The Do's and Don'ts of Writing for Engagement
I recently was headed out of town to lead a workshop on "The Do's and Don'ts of Writing Successful Direct Mail Copy." As part of the prep, I dissected what I do every day and why I do it.
No surprise, the same techniques that work for writing direct mail copy also apply to developing digital content. The basics of direct response writing is channel agnostic. The key is in knowing how to apply the do's and don'ts for engaging readers and motivating them to take the next step.
(For 33 chapters of copywriting tips, check out my very recent "The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook," published by Direct Marketing IQ.)
Here are some for starters …
Odd numbers vs. even. Do use odd numbers; they are more credible than even.
Numerals vs. numbers written as words. 1,000 is easier to scan than one thousand.
Benefits vs. features. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." Customers buy a product or service because of the benefit it provides, the problem it solves, the need it fills. Write about benefits, not features.
Be specific. The more specific, the more compelling. For example, which is more engaging — save money OR save $473.27 annually?
Keep words, sentences and paragraphs short for faster and easier scanning. Words: 75 percent to 80 percent are five characters or less. Sentences: 1.5 lines or less. Paragraphs: 6 lines or less.
You vs. I/We/Your Company Name. You should outnumber I, we or your company name 2 to 1. Use the We-We Calculator to find out just how customer-focused your copy is. It's free.
Hot spots. A hot spot is where your scanner's eye lands first. Hot spots are a writer's best friend across all channels, in both copy and content. Use them to control eye flow and highlight benefits.
P.S. People do read the P.S.... and many read it first. Don't miss maximizing this valuable hot spot.
Don't leave your call-to-action until the end. Your reader may never get there.
Repeat your call-to-action. Include it in more than one place in your email, landing page, letter, brochure and response card. Put it in hot spots.
It doesn't matter what's inside your envelope if it doesn't get opened. For copy and design ideas that increase open rates, request a free copy of Tension Envelope's white paper, "How to Create Successful Direct Mail Envelopes" at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also check out this video from my editor (!) Ethan Boldt on "4 Design Best Practices for Direct Mail."
Active vs. passive. Do use active verbs and an active voice to engage your reader and build momentum. Passive simply reports.
Track how your readers respond. Then focus on the most often used channels (which may change over time). For example, your fax number may (or may not) have outlived its usefulness. Response tells you.
Bulleted copy stands out because it's easy to scan. Use whenever appropriate.
Long vs. short. Don't assume you know which works best. When in doubt, test the length of your copy. You may be surprised by the results.
Free is more powerful than complimentary or at no cost.
"Do Not Bend," Do Not Fold, Do Not Destroy Before Opening. Have you seen these words used repeatedly on direct mail you're receiving? Repeat use means they are working. Apply appropriately.
Envelope teasers & email subject lines. These are one and the same; their job is to get the envelope or email opened. Looking for ideas to increase openability? Try these tips I wrote about in 2011.
All postage is not equal. An envelope's upper right corner is used by the mail screener at home and office to decide whether to toss or keep your mailing. Don't let your lettershop decide how your postage should look ... it can affect response.
Photo captions. A reader's eye is drawn to images, especially when they include a person or human element. Next stop is the caption below the photo. Do use this hot spot to your advantage.
Letters should be signed. They should be signed by a person, not a company.
Use customer data to create personally relevant messages. Not just to prove you know your reader's name and address.
Personal opinion = sample of one. Don't let opinions replace testing, reading results and applying what you learn.
And do let me know how these work for you. Email me at email@example.com.
Pat Friesen writes for direct mail, email, blogs, catalogs, the Web, and other direct response media. She's also the author of the recent "The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook," published by Direct Marketing IQ. Contact Pat at (913) 341-1211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.