Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Copywriting Tips You Can Turn Into Gold

Are your communications clichéd, corporate-speak or plain vanilla?

As you may have noticed, bad writing is growing like a disease, especially online. Bad writing is boring, rambling, convoluted. Overly wordy or a grammatical nightmare.

Bad writing has no direction or too many directions. It can show up on your website, in emails, direct mail, ads, brochures, catalogs or just about anywhere.

At best, missed opportunities slip away.

At worst, potentially serious consequences can occur.

Rather than set your company apart in a positive way, bad writing reflects poorly on your company and may cause you to lose face with those you are wooing. Even damage your brand and credibility.

I call this the embarrassment factor. And there are plenty of examples, such as:

Buzzword salad: "utilizing paradigms of support validation strategies of assessment"
Overly hyped "we're a thought leader with an established legacy of innovation and we will continue to take the company to the next level in every encounter... "
Self Important: Dow Corning's "Innovative solutions for wound management," simply means "bandages."
Says nothing. The owners of the company have made a commitment to continue to provide excellent service and expertise which has led to the success of these firms through the years
Even if you avoid these pitfalls you are not home free.

Another potential powder keg is the very real possibility of saying the wrong thing. Or saying the right thing in the wrong way, by that I mean assuming the wrong style or tone for your target audience.

For example, a blog for moms must take a different approach and use different lingo than one for bankers... boxers... or baristas. Getting this right is not easy, yet it is critical to the success of your written communication. I call this the off-key factor.

There are things you can do to sidestep these landmines and create business communications that sing, generating leads and sales.

Take a look at all of your messaging

Are your customer communications weak and unconvincing? Are they suffering from obesity? Most writing, especially for the web, should be cut back by half. Could your communications be from Anycompany USA?

This could spell death for a business.

As I mentioned, most writing on websites, press releases and blogs is boring, egotistical or corporate-speak. Brochures are often a litany of we do this we do that rather than describing how products and services benefit the customer.

Think of it this way: Tell them about their thick, bright, green lawn rather than the ins and outs of your grass seed. See the difference?

Then take the bold step of developing a company personality - and let that personality shine through.

Let's take a peek at the company New Pig. They stand out with a memorable name and play it up. They are a company that produces serious safety and industrial products that doesn't take themselves too seriously.

Here's what they say:

"We're a company with a really odd name... whose employees call each other "Piggers" or "Partners in Grime®." We create award-winning products to make your job easier... and we're absolutely, positively dedicated to helping our customers keep their facilities clean and safe. We know from experience that a clean, safe workplace is more productive."
Their catalog is called a Pigalog®.

You can call them at 1-800-HOT-HOGS and write them at One Pork Avenue. Wouldn't you remember them if you had an industrial spill?

If New Pig is too way out for you, there are plenty of other ways to get noticed.

Take Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, a company that's extra inventive about how they talk about their products and communicate with customers.

Their site includes a Scrapbook of the company history which mentions building the world's largest ice cream sundae... launching a cowmobile to criss-cross the country giving away free scoops... and details their environmentally-friendly activities.

You'll also notice how funky and original the names of their products are - like Kaberry KaBOOM, for example, full of cracklin' candy to tingle your tastebuds.

Doesn't that make you want to run out and get a cone?

Bottom line: Whether your audience is other businesses or consumers, there's a way to talk about your company and products that will help you stand out in the marketplace.

Start by putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Think like your prospects.

What drives them?
Keeps them up at night?
What are their hopes and dreams?
Worries and concerns?
Fears and anxieties?
Guilt or shame?
The more you know about your prospects and what makes them tick, the better you will be able to craft an ad, web page, direct mail piece or other communication that hits their hot-button issues. Then you can write from that perspective and position your product as the solution to their problems.

How do you get to this information?

If you have sales reps or other front-liners, speak to these folks. Call key customers and ask them directly. Or use an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey.

Speak to different customers differently

The days of one size fits all marketing are long gone. When you are writing the copy for a promotion, create different versions. Each version should feature a different offer to appeal to different segments of your audience, such as your most loyal customers versus first time buyers or prospects.

This will give your prospects and customers the feeling you are speaking to them personally because you are addressing their situation and their biggest desires or concerns.

Stay in front of your target audience at least 5 times a year - and as much as they will allow.

Most people don't respond to an offer the first time.

Perhaps your promotion hit too early in the buying cycle. Perhaps your prospect does not need or want what you are selling right now, but may be persuadable in the future. Some people need to see something a few times for it to register.

Also, vary the channel and format, switching between emails, postcards, articles even hand-written notes, since different forms of communication hit each of us differently and more channels = better response.

Up to 35% better.

Your aim is to stay on the radar of your audience at a frequency that is comfortable for them. How do you know what that frequency is? You can experiment, and monitor response until you find the sweet spot. Or you can survey your audience and send out promotions in accordance with individual preferences.

Once you treat your prospects and customers as individuals and take their specific likes and dislikes into account your marketing success will skyrocket.

That's the big picture - let's get down to the nitty gritty of how to write an actual promotion.

You can get in the right mindset by recalling that good writing has a strong purpose, so be clear what that purpose is for every business communication you write. Make it a "wow" experience by firing your biggest guns first and staying on target. You've heard of the upside down pyramid, right?

This means when it comes down to doing the actual writing, spend 90% of your time coming up with a good headline or subject line.

Imagine that you are a fisherman... the headline is your bait. If you do not use the right bait you will not catch fish. You must hook your prospect right from the get-go or you will not have the opportunity to go on to clinch the sale.

Four tips for effective headlines

First and foremost, your headline must capture the attention of your prospect.
Clarity is key - the meaning of the headline should be crystal clear, and the benefits to the prospect immediately apparent.
The message must telegraph to your prospect that there is something in it for him. The headline should resonate so that he thinks, "This speaks to me personally!" You can accomplish this by stepping into the prospect's shoes and addressing his biggest concerns, as I suggested previously
Lastly, your headline should pull the prospect into the copy, reeling her in with each word.
There is not one right way to create an effective headline. In fact, there are many ways. Here are the eight different kinds of headlines:

Reason why
Let's look at each one:

How-to - If your prospect wants to accomplish what the headline promises, she will read on
News - Tout the benefit of a new product or service
Question - Ask an interesting client-focused question that gets the prospect involved
Command - Tell the prospect why it is in his best interest to act
Reason why - Present facts that set you up as an expert
Testimonial - Overcome objections and gain credibility by having your clients sell for you
Direct - Announce a sale or limited-time offer
Indirect - provoke curiosity and motivate the prospect to find out more
To determine if the headline you've chosen succeeds, you can try it out on a small segment of your audience, run a test where half sees one headline, half another (known as a split test or A/B split) or test different headlines in consecutive days, weeks or months when split tests are not available.

Let's look at a variety of vehicles from search engine listings to web pages and landing pages to see how effective headlines can hook more readers.

Search engine listings

I read in a Marketing Sherpa Search Benchmark Study that when your prospects are in search mode, they don't bother to read the entire listing - even though it contains so few words.

Their advice regarding search listing headlines: "The first two to three words pack a bigger wallop than words further on."

So, not only do you need to write a compelling headline, but one that conveys key information at the front end, not the back end.

Here's another point to consider:

To optimize your headline for the search engines, limit your head to 65 characters. Yes, a space counts as a character. The search engine will likely cut you off in mid-thought, which is another reason to frontload your headline with must-know information and nice-to-know information later on.

Landing pages and web pages

At a seminar I attended on optimizing landing pages, the speaker indicated that phrasing the headline as a question pulled more responses than a headline that began with the word Free.

Effective headlines for web pages can begin with questions as well. Why does this work?

Because you pique the curiosity of your reader, who wants to find out the answer to the question.

Use the body copy to give reasons why your prospect should take an action

You ultimately want your prospect to act, whether it is call, click, buy now, donate, subscribe or some other action.

Give her reasons to take that action.
Tell her what you want her to do, then tell her again.
And again, continuing to motivate your reader to perform the action you desire.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to assess your company communications through a new lens!

If you discover your communications are flat, from Anycompany USA or worse, I can help inject personality into your copy, re-name your products and services and come up with a brand-building tagline.

I create all kinds of written communications - in print, on the web and for integrated marketing campaigns - copy + creative that boosts leads and sales.

Should you get stuck in the next 30 days, I can offer you a complimentary copy check-up for an ad, brochure or web page. I'll analyze what you have done well... what could be improved and include tips to get up to speed... so you get better results. Normally a $350 value, for those in this room, it's yours free.