Tag Archive for Copywriting

Practical Titles Pull

We started writing this blog about a year ago. The two articles that have received the most comments are Direct Mail Hot Spots and Tips to Make Direct Mail Work Smarter. Both of these posts offer practical tips and ideas to make the most out of a great medium, direct mail, for communicating with your target audience.

Was it the titles that generated the traffic or was it the content? We think it has more to do with the titles.

A Tribute to the Underdog

As a tribute to cute costumes and a way to help you consider a possible branding message, we want to share some highlights from Harvard Business School professor, Anat Keinan.

The weaker party is often more attractive to many people. The reason might be due to consumers wanting to identify with the underdog. In today’s economically difficult times, it appears, underdog brands are gaining power in the marketplace.

Stories about underdogs overcoming great odds through passion and determination are resonant during difficult times. They inspire and give hope when the outlook is bleak. They promise that success is still possible. Throughout history Americans have embraced the American Dream, which proclaims that through hard work and perseverance anyone can be successful.

Underdog brand biographies (that highlight the companies’ humble beginnings, hopes and dreams, and noble struggles against adversaries) are being used by both large and small companies and across categories. Even large corporations, such as Apple and Google, are careful to retain their underdog roots in their brand biographies.

The common themes that link these brands’ underdog biographies are

  1. a disadvantaged position in the marketplace versus a “top dog,” a well-endowed competitor with superior resources or market dominance, and
  2. tremendous passion and determination to succeed despite the odds.

Marketers can use underdog narratives to positively affect consumers’ perceptions of and purchase of brands. “Underdog narratives are often delivered to consumers through the rhetorical device of a brand biography, an unfolding story that chronicles the brand’s origins, life experiences, and evolution over time in a selectively constructed story.”

Many contemporary brand biographies contain underdog narratives. Product packaging, corporate Web sites, direct mail advertising, blogs, and marketing communications tell the biographical stories of brands.

  • Avis’s classic slogan “we’re number 2” emphasized that it was playing second fiddle to a giant in the rental car business.
  • Brands such as Google, Clif Bar, and Apple celebrate their garage origins. Hewlett-Packard recently bought, and has a whole section on its Web site dedicated to, the garage in which it started. It is now a historical landmark.
  • Starbucks, in an effort to reverse declining sales, recently launched Pike Place Roast, which emphasizes the brand’s humble Seattle coffee culture beginnings.
  • Adidas’s “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign emphasized the underdog stories of famous athletes.

Create Great Feelings

BNET featured a post titled “No Budget? No Problem. How to Do More with Less.” The post highlighted an interview with adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management, Nancy Lublin. She retold a story about a time that President Lyndon Johnson visited NASA headquarters. While there, the President had a brief conversation with a custodian, who said, “I helped put a man on the moon.” Ms. Lublin suggested that organizations that want to create that same feeling in employees not underestimate the power of believing in something. She suggested that corporate goals be tied to whatever your company does best, whether it makes the fastest, cheapest, or the only product or service of its kind.

Is it time to solidify those great feelings about what your company does best with a direct mail piece?

Happiness Depends on Age

The New York Times reported on a Gallup Poll that found that people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, apparently, life begins to get challenging. They feel worse and worse until they hit 50. At that point, there is a sharp reversal, and people keep getting happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

We hope you see opportunities and optimism with this information. Not only do you know that life will continue to get better, but you now have great information as you craft your marketing messages. Understanding some of the emotions of your target audience will help you as you write compelling appeals. This is a great complement to marketing to people during life changing events.

The “WOW!” Number

A recent Harvard Business Review Blog asked, “What Surprising Number Will Change Your Business?”

Numbers are the universal language of business. We use them to win approval for product introductions, to attract investors for our startup ideas, to make the case for expanding into new markets or entering new categories. In other words, numbers, when used well, tell a compelling story.

Marketing and advertising is about big ideas. But it is also very much about numbers: budgets, ratings, impressions, ROI. Which brings us to the search for the “Wow!” Number, and why one piece of data may be worth a thousand words.

Here are a few such numbers.

  • 70% of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from home.
  • 80% of women plan to exclusively breastfeed; only 20% actually do.
  • Many are in front of whiteboards 4 hours a day, but only use them for 4 minutes.
  • 80% of people age 45+ consider changing careers; only 6% actually do.

Why do these numbers tell a story? Because they’re simple and easy to understand. Because they’re human and easily relatable. Because they surprise us, and/or capture the gap between intentions and actions.

And how do you get to such numbers? Juxtapose: “Put related numbers together to create new information.” Try different contexts: “What’s the social angle? The green angle? Put it in terms of time, or length, or volume.” Turn them over: “2% one way might not be as interesting as 98% the other way.”

However you choose to rethink your approach to numbers, it’s an important way to address a huge missed opportunity. Business isn’t just a battle of products and services. It’s a battle of ideas about priorities, opportunities, values, and value. Ultimately, those competing ideas get reduced to competing numbers. So, if you can arrive at numbers that matter, you’ve got a better chance at winning the battle of ideas.

We have told you some surprising numbers about mail in the last few months:

More than 70% of Gen Yers (born 1977-1994) and Gen Xers (born 1965-1976) sort their mail immediately

76% of internet users were directly influenced to buy an item or service thanks to direct mail

78% of email recipients do not open the message, so that means that 94.1% of email recipients are not clicking through to landing page

Tips for Compelling Mail

Use your own list

Your own list of customers and prospects who know you and have previously responded to your advertisements will generate a much greater response. Update your list frequently with changed addresses.

What is in it for the reader

What excites you may not be what resonates with your audience. What’s most important to your reader isn’t your product or service; it’s how that product or service improves their life. Talk in terms of their interests to generate a higher response rate.

Personalize your message

Past customers won’t need the same message as potential clients who have never dealt with your company. The more relevant the message is for your intended audience, the better your response rate.

Get past the recycle bin

To get your direct mail piece past the shredder and into the right hands:

  • Address to a specific person, not just a job title or occupant.
  • For business mail, use a standard size envelope and make it look like personal correspondence as much as possible.
  • Also for business mail, try using language like “Requested Information Enclosed” so it looks like the addressee is expecting it.
  • Using a stamp usually increases response.

Make it easy for the recipient to respond

Many mail pieces have gone out without complete contact information. Make sure to include your phone number, website address, email address and any other way your want to interact. And if people contact you, make sure you get back to them right away.

Examples of Writing for the Senses

Marcia Yudkin wrote some ideas in her weekly email “The Marketing Minute” for ways to involve the senses of readers in marketing copy. She was attracted to a magazine ad for Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic:

“You’re welcomed by warm smiles, slapping dominoes and whispering trade winds.  Here, you can share sunsets with artists and fishermen as merengue rhythms course through the streets like mountain streams.”

These sentences evoke visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensations.

Warm smiles – feel and see them

Slapping dominoes – hear and see them

Whispering trade winds – hear and feel them

Share sunsets – feel and see

Artists and fisherman – watch them

Merengue rhythms – hear and feel

Course through the streets – see the movement

Like mountain streams – see and hear

Resolve to use more vivid sensory language into your marketing copy – even if you sell something abstract, like computer security, legal compliance or increased confidence.

Evoke seeing:

An iron wall against invaders

Feds bursting into your office

Evoke hearing:

The clink of a prison cell door

The swoosh of a credit card swipe

Evoke feeling:

Your shoulders straight and tall

Are you itching to start writing yet? How can we help you engage your readers with more sensation? What about mail that can be touched and felt to deliver the sensation?

Writing About Intangibles

To help you create messages that sell more of what can’t be seen, we are sharing an article by Pat Friesen that appeared in Target Marketing Magazine. Whether you sell insurance, toilet tune-ups, home loans, teleconferencing, investment services or other intangibles, we hope these tips help.

  • Call to action. This is basic, but often overlooked and undervalued. Tell people what you want them to do and why they should do it. What action do you want your customer to take as a result of receiving your message? What can you do to motivate your customer to call, click or complete an application?
  • Humanize benefits. Show people enjoying the end benefit of what you sell. For example, most parents want their children to get an education. So, if you market loans or insurance, show a smiling graduate in cap and gown with a benefit caption below it.
  • “You can’t say that.” The next time your attorney or compliance officer utters these words after reading your copy, respond with, “OK, what can I say?” It may mean changing just one or two words, and may make your copy even stronger.
  • Engage them with something unusual. Providing toilet tune-ups is more attention-grabbing than saying you check for leaks and rusted parts.
  • Focus on customer benefits, not company history. Nobody really cares that you are headquartered in Omaha, Neb., and have been in business for more than a hundred years unless you tell them why it’s important. Such as, you have a hundred-year history of paying claims promptly, and customer service calls are all taken in the heart of America, not offshore.
  • Create an offer with value that supports what you sell. Instead of giving away pricey tangibles such as iPods or free dinners, provide an easy-to-use calculator or a free checklist. Consumers value information that educates and empowers.
  • Keep it simple. Intangibles are often perceived as being difficult to understand. Confusion slows down decision making and results in avoidance. Your marketing mission is to make your product simple and understandable.
  • Never use the words “applying is easy” … unless it’s true. When was the last time you completed your company’s application? Give it to five people who fit your customer profile but don’t work for your company, and ask them to fill it out. Watch them do it. Simple-to-complete applications/forms combine the right words with good design, simple organization and readable typefaces.
  • Write in plain English. Yes, insurance and financial services do have regulatory content that must be included. However, don’t pepper your marketing copy with killer words like “undersigned” and “the party of the first part”. Instead, use plain English that’s easily understood.
  • Have your creative team work as a team. No matter which media you use, you get the best, most effective end product when you have your writer, designer, programmer and others involved in the creative process work together. Don’t isolate them.
  • Cross-sell. Cross-sell to both customers and prospects.
  • Reactivate. Policy holders lapse and account owners close their accounts, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want to do business with you again. Did you know that customers that previously had a relationship with you are more likely to buy than cold prospects? However, they need reassurance that you still love them. And they need to be asked. This applies across all industries, all products and services, tangible and intangible. In economic times like these, reactivation is one of the most cost-effective ways to generate new business.

How can we help you deliver a message about the intangible benefits that you bring to your customers?

Copywriting Sparks

A new simple approach may help you create some new ideas for your next direct mail piece.

Step 1, Answer these questions:

  • What problem does your product (or service) solve, and for whom?
  • How long has your product (the widget) been selling steadily, and why?
  • What uses or occasions is the widget especially appropriate for?
  • Where would you normally find one of its ingredients or components being used?
  • What doesn’t the widget have, which makes it superior?
  • Is there a flaw to feature?
  • It’s a cross between a what and a what?
  • How will the user feel when using it?
  • What does this widget go well with?
  • What kind of testing went into making the widget?
  • Why might you want more than one widget?
  • Why is the price so reasonable?

Step 2, Look at your list of answers and choose one or more ideas that provide an appealing angle.

Step 3, Add the practical facts like how big and how much, and you’re done.

4 Ways to keep copy fresh

  1. Embrace the customers’ point of view.
  2. Be strategic and ask tough questions about established assumptions.
  3. Watch out for mistakes that can shorten your project’s shelf life or usefulness.
  4. Try not to worry too much about grammar and conventions. Being effective may be more important than being correct.

Copywriting Checklist

Pat Friesen put together a checklist for Target Marketing Magazine to help business owners, product managers or marketing/advertising directors provide direction and input to writers who have the important assignment of crafting messages that generate response—whether it’s a click, call or car trip to a store or event.

Even if you are not a writer, you play a key role in the success or failure of the copy and content copywriters develop because of one or all of the following:

  • You know the product inside and out—its strengths, weaknesses and unique benefits.
  • You understand the major motivators and buying objections that influence buyers and nonbuyers. You know the competition, its strengths and vulnerabilities.
  • You have access to customer complaints, testimonials and much more.
  • You have insights, ideas and detailed information your copywriter wants and needs to craft a compelling sales message.

This copy checklist is designed to help you give direction and input to your writers. While every project may not require everything outlined, use this as a guide.

  1. What is your objective? Do you want to beat the control by X percent? Generate one-step sales or qualified leads? Strengthen relationships? Introduce a new product? Increase average order size? Initiate Web site involvement? Test media, offers or other direct marketing elements? Transform a one-time trier into a second-time buyer? Generate referrals or measurable forward-to-a-friend activity? Your writer needs to understand what you want to achieve and how success will be measured.
  2. What is the brand personality? Is the brand upbeat and innovative or classic and conservative? Does the brand have a spokesperson? Is there an established copy voice, tone and vocabulary? Provide examples so these can be sustained.
  3. Who is the audience? Is the message directed to a customer or prospect? Multibuyer or first-time trier? Decision maker or decision influencer? What is the average age, household income, educational background of the targeted reader? What is the comfort level with the media selected to deliver the message (e.g., postal mail, TV, etc.)? The customer/prospect profile you provide helps your writer envision the individual person to whom he or she is writing instead of a sea of nameless, faceless people.
  4. What is the product/service? Provide features and corresponding benefits. Identify the top three features/benefits of interest to the targeted audience. What are the truly unique features/benefits? Price? Ordering specifications (size, color, etc.)? Is it new? Improved? A best-seller? Back by popular demand? Also provide competitive advantages and disadvantages.
  5. What is the offer? Because the offer is what generates response, make sure to provide your writer with all elements of your offer and why they are included (e.g., discounts, deadlines, guarantees, premiums, other incentives, delivery options, payment options, etc.). Remember your offer is more than just a product or service, discount, or free shipping; it’s a package of elements bundled together to address key buying objections and push fence-sitters over the edge of indecision.
  6. What are the top three buying objections? Provide prioritized information about why people don’t buy your product or service. Your writer needs to address these objections—either directly or indirectly.
  7. What is the call to action? Do you want people to respond by phone, mail, e-mail, online ordering, clickthrough to a Web site, in-store or at an event? Is a unique landing page required? If the objective is generating leads, provide a sample of the fulfillment package, and/or tell the writer what will happen after a prospect raises his or her hand as a qualified lead.
  8. What is the format? For direct mail, is it a postcard, solo package, self-mailer, box, tube or some other format? For space advertising, is it a full- or half-page ad? Back page, back cover? All of these details provide your writer with additional ammunition for crafting a control-beating message.
  9. What media is being used? Direct mail lists, e-mail lists, TV, radio, space advertising, etc. Tip: If you’re testing e-mail vs. postal mail, be careful about directly picking up traditional letter copy and testing it in e-mail.
  10. What is the test plan? Are you testing copy? Creative? Formats? Lists? List segments? Offers? Timing? Other direct marketing elements?
  11. Will the copy be translated into languages other than English? While this may not directly affect the copy your writer develops, it may influence the overall creative approach.
  12. What other copy resources are available to the writer? Interviews with customers? Sales people? Customer service staff? Product managers? Product developers? (Tip: Product developers know valuable details about the quality of the ingredients or other details no one else knows or thinks to mention. Customers also have a way of revealing benefits often overlooked by or unknown to marketing staff.)
  13. Provide a product sample. Writers like to try what they are writing about because it provides firsthand experience with product benefits.
  14. Offer a sample of the control. Some writers prefer not to see the control e-mail, mailing package or space ad they are trying to beat. At least offer it to your writer.
  15. Provide Web links, when appropriate. Provide specific links you want included in direct mail, space ad, e-mail, e-newsletter, landing page and Web site copy.