Message & Media: 3 Power Tools for Writers
That’s why this month’s column shares three tricks-of-the-trade for making whatever you write 1) more inviting to scanners, 2) more enticing to readers and 3) more compelling to those you want to take action. Consider this a gift — power tools for writing just about anything:
- Emails: Engage more people to read beyond your opener.
- SEO Content: Keep visitors on your page longer.
- Blog Posts: Transform complicated topics into spellbinding stories.
- Space Ads: Snag more scanners from surrounding articles.
- Direct Mail Letters: Highlight key selling points otherwise buried.
- Sales Brochures: Guide scanners to key marketing messages.
- PowerPoint Slides: Summarize key points at-a-glance.
- Facebook Posts: Increase fan and follower engagement.
1. Bullets: Attention-Grabbers That Make Bite-Size Promises
Typographically, a bullet point is a symbol that introduces items in a list. This symbol can be any of a variety of shapes and sizes, including but not limited to arrows, check marks, boxes and more.
Writing effective copy/content for bulleted lists boils down to two things: 1) Keeping it brief and 2) making promises that encourage readers to want to know more.
Long blah-blah-blah bulleted copy defeats the purpose of bullets. Brief, bite-size copy looks easy to digest and quick to read.
Here’s an example of how bullet points introduce topics explored later in a how-to article about writing blog posts. When you write a blog post, you want to:
- Write an attention-grabbing headline.
- Avoid excessive use of jargon.
- Include internal links to posts on related topics.
- Proofread carefully before you publish.
Notice the bullets are concise and parallel in structure. Each starts with a verb, and each provides a topic worthy of elaboration. For example, what makes a headline an attention-grabber?
2. Callouts: Clarify, Qualify, Create Value
Callouts allow writers (and designers) to tie words to specific details in an image. Use them to establish value otherwise invisible to the eye. I’ve used callouts to sell everything from oak chairs and daily planners to men’s work pants, gardening tools and software.
For example, the Vaya Executive Office Chair ran a space ad with callouts in the Wall Street Journal. The chair sells for $2,999, and because most office chairs cost hundreds — not thousands — of dollars, the callouts in the ad were an opportunity to support the claim the Vaya is “no mere office chair.”
Let’s see how well they succeed. The callouts read as: Adjustable Headrest; Proprietary Breathable Mesh; Fully Adjustable Lumbar Support; Intuitive Fingertip Controls; and Die-Cast Aluminum Back and Base.
Yawn. The first problem with the ad was the typeface and type size of the callouts. They are extremely difficult to read.
The second problem is the five callouts talk about features, not benefits. They don’t answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” For example, what do the intuitive fingertip controls do, and is this technology worth thousands of dollars?
In an attempt to learn more, I visited the website. The best explanation of benefits was buried in an instructional video at the bottom of the vertically scrolling website. I almost missed it. After watching the 3:40-minute video, I realized the value of the Vaya being a fully adjustable chair. It may even be worth the price. But I’m pretty sure few people will find or watch this video.
So back to those space-ad callouts. While including them was a good idea, their execution was a missed opportunity. They should have clarified the value of the features called out and established why this is no mere office chair.
3. Captions and Cutlines: The Captivators
How often do you see a photo in print or online without a caption or cutline and wonder, “What’s going on here? Who are these people? What are they doing? How does this thing work?”
Photos are eye-magnets — they magically draw the scanner’s eye. Add a human element to the photo and the number of people who will look at it increases significantly. Next stop is the caption or cutline (longer than a caption) below the photo. The captivator/well-chosen words will:
- Highlight what’s going on in the photo (or put the photo into context).
- Engage the reader by explaining something in addition to the obvious.
- State a benefit of potential importance to the reader.
Above is a photo from the Progressive Auto Insurance website that definitely benefited from having a well-written cutline. (Notice the impact of including the hand in the photo.)
One of the most common marketing mistakes is showing a photo of the company headquarters without an engaging caption. Few readers care about the building you work in — unless you tell them why they should.
In comparison, the photo cutline from the Popular Science online article (above) for Amazon’s new corporate headquarters in Seattle explains, “In addition to three high-rise office buildings, Amazon’s new headquarters will include dome-shaped structures, right in the middle of one of Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods.” What the cutline doesn’t explain (but the articles does, once you read through it) is the dome-shaped buildings will be heated using recycled energy from other neighboring buildings.
Finally, in the spirit of this Target Marketing issue, check out my “Copywriter’s Roadmap," “55 Words That Convert” and all-time most-read column, “48 Idea-Starters for Direct Mail and Email Openers."