Tag Archives: copywriting

7 Key elements of Direct Mail

Post boxes

1. The List comes first
• Who is your target market?
• Must be relevant to your product or service
• Is the Database up to date, accurate, fully named?

2. Make the envelope look right
• Use a stamp not a franking machine
• Make it look like personal correspondence
• Don’t put sales messages for the sake of something to say

3. Create an offer that’s hard to resist
• You must MAKE AN OFFER
• Address the question, What’s in it for me?
• Make a ‘soft offer’, i.e. one that requires minimal commitment. If you require a ‘Yes/No’ response it’s a Hard Offer.

4. Aim to create ACTION
• Always have a response device
• Write the response device first
• Give a compelling reason to reply

5. Stop expecting only a 1% return
• With the right ingredients you CAN get double digit response
• Avoid trying to convert non-users
• Focus on getting users (others’ customers) to switch to you

6. Testing can make all the difference
• How will you know what works? By testing
• How will you know what works BEST? By testing
• Use a rolling test programme to stay ahead of the game

7. Monitor your results
• Things change. So keep your eye on all results
• Change only one key element at a time and note the effect

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10 ways to transform your sales letters

Big Tick

Do you write letters for business? What happens to them?

We all write letters. Some of them are emails, some of them are to sell our products or services. Most of it is junk mail, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Consider the junk mail you receive. What makes it junk? Is it because the product or service being offered is of no value to you, or some other reason? Do you reject it out of hand within, say, 3 or 4 seconds? Well, perhaps that’s exactly what happens to the letters you send out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If your letter is dumped immediately, you have wasted your time and money.

If your letter gets read and then dumped, you have not only wasted your time and money, you have also begun the process of training others to ignore you.

What’s worse is the low level of expectations. I once saw a testimonial from an SME thanking a copywriter for increasing their conversions from 0.58% to 0.7%. Although that was a 21% improvement, it was still a 99.3% failure rate!

There will almost always be a high rate of wastage, but you can improve your results quite easily, and at no extra cost.

Here are 10 elements to include in sales letters to transform results:

  1. Strapline: at the top of the page, it sets the scene for the Headline’s ‘come on’.
  2. Headline: absolutely essential, it must contain your strongest ‘come on’ and is worth 90% of your budget. (What – you don’t have a headline?!).
  3. Sub-heads: these are short headlines in bold type that break up the text and project a series of benefits, while making it easy for readers to skim read.
  4. Problem/solution: the best structure.
  5. Stories: they illustrate your message in memorable ways and allow you to make your points indirectly.
  6. Bullet points: use these to make your letter more visually interesting.
  7. Testimonials: third party endorsements are powerful.
  8. Transitions: these bridge the gaps between different ideas and maintain the flow.
  9. Call to action: Always tell people what to do next, but first make sure you have given them enough reasons to accept your offer.
  10. PS: this is the third most read part of a sales letter (after the Headline and salutation) and should never be omitted.

In addition, elegant language and good grammar play important parts, but I assume these are ‘given’. The 10 points listed above are all in the armoury of good copywriters.

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Deliver what it says on your tin

I was looking for inspiration.  I have been running public speaking programmes for many years and wondered if I was missing a trick. Perhaps I could still learn from others in the business. So I turned to a book written by a highly-acclaimed ‘expert’, only to be disappointed.

My expectations were high, and I was ready to be impressed. But 100 pages into the book I still have not found a single insight worth adding to what I already know. Worse, the author (who is English) has done what I find more common among Americans – he talks ‘about’ the topic rather than the topic itself.

He talks about certain typical situations in which the communication fails, but he doesn’t explain the dynamics, and takes forever to provide the solution. Moreover, when the answer arrives, it’s pretty ordinary.

That’s the word! Ordinary. This famous expert’s flagship work is just plain ordinary.

I turned to another book, this one written by an American. The title was attractive, saying exactly what I was looking for. The author has won awards for speechwriting.

Then I came across this: “Try some Self-Depreciating Humour”.

It should, of course, have been “self-deprecating”, and it was not a typo. The fault lay with the author. It’s quite a common error among Americans.

I closed the book. And as I did so, I recalled the time I spoke at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, and told of the rivalry between two orators in ancient Greece: Demosthenes and Aeschines.

An American speaker approached me later and said he sometimes told that same story himself, but related it to Demosthenes and Cicero. I gently pointed out that they were born nearly 300 years apart, so they could hardly have been rivals. If I were ever in his audience, I would have a problem with his credibility.

If you are going to stick your head above the parapet, as author or speaker, you’ve got to get it right, you’ve got to check your facts, you’ve got to deliver what it says on your tin. How quickly we can lose a following, just by failing to meet expectations

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Who wrote that letter for you, then?

Standard letters. They undermine customer relationships, undo the best PR, lose customers, conflict with a company’s marketing efforts.

I have no objection to the use of standard letters, only to the letters themselves. Because they are seldom written by copywriters. In fact, they frequently read like the scribblings of backroom workers with no interpersonal skills.

Years ago I accepted a brief from Citicorp British National (now renamed) to re-write all their standard Prospecting Letters. It may have arisen because I criticised one or two of the letters I had received from them.

Subsequently, at Reader’s Digest, I was equally scathing about their credit control letters, pointing out the gulf between the tone used in recruiting new customers and that employed when addressing those same customers about their accounts.

I was told that no copywriter would accept the brief to write those letters, so I offered to do the job, and re-wrote the entire portfolio of credit control letters, filtering their messages through the respect we offered new customers.

The company was surprised that I would take on a brief that other copywriters considered deadly boring, but I put it to them that ALL our correspondence with customers formed part of our business relationship with them. It’s a connection we should view in the long term, I said, and always remember that customers will speak well or ill of you, according to the way you treat them.

Which brings me to my own recent experience. I ordered a pair of boots online. They sent the wrong size, because they incorrectly converted the EU size to the UK size. I sent them back, asking again for the correct EU size. They got it wrong again, for the same reason, and it dragged on for more than two weeks – not really good enough, for an online ordering service.

Then the company sent me a standard follow-up mailing inviting me to write a review. In my reply I detailed the unsatisfactory experience I had received, asking, “Do you really want me to write a review?”

I got a standard email in reply. It said, “I am sorry to hear you have not received our usual high standard of customer service.” There it is – “our usual high standard”. In an apology to me they have chosen to praise themselves. It’s wrong thinking.

Standard letters should be written by folks who know what they are doing. People who understand how to address customers. Relationship builders. In a word, Copywriters.

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Filed under copywriting, public speaking

Long copy or short copy?

 Depends on how you see it.

The debate in direct marketing circles is a long-standing and on-going one. Which works better – long letters or short ones? The answer may surprise you. It arises out of a significant shift in our reading habits.

I experienced it at first hand this week, when I found myself reading a number of blogs in a hurry.

I read them because they were discussions on topics that interested me, and had attracted quite a few comments from well-informed people. However, I struggled with them

The reason I found them hard going was this: the paragraphs were too long.

And there were too many paragraphs.

In some blogs, for example, the text is set in 10 point, with a line length of about 110 characters. That’s hard to skim read, and you have to move your head as you read each line. Too much work.

Easy on the eye

In contrast, some online sales letters from the USA run to many pages, but the paragraphs usually consist of a single sentence and are almost NEVER more than four lines long. The line length is short too.

Some paragraphs are one-liners like this.

They also have subheads like the one above, to segment the subject matter and break up the grey text.

Why that works

We all suffer from Attention Deficit. It may not be a Disorder (yet!) but it gets in the way when we are at work.

Every day, we are all assailed by huge numbers of messages and calls for our attention: radio, TV, emails, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, tannoy announcements, traffic, phone calls, conversations, meetings …

We cannot cope with more than one thing at a time, so we have developed the ability to switch off. In fact, it’s a reflex that kicks in very quickly.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is to deliver your information in small bites. Like this blog. Make it easy for the reader to take in each new idea or piece of information, and it will increase your chances of being read all the way down the page. Page after page.

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Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing, Marketing, Writing

How to write letters that SELL

We all write letters. Some of them are emails, some of them are to sell our products or services. Most of it is junk mail, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Consider the junk mail you receive. What makes it junk? Is it because the product or service being offered is of no value to you, or some other reason? Do you reject it out of hand within, say, 3 or 4 seconds? Well, perhaps that’s exactly what happens to the letters you send out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If your letter is dumped immediately, you have wasted your time and money.

If your letter gets read and then dumped, you have not only wasted your time and money, you have also begun the process of training others to ignore you.

What’s worse is the low level of expectations. I once saw a testimonial from an SME thanking a copywriter for increasing their conversions from 0.58% to 0.7%. Although that was a 21% improvement, it was still a 99.3% failure rate!

There will almost always be a high rate of wastage, but you can improve your results quite easily, and at no extra cost.

Here are 10 elements to include in sales letters to transform results:

1. Strapline: at the top of the page, it sets the scene for the Headline’s ‘come on’.
2. Headline: absolutely essential, it must contain your strongest ‘come on’ and is worth 90% of your budget. (What – you don’t have a headline?!).
3. Sub-heads: these are short headlines in bold type that break up the text and project a series of benefits, while making it easy for readers to skim read.
4. Problem/solution: the best structure.
5. Stories: they illustrate your message in memorable ways and allow you to make your points indirectly.
6. Bullet points: use these to make your letter more visually interesting.
7. Testimonials: third party endorsements are powerful.
8. Transitions: these bridge the gaps between different ideas and maintain the flow.
9. Call to action: Always tell people what to do next, but first make sure you have given them enough reasons to accept your offer.
10. PS: this is the third most read part of a sales letter (after the Headline and salutation) and should never be omitted.

In addition, elegant language and good grammar play important parts, but I assume these are ‘given’. The 10 points listed above are all in the armoury of good copywriters.

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Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing, Marketing, public speaking, Sales

Changing the headline can make a BIG difference!

Advertising gurus like David Ogilvy and others have long maintained that the headline is worth 90% of your advertising spend. It has also been written that a change of headline can produce an uplift of up to 10 times the previous level of response.

As a direct response copywriter, I believe implicitly in testing, so I decided to get my own results.

Recently I posted a blog on Ecademy and titled it “Poison kills the Big Society”. Not bad, I thought … carries the message. But after a couple of days the blog had registered about 240 views and one comment.

I then changed the headline to “What has made this nation so vicious?” The viewing figure rocketed upwards, and this morning stands at 1,221 with 11 additional comments.

What has made the difference?

Two things, in my opinion: first, the original headline invoked a reaction to a specific concept, The Big Society, whereas the second headline prompted an opinion that anyone could have, whether or not they knew what the Big Society meant. Secondly, it asked a question, which invited a response.

The purpose of a headline is to signal a target group and to say, in effect, “Stop! This is for you!” It should be consistent with the body copy and say enough about the story to enable people to respond without reading any further. Ogilvy said that Headlines get five times the readership of the body copy.

My second headline was more universal and invited participation. But there are other reasons why headlines work. I’d be interested to know what you think about the four headlines below – would they make you want to know more?

• They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play! –
• Will you only discover the value of AA membership by accident?
• My 9 year old son’s reading & sums were worse than when he was 7
• Cash if you die. Cash if you don’t.

Is it time to refresh the copy on your website, for example?

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Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing

One answer to the long or short copy debate

Should your sales letter be long or short? Is it true that the more you tell the more you sell? Or are people too busy to bother with long letters?

The answer may surprise you. It arises out of a significant shift in our reading habits, a shift that makes the appearance of a letter (or blog, article or brochure) a significant element.

I realised it myself this week, when I found myself reading a number of blogs in a hurry.

I read them because they were discussions on topics that interested me, and had attracted quite a few comments from well-informed people. However, I struggled with them.

The reason I found them hard going was this: the paragraphs were too long.

And there were too many paragraphs.

In Ecademy blogs, for example, the text is set in 10 point (I think), with a line length of about 110 characters. That’s hard to skim read, and you have to move your head as you read each line. Too much work.

Easy on the eye

In contrast, some online sales letters from the USA run to many pages, but the paragraphs usually consist of single sentences and are almost NEVER more than four lines long. The line length is short too.

Some paragraphs are one-liners like this.

They also have subheads like the one above, to segment the subject matter and break up the grey text.

Why that works

We all suffer from Attention Deficit. It may not be a Disorder (yet!) but it gets in the way when we are at work.

Every day, we are all assailed by huge numbers of messages and calls for our attention: radio, TV, emails, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, tannoy announcements, traffic, phone calls, conversations, meetings …

We cannot cope with more than one thing at a time, so we have developed the ability to switch off. In fact, it’s a reflex that kicks in very quickly.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is to deliver your information in small bites. Like this blog. Make it attractive to the eye and it will be easy for the reader take in each new idea or piece of information. It will increase your chances of being read all the way down the page. And page after page.

Phillip

phillip@pkpcommunicators.com

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Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing, Marketing

The language of lies

In marketing by mail and email, there is an unfortunate tendency to use language to deceive, confusing manipulation with persuasion. Those who do so use weasel words (terms that imply or suggest more than the reality), and even lie outright. My email inbox regularly receives examples of verbal deceit.

There is one chap who sends me emails with things like “Facebook message” in the subject line. The email itself has nothing to do with Facebook. It’s just a crude device to get me to open the email.

To my mind it falls in the same ditch as the person who says, “Sex! Now that I have your attention …” Astonishingly, there are still some folks who use that cringingly awful “Hook”, either in writing or in speech.

I promised myself that the next time I heard a speaker open with that I would rise and leave the room in a marked manner. And I shall.

Another devious device is to offer something free, and then renege on it. Here’s one I received last week:

Im (sic) giving this away Totally FREE!

But when you click on the link, this is what you get:

==============================
Regular Price $197
Today only $37/mon
ADD TO CART

TODAY’S PAYMENT: $44.40
Includes the first month of service

===============================
It goes from FREE to $37 PER MONTH! and on to $44.40 (per month) without missing a beat.

Let me now turn to weasel words. They are terms we use to imply something more than the reality. The intention is to deceive.

One of the most common examples these days is “You have been approved”. It implies a selection that never took place, other than inclusion from the database. It even suggests that you have applied in the first place.

A close relation is the long-standing “Three Stage” copy approach favoured by Reader’s Digest, which states, “You have come through two stages of selection and are now in the final of the Prize Draw.”

The first two stages actually consist of selecting names from the database (known to be interested in the product being offered) and the allocation (automatically by computer) of six numbers in the Draw. There’s nothing illegal or even immoral about this approach, but I think you can see how the wording implies more than what actually takes place.

Another favourite involves a sealed envelope that you have to tear open to see if you are a lucky winner. The weasel words in this case will be, “Find a Lucky Six for a chance to Scoop the Jackpot”.

Once again the implication is that there is an element of chance, whereas every sealed envelope contains a six. The key word is “Find”. For a genuine element of chance there would be the word “If”, as in “See if you have a lucky six.”

A poor copywriter will either lie or come close to deceit. The skilled copywriter will raise hopes without being untruthful. Direct Marketing is salesmanship in print, so it must use the stratagems of a professional sales person, and (usually) follow the AIDA sequence (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) of persuasion.

Deceit is not the best basis for starting a customer relationship, so my advice is this: Always tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating!

Phillip

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How to influence response to your mailings

The level of response to direct mail is one of the most shocking facts in advertising.  A few years ago, the Direct Marketing Association surveyed 1,122 industry-specific campaigns and came up with an average response rate of 2.61 per cent. That’s a failure rate of over 97 per cent!

The figures for 2010 are not much better, on either side of the Atlantic. The DMA in the US reported 3.42 per cent response from a house list and 1.38 per cent from a prospect list. Email to a house list got a 19.47 per cent open rate, 6.64 click through rate, and a conversion of just 1.73 per cent.

SME’s report a typical direct mail response rate of less than one per cent. Forgive me for throwing all these figures at you, but I think you’ll agree that such results amount to a waste of time and money.

I once approached a blue chip company that was mailing its members to offer membership renewal by continuous credit card authority (direct debit by credit card). Their large ad agency had just achieved a 12% response, and everyone was celebrating.

I offered an alternative approach, and got a 32% YES response.

The point is that it is not written in the stars that you should have a single-digit response rate. There are things you can do to deliver a better return on the money you spend. Here are a few:

  1. Provide an incentive to reply, even if it’s to say No thanks. The more replies you get, in total, the higher will be the Yes response.
  2. Plan a series of mailings and other follow-ups, not just a single shot. Some people need seven contacts before they say Yes.
  3. Segment your list and make a specific offer/approach to each segment, rather than the same message to all.

One more piece of advice.  Use a professional copywriter with experience of direct mail. Unless you are one yourself, do not write your own mailings. At the same time, do not expect a copywriter to wave a magic wand. Give him or her a chance to develop the right relationship with your prospects and customers.

It will be money well spent.

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Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing, Marketing