Writing to an Audience of One
Know thy audience" is the golden rule of every good direct response copywriter. Today more than ever, personalization and printing techniquesnot to mention skilled database analyses and web-based applications that reach out to the customermake it possible to target an amazingly narrow audience.
But state-of-the-art technical applications go to waste if the writer fails to understand the prospect's psychographicsthe fears and desires that motivate a sale.
Here are three examples of great copywriting that capitalize on all the information available, including the writer's most treasured gifts: insight and common sense.
Write Your Copy in the Form of a Story
John Caples' famous headline, "They Laughed When I Sat Down At the PianoBut When I Started to Play!," is arguably the best-known direct response ad ever written. Offering courses from The U. S. School of Music, the print ad capitalized on two desires common to humanity: the desire to please and the desire to succeed.
Caples wrote this ad in the 1930s, well before the days of sophisticated demographics, psychographics and individualized digital printing. Instead, he used his gut level understanding of the human condition to determine what motivates people to buy, and what keeps them from buying.
"Write your copy in the form of a story," wrote David Ogilvy. And Caples did... with the story of Jack, the young man who was forever playing tricks on his friends.
"Can he really play?" I heard a girl whisper to Arthur.
"Heavens, no!" Arthur exclaimed. "He never played a note in all his life... but you just watch him... this is going to be good."
The story continues, as Jack dusts the piano keys with a silk handkerchief, adjusts the stool a quarter turn, and begins to play.
"Instantly, a tense silence fell on the guests. The laughter died on their lips as if by magic... my friends sat breathlessspellbound!"
Granted, mail-order music courses are a thing of the past. But even today, everyone dreams of success, in an accomplishment, wealth, business, personal relationships, good looks and more.
Does the Writer Get to the Point at Once?
In the sixth edition of his book "Successful Direct Marketing Methods," Bob Stone lists "Eleven Guidelines to Good Copy." Probably the most important point on this checklist asks, "Does the writer get to the point at once? Does he or she make that all-important promise right away?"
A mail-order package offering sexy lingerie talked not of the quality and style of the products. Instead, Creative Director Paul Nelson and I (the writer) chose instead to target the desires of the prospectto look and feel sexy. Judge for yourself whether or not Stone's "all important promise" was made right away.
"Now, virtually overnight, you can be the woman you always wanted to be. Daring. Outrageously sensual. Bursting with confidence and a look that will make your partner burn with desire. You can fulfill your wildest fantasies when you reveal the real you in one of nightclub's dazzling new creations."
In step with classic mail order, this package featured an offer-oriented teaser, letter headline and discounts with a limited-time offer. A catalog was enclosed.
Imagine Selling 500 Cars by Mail!
Writer Otis Maxwell and designer John Espinoza used a creative's best instincts to develop a package that made good use of psychographics generated by MS Database Marketing to sellby mail500 of the first 2,000 limited edition Isuzu VehiCROSS sport utility vehicles to enter the United States market.
Crossing three databases to synthesize characteristics of those most likely to buy, the MS psychographic profile detailed three specifics:
1. Multiple Isuzu owners who were already sold on the brand.
2. Early adopters of new products.
3. Collectors of high end, showy objects.
In addition to romancing the vehicle, the team now had more to work within this casevital information about the prospect's buying habits.
Using this information, the creative team came up with a package that showcased the futuristic image of the Isuzu VehiCROSS to appeal to the early adopter characteristic of their audience. To the first 500 who took delivery, they offered a signed and numbered "collectible" print created especially for the VehiCROSS by legendary photographer Jesse Alexander. The package generated a response rate of close to 100 percent.
The vellum envelope displayed the bullet-shaped brochure inside, revealing copy that reads, "Special Limited Edition Offer Enclosed." The small type exclaims, "Cars, Prepare for Extinction." Notice the appeal to early adopters of new market products.
The letter headline reads, "The revolutionary VehiCROSS arrives at Your Isuzu Dealer in Spring 1999. Own it... and receive a gift that will commemorate the moment forever."
Now, notice the appeal to collectors of high end, showy objects. "In just a few weeks, the 1999 Isuzu VehiCROSS will start turning heads across America. Reviewers will write about it, other motorists will hunger for it, but only a few will be among the first to actually own the new VehiCROSS." Again, notice the appeal to early adopters and how, if they act right away, they can maintain their habit of staying ahead of the buying pack.
The second paragraph mentions the "superb" driving experience, the limited edition gallery-quality print, and the fact that only 500 people will receive it. Here, the multiple Isuzu buyer psychographic joins the first two components.
The brochure not only sells the Jesse Alexander print, but the car itself. One of the headlines reads, "Evolution Shows No Mercy." The front cover shows a photo of the VehiCROSS from the front angle with the logo prominently displayed. Underneath, the headline reads, "Does Things Cars Can't."
Aim Your Copy at the Most Likely Prospects
"Aim your copy at the most likely prospects, rather than the world in general," says Bob Stone. From the results generated by the MS package, obviously this is good advice. The package produced both a Gold Echo Award and a Silver Caples Award, proving that psychographics do indeed enhance the creative effort, if the team pays attention to them.
"The key is that demographics alone just aren't enough," says Carol Worthington-Levy, creative director of MS Database Marketing and the person who spearheaded the award-winning project. "Good copywriting needs psychographics, too, and a knowledgeable database manager will create a profile of very specific characteristics the writer can use to target the copy."
Getting Up Close and PersonalBy the Millions
Existing customer data is one key way to personalize mailings right down to the last item purchased. Catalogers often mention special sale itemsproducts the customer has previously purchasedon the cover addressing face.
Other catalogers send certain versions to specific shoppers containing merchandise they're most likely to buy. Still others insert pages in a Selectronic binding process that target the needs of their customers.
Highly sensitive personalization is joining on-the-ground response advertising by reaching out to the customer.
"Destination sites are dead," says George Weidemann, CEO of Responsys.com, an online marketing agency located in the Silicon Valley. According to Weidemann, instead of driving customers to a "static" Web site, permission-based efforts will now request that the prospect log on. Information will be collected, the individual's interface with the site will be personalized, and a site will then be tailored to the wants and needs of each customer.
Being creative with the technology of personalization makes it easier than ever to get up close and personal with your prospects. The key is to use it well, and combine it with demographics, psychographics and common sense.
"Sell the sizzle, not the steak," advised Freeman Gosden, retired chairman of Foote, Cone & Belding, when he trained new creatives and account services people. After all, it's not the steak they want. It's smelling the aroma on the barbecue, hearing the sizzle, tasting the delicious flavor, feeling proud enough to afford it, and sharing with friends and family the quintessence of the American meal.
Judy Cromwell is a direct response copywriter from Los Angeles, California. She can be reached at email@example.com.