According to a study, a person receives on average 121 copies a day. There are 121 different messages, 121 different promotions, 121 different call-to-actions.
With all these copies, yours can easily get lost in the recipient’s inbox, another way. How can you distinguish yourself by pointing out your copy? Or rather, how can you make the recipient read it and interact with its content?
This is where your copywriting techniques come into play. The way you structure and compose your copy can greatly affect your click-through rate (CTR). From the words used to personalization, the content of the copy is as important as the object.
The real difference between great copywriters and mediocre ones is usually not talent, but the way they gather information, interpret it, and develop a strategy for delivering their messages.
Below are some copywriting tips and tricks you can use to improve the results of your campaigns.
1. Gather the Facts
Whether alone or with a team, you need to collect all the nitty-gritty information that serves as the raw clay for your creation. Among the things you want to gather are the following:
- Products and services: Find out what’s for sale and then learn what you can do about it: What does it do? Who’s it for? How does it compare to competitors’ comparable products and services? What are its key benefits and features? What are its dimensions? Does it come with options (colors, sizes, add-ons, and so on)?
- Price and pathway: In addition to price, you want to know how the customer can make the order or complete the purchase. You want phone numbers, addresses, Web site addresses, and/or e-mail addresses. Find out whether there are any restrictions (by age or by state, for example) or special requirements for shipping, installation, or use.
- Previous marketing materials: You’ll want to take a look at previous efforts for a number of reasons. For starters, your work may have to maintain a consistent look or feel with earlier work. You may also pick up themes and ideas you can rework or extend in your work. Finally, you want to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t so that you can incorporate the most effective elements in your writing. But be careful: If you’re writing about new products or embarking on a new strategy for an old product, old materials might drag you down into old and irrelevant messages.
2. Establish the Copy Points
When you take all the raw information you’ve gathered and then sift them through the purpose you and/or your team has clarified, you arrive at a set of copy points: information that you must include in the final written piece. These points usually include the following elements:
- Offer: This is what you’re selling at what terms (price, discounts, shipping charges, and so on).
- Main benefit: This is the most attractive or valuable thing the product or service does for the customer.
- Subordinate benefits: These are additional benefits that help encourage prospect action.
- Key features: Although your product or service may have many features or qualities, the ones that are important (and deserve to be written about) are those that help substantiate or fulfill the benefits you’ve promised.
- Brand identity: From piece to piece, your business or organization may have consistent messages regarding its positioning or identity that you must incorporate in your work.
- Call to action: The concluding element should lead to action — what you want the prospect to do to take advantage of the offer, whether it’s to go to a retail location or Web site, call a phone number, or return a reply card.
3. Turn Features Into Benefits
Features are qualities a product or service has; benefits are what your products or services do for the customer. They are not equals — benefits have much greater value. Benefits are centered on the customer’s self-interest, and they make important promises (of health, youth, beauty, success, power, and so on) that often have a powerful emotional hold on us.
Unfortunately, many organizations understand the features of the work they produce much more deeply than the benefits of those products for the customer. One of your biggest challenges, therefore, is to turn features into benefits: to unlock the value of a given feature for the prospect.
4. Profile the Customer
One of the most powerful ways that copy can strengthen any marketing project is by creating a sense of empathy — a suggestion of a common bond between the seller and the prospect. Whatever the specifics of your particular message, you always want to imply that you understand prospects’ needs and that you’re on their side.
That means that your understanding of your customers will determine the manner in which you present your message. In other words, you need to know your customers’ needs, desires, fears, and things such as the way they like to shop and the language they speak.
Before you write, imagine the customer as a flesh-and-blood person. Hear her speak; “listen” to what she wants and how she wants it. Then write your copy as if you’re having a one-to-one conversation with that customer.
5. Identify the Marketing Challenges
Most people want to conceal their weaknesses and hide their vulnerabilities — that’s just human nature. It’s no different in business. You don’t like admitting that your prices may be high, your quality control a little weak, or your reputation for customer services perhaps a bit short of what it should be.
But if you operate your own business, you should be honest with yourself; if you’re writing within or for a larger organization, you should encourage people to openly and honestly discuss potential problems.
After all, your weaknesses won’t remain secret; your prospects will see them soon enough and ignore you — unless you take measures to anticipate their concerns up front.
When you know where the trouble spots are, you can work around them by either attempting to alter a current perception or by stressing other strengths. If your widget is more expensive that its competitors, you may want to emphasize its superior quality rather than its price. If quality is an issue, perhaps you can talk up convenience.
And if customer service has been a problem, you may want to add a paragraph about a new calling center or online troubleshooting forum. The focus of your copy will vary with each situation, but to arrive at them, you first have to anticipate the potential problems.
6. Set the Tone
After you throw the copy points, the challenges, and the customer profile into the hopper (your brain), you can consider the overall tone of the piece: casual or formal; sober or humorous; short and snappy or richly detailed.
The tone you choose, based on the nature of your offer and the kind of customer you’re targeting, becomes the “voice” of your organization, so choose carefully.
Be prepared to meet your prospects on their turf (the conventions of the language they use), and remember that you’re shaping the personality of your business.
7. Establish A Focus For Your Message
Good copy is like a rifle shot, not a shotgun blast: It’s carefully aimed at a precise target for concentrated impact. Yet a lot of copy skitters in too many directions at once, and like a drop of water in a hot frying pan, it simply fizzles out.
This can happen when you’re overwhelmed by riches — loads of good stuff to write about — or when too many people contribute their input on a piece. Either way, your copy ends up communicating too many ideas that compete for attention and ultimately lose your prospects’ interest. Here’s what this looks like:
When you open a Second National NOW account, you can collect interest on your checking account balance, month after month. Stop by our branch for details. And if you have a small business, ask about our revolving line of credit — you can apply online at www.secondnat.com. There, you’ll also find a free library of answer sheets that can help you get a grip on your finances.
In one short paragraph, I see two different products with two different audiences (NOW accounts for consumers and revolving credit for small businesses), two different calls to action (go to branch and go online), and then a detour to an entirely unrelated premium — answer sheets on finances.
No message stands out, and the credibility of the bank is undermined by its scattershot approach. The cure is focus: concentrating on one audience with one big idea, be it an offer or benefit.
For this hypothetical client, look at the extra impact you gain when you target one market (small businesses) with one big message — Second National is your partner — that’s supported by a few subordinate points.
Make Second National your partner for business success. We offer a variety of credit options that give you flexibility, including a small business revolving line of credit. Get the complete picture and free answers to dozens of the most common small business finance questions by visiting us online at www.secondnat.com.
8. Get Rid of Jargon
Many business people like big, high-minded words such as “innovative,” “commitment,” “proactive,” and “paradigm.” I have no idea what these words mean to them, but I do know what they mean to customers: nothing.
Self-flattering boasts and vague promises of value get you nowhere. Here’s an example of an express train to failure:
Fulsome Brothers is reshaping a new paradigm in customer relations: A commitment to proactive service renown for its innovative time resource distributions.
What is Fulsome Brothers trying to say? Your guess is as good as mine. But copy like this finds its way into collateral, Web sites, and advertisements every day.
Instead of jargon, speak in plain English and talk about real things your prospects can see, feel, and understand, like so:
Call Fulsome Brothers anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for immediate attention. If we can’t fix your problem by phone, we’ll send one of our associates to you by the next business day.
9. Trim Text When Your Copy Is Wordy
Watch out for inflated rhetoric, choo-choo trains of excess prepositional phrases, and overloaded modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) that create clutter, not clarity. Long copy can be perfectly acceptable, but your writing should be stuffed with benefits, features, reasons why, evidence, and other motivational language, not empty puffery.
Otherwise, your sales message gets lost in a fog of unnecessary verbiage. For example:
Unleash your potential for achieving ever-greater success in an expanding economy with multiplying career options by pursuing your graduate degree at Blowhole College.
Now, get out the knife and cut out the copy that isn’t immediately tied to the core of your message:
Advance your career with an advanced degree. At Blowhole College . . .
10. Make Your Pitch Bold
If you don’t really believe in your product, no one else will. Your copy just isn’t the place to be the shy, retiring type (charming as that may be). Don’t apologize for your business with softball pitches like this:
Time for a new look? Then maybe you should try Betsy’s Hair Salon. We might have that something special for a new, even more beautiful you.
Maybe? Might? Hey, Betsy, you go girl — and I mean go for something assertive. Cut out the wimpy qualifiers, such as “may” or “might,” and reach for language that captures the emotional appeal of your product, like this:
Your old look says . . . old. Revitalize your hair — and your life — with a brand-new look from Betsy’s Hair Salon. Make your appointment now, and we’ll greet you with a free tint and rinse. Call 1-800-555-5555.
11. Go Back to the Source When You Have Writer’s Block
Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, the root cause of so-called writer’s block is insufficient immersion in the basic background information: who the prospects are, what the product is, what it does for the customers, how it compares to competing products, and so on.
Before you pull your hair out in frustration, go back to the source and read (or re-read) all the available information about the subject of your copy.
12. Use Sentence Fragments
According to the rules, “real” sentences must have complete subject-verb-object constructions; anything less is a “fragment” that must be rejected. Nonsense. As long as your fragments clearly communicate complete thoughts, they can be a perfectly acceptable part of your rhetorical tool chest for most assignments.
When they’re used thoughtfully, short fragments create pauses that bracket your ideas for greater emphasis. When they’re used arbitrarily, they create confusion and disturb the rhythm of your writing.
Good use of fragments:
Your renewed subscription to EZ Rider Reader gives you the low-down on what’s up in custom bodies. The hippest highways and byways. Tips and secrets for boss details. And inside visits to the baddest shops and studios around. Why miss out? Renew today.
Weak use of fragments:
You know it’s time. To renew your subscription. Order today. And get all the dope on what’s happening in your neck of the woods. And in the ’hoods. Across the country.
13. Use Active Voice
Using active versus passive language In the active voice, the subject takes action. In “Caesar conquered Gall,” the subject, “Caesar,” is the agent of the action, “conquered.” But if I were to write in the passive voice, “Gall was conquered by Caesar,” the agent of the action now becomes buried in the predicate.
As a grammatical issue, the passive voice isn’t necessarily wrong. But in most cases it’s weaker, less emphatic writing. When you aim to encourage action, the passive voice undermines your impact.
You want to make your products and services the agents of beneficial action in your prospects’ lives. Think, “This product (subject) makes (verb) this happen (object),” not “This consequence was caused by this product.”
14. End Sentences With Prepositions
There are still some goose-stepping grammarians who insist that you can’t end sentences with prepositions. They don’t know what they’re talking about. When it comes to this issue, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
Otherwise, I’d have to say, “They don’t know the issues about which they are talking,” or “They don’t have a leg upon which to stand.” This is just nonsense up with I will not put!
Yes, ending sentences with prepositions is perfectly acceptable, as long as your intended meaning is clear and the preposition isn’t redundant. For example, you might ask, “Where are you going?” but not, “Where are you going to?”
15. Set The Benchmark
Benchmark simply means a point of comparison, some means by which you can measure the relative success or failure of your work.
These marks vary according to the purpose of your project (see the preceding section) and may include “hard” targets that can be measured in numbers, such as response rates or the number of visits to your Web site, or “soft” targets, such as press exposure or focus group responses to your work.
These numbers may be pulled from your previous results with other initiatives, or from industry averages you’ve uncovered through research. Though benchmarks may seem intimidating (no one savors the prospect of being weighed in the balance and perhaps found wanting), they’re an essential tool for improving your writing and marketing efforts.
Without some idea of whether you’re succeeding, your work staggers forward in the dark. When you have a benchmark to compare your results to, you have an objective standard that guides your subsequent improvements. It also makes collaboration much easier:
When someone asks why you chose one way of phrasing an offer over another, pointing out a difference of, say, 2.3 percent in response rate — or 542 units in raw sales — greatly simplifies the discussion.