How to Act Like a Good Copywriter: Part II
Knowing your target's mind-setbeing able to put yourself in his placeis the basis of "mind-set marketing," and it can greatly influence the creation of your mailing, TV spot, ad, Web site, etc.
In Part I of "How to act Like a Good Copywriter" (August 2003) I demonstrated how you can create communications to appeal to what your prospect thinks about your product category, your company and your product. Now, I'll discuss the other three factors: what your prospect thinks of your competition, what his needs and desires are, and what's going through his mind as he holds that stack of mail.
What Does Your Prospect Think About Your Competition?
You have to know whether it's to your advantage to go head-to-head against the competition or to ignore the competition entirely.
It's easy to say, "Well, if my product compares favorably to the competition, it's to my advantage to make the comparison." But that's not necessarily true in any type of marketing, particularly direct marketing.
There's a very real danger in comparison, because it calls attention to, and often legitimizes, the competition. Microsoft would never want to make a comparison between Windows and Linux. (If you don't know what Linux is, you've made my point. Just by mentioning it, I've made you aware of an alternative.)
In direct marketing, most purchase decisions are made within minutes of reading a mailing or
seeing a commercial. In other words, if they put down your mailing, you're in trouble.
When you compare your product with competitors', you're acknowledging that there are other options to consider. This can be deadlyeven if you come out on top in the comparisonbecause it stalls the response. After all, people know that if you use a comparison in your promotional piece, your product will win, because otherwise you wouldn't do the comparison in the first place. So whereas they might otherwise have said, "Hey, this is a good product," they may now say, "Hey, maybe I should look into this other product before I buy."
However, there is a good time to do a head-to-head comparison: when you are way behind in market share, either in reality or in the mind of your target.
If you're Company Y and you know that as soon as your product category is mentioned, your target prospect will think of Company Z, then it's a good time for a comparison. It does not matter whether the competition actually has 90-percent market share, or if you have equal market share, but the competition is more well known because they advertise more. If you know they occupy a large place in your target's mind, go after them.
GEICO is an example of a company that may have a bigger share of your prospect's mind-set than it has of the actual market. If GEICO is your competition, take that into account.
Even if you don't make a direct comparison, knowing what your prospect knows about your competition can affect how you sell your product. (This relates back to the section about product category in Part I of this article.)
In the early days of the Internet, the lead benefit of every Internet service provider (ISP) was all the great stuff you could do on the Web. But as consumers became more aware of the category, it wasn't enough to say, "We'll get you on the Internet so you can do all this stuff." It was still the most important feature for an ISP (after all, without it, who would buy the service?), but as the category matured, the lead needed to address the most important differentiating features.
Now, here's where knowing your prospect's mind-set about the competition comes in. If you were starting an ISP, you would have nothing to lose by making a comparison to AOL, because just about all your prospects know AOL.
But what do they think about AOL? Maybe they hate being disconnected. In your advertising, your lead benefit might be "fewer disconnects than AOL." You might even position your entire product against AOL, keeping your prospect in mind. Your advertising might suggest, "AOL is fine for mom and dad, but this ISP is much cooler and conveys to your friends that you know enough about computers that you don't need some elementary ISP."
In that same environment, the last thing AOL would want to do is acknowledge any of its competitors with a direct comparison. But AOL knows who its target is. So, it too, leads with its biggest differentiating featureease of usebut without mentioning the competition. Again, perception is more important than reality; you must be concerned with how your prospect thinks of your product versus the competitions'.
What are Your Prospect's Needs and Desires?
This is where the real role-playing comes in. Your prospect has needs that are rational. He also has desires that are emotional. You have to satisfy both. You have to know the mind-set your prospect has about your product to determine how much weight to give your rational arguments and your emotional arguments.
Let's go back to car insurance. A product category doesn't get any more rational than that. You need car insuranceperiod. So it's just a matter of selling your company on one or more of three rational attributes: price, service or stability. Right?
Wrong. GEICO, for example, recognized this fallacy early on. It didn't just say "Save 15 percent on car insurance." Because, while its prospects had a rational need to save money, they also had an emotional desire not to have to go through a lot of work to switch policies. So GEICO's line was "One 15-minute call can save you 15 percent on car insurance."
Very often, there's no way to establish a need for a product. Nobody needs a magazine, for instance. Direct marketers know this intuitively. That's why, instead of establishing a need for the product, they establish a need to act now.
And how do you establish that need? After you make rational arguments about the benefits of the product, overlay the emotional component. What emotion do you appeal to? Greed. That's why offer is so important. The fewer (or weaker) the rational arguments for buying something, the stronger the emotional argument has to be.
When deciding on the relative weights of rational argument and emotional sell, don't depend on clients. They often are too emotional about their products. Put yourself in the mind of the prospect.
What's Your Prospect's Mind-set When she's Going Through her Mail?
I saved this factor for last because it's the one with which direct marketers are the most familiar. It's why we use official-looking outer envelopes, jumbos, bursts, labels or attention-getting teasers: We know we have to stop our prospect dead in her tracks as she's leafing through her mail.
We try to anticipate what she'll be thinking, and create our mailing accordingly. If we think she feels inundated with mail from our company, or that she doesn't want mail from us, we might leave off our identification. If we think she feels like she gets too many offerings in our product category, we might do more of a blind teaser, or get right to the point of what makes our offering different. If we think she may recognize our mailing because she's seen it before, we worry about fatigue and test different looks.
Is your prospect likely to be rushed or relaxed while going through her mail? Does she have a big stack of mail or a small one? Is the person looking at your envelope not your target at all, but a screener? (In B-to-B, that could be a mail room employee or an assistant; at home it could be a spouse or parent.)
All of that determines what our mailings look like on the outside. But sometimes we forget that it should determine the insides, too. For instance, you know your target is rushed while going through her mail, so you use a jumbo outer envelope with a quick, catchy teaser for real stopping power. Inside is a four-page letter, a bed-sheet brochure, a lift note and other doodads.
Well if your target was so rushed when she was leafing through her mail, what makes you think she's suddenly got the time to read through all this stuff after she's opened your envelope? Maybe the jumbo was the right idea, but maybe you stuffed too much into it.
Consider your prospect's mind-set at all times. How will she handle and prioritize your components? What can you include that will make her spend a little more time with your message? Should you get right to the point, or tell a story? Do you need to form an immediate bond between your prospect and your product's appearance? If so, use a four-color brochure. Are you making a mostly rational benefit sell? Then a two-color flyer may be best.
Like many aspects of direct marketing, essential elements often are overlooked. That's why often we don't know why one test beats another. It's why one approach doesn't work all the time, and why a copywriter can't necessarily apply an idea that works for one client to anothereven if they have similar businesses.
It's also why some direct marketers can never explain why somebody did not respond; and they have almost never done simple research to find out why.
Anyone who has ever sat still for half an hour listening to a circulation director describe all the thought that went into selecting the typeface for her magazine's redesign knows that, for the client, the product comes first. It's the copywriter's job to inform the client that the customer cares only that the text is easier to read, and that's only a selling point for people who have previously experienced the hard-to-read typeface (even for them it's not a reason to buy, just a support point.)
It's the copywriter's job to put the customer first ... to put himself or herself in the role of the prospect and decide what will make that prospect open the envelope, read the letter and buy the product.
Mark Hallen's ad agency career included stints as copywriter for Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, and creative director at Grey Direct and J. Walter Thompson Direct. For the last 12 years, he has been doing winning direct mail and direct response TV for agencies and directly for clients. He can be reached at email@example.com.