Direct Marketing Campaigns
8 Ways to Make Your direct marketing Copy Work Harder
(MarketingProfs.com tutorial, February 2002)
In direct marketing campaigns – the kind designed to provoke a response of some kind – creative often takes a back seat to other factors. In the 60-20-20 rule (or any of its countless variations), Audience is essential â€¦ Offer is Everything â€¦ Creative is merely Compulsory.
Fine. Nevertheless, Copy is still King. Hereâ€™s why: without good copy, your perfectly-targeted audience might never understand that wonderful offer of yours – or, even if theyâ€™re suitably impressed, may not summon up the energy to do anything about it.
So whether youâ€™re penning an e-blast yourself, or reviewing your agencyâ€™s draft of an upcoming self-mailer, it pays to know the difference between highly effective copy – the kind that commands high response rates – and the kind that just speeds your campaignâ€™s journey to the recycle bin.
Nailed your lists? Got an irresistible offer? Great. Here are 8 ways to make sure the copy does its job, too.
1. Make your copy approachable. Even great copy wonâ€™t work if people donâ€™t read it – so present everything in digestible, â€œbite-sizeâ€ chunks:
Split up any paragraph that exceed 3 lines in lengthâ€¦
Present key selling concepts as series of bulletsâ€¦
Use ellipses (â€â€¦â€) – both within sentences and at the end of serial bullets – to keep the readerâ€™s eye movingâ€¦
Sprinkle the page (or screen) with subheads (preferably bold or underlined, unless youâ€™re working in text-only e-mail).
Add more bold and underline treatments wherever important ideas lurk (remember, some readers skim ONLY the big-and-bold; others may decide to read more, but only if these highly-visible ideas draw them in).
Ultimately, your page or screen should be at least 45% white space (and more is almost always better). Does this mean youâ€™ll spend more on paper? Maybe, but the increased response rates will more than cover any additional costs. Worried about forcing online readers to scroll? As long as a call to action and hyperlink are visible at all times, physical copy length wonâ€™t hurt you. Itâ€™s the readability that counts.
2. Present the call to action early – and often. Most audience members wonâ€™t read your entire piece; and many skim, or skip around. Itâ€™s critical to tell them what to do, then, as soon as possible (in a letter or e-mail package, no later than the 3rd paragraph). Briefly describe the offer, then tell readers to respond (and how to do so).
After that first call to action, give readers a few more reasons to respond – then tell them again (and tell them how again). If your copy is long (multiple pages or screens), always keep a call to action in sight. And because many readers look first at a letterâ€™s opening and close, always use the P.S. to tell readers precisely what to do.
3. Benefits first. Letâ€™s assume youâ€™re already sold on the value of communicating benefits over features. In direct response copy, thereâ€™s an important trick that has to do with the way people skim these pieces: in nearly every phrase or sentence, express a benefit (of responding, or of using your product or service) – and write that benefit first.
Wrong: â€œGraphical, point-and-click user interface saves hours of your valuable time.â€ (feature mentioned first)
Right: â€œSave valuable hours on a wide range of tasks, thanks to an easy-to-use, point-and-click interface.â€ (benefit mentioned first)
4. Sell the offer, not the product. Whatever your campaign offers the target audience – a free information packet, an instructive Web seminar, a gift for visiting a trade show booth – concentrate on selling the benefits of responding and receiving the offer. (Why? Because your goal of your campaign is getting the person to respond, period.)
Selling the product may or may not be achievable (or even advisable) in the space your piece allows – especially if itâ€™s a big-ticket item. If you can just get someone interested enough to respond to the offer, you can then leave the real selling to your sales force. Plus you can always include your product brochure in that free info pack.
Wrong: â€œSend for your free packet and discover the powerful benefits of the Acme Integrated Infrastructure Miracle Suite.â€ (selling the product)
Right: â€œSend for your free packet and learn how companies like yours are already trimming costs, boosting morale, and earning higher test scores for their kids.â€ (selling the offer)
5. Voice: be the helpful colleague your reader has been looking for. Most people like to take positive action, but many need encouragement. Everything about your copy should provide that helping hand. Here are two ways to find the right â€œvoice:â€
Use second person (â€youâ€) language. Donâ€™t talk about yourself, your company, or its products – talk to the reader, about the reader.
Wrong: â€œOur matchless products and services can help you increase productivityâ€¦â€ (talking about you and your products)
Right: â€œYouâ€™ll eliminate hours of tedious labor every week, simply byâ€¦â€ (talking about the reader, and benefits to the reader)
Keep it action-oriented. Repeatedly describe the reader taking action (â€Call today and find out howâ€¦â€). Communicate concepts and benefits in active terms:
Wrong: â€œThese tools can really improve your bottom lineâ€¦â€ (this is about your tools)
Right: â€œYou can rake in more revenues and slash costsâ€¦â€ (this is about the reader)
Stick to active language (itâ€™s easier to read, and it works to stimulate the kind of action you like: responses to your offer).
Wrong: â€œOur product is used in more than 300 companies in 20 countries.â€ (passive voice invites drowsiness)
Right: â€œCall center managers are already using the Acme Solution to crank up productivity in more than 300 companies worldwide.â€ (active voice plus action-oriented words)
6. Use the Shampoo Formula. Okay, itâ€™s a little more complex than lather, rinse, repeat, but itâ€™s a proven winner – and it works in direct mail letters, brochures, broadcast e-mail messages, even on splash pages for e-newsletter ad and banner campaigns. Structure your copy as follows, and youâ€™ll reel in the widest possible range of respondents.
Acknowledge pain or opportunity
Offer benefit (ease pain, grab opportunity)
Call to action
Offer description & benefit(s)
Call to action (Note: repeat steps 4 & 5 until youâ€™re out of compelling offer benefits – or space)
Product mention, brief benefits
Sweetener (a reason to respond NOW, such as a giveaway or limited-time discount)
Summarize benefits of responding (keep it punchy!)
Call to action
7. Every word counts – but no need to count words. In direct marketing we canâ€™t afford to waste words – but we shouldnâ€™t unnecessarily withhold them, either. Stop writing when youâ€™ve exhausted all the most compelling reasons to respond without being repetitive – and no earlier.
Hold back a few key benefits just to satisfy someoneâ€™s idea of â€œideal copy lengthâ€, and you risk losing the reader who was on the fence, and needed a little more convincing.
8. Take the skimmer test. Finally, go back to the top and read only the headlines, subheads, and underlined or bold phrases. These words alone should tell your story – if they donâ€™t, adjust as necessary.