B-to-B Insights: Follow the Formula to the 'C'
I confess: I love copywriting formulas! Why? For two reasons.
First, the best formulas are simple, easy to remember and rapidly mastered. Knowing them can enable you to create copy that's twice as effective—in half the time.
Second, the reason they became formulas in the first place is that they work.
Old-timers like me know there are literally dozens of time-tested copywriting formulas. Yet most of today's newbie copywriters have only heard of a handful, and have mastered even fewer.
Why is that bad? Because if you, or your copywriter, don't know all the formulas, you could unnecessarily be wasting your time reinventing the wheel with each promotion you write. You also could be writing inferior copy that diminishes your sales.
In my day, no self-respecting copywriter or marketer worth his salt wrote copy without first studying the classic copywriting formulas and committing them to memory.
One of the oldest copywriting formulas—and perhaps the most famous—is AIDA: attention, interest, desire and action. It says persuasive copy first must grab the reader's attention, get him interested in what you are selling, create a desire to own the product and ask for action.
AIDA is one of my favorite formulas. Yet in seminars today, when I ask attendees if they know the AIDA formula, not one in 10 people raises his hand.
Less well-known than AIDA, but in its way almost as powerful, is the largely forgotten SELWAB formula. SELWAB is a mnemonic device to remind marketers what's most important to the prospect. It stands for "start every letter with a benefit."
Another useful—and little-known—copywriting formula is Star, Chain, Hook. The formula says every letter needs a "star" to capture attention, a "chain" to pull prospects along through the sales presentation without losing interest and a "hook" that holds them until they are ready to take action.
Lastly, a copywriting formula I use—one of my own invention and never before published—is the "Secret of the 4 C's." It says that every good piece of copy is: clear, concise, compelling and credible. Let's take a look at each element of the 4 C's formula in a bit more detail.
What you write must be clear. Not just to you or the client or the marketing director or the product manager. But to the prospects you hope to sell the product to.
Ralph Waldo Emerson defines clarity this way: "It is not enough to write so that you can be understood. You must write so that you cannot be misunderstood."
The typical advice given in writing classes about clarity is to use small words, short sentences and short paragraphs, and this is sensible advice. Breaking up long documents into sensibly organized sections, each with its own heading, also helps.
But clear writing stems primarily from clear thinking, and the converse also is true. If you don't really understand what you are talking about, your writing will be weak, rambling and obtuse. On the other hand, when you understand your subject matter, know your audience, and have a useful and important idea you want to convey, the clarity of your writing inevitably reflects your well-thought-out idea.
Now, you may be thinking that "concise" might apply to other types of writing but not to direct marketing, because direct response favors long copy.
But concise and brief are not synonyms. "Brief" means "short." If you want to be brief, you simply cut words until you reduce the composition to the word count desired.
"Concise" means telling the complete story in the fewest possible words. Direct response copy is long because, to make a sale or generate a qualified lead, we often have to convey a lot of information. But in good direct response copy, we convey that information in the fewest possible words—no rambling, no redundancy, no needless repetition, no using three words when one will do.
It is not enough that the copy is easy to read. It must be so interesting, engaging and informative that the reader cannot put it down—or at minimum, feels compelled to skim the document to glean the important points.
A major reason so much copy is not compelling is it is written about things that interest the marketer, not the prospect.
The marketer is interested in his product, his organization and, in particular, his "messaging"—key points he wants to get across to the reader.
Unfortunately, the reader is not interested in any of these things. The reader is more interested in the reader—his problems, needs, fears, concerns, worries, challenges and desires.
As copywriter Don Hauptman often has said, the more your copy focuses on the prospect instead of the product, the more compelling it will be. The product is only relevant insofar as it addresses one of the reader's core concerns or desires.
Copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis has noted that we live in an age of skepticism: Simply put, prospects are disinclined to believe what you say precisely because you are trying to sell them something.
Fortunately, there are a number of useful tools for building your credibility and overcoming the reader's skepticism.
Your prospects are skeptical of salespeople, but are more inclined to trust advice from recognized experts in a given field or industry. Therefore, you can overcome skepticism by establishing yourself or your organization as a thought leader in your market.
One way to do this is by publishing a lot of content. Prospects are distrustful of advertising, but somewhat more trusting of information sources such as Web sites, white papers and magazine articles.
Become an active publisher of valuable content in your niche. Communicate your key messages in documents that do not look like sales promotions, but are published in editorial formats such as webcasts and white papers. Not only will your prospects find the messages more credible when they are presented as content rather than sales copy, but these publications accelerate your ascent to guru status in your niche.
The most obvious way to build credibility is with customer testimonials, and if you are not using them widely and proactively in your marketing, you are missing an effective means of overcoming skepticism. Also, don't overlook the opportunity to have customers give you video testimonials at your events. Post these customer video testimonials on your Web site and landing pages.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.