Ask most prospects what they think about the recruiting letters that they receive, and their response is less than enthusiastic.
The problem is this: Many recruiting letters havene’t changed much over the years. However, the way your prospects receive messages and what they respond to has changed drastically.
Here’s a solution that you might want to try the next time you’re looking to revamp your recruiting letters. It’s a technique called a "categorial imperative".
Here’s how it works: When your prospects start knowing where the copy in your recruiting letter is going… when they can predict the next step in your story… they tend to dismiss it – tune it out, just like we do sometimes when we jump ahead and assume an ending to a movie. Your prospects might still be reading your mail or e-mails, but really, you’ve lost them.
You see, the mind tends to simplify its work by slipping incoming ideas into pre-existing slots ("categories") it has already created. You know, stuff we’ve read or seen or experienced before – like all those other recruiting letters they received, read and been bored by. It does this so it can shift its attention to something else (anything else). And it will do this with your recruiting information as well as other experiences.
In order to circumvent this tendency of the mind, strong writing – and, in particular, good sales and recruiting messages - must avoid a straight-line, logical approach.
Instead, use "indirection." Approach the reader in a way, or from a place, he or she doesn’t expect. And then, keep changing things up. The overall effect is to keep the reader from anticipating where the promotion is going and keep their mind from wandering.
Here are six ways to do it:
1. Paint an image in your reader’s mind that shows him all the benefits he can enjoy.
Example: "You look out your dorm room window, past your two new teammates who you’re going to the rally with in two hours, who are heading over to talk to two cute girls they met in their Freshman orientation…" A sentence like that is evoking certain thoughts and feelings in the reader in order to gain his attention. The fact that you’re getting him interested in your campus, and that you are selling him on your campus life at your college.
2. Ask your prospect a question or make a statement that challenges them on a subject related to your college, or what you are offering them.
Example: "This invitation isn’t for an athlete who wants it easy, or is looking for something less than the best when it comes to playing college sports." Here, the coach wants to align himself or herself with the emotions of their target audience before they let them know the coach is going to be pushing hard to get them to sign with the coach’s school.
3. Raise a threat or warning that begs for a solution (provided by your program and your offer).
Example: "Your education is in imminent danger." This gets the reader’s attention by evoking a whole range of fears. He can’t quite know from the headline what it is the coach is getting at. Something about their education, but what? It prompts curiosity, which will get them to read more of your recruiting letter.
4. Make a surprising or alarming prediction that leads to your big promise.
Example: "A bank run like no other will hit every major bank on earth in 1999. A worldwide panic is now inevitable…" This prediction of catastrophe forces the prospect to read on to learn what the solution might be. Is there a surprising or alarming prediction that you could make about your prospect’s sport, college scholarships in general, to get their attention and build a letter’s them around?
5. Share a new piece of information, which will benefit the reader.
Example: "This may be the most startling college recruiting news you have ever heard…" In order to know if it is the "most startling" (a pretty bold claim), the prospect has to read on. The thing I like about this particular heading is that it clears a wide path for an interesting recruiting message.
6. Debunk a myth with evidence that demands the reader’s attention.
Example: "Conventional wisdom: You can’t get a big time college experience at a Division III school. Wrong! Here are four ways to do it." By contradicting what most people think is true, the coach forces the prospect to listen to the "proof."
Copywriting experts such say that when you use indirection, your copy will be infused with life. Your words will be fresh and thought-provoking. And your reader will keep turning the pages.
Remember, as a coach who is also asked to be a copywriter, you’ve always got to keep your reader from getting ahead of you. If he can anticipate what you’re going to say, he’ll assume he knows what’s coming – and you’ll lose him.
We’ll teach you more great secrets to communicating and building a great recruiting message at our new series of workshops around the country. Come to an intense, information-packed session in Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco in the coming weeks. Click here for all the information or e-mail Dan directly with the subject line "Workshop registration info" at firstname.lastname@example.org.