sale.

Quick and easy access to the product, or the benefit of the product for example. 

The closer the gratification moment is, or the more positive the consumer feels when they make the purchase, the less ‘pain’ they feel. 

Think about the context of when the potential customer will see the sales copy. Will they see it when they’re stressed and in a rush? Or will they see it when they’re relaxed and feeling good? 

Close up of a hand with thumb up

If there’s a sales story as to why a product is on price promotion, be honest and share that. People are intrinsically wired to be wary of sales copy that seems too polished, that’s “too good to be true”.

If you can admit any flaws (sometimes called the Pratfall effect), this actually helps to boost sales. It makes you come across as more trustworthy. For online reviews for example, people rarely trust 5.0 star ratings, and a few bad reviews that knock you down to a 4.5 for example will actually help you drive more sales.

Sense of urgency

One of the most common sales copy techniques is to create some sort of timeframe for customers to buy.

This create a sense of urgency. 

Days
Hours
Minutes
Seconds

We’ve all had that experience of “this offer only valid for the next 15 minutes” when buying something online. If you think about it, there’s no real reason for the offer only to be valid that long.

It’s an effective sales copy technique to close a sale though.

It plays to a psychological driver that what the customer “has” now, (the temporary offer), won’t be available in the future. They fear they’ll somehow miss out if they don’t buy. A countdown timer or a hard deadline is a strong way to trigger this. 

Scarcity

Similarly, when you stress the scarcity of an item, this also increases the likelihood of someone buying. No-one likes to feel that they are potentially missing out on something. 

Travel websites use this a lot. “Only 2 rooms / flights left at this price” is a good example of businesses using scarcity in their sales copy as a way to finalise a sale. (see our advanced e-Commerce techniques article for more on this). 

It’s another psychological insight, that the more of something there is, the less we want it. But the less of something there is, the more we want it. Clever sales copy writers can often build this in to their message to increase the chances of a sale. 

Social proof

Similarly, if you are able to generate reviews or endorsements for your product, these can help build up a sense of social proof in your offer.

Customers rarely want to take the risk to be first to try a new product or service. 

But, when they see that others have bought your product and service, they feel more confident in buying it themselves. It gives a validation by others, and reduces the perceived risk to buy. 

(Read more about scarcity and social proof in our article on how to use behavioural science in marketing).

Red neon sign on a black background showing a heart illustration and 0 next to it, symbolising no likes

Specific online store offers

If you manage your own store, rather than selling through an online retailer, you’ve more scope to influence the sale.

Think about how your order to delivery systems work. Can you get a product to a customer faster, particularly with the last mile of the delivery?

Can you get them free shipping if they order over a certain amount, or commit to buying with a subscription model?

These are the sorts of ‘offers’ you can write great sales copy about to win customers over. 

They can help finalise a sale and make a customer feel more confident you’re the right online seller to meet their online shopping needs.

Screengrab of Three-brains Shop - headline says "merchandise to raise your game"

Build the customer’s confidence

You need to build the confidence the shopper has in the purchase. Write to reduce any sense of risk they might be feeling.

If you have money back or refund guarantees, make sure these are clear just before the purchase point. If you offer free after-service and support, make this clear too. Make sure the customer knows how to access your customer service, and what to expect from it. 

Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting something ‘extra’ when they purchase, so if there are any upgrades or additional services you offer, consider how to build these into your sales copy.

Conclusion - sales copy writing

Writing good sales copy can massively impact the growth of your business. But, it’s a challenging skill to get right. You need to  be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. That’s whether you’re giving feedback on copy you’ve outsourced to an agency or writing it yourself. 

Well-written sales copy feels like it’s having a direct conversation with the customer. As if they were an old friend. Customers need to feel they trust you and believe what you say before they’ll buy. 

This high level of trust means you need to make sure your sales copy fits with your brand identity. Aim to make it authentic and genuine. While some of the more psychological techniques we cover here might feel manipulative and therefore not authentic, bear in mind your target audience isn’t stupid. 

If the customer sees a relevant benefit for themselves that’s clear through your sales copy, that’s what really matters. Ideally sales copy drives a transaction that’s of lasting benefit to both the customer and your brand. Good sales copy is an important win-win part of the overall customer experience.

Three-brains and writing

We’ve a lot of experience and expertise in business writing, and especially in sales copy writing. From creating and commissioning writing to the editing and refining of it for marketing and e-Commerce purposes.

We can coach and advising how to raise your business writing skills. Whether you use writers, manage it in-house or want to build your own writing skills. We can help. 

Contact us, if you want to know more about how we can support you with our coaching and consulting services.

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