Famous Last Words: Where Are the Copywriters?
The recent DMA2010 Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco was all about size. In the vast exhibit hall, you could fire a cannon in any direction and not hit anybody. It was the polar opposite of Digital Marketing Days New York (formerly known as Direct Marketing Days) at the Hilton, where the aisles are narrow and booths cheek-by-jowl. It's intimate and fun. You're in a giant human pinball machine, helplessly bouncing into old friends and making new ones.
Walk the interstate-sized aisles of the DMA2010 exhibit hall, and the booths are as sterile as the atmosphere.
Check out the signage as you wander. Company names and logos are featured in massive type, followed by what should be the unique selling proposition (USP)—a short, punchy burst or slogan that says what the company does, what makes it different from all the others, and who should stop by.
These slogans are the equivalent of the headline on an ad, the teaser on an envelope and the subject line of an email.
John Caples, father of direct marketing copy, wrote, "Now, I spend hours on headlines—days if necessary."
Why the emphasis on headlines? "The headline selects the reader," said direct marketing guru Axel Andersson.
"On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy," wrote David Ogilvy. "When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar."
The late Mel Martin was the world's slowest copywriter. He could spend two weeks on the teaser of an envelope. Yet his painstaking craftsmanship was responsible for turning Marty Edelston's Boardroom into a $150 million annual business.
Mel Martin's envelopes featured the USP of the book or newsletter Boardroom was selling. They were compelling. Three examples of irresistible Mel Martin teasers:
- What Never to Eat on an Airplane.
- What the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know.
- The Two Most Forgotten Deductions On Any Tax Return.
Alas, the headlines on the booth signage at the DMA2010 exhibition all said the same things—nothing. I jotted some down:
- Media Solutions
- Web Applications
- Database Solutions
- More Relevance
- The Power of Partnership
- Full Service Solutions
- Recharge Your Marketing
These are neither unique nor selling nor propositions. It's pure pap crap. The bland leading the bland.
How do you create a USP? Make a list of all the features of your product or service and then translate them into benefits—the specific thing that each feature will do for you.
Rank the benefits—most important to least important. The most important benefit becomes your USP.
Attending a trade show means spending many thousands of dollars on travel, entertainment, booth rental, set-up and shipping. Presumably you want your exhibit to be a stunner—the equivalent of a Williams-Sonoma or Cabela's store window that is irresistible to passers-by.
I once had a client named Jack Webb (not the Jack Webb of Dragnet), who thought very little of copywriters. "Just create some verbiage," he used to say with a dismissive wave. I was reminded of an old story:
"What do you do?" a guy at a cocktail party was asked.
"I'm a brain surgeon," was the reply. "What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"Ah," said the brain surgeon. "I've often thought that when I retire I'd like to try some writing."
"And when I retire," said the writer, "I plan try a little brain surgery."
You want action at your booth during the next trade show? Spend a few bucks extra for a professional writer.
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the email newsletter, Denny Hatch's Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via email at email@example.com