Message & Media: How Many Ways Can You Say It?
When you're writing to generate response, it all starts with finding ways to engage your reader in your copy and content. Reader engagement hinges on using the right words to build rapport. This kind of copy rings true with the targeted audience because it makes an immediate connection.
But how do you know which are the right words to use?
One technique is to say the same thing in different ways. Many different ways. You never know which will hit your readers' hot buttons and snag their attention.
I know from experience this technique works across channels—from direct mail letters and self-mailers to emails, whitepapers, blog posts and website copy. Twitter, with its 140 characters, may be the one exception, because you don't have the opportunity to repeat yourself.
So if you're interested in making an instant connection with your reader (of course you are!), here are some tips for doing just that.
What I Learned From Writing About Polyester
One of my first assignments as a senior writer at Fingerhut was writing about polyester pantsuits. My copy chief suggested I find as many adjectives as I could to describe the polyester pantsuits I was selling. I made a list. It included words like fashionable, flattering, adorable, easy-care, easy-fit, slimming, good-looking and all-occasion. Then I did my best to work as many of these as I could into the letter and brochure copy.
Later, the marketing value of using this same technique was confirmed when I freelanced for a large national seminar company. Their marketing vice president gave me a challenging writing assignment that gave me great practice.
The seminar topic was "Management Problems of the Technical Person in a Leadership Role." The audience was engineers and other technical specialists who were moving from technical to supervisory jobs. Here was the challenge: This group of people historically was not interested in managing people nor attending seminars on the topic. They had not responded well to my client's prior mailings.
My assignment was to write a four-page self-mailer, the control direct mail format this company used across all topics and audiences. I wrote it and when it worked, I was asked to write an 8-page self-mailer—same topic, same audience. The only thing that changed was the additional four pages to fill. When the eight-pager significantly outperformed the four-page control, I was asked to write a 16-page self-mailer … still the same subject, same targeted audience. Sixteen pages … that was four times the amount of copy I had written for the initial self-mailer.
The test strategy was to see if technical people accustomed to reading long reports, lengthy research studies and detailed listings of specifications would respond better to longer copy. And it worked.
In the process of writing the 4-, 8- and 16-page mailers selling the same one-day seminar, I learned some tricks for finding different ways to present the same information to fill 16 pages.
Here are some of the techniques I use regularly in writing copy:
- Bulleted benefit copy
- Numbered lists of benefits
- Attendee reviews
- Comprehensive seminar agenda
- Program overview
- List of seminar locations
- Who should attend (new managers and supervisors to specific: architects, repair technicians, physicists, chemists, accountants, lab directors, etc.)
- List of companies that had sent people to the seminar
- Instructor bios relating their experience to the topic
- Executive summary
The charts and graphs made a quick connection with scanners who were more comfortable with graphics than words. The quizzes provided an opportunity to tap my readers' competitive nature. Attendee reviews and the company list provided the credibility only peers can provide. And the bulleted and numbered lists of benefits presented the same information in different bite-size pieces, presented in easy-to-scan lists. If I were given the same assignment today, I'd add a QR Code that links to a video landing page.
In addition to saying the same thing in different ways, the sheer heft of the 16-page self-mailer undoubtedly added to its credibility in the eyes of this audience and its success. Even though the same memo design was used on all three versions, the 16-pager looked and felt more important than the 4-page direct mail piece. And yes, the 16-page version won hands down, even after factoring in the cost of the additional paper and postage.
Techniques for Offers, Too!
Applying the same technique, I learned from direct marketing all-stars Bob Stone and Denny Hatch that it pays to talk about key offer benefits in different ways in the same marketing message. Again, you never know which one of these will offer the highest perceived value to your reader:
- You pay just $2 (reg. $4)
- Save 50%
- Buy 2 for the price of 1
- Buy 1, Get 1 Free
- 50% off
And here's proof you can use this technique across channels: In a mailing I recently received for the book "Complete Photography" from National Geographic, the letter alone used 39 different words or phrases to describe the book.
The same day I received this direct mail piece, I also received an email reminder for Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk. While this email was much shorter than the letter from National Geographic, it included six different references to the event—virtual conference, expo, virtual show, educational sessions, networking opportunity and archived show. Some people go to conferences, others prefer attending shows or expos. But by including them all, there was more opportunity to connect with more people.
Now it's your turn. How many ways can you say the same thing about your product's key benefits? Make a list of attributes, then list five to 10 different ways to talk about them. Use your thesaurus, synonym finder, Google and whatever else inspires you, including brainstorming with your co-workers. The result will help you write copy and content that engages more readers.