Creative Tricks of the Trade — Copy
Contrary to popular belief, direct response creative professionals—copywriters, designers and art directors—are neither magicians nor miracle workers.
The good ones are creative strategists, who take the information they are given, then choose which tricks of the trade to apply (or not apply) to generate maximum response.
The choices your writer and art director make and the reasons they have for making these choices play a major role in the success of communicating your direct response message, whether it goes out by mail, on the Internet, or in a space ad.
What are some of these tricks of the trade? Here are a few I've learned during my 25 years as, first, an in-house copywriter and, now, a freelancer.
The Alice Wiens Approach to Writing COPY
No, Alice Wiens is not a famous direct response copywriter. Alice was my neighbor while I was growing up. Here's the trick I learned from her—albeit indirectly—about writing effective direct response copy:
Write your copy as though you were talking to a specific individual you know who fits the description of your targeted audience. Do not write to a mass of nameless, faceless "customers" or "prospects."
I learned this trick when I was applying for my first job with Current Stationery in Colorado Springs. I had been given a copy assignment as part of the interviewing process and was staring at my typewriter (in the midst of multiple rewrites) when my sister—also a direct response writer—shared this sage advice.
She said, "Always write your copy to someone you know … in this case, write like you're talking to Alice Wiens."
My sister had read the first draft of my sales letter and she said it sounded too general. It didn't "talk" to the woman I was trying to influence to buy Current products.
What I did to correct this (and land my first catalog writing job!) was to zero in on someone I knew who fit the customer profile of my targeted audience, then write copy as though I were talking to this individual. Alice Wiens fit the description perfectly.
Alice was your typical, sweet, middle-aged neighbor lady. Kind of short and chubby, round face, glasses ... not too polished looking. Small town, not suburban. Friendly, folksy. She would have worn a housedress, not a pantsuit. This was the Current customer at the time. (As with most customers, the Current buyer has evolved over time and now is probably younger, more hip, more suburban.)
The point is, you need to know your targeted audience/customer well enough to be able to write copy as though you were carrying on a conversation with this individual— NOT a GROUP of customers. Nameless. Faceless.
I apply this same technique to all my projects, but I've always called it the Alice Wiens Approach to Writing Copy. I applied it when I did a business-to-business lead generation program for AT&T to Farmland Co-op Managers and used the office manager from the co-op where I worked in high school ... I use it when I write to physicians and think of my college roommate who became a surgeon ... I used it when I wrote copy promoting the Christie Brinkley Beyond Beauty Newsletter (that never launched!) and thought of my hip, 40-something friend/colleague Cynde.
Now, whether I'm writing a letter to generate leads for business phone systems or lab equipment, a brochure selling insurance, or catalog copy conjuring up the benefits of buying English muffins by mail, I always apply the Alice Wiens approach to writing copy. It's a trick that's served me well.
And if I don't personally know an "Alice Wiens" who fits the description of my targeted audience, I ask my clients to give me the names and phone numbers of people who do. Then I call them and talk to them to find out, in their own words, what matters most to them. The result is copy that's credible, convincing, and personal … copy that motivates response.
12 More Copywriting Tricks of the Trade
Here are some copywriting tricks seasoned direct response copywriters automatically incorporate into their work:
• "Free" is the most powerful word in the English language. Use "free" rather than "complimentary" or "at no cost to you."
• The word "you" should outnumber "I" or "we" two to one in your copy. This is true in all types of direct response copy—letters, brochures, ads, e-mail, telemarketing scripts, etc.
• Include a P.S. in direct mail letters. Thirty percent of the people reading your letter will read the P.S. first.
• Make a list of all the benefits of your offer, and then prioritize them by targeted audience. Lead with the number one benefit for your targeted audience.
• Summarize your offer on the order form. Frequently, the order form is the only mailing component that gets retained for ordering later.
• Include your guarantee in your letter, brochure and order form.
• Use hot spots to talk about and illustrate benefits. Hot spots are where the eyes of your reader/scanner go first.
• Read your copy aloud to help you decide if it is appropriately conversational.
• Use testimonials and offer elements to overcome buying objections.
• To overcome writer's block, just start writing. Don't focus on whether the headline is good or your opening paragraph is strong enough. Once you get started, you'll usually find your lead paragraph or headline down in the third or fourth paragraph.
• Give your client or marketing manager choices for headlines, rather than just one. It eliminates the stress on you of having to write THE headline for which you'd go to battle. It also gives clients the opportunity to feel as if they are part of the creative process.
TIPS WORTH testing
What should you test first? Given the opportunity to test creative, apply this trick:
Test those elements first that you believe will make the most significant difference in response. In other words, test the big stuff first.
Don't test the color of your letter's paper stock if you haven't tested outer envelope teaser copy or the lead paragraph in your letter. Here's a list of creative elements to test first:
*Outer envelope teaser copy
*Outer envelope size
*Offer insert vs. no offer insert
* Personalization vs. no personalization
*Pre- or post-mailing postcards
*Adding the word FREE to outer envelope copy
*Window envelope vs. closed face envelope
*Space ad with and without a bind-in reply card
*Live postage vs. pre-printed indicia
*4-color vs. 1- or 2-color brochure
*Free sample vs. no sample
Whatever you decide to test, make sure it's an appropriate test for your audience, offer, format, etc. For example, testing live postage vs. a pre-printed indicia may not be an appropriate test if your mailing format and addressing are not appropriately personal to support the added cost of affixing a live stamp.
These are just a few of the hundreds of tricks of the trade you can use to strengthen your direct response creative. One final tip: Good direct response writers and art directors have reasons for the choices they make. They don't just make decisions on a creative whim. So, don't be afraid to ask them why they chose the envelope size or headline they used. It's all part of the creative strategy.