Frank Mitchell, Direct Response Copywriter

The Secret of The 4-Legged Stool

A Summary of Michael Masterson on Writing a Rock-Solid Promotion

Michael Masterson is the pen name of Mark Morgan Ford, entreprenuer, philanthropost, and prolific author. He is one of the founders of the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), the leading establishment for learning the skills to make a living as a writer.

This blog post is adapted from my presentation on Masterson's 4-Legged Stool to the Burleson Toastmasters club.

Why On Earth Did You Buy That?

Michael Masterson asserts that all of our purchase decisions are impulse buys. It's true that we put more thought into it when we buy large-ticket items like a car or a home, but they're impulse buys nevertheless.

“To begin with, one of the best ways to persuade your prospect to buy is to assure him that he isn’t making a fool of himself by purchasing your product.

“You want him to be able to go to his friends, family, and neighbors and actually brag about how smart he is… that he’s gained an unbelievable advantage in life simply by acting on the impulse you’ve orchestrated in your sales letter.”

- Michael Masterson

In other words, your promotion needs sturdy support, so that your prospect feels good about his or her buying decision. And after the sale, there's no buyer's remorse.

That sturdy support is like 4 legs of a stool. Without all 4, your sales promo collapses. The 4 legs that hold up a sound sales promotion are...

  • Credibility
  • Track Record
  • Benefits/Promise
  • Ideas

“And since that’s the case, keep this in mind: You’ll want to learn every technique possible for developing each of these very important legs.

They’ll be your guide when you fashion your promotions. And they’ll help you be sure you’ve covered all the fundamentals necessary to make your promotion sell well.”

- Michael Masterson

The First Leg: Credibility

This answers the sales objection, "Why should I believe you?" Your promotion is going to make a big promise, which we'll talk about later on, and you want your prospect to believe you can deliver.

Michael Masterson shows us several tools we can use to establish crediblility.

Credibility Builder #1: Testimonials

The best way to gather testimonials is to ask your customers. You can have them participate in a survey about your product, or have a conversation with them after the sale. 

Be sure to get their permission before you publish their quotes in your promo.

You can ask customers to give you personal success stories. This especially effective for products like...

  • Weight loss programs
  • Alternative health products (like CBD or herbal remedies)
  • Personal training (like piano lessons, acting lessons, or personal coaching)

Did a happy customer send you a personal letter, email, or leave a comment on your social media page? Ask them if you can quote them in your promo. These are particuarly valuable, because most people only get in touch when they're not happy with the product.


Credibility Builder #2: Your Product Creators and Experts

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.."

On the contrary, show your customers who's on your team, their backgrounds, and their expertise. Have they created other products your prospects are familiar with? Talk about it in your promo.

Credibility Builder #3: 3rd-Party Validation

Support your claims with stories, studies, and reports from sources your readers trust. 

  • Popular or mainstream media articles
  • University studies
  • Reports from professional organizations
  • Well-known experts in your field (Warren Buffet's name works like magic when you're talking about financial things)

Credibility Builder #4: Graphs and Photos

Graphs can show key statistics at a glance. Be sure to keep them simple.

Before and after photographs give your readers visual proof. You can also have photos of your team of experts at work.

Even stock photos can add credibility. Is your product the result of a scientific breakthrough? A stock photo of a lab technician looking at a colorful liquid in a beaker can be effective.

You can show images of the manufacturing process.

Is your product an engineering marvel? A cutaway diagram of its gears and wheels is a good crediblilty builder.

Credibility Builder #4: Non-Rounded Numbers

If you say you've helped thousands of people lose weight, that's not the worst you could do, but it doesn't really click with the reader.

Saying you've helped 15,000 people lose weight over the last 5 years, it's better...

But if you've helped 14,625 people lose weight, you give the reader the sense that you're not just making up numbers.

Credibility Builder #5: Creative Use of Jargon

Personally, I think this one is kinda fun.

This doesn't necessarily mean filling up your sales copy with a lot of technical talk. Although, according to seasoned copywriter Robert W. Bly, tech jargon is appealing to techies, and academics (mostly because they think the rest of us are dumb).

But if you can get creative with jargon, it can be a vitamin shot for your promo.

A commercial for a Caddilac crossover SUV shows a state trooper stopping traffic at a mountain pass, signaling them to turn back. 

A frustrated family in a BMW crossover watch the trooper signal the driver of the Caddilac that he's clear to go through. When the Beamer driver complains, the trooper tells him...

"He has Stabilitrac."

I don't know what Stabilitrac is, but it sounds like something cool. Maybe it's an improvent on Positraction General Motors released in the 1960s — I don't know.

In 1975, Chrysler introduced the Cordoba, a sporty-looking two-door sedan. In the commercial, actor Ricardo Montalban with his smooth Latino voice tells us the interior in lined with...

"Rich Coritnthian Leather."

... rolling his R's.

It's just ordinary cowhide. It's not imported... or from a certain breed of cow... but it sounds luxurious.

Also from the 1970s, the makers of Chiclets chewing gum introduced Certs breath mints. The commercial announced...

"Certs is made with Retzyn."

This magic elixir that freshens your breath was homoginized vegetable oil!

Can you see why I think this one is fun?

Speaking of clean breath, the word halitosis came from an Listerine advertisement in 1911. It's just Latin for "bad breath." But in elementary school, I learned the word from the texbook for Health class.

Let's take a look now at...

The Second Leg: Track Record

The Third Leg: Benefits/Promise

The Fourth Leg: Ideas