Understanding Plots and Sub-Plots When Writing Salesletters

by Sean D'Souza

Understanding Plots and Sub-Plots When Writing Salesletters

Imagine you’re having a discussion with a hyperactive, talkative teenager.
And the conversation goes like this…

“We went to the mall, and like, there was this fire in the mall. And we went from there to the cinema, but we didn’t have any money and anyway the popcorn machine was broken, and so we didn’t really want to go to the movies without popcorn. But right after that we went to have some pizza and there was this creepy guy outside the store. But listen to this—because that’s not the best part. The best part is the Sylvie dumped Josh, and like, they ran into each other in the street…”

When we, like, write copy for our website, we like, sound a lot like that teenager

What we tend to do is go all over the place with our copy. First of course, we’ll try to stuff in about five concepts in our headline. Then we’ll try and fill in a whole bunch of sub-heads that we want to drive home.

And then our first paragraph tries to cover all the possible points. And like that teenager, we have the entire story in our heads, but nothing quite gets across to the client. And that’s because you’re trying to cover way too many points too quickly.

And as you’ve worked it out for yourself, this bounce and jumping around is exhausting for the reader or listener, and hence is a big mistake.

So let’s see how this mistake unfolds when we write copy by examining an actual piece of copy.

Headline: Are You Fed Up With Unprofessional Contractors …
Body text:
That don’t call you back or even show up?
Are you done with contractors that lack the ability to communicate in a timely manner?
Or run away from problems that crop up during and after a project?
Are you over dealing with the hacks of the world?
Have you enough of sitting home babysitting people that are you uncomfortable with?

So what’s wrong with that sequence?

Technically, nothing. The headline is perfect. It gets my attention without too much of a fuss. But then I go to read and I get between three-five main plots and no sub-plots. And how do we know they’re main plots? Because we can list them out and see for ourselves. They all want to take centre stage.

Main plot 1: Don’t call you back or even show up
Main plot 2: Lack the ability to communicate in a timely manner
Main plot 3: Run away from problems that crop up during and after a project
Main plot 4: The so-called professional is nothing but a hack.
Main plot 5: Discomfort. Having to babysit people that are you uncomfortable with

Just like that teenager’s story, it’s possible for us to jump from one to the other, without so much as pausing for breath. So now that we know we’re creating bounce, how do we get rid of this bounce? And how do we still use all of the point we want to cover on our web page?

Here’s how you do it.

Just like a movie, you have a main plot. And you have sub-plots. So what’s your main plot? It’s the client’s most pressing problem. That’s obvious, isn’t it? You’d want to get the client’s attention by driving home the biggest, scariest, buggiest problem, wouldn’t you? And here’s how we go about it.

Headline:
Write your headline. Let it cover ONE big problem (that big, buggy problem)
Body text 1: Drive home the problems involved with that ONE point.
Body text 2: Drive home the consequences of that ONE point.
Body text 3: Drive home the solution to that ONE problem.
Move to the next point.

So how does this look when we put the teenager’s story in this format?

Headline: We went to the mall and there was a fire.
Body text 1: What happened next (at the mall)
Body text 2: Then what were the consequences?
Body text 3: How did we escape the fire?

With the teenager, she’d complete one story, and move to the next. And the next. But you may have made your point with a single story. So what do you do with the rest of the stuff that you so badly want to get across? You bring it up later. Let’s see how. But first let’s get back to our example.

Headline: Are You Fed Up With Unprofessional Contractors …
Body text: That don’t call you back or even show up?
Body text 1: What’s the problem with not calling back or showing up?
Body text 2: What are the consequences? Describe the emotion that the client feels, in detail.
Body text 3: What’s the best way to avoid such a desperate scenario?

And then you present your service

Body text 4: Presenting XYZ contracting company.
Body text 5: Drive home the point of calling back. How you do it. When you show up. How you follow up.

Notice we haven’t gone to Point 2 yet. And yes, I know, you’re itching to drive home that point

But notice something? The customer doesn’t care about your itch. They’re locked in to what you’re saying. You’re the first person they’ve met who isn’t like that teenager, jumping from story to story.

The customer’s biggest problem is ‘unprofessional contractors that don’t call back or show up’ and you’re doing just that. The customer wants to know more about that story in detail, before they’re ready to move to the next story.

So once you present your company and why you bring the ONE solution, you can now move on to the next story.

Except you don’t have to tell the next story in as much detail. You can now roll out the remaining stories in slightly less detail in a feature/benefit format that looks like this:

Feature 1: Benefit 1. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah.

Feature 2: Benefit 1. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and more blahdee blah, blahdoo, blah, blah, blah.

And so on with Feature 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8—and so on. And add benefits to every one of those features

You can have as many as 8-10 paragraphs rich with details of the problem and the solutions you bring to the customer. And having locked into the main problem and seeing how you bring that solution, the customer will happily trundle through the rest of the points, and get more convinced by the minute about your expertise and professionalism.

In short what you have is a main plot. And you drive home that main plot.

And then later, pull in the sub-plots, but without the same level of intensity as the main. Just remember that you can pick any plot to be the main plot. (e.g. ‘Sylvie dumping Josh’ has more drama than ‘no popcorn at the cinema.’ And then re-tell your story on the sales page.

ONE plot at a time  :)

Do you have a question on ‘Understand Plots and Sub-Plots when Writing Salesletters? Ask it here.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

AJ Perisho January 24, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Great article Sean!
The focus on one thing is so important, and you do a great job at driving home that point.
If I try to be all things to all people, I will be nothing to any of them.

Reply

Sean DSouza January 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Thanks.

Reply

paul January 27, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Hey Sean, Great article and it makes sense too!

Now to see if I can implement it the next time I do a website!

cheers
paul

Reply

thinsmek January 30, 2012 at 11:49 am

Nice and practical post! Thank you!

Reply

Luiz Marques February 9, 2012 at 8:38 am

Just got around to reading this on my e-mail, very useful. Thinking back, I’m constantly doing this on blog posts.

Not only many of those posts would be better using your technique, they would probably be easier to write without the juggling of the sub-plots…

Reply

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