In marketing, people are always looking for the new thing. And with the start of a new year, you undoubtedly will be bombarded with information about new technology, new lists, new creative formats and all sorts of new whiz-bang stuff. But when it comes to copy, the old ideas are generally the best ideas. Why? Because selling is about communicating with people, and people are pretty much the same today as they ever were.
Yeah, that’s a little boring. I’d love to reveal some spectacular new copywriting discovery. But for the most part, the stuff that worked 100 years ago still works today. And 100 years from now, it will work just as well.
Buzzwords come and go, of course. The style of marketing copy is generally shorter and more to the point now. But if you look at a magazine, catalog or direct mail package from decades ago, you’ll see the same principles at work as you would today.
Here are a dozen of the most important:
* Make your copy sell. In direct marketing, writing is not about words per se. It’s about selling. And the way to sell is to combine your communication skills with knowledge of psychology. As the eminent Herschell Gordon Lewis said, “Psychology + Communication = Salesmanship.”
* Sell as much or as little as needed. Ask yourself, “How much selling do I need for this audience? How familiar are people with this type of product or this particular product?” If you are selling a familiar product with a common offer, such as a magazine with a free trial, you don’t need to push as hard as you might when selling a less familiar product with a less common offer.
* Use a proven copy formula. There are as many formulas as there are copywriters, but they all boil down to the same ideas. You need to 1) Establish your objective, 2) Clarify the benefits to your prospect, 3) Show how the benefits will be delivered, 4) Prove your statements, 5) Add sweeteners and facilitators, and 6) Tell your prospect how to respond.
* Use the imperative mode.That’s a fancy way of saying, “Tell people what to do.” On the envelope, say “Look inside” or “Open immediately.” In the letter, say “More” or “Read on” to bump readers to the next page. On the order form, say “Complete and mail within 14 days” or “Ask for your free issue today” to encourage quick response.
* Focus on one clear, big benefit. This will simplify your message, select your audience and differentiate your product from others. If you’re selling a computer design program, your big benefit might be that it can automatically translate any print design into a Web page. There may be other benefits, such as low cost and speed of operation, but these would be secondary. Usually, your big benefit is the subject of your main headline.
* Make clarity your No. 1 goal.People do not interact with advertising the way they do with game shows and sitcoms. They’re not looking for entertainment, they’re looking for relevance. “What’s in it for me? Why should I do this?” Avoid clever verbiage and make your message clear and direct.
* Make a strong offer.An offer should be more than simply presenting your product and mentioning the price. An offer is a deal you make, a special low price, an exclusive premium, the chance to try the item free for 30 days, etc. Your offer is the crux of every promotion, so make it as strong and appealing as possible.
* Provide enough information for a decision. This includes product information, the offer, ordering instructions, guarantee, etc. If a decision will prove difficult for products that are expensive, complex, new, hard to explain or that require a considerable commitment, you may need to use a softer offer (such as a free trial) or break the sales process into multiple steps.
* Guarantee satisfaction. Because people cannot see or handle your product beforehand, there is always the perceived risk of being disappointed or ripped off. A guarantee is not a legal throwaway. It’s a powerful benefit you should highlight.
* Provide a good reason for immediate response. Studies show that people are more likely to respond to requests when a good reason is given. Is supply limited? A seasonal rush on the way? Can you sell only a limited number to each customer? Do you have to plan your production by a certain date?
* Make it easy to order. Exclusivity and convenience are the main reasons people transact via mail order. So it is imperative that you make ordering as quick and effortless as possible. Make your offer easy to understand and complete. Give short, simple ordering instructions. Provide toll-free numbers, postage-paid envelopes and the ability to respond by fax, e-mail or the Internet.
* Use the word free. This may be the only word that stands no chance of becoming a cliché. Look for features, benefits, accessories and premiums that can be offered for free. “Free” almost always generates more interest and response.
Stop yawning. I know this is pretty obvious stuff. Or is it? Are you really making it easy to order or are there hurdles? Have you provided enough information for a decision or are your potential customers left wondering about some detail? Are you selling too much or too little? It may sound boring. But I promise it can make your results very interesting.