7 Copywriting Tips That Should Be Put to the Test
Copywriting is the backbone of direct mail—just as screenwriting is the same for the movie business—but in this increasingly high-tech industry, that's been forgotten. With more multichannel campaigns, upgraded database marketing techniques and splashy self-mailers than ever before, the written word becomes an afterthought, literally ... and this is not good, for any direct marketer.
Meanwhile, mailers grappling with squeezed marketing budgets are hesitant to test efforts, especially the bigger tests that involve format changes, rebranding or significant design overhauls.
However, a simple copy test is one of the cheaper and smarter moves to make, and it can pay dividends in the ROI department. For example, making the copy more relevant to today's prospect who will only buy the "essentials" or give to the "truly needy" can more significantly affect the response rate than any change in color or format switch.
After speaking with a handful of top copywriters, here are seven ways for you and your business to take another crack at your direct mail copy.
1. Make the Prospect the Star of the Mailer
It's why direct mail can work so well. The prospect, after a lousy day at the office, gets home and sees mail just for her. It has her name on it, it's engagingly written and the product being offered even makes sense in her life.
"Make the piece look and read as if it were created just for that one recipient," recommends Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer, Wilde Agency. "Write as if you were talking to one member of your target market, with a voice and personality to your words."
While the prospect is the star of the show, the product you are selling needs to become the hero. "Make your selling message fit what your prospect wants and needs—turn your product into that hero," encourages Peggy Greenawalt, president/creative director of direct marketing agency Tomarkin/Greenawalt.
Mark Everett Johnson, freelance copywriter and consultant, agrees with this tactic. "Don't just tell them about your product; tell them exactly how it's going to make their lives better."
2. Make Them an Offer They Can't Refuse
In "The Godfather," Mr. Studio Exec Woltz was a fairly hostile prospect and Johnny Fontane was a pretty bad offer made by Tom Hagen: "Johnny Fontane will never get that movie!" As you know, it was nothing that a horse head in Woltz's bed couldn't solve. Hopefully, there's a better way for you to provide prospects with an offer they might accept.
In fact, Johnson considers this the top copywriting tip: "No. 1, as stated by Inside Direct Mail founder Denny Hatch, the best way to improve your response is to improve your offer. That is, and will always be, my mantra."
3. Make Them Emotional
As with screenwriting, if you don't emotionally engage your audience, your product is dead in the water (and nobody wants to watch that). So while appealing to your prospect's rational side with a hard-to-resist offer is sound marketing, it's often not enough to get the sale. "You've got to engage both the rational and emotional sides of the brain—don't forget the emotional," reminds Harhut.
"State your main benefit right away, or the customer is never going to get to it—they are just bombarded with so much information," agrees Johnson. "You've got to fire your big guns first."
4. Provide Substance
To get people to respond in an emotional way to your mail, you're more likely to succeed—especially if you're a nonprofit—if your copy provides real meaning. "Remember to think about what matters to your reader, not what matters to you as a writer —and then put that into the copy," recommends Merritt Engel, vice president of fundraising agency Merrigan & Co.
Don't forget, your prospects are getting bombarded with information through the Internet, where they have the ability to choose and exit that information as quickly as a click of a mouse. So you have to get their attention with substantial information rather than trickery and thin material. "As technology changes and consumers get more control over what they read, providing relevant content is king," says Engel.
5. Stay in Character
But while it's important to give your prospect what he or she really wants, copywriting experts also urge that you "stay in character," including not getting thrown off your game by whoever hired you to do the job. "Don't be cowed by loudmouths and cocksure prophets," says veteran copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis, in character.
Too often, copy in the letter tries to be too many different things for the prospect. "It's key to find your central focus and stay there," advises Greenawalt. "Don't scatter-shoot, hoping something you say will stick."
Sometimes it's as easy as keeping it simple, especially if you aren't targeting too tightly, says Greenawalt. "If you're too hip, too brainy, too chic, too cool or too funny, you will miss most of the market. For most products, Anytown, USA, is the right address for the greatest numbers of sales," she reminds.
6. Test Screen That Baby
When asked what process produces the best copy, Steve Cuno, chairman of Response Agency, doesn't hesitate. "There are but two. The first is, thou shalt test. The second is like unto it: Thou shalt set aside thy personal preferences and roll out only that which succeedeth," he states.
7. Keep Cool
The writer spends more time alone than most other professionals, often doesn't get the credit he or she deserves, will likely hear more about what's wrong than what's right with the copy, and may grow increasingly thin-skinned and paranoid. Lewis urges that you go in the opposite direction with two simple words: "Keep cool."