“The Motivating Sequence”

In the complex flurry of writing marketing copy that sells  (a service, a product, an idea), I always try to remember the “motivating sequence” Robert Bly outlines in his classic “The Copywriter’s Handbook”*:

(1) Get Attention. Bly: “This is the job of the headline and the visual. The headline should focus on the single strongest benefit you can offer the reader.”

(2) Show a Need. Bly: “All products, to some degree, solve some problem. […] However, with most products the need for the product may not be obvious or it may not be ingrained in the reader’s mind. The second step of writing copy that sells, then, is to show the reader why he needs the product.” The key word here is “show” – with an example, a story, a statistic, whatever you think will most appeal to whomever you’re selling to.

(3) Satisfy the Need. Bly: “Once you’ve convinced your reader that he has a need, you must quickly show him that your product can satisfy his need, answer his questions, or solve his problems.”

(4) Prove Your Superiority–and Reliability. Bly: “It isn’t enough to say you can satisfy the reader’s needs; you’ve got to prove you can.” Talk about the benefits of your product. Present testimonials from happy customers. Compare your product to the competition’s. Cite reliable, recent research as proof. Talk about your company’s number of years in business, growth rate, etc.

(5) Ask for the Order. The “call to action” – call, stop by, order now (with an incentive to act promptly), and make it easy to act (map/directions, phone number in large font, etc.).

All of the above may seem obvious to anyone who knows how to sell – but if you visit almost any business website you’ll soon see how easy it is to skip one or more crucial steps in this fundamental sequence and to forget that it’s a sequence, not a checklist.


* Bly, Robert W.. “The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells.” 


“Decisive” color

Yesterday I found Anne-Marie sitting on a bench outside a restaurant in Key Largo, awash in a lovely palette of blues and salmon pinks and it hit me that Cartier-Bresson probably would have included color in his descriptions of “decisive moments” if he hadn’t been working when color film was still in its infancy and much harder to use than black-and-white–slower (harder to ‘freeze’ movement), often requiring artificial light.


Anne-Marie outside Category 3, Key Largo restaurant

Anne-Marie outside Category 3, Key Largo.