Lesson 12: What to write for your fascinations
All about bullets, curiosity, and stimulating interest
For the record, when I use the term “fascinations” I am referring to short items of copy that generate interest in Sam’s mind — or preferably intense curiosity.
Not all fascinations can produce curiosity. It depends what you’re selling. But what you might call “interest factor” in general is an extraordinarily powerful psychological force.
In fact, I think it is the most powerful motivating force on the planet. Some copywriters say you should emphasize benefits over appealing to interest — but I believe interest always has built-in benefit anyway, and is thus much more powerful.
You’ve already seen a couple of examples of this, with the Mel Martin ads from the previous lesson’s homework. His ads were always comprised of nothing but fascinations. Sometimes they were formatted as bullets; sometimes as paragraphs with bold subheads. But the gist was always the same: they described some fact or ability or thing that Sam wanted, in clear, concrete terms — but without revealing quite enough to let him figure it out for himself.
Here’s one that’s always stuck with me: The one thing never to eat on an airplane.
But if you discovered earlier this week that your offering precludes relying on “brute curiosity,” never fear! You can generate plenty of interest without it.
Every time you learn something new, your brain secretes dopamine — the “reward” (more accurately, motivation) chemical. It is the natural equivalent of heroin. Literally, the chemical structures are very similar. This is why curiosity is such a powerful force: when Sam discovers something he can learn, and it’s just out of his reach, his brain craves the dopamine hit that will come from finally learning it.
But by the same token, this is also why interesting factoids related to your offering are so powerful: when he reads them he gets small dopamine hits each time.
If you have ever found yourself going down a rabbithole of links on Wikipedia, you know what I’m talking about. Each time you learn a new fact, you get a dopamine hit. So you find yourself continually clicking on links to learn more stuff. You think you’re just fascinated and erudite. But you’re only half right.
You’re also high.
If you have a look at the sales pages I created for Copywriting Night School, you’ll notice that a great deal of the messaging is interest content, rather than what you might traditionally think of as selling content. Of course, the interest content does sell; it just doesn’t hard sell. Take a moment to peruse these pages again to refresh your memory:
3 questions that infallibly predict if you’re going to fail (again) at learning copywriting
How most copywriting training sets you up to fail in lesson 1
The 3 things you should focus on when learning to write copy (if you want it to make sales)
The basic campaign structure that any good online copywriting course should teach
A few dozen key things you’ll learn in Copywriting Night School
All of these pages are interesting; only one is chiefly comprised of fascinations in the strict sense.
As I’ve mentioned, there are two basic kinds of fascinations, which play on two different but related elements: curiosity and interest.
1. Curiosity fascinations
The idea here is simple: provide enough information for Sam to see that there is a solution — but without quite telling him what it is. The more your fascination can strain Sam’s credulity, the better it is likely to do. It should be almost unbelievable. Almost.
Fascinations must be short. The idea is to make them very easy little chunks to digest. As a rule, curiosity fascinations are shorter than interest fascinations because, obviously, they are missing key information as part of their design!
Here are the first four bullets from the fascinations page of Copywriting Night School, to illustrate:
The “4C Cipher” that ties together every technique in every successful headline, sales page, email sequence or marketing campaign. Everything can be reduced to just these 4 straightforward building-blocks — 4 common threads that run through all effective marketing efforts...even when they are wildly different
Why marketing doesn’t really happen on web pages or in emails — and once you grasp where it actually takes place, you almost can’t fail
Why it isn’t enough to offer Sam what he wants — and the missing piece that most marketers fail to teach
Why Eugene Schwartz’s concept of gradualization is slightly incomplete when applied to the web (plus the missing component, obvs)
Notice one other thing: I don’t put periods on the end of my bullets. As a rule, avoid periods if you can, when you want to keep reading momentum going.
2. Interest fascinations
These provide a short, relevant piece of “trivia” related to your offering, or Sam’s problem. The clearer and briefer they are, the more rapidly Sam can skim through them, and the more that dopamine whammy will affect him. The more relevant they are, the more interesting he will find them.
Interest fascinations are great for summarizing key ideas. For instance, you could take a lot of the content from my Copywriting Night School sales pages, and restructure them into interest fascinations. Here’s how you might summarize the problems with alternatives to CNS, to help Sam quickly see the downsides with them (thus implicitly differentiating CNS and establishing its unique value):
Nearly every source you can learn from — nearly every book, course, or product — suffers from the same basic problems:
They don’t teach you to develop your voice: This is simply because they’re not focused on training freelancers; just copywriters. That’s significant because for freelancers, what your customers are buying is you...
They don’t explain how internet marketing is different to classic direct-response marketing: Even today, most of what you’ll learn is recycled from what was taught in the mail industry close to half a century ago. Writing copy for the web is different in critical ways to writing classic direct-response copy...
Don’t cover end-to-end copy funnels: They’ll either focus on how to write piecemeal copy — so they can’t help you create a start-to-finish campaign to turn prospects into buyers — or they’ll focus on the strategy of creating those campaigns...but forget to teach you how to write!
They’re over-complicated: Essentially, they are written to cater to your perception that copywriting is complex and requires lots of time and effort to master (this is, at best, a half-truth peddled to ensure sales)...
Unlearnable by design: The most serious problem of all — I’ve yet to find training that is structured for how we learn and internalize new skills. Without that, working through a product ends up being an exercise in feeling like you’re acquiring a new skill rather than actually acquiring it...
Now, obviously you don’t have to write summaries like this if you’re going to explain each item in more detail on the sales page. I chose to simply launch right into longer explanations in the sales copy for this course. But the page you’re writing should be relatively short, so you may find interest fascinations work very well. And even if you don’t end up using them, you will probably find that you can put them into your email sequence further down the line. Good content never goes to waste; it’s just a matter of finding where to put it.
All right, so now you should have a fairly good idea of what to do. Let’s talk about actually doing it.
Up front, I must warn you: writing fascinations is something that takes much practice to get really good at. But the great thing about them is that they’re very simple to grasp in principle — so you can get straight into experimenting and honing your skill.
Fascinations do not have to be formatted as bullets. That is an effective way to do them — but you can also lay them out as paragraphs with subheads. It really depends on the content.
Decide whether you’re going to write interest fascinations, curiosity fascinations, or both. Refer back to the brainstorm you did earlier this week, and note down between 4 and 24 specific items.
Flesh out each item with as much clarity and candor as possible. Remember to be precise, simple, concrete; authentic, truthful, straightforward; and to say something different, incongruous or intriguing (or at least say it in a way that is different, incongruous or intriguing).
If necessary, introduce your fascinations with a summarizing sentence — it can be a subhead, or a boldfaced opening line. For interest fascinations, don’t be afraid to break them out into multiple paragraphs if you need to — but don’t aim to either. Too much of that, and you’ll just end up writing a lot of interesting but long sales copy, which isn’t what we’re aiming for in this lesson.
Divide your fascinations into groups if you have a lot. Three or four items per group is best, but think about how each one relates to the other. Is there a logical grouping you should use that will override the rule of four? Better to be logical. Separate the groups, introducing each with a subhead. If there is nothing very special to say, don’t be afraid to simply use subheads like, “Also...” The key is not to produce high art; it is to make your copy as readable as possible through visual contrast.
Bear in mind that while fascinations often relate to features and benefits, they are not meant to explain features and benefits. That is something we will do next week. Fascinations are meant to either tantalize Sam, or to help him understand his situation better — either his problem, or his solution.
Remember to sleep on your fascinations before editing them, and to ask a reliable friend for feedback if you can. A fresh perspective — especially an outside perspective — gives you the chance to spot mistakes like confusing sentences, vague descriptions, and plain ol’ typos.
P.S. The one thing to never eat on an airplane is the food. Yeeeap.