Now More Than Ever?
If you've seen "I [heart] Huckabees," you either loved or hated it. The movie talks mostly about consciousness as two "detectives" (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) help others figure out the meaning of life.
Seems to me that conscious-ness is something we marketers need to expand in these interesting and challenging days. It's been a year since Yankelovich Partners President J.Walker Smith, while giving a speech entitled "The Vision of Home: Generational Lifestyle Value," identified a "Post Accumulation Marketplace" that "want(s) intangibles, experiences and service, but no 'stuff' left over."
In addition to the "stuff" we're selling, we're creating a lot of it, too. How do we create promotions consciously and well?
I've been writing direct marketing copy since 1978. Two things now interest me in addition to the direct marketer's goal of generating the highest, most profitable response. The first is a respect forindeed, love ofwords and writing. Thanks to Inside Direct Mail, that's what this new column will discuss. The secondand this one will pop up only occasionallyis a realization that I hope you share: Our goals as marketers don't always jibe with our goals as humans who are part of a global culture that is both increasingly connected and increasingly, dangerously divided.
Let's start with words, which, to this writer's mind, are the basis of everything.
To me, "conscious creative" is copy that displays the writer's deep and abiding understanding of his or her jobto elicit a responseplus his/her understanding of the detailed, specific techniques that make for good writing.
Compare copywriter Jeff Laurie's closing to a terrific letter for WIRED:
Don't send money now. Don't even think about money. Your sample issue is free. If you like WIRED, pay our invoice when it comes, later.
If you don't like WIRED, return our invoice marked 'cancel' and you're off the hook. You'll owe nothing and the sample issue is yours to keep. It's simple.
... to this bland, boilerplate copy:
To secure these savings, simply return the enclosed Free Issue Certificate in the postpaid reply envelope. Send no money now. If you're not completely delighted, just write cancel on the invoice we'll send you.
Let's call the difference STYLE.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, style is "the way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed." For writers, style includes:
* Sentence length
Not elements we usually talk about much in direct marketingexcept for the last, perhaps. Do any of you remember the late copywriter and consultant Joan Throckmorton's No. 1 Underlying Rule of Creativity: Does this make sense to the customer?
Some may say that focusing on style is irrelevant to response. The success of any direct response package, according to the Direct Marketing Association, rests on that familiar three-legged stool: 40 percent list, 40 percent offer and 20 percent creative. Creativeboth copy and designaccounts for a measly 20 percent. Not really head-swelling news for us artistic types.
Still, as copywriters, our job is to give 100 percent to the 20 percent of the effort we control. (And, yes, if you can control or have input on lists and offer, so much the better.) That means we bring a combination of sales, acting, psychological and writing expertise.
Does it really affect ROI if we use conversational contractions like "you'll" rather than the more formal "you will?" If we cut a 15-word sentence down to 10? If we use active verbs rather than passive? Maybe not. But there's no data saying it won't, either.
The first element of style, diction, is simply your choice of words. To a friend, you might say, "I messed up." To a police officer, you say, "I made a mistake."
Author Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug." As copywriters, we've got to choose our words carefully. Consciously.
Copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis chose a familiar, chatty diction for the teaser on his long-standing control for Omaha Steaks:
Your Reply Will Really Be Appreciated!
Pat Farley chose a more elegant, slightly mysterious diction for the teaser on her Art & Antiquities control mailing:
"I'm sorry to inform you," the curator said. "But this is a fake. Worthless. A well-crafted forgery," and then he proceeded to chop a $1,000,000 painting into shreds with an ax.
Note the terrific variation in sentence length in that teaser copy, too.
Remember that a person is on the receiving end of your words. Like you, he or she lives in a fast, challenging, exciting and disturbing world. Like you, he or she is exposed to more words than people have been at any other time in history.
With this explosion of wordsin blogs, moblogs, Web pages, ATM ads, gas station pump ads, movie screen adscomes a lessening of their value.
Our job as copywriters is to establish relationships. Yankelovich's Smith clearly pointed out in his speech on the consumer mind-set, the need for a new approach in today's world. "The state of mistrust is not a new problem, but it is one that can no longer be ignored," he said.
So, without veering too far off base, let me suggest that whatever religion you espouse or avoid, it's worth remembering that alphabets in many cultures were once considered sacred. And whether you liked "I [heart] Huckabees" or not, it's worth remembering sometimes how connected we all are.
Let's consider, consciously, the choiceand worthof the words we put into the world. Do they add to more than the bottom line?
Donna Baier Stein is president of Baier Stein Direct, a direct response copywriting firm. She is co-author of the book "Write on Target," with business partner Floyd Kemske, and is a seminar leader for the DMA's "Winning Direct Mail" and "Copy-writing for New and Traditional Media" workshops. She can be reached at (908) 781-7849, via e-mail at dbstein@direct copy.com, or at www.directcopy.com.