By Marcus Roth, Director of Marketing Automation & Analytics
There are many ways to draft high converting marketing copy on newsletters and sales pages. Over the early development of the internet, one style of copywriting quickly rose to the top of the heap. In this article, we’re going to break down this very unique style of copywriting some brands utilize on the internet; this is, of course, the style of writing popularized by authors John Carlton and Dan Kennedy.
What Exactly Is “Classic Internet Marketing” Copywriting?
First, we need to identify what this style looks like to dissect it properly. The “John Carlton” style of copywriting utilizes numerous single sentence or two sentence paragraphs with a hard return in between each thought. This creates very long emails and sales letters that don’t really say all that much compared to their overall length.
Another hallmark of this style of writing is numerous ellipses (…), highlighted text, bolded text, italics or underlined text. In essence, this style of writing is designed to quickly generate an emotional response with eye grabbing punctuation or phrases.
John Carlton and Dan Kennedy were initially writing mailed sales letters and advertisements in magazines where the opportunity to grab the attention of a reader is very brief, so every character had to count. They also knew that most people don’t particularly read everything that is put in front of them, rather they scan the page, skim the text, and read bits and pieces of what is in front of them until something locks them in and they dive deeper from there.
The goal of this style of writing is essentially to make every sentence so powerful that if you happen to read it, you’ll be interested and want to read the next sentence on the sales letter. Essentially (and cleverly), each sentence is designed to make you read the next one in order until you feel interest enough to answer the call to action.
All calls to action are notably very obvious and numerous within modern sales pages and emails. The end product is something that looks rather untraditional, at least as compared to academic writing, but it has remained a staple of the copywriting strategy book because it gets results. Much of the strategy has been tested and tested and tested over millions of direct mail offerings, magazine ads, and emails and time and again the results often speak for themselves which inherently keeps the strategy alive in the modern copywriter’s playbook. What you learned in grammar school doesn’t matter in this style, (in fact proper grammar can hurt the situation!) what matters is the results.
As An Advisor, Why Shouldn’t I Write in This Style?
This begs the question, “If it’s so successful, then why would anyone deviate from this playbook and style of writing?” The answer comes in a few parts.
First, the industry or brand the copywriting is attempting to serve must fit the style of writing. Because the John Carlton style of writing looks incredibly unacademic and potentially can be seen as “unprofessional”, brands that are looking to associate themselves with old-school confidence (think a bank or the United Nations), intelligence, (a hospital or the FBI), or trust (financial advisors and institutions) will want to avoid this style. To put it briefly, some may think the style can look “sleazy”. Sure, the style might result in a few additional downloads of an online white paper (although in our experience, that is not what we observed), but it also positions these brands that utilize this style of copy as “comfortable”, “down to earth” and “very casual”.
When determining what financial institution a retiree will select for their retirement planning and the handling of their life savings, the common consumer is likely to select someone they have confidence in, believe is incredibly intelligent, and that they can trust. As you can see, this is diametrically opposed to the tenants of traditional John Carlton and Dan Kennedy style writing. This makes it a dangerous branding decision.
Another more operational point against the traditional John Carlton style of writing is that it takes an enormous amount of space to execute, and in platforms that do not allow for a lot of space, it is not as effective. Take Facebook Ads for example: An ad will only have 200 characters or so before Facebook will shorten what’s written and put a “See More” button in. If this style of copywriting is utilized, and a user does click to see “See More” and 6,000 characters are suddenly revealed, which takes multiple finger flicks to scroll on mobile, this will be a very intimidating experience. This overwhelms the user and results in individuals to depart from the ad, not answering the call to action.
In conclusion, it is my expert opinion that this style of writing is not right for independent financial advisors and financial institutions attempting to generate leads over the internet. Copywriting strategy and insights can still be derived from the classic John Carlton style of writing, but the structure of the copy must change for the demographic. For example, Dan Kennedy tells us that it is important to remember that readers have very limited attention spans, so material one does write must capture attention quickly. The difference here being the attention can’t be grabbed using highlighting and underlining.
About the Author: Marcus Roth is Lone Beacon’s Director of Marketing Automation & Analytics. Marcus has a unique experience in B2B and B2C start-up companies ranging from enterprise-level market research of Artificial Intelligence to self-defense eCommerce products. His experience in AI market research brought him, and his research, to INTERPOL, The United Nations and Harvard University.