ThunderWord Copywriting Blog
Is working with your copywriter giving you a headache?
You can't seem to get the results you want, and your relationship is stressful and tension-filled.
Or, are you thinking of hiring a copywriter for the first time and a little fearful of how to make it work?
Here are four crucial tips that may help to make working with a copywriter better.
You see, copywriting is a complicated profession. It may not be as simple and straightforward as you thought. What's more, those best practices you have heard about or have followed in working with writers and designers may not be best practices in all circumstances.
These tips are not everything, but they are four biggies that I have encountered in my own copywriting experience or have witnessed with my fellow copywriters.
Following these may help make working with your copywriter smoother. Maybe no longer will you cringe or have to take a deep breath before you talk with your copywriter or open that email he or she sent you.
Above all, it may help you get that power message that you really wanted, one that drives more customers to your business.
1. Take Advantage of All of the Skills Your Copywriter Offers
Here's what I fear is probably a common scenario.
A business needs a marketing project. He or she first hires a designer. Then after it is all designed the business turns to a copywriter at the last minute to write some filler copy in the area where the text is supposed to go.
Just write something that sounds good the business may say.
Now, copywriters generally like playing with words and how they sound. After all, they're writers.
Copywriters, however, have skills that go beyond just stringing words together.
Many copywriters are also quite adept at coming up with the right message and even entire advertising concepts. So, by only asking for words that sound good a business can be missing out on ideas that may make the marketing project or campaign a success.
What's more, by waiting to last minute to call on a copywriter like the above scenario it can be too late to even consider any ideas the copywriter may have. His or her ideas may require a different design entirely.
For example, the copywriter may suggest adding a sidebar, captions for the photos or to a bigger area for text to accommodate a different text presentation like subheads and bullets.
To tap into all the expertise of a copywriter you should bring in him or her right from the start. Actually, I have seen several experts in the field suggest that the marketing project should start with the copywriter, and the design should support the message. In many cases I agree. In fact, several times I have had a design partner ask me to write the message first.
At the very least, consider kicking off your project with both the designer and copywriter together. That way they can best plan out a strategy for the project and work in a more collaborative framework rather than a linear one of you to the designer to the copywriter. This allows ideas to be bounced back and forth between team members along the way, and that can often lead to better advertising pieces and campaigns.
2. Do All You Can to Help Your Copywriter Understand Your Product or Business
Wouldn't it be nice if your newly hired copywriter new everything about your business and product right from the start?
Unfortunately, that is not likely.
About the best you can hope for is to hire someone who specializes in your industry. And, for especially technical industries this may be a good idea. Then again, someone from outside the industry may provide a fresh new angle to your marketing, something that is different from your competitors.
For either type of copywriter, he or she is going to have questions.
Most copywriters will likely take upon themselves to do some research on their own, but still the best resource for information will be you.
So, what information will they need?
In short, most everything you have. Past promotions, technical information, customer reviews...and more.
To help guide you on what to provide your copywriter may be able to send you a questionnaire of some type to send you.
Still, he or she will often have questions. Rarely will you be able to just drop off or send the information to your copywriter and that will be that.
When your copywriter comes to you with questions don't look at these with dread or an annoyance. Look at them as an opportunity to help your copywriter to create better content or a better promotion. Such questions are a sign of the curiosity and diligence of your copywriter to dig deep into your product or business to find out what makes it different and what appeals most to your customers.
You may ask is all this information really needed if I only need a few words or line of copy. In general, the answer is yes...even then. The more information a copywriter can get, the more likely he or she can generate just the right message and say it just the right way.
Here's one more example to illustrate my point.
When I was teaching at a university (yes, I did that at one time) an experienced, award-winning professor said that a good teacher needs to know much more than just the amount taught in a classroom. I took that to heart. I think that is one of the reasons I won a few teaching awards myself.
That same lesson applies to advertising and copywriting.
3. Beware of Enforcing "Formal" Grammar Rules
Do you cringe or shake your head whenever you read a draft and it has sentences that end in prepositions and others that start with conjunctions?
That is what so many people were taught in school. You should never have a sentence end in words like "of" "with" or "to". You should also never start a sentence with "And" or "But".
These rules abide by what I call "formal" grammar rules.
For popular writing, breaking rules like this is ok. Just look at popular magazines, blogs, and advertising materials. You'll find they break the above two rules all the time.
You see, they are written to communicate and written in a more conversational tone. In these instances breaking such rules has been deemed ok for some time now.
Of course, that does not mean you can dismiss all grammar rules. Many are still vital to make sure the text is clear and says what was intended.
The bottom line here is when you get a draft that breaks some of those formal rules like mentioned above, take a moment before you correct it. Think about the tone. Is it right for your audience? Also think the context of the piece. Think about whether it reads well and gets the message across clearly and with the power that you want to express.
4. Be Tactful in Giving Negative Feedback
This may be the biggest and touchiest issue of all in dealing with copywriters.
Many copywriters and so-called creative professionals are often a sensitive bunch.
And, some of them do not take negative feedback easily.
I suspect it is because creatives identify with their projects more. Writers and designers may look at their words and designs as more as part of themselves. As a result, they may take their work more personally, so criticism of their work is sometimes received as a criticism of them too.
You may be thinking but I have to tell them what I do not like about a project. Yes, you do. And you are paying the bills, so you should.
The creatives should probably have thicker skin. My thought is that the experienced creatives probably are. Getting criticism is part of commercial creative work.
Still, being tactful in how you give negative feedback to a copywriter can be important if you want a good ongoing working relationship with him or her. It also may be important in helping to generate better work after you have provided the criticism.
Here are five tactics to consider in giving feedback to a copywriter.
1. If the copy is way different from what you expected, you may want to look first at the directions you provided. Did you communicate clearly what you wanted? If not, own up to it and tell the copywriter that you did not do so. Then, think of how you can clarify your project.
2. Before providing the criticisms first tell the copywriter what you liked about it. This is the old tactic of providing good news then the bad news. It can keep the copywriter from thinking the whole piece is bad, and then think you are saying the nice stuff at the end as an afterthought and not genuine.
3. Maybe format criticisms in the form of a question. This may soften the blow and give the copywriter opportunity to provide his or her own solution. It is a tactic I used often in reviewing copy and pages. You can say "What about saying it something like ...?" or "What about adding something about...?" or "What can we do here to add some punch?"
4. Be specific. Don't give general feedback like "I'm not sure, but it's not quite what I was looking for". This often drives copywriters and creatives nuts. Is it the tone of voice? Is there a message missing? Does it need to be punchier? Is something not clear? Is there some particular section that needs to be changed? Without some specifics it is very hard for the copywriter to make changes or rewrite it.
5. Try not to embarrass the writer in front of others. Give criticism in small groups or one on one or on the draft itself that only the copywriter sees. Most people hate to be embarrassed in front of others whether it is in front of other decision makers or peers. So just keep this in mind when you have those big pitch and layout meetings, or you have those big teleconferences.
6. Dig and ask questions about the piece. There may be a good reason why your copywriter wrote it a certain way. So, ask why. Give the copywriter a chance to defend his or her copy. The copywriter may have a better way than you expected. More than once, I defended my copy about some criticism and got my boss to see it my way.
Again, copywriting and marketing can be complicated. Many things are subjective. Still, consider the tips above. Together they can be boiled down to respecting every professional's, expertise, setting ups expectations for the project and the process, and making for a collaborative environment. If you do those things, you may be more likely to get a more effective marketing piece. Plus, you may be find the process far less stressful, and it may save you from all those headaches.
A product catches your eye.
It looks so cool.
It has tons of features.
It is new and innovative.
You have never seen anything like it before.
You are captivated by it, and you're thinking "I got to have it".
But, before you click that buy button and pull out your credit card...you suddenly come to your senses.
You suddenly think "but why do I need this?".
The product description does not give one.
And, for the few seconds you are considering this product, you cannot think of one either.
So, you move on. You decide not to buy it.
And, the business loses a sale.
I suspect this happens a lot.
Many businesses probably could sell more only if the marketer or copywriter would tell their consumers WHY they need their product.
Don't Assume Customers Know Why They Need Your Product
Assuming your customers know why they need or should buy your product can be an easy trap to fall into.
After all, when you live and breathe your product like yourself it can be easy to think everyone knows why they need your product.
And like you, some customers may very likely come up with a reason themselves of why they need that product.
But, many may not.
That's why for these customers, you need to go beyond the bare-bones product description. Often, it means going beyond the basic benefits too. You shouldn't just rely on the looks of the product either.
These customers need to be told explicitly why they need your product.
This can apply to a lot of products too, maybe more than you think.
This Goes for Many Kinds of Products Too
Of course, for many products dealing with breakthrough technologies customers have to be told why they would want this product. Customers cannot make the leap as to why they need it.
Take the personal computer. Today, it's a ubiquitous product. When it was first offered to the public, however, I suspect many potential customers at first said no to buying one as they could not see what a personal computer could do for them.
Yet, it applies to more seemingly ordinary products too.
How about kitchen gadgets? It seems like there is always some nifty, new kitchen utensil, pan or appliance being marketed. Some are pretty flashy and innovative.
Yet, I bet many people are like me and ask do I really need another kitchen gadget? That's why so many of these kitchen gadget vendors tell me why I need this gadget. They remind me of some frustrating problem it can solve.
They give me the WHY!
A similar product category is tools. Sure, the tool is cool and has tons of features. But, you need to tell me what I can build or fix with it. Or, you need to tell me why I need this tool over the other many tools I already have in my garage. Tell me why this one is better.
Then there are clothes. I am sure customers all the time see a new jacket, dress, shirt, pant...and think oh, how that looks so sharp, sexy, smart or whatever.
But, then come to their senses. First, they think where in the world they will put this item in their overstuffed closet. And second, they may ask where and when will I ever wear this item? That is where they need to be told. It will look great at that party, or for that presentation or ....whatever.
Even truck manufacturers still give customers the why. You may think do they really have to give a reason. After all, we all know the purpose of trucks is to haul stuff. I guess the truck makers are not taking any chances. So, they give reasons to buy a truck beyond just saying it can haul stuff. They show what you can do with a truck. You can haul landscaping supplies to build a great garden, you can haul lumber to build that deck, or you can build that playground for your kids.
They give the WHY.
Give Customers a Motivating Reason to Buy Your Product
In ecommerce, it's a dog-eat-dog world.
And customers are strapped for time as never before, meaning you often only have seconds to have your product resonate with your customer.
That's why if you want to sell more you need to give your customers a motivating benefit or reason to buy your product. You can't rely on them to make the leap as to why they need your product.
So, as a marketer or copywriter you need to give them the why. Tell them who would benefit from your product. Give them the when or where this product would be beneficial. Go beyond the basic features or benefits.
If you don't...your customer may come to their senses and click elsewhere.
With a new year here, what better time is there to talk about the power of the word NEW.
NEW is one of the most powerful words in marketing and copywriting.
The many New Year celebrations are testaments to the power of the word NEW.
Many people are attracted to new things. They want to know what is new. That's why marketers should shout NEW whenever they can.
The reasons to shout NEW are many.
1. NEW Products and Services
These are probably the most obvious reasons to shout NEW. Many of your current customers want to see what new products and services you offer.
You could shout about a whole new line of products or you could shout about a mix of NEW products. You could shout about carrying a NEW brand. If you are restaurant it could be your NEW menu or special. Or you could shout about an improved product, as in NEW and IMPROVED.
NEW services could be a NEW delivery service, a NEW gift wrapping service, a NEW business consulting service if you are an accountant, a NEW shopping app...well you get the idea.
2. NEW Remodeled Store or Website
All the time, we see calls to come see a remodeled store or restaurant, or visit our NEW redesigned website.
I am sure some people will visit just out of curiosity. And, certainly so will some of your most faithful fans.
Yet, my thought is that if you do shout about a new remodel or redesign, give the audience a benefit on why they should care. Will it make their shopping experience easier? Will it make finding what they need easier? Will it make checking out faster? When you give a reason I suspect even more of your audience will come.
3. NEW Location or Service Area
This is another fairly obvious one. Opening a store definitely deserves the word NEW. You also need to shout if you are expanding your service area. This can be big for home improvement or any kind of local delivery type of business.
Closely related to these are new hours of business. That is always a good thing to shout. You see it all the time for restaurants and even medical offices.
4. NEW Personnel
You see the announcement of new personnel all of the time for professional businesses and services. These include banks, advertising agencies, accounting firms and medical offices. I think it can be useful for other businesses too.
It's a great way to get publicity for their business. Also, when you add a little profile with the announcement it can help build a little more credibility with prospective clients, customers and patients.
5. NEW Low Prices
This is almost a one-two punch. It delivers something new and it announces low prices which is something that gets the attention of almost every customer.
There are probably many more ways to use the word NEW too.
I have seen companies fall all over themselves to push the message that there billing statement is NEW. Now, that is making the most of the word NEW.
Anyway, the lesson is if you have something you can claim as NEW and it is something you think your customers would care about, then use it.
And, if you have nothing to say at this time...
you can always wish everyone a Happy New Year.
Sales, Sales, Sales.
When addressing product descriptions, the focus is mostly on how to increase sales.
And, it should be.
But, product descriptions can also affect another part of your business.
It's the dark side of business. The side that nobody seems to want to talk about.
It's those costly returns.
Returns happen to almost every business. Some more than others. For instance, clothing probably has much more than others.
They can be figures that are nothing to sneeze at either. (Just check out this recent article from CNBC : http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/16/a-260-billion-ticking-time-bomb-the-costly-business-of-retail-returns.html?__source=twitter )
And then there is the cost of handling all of those returns.
These are just the costs we can count too. There also may be opportunity costs that we cannot count. Who knows how it could affect sales too? Customers may decide not to buy from your business again. They may take to social media and express their dissatisfaction with the product or service they received.
Then, there are other customers who don't return a product or speak up about their problem. They just don't return to your site or store. These are the quiet customers. But, they are critical to many businesses.
One way to reduce returns is by providing complete and accurate product descriptions.
Here are the two major areas you need to address.
1. Don't Overpromise
This may be the biggest issue. And, this may be the thing that makes consumers most angry.
Yes, you want to sell. And, it's easy to get caught up in creative enthusiasm. But don't ever over promise what a product can do.
Not everything is the greatest thing since slide bread.
If you say it is tough as nails, and then the product breaks the first time the customer uses it, you have a problem. Probably a return and a bad review.
If you say it will hold a charge for a certain number of hours. It better not wear down before hand.
If you say the jacket is truly waterproof, and it is not, you will have a wet and mad customer on your hands. As well as a lot of returned jackets.
A good guide is to refrain from the broad statements full of hyperbole. Instead, be as detailed as you can, and understand what your product really can and can't do.
Think about it from the customer's view. Don't overpromise.
2. Accurately Address the Product's Essential Features
When I look at product reviews on some ecommerce site, one of the things that make me cringe is someone who says "product was not as described".
I am like really? How could this be? What was missed? What was wrong?
But, for many products there are lots of features and elements to them. It can be easy to miss something.
That's why I think it is important that you and your copywriting team develop and follow product checklists. I am a big believer in checklists. Anyway, these would include the critical components that a would-be buyer would need to know about this product.
Obviously, these checklists would be different for each category of products.
Yet, there are certain types of features that apply to most products that should be included in the product description.
Here are some of the main ones.
Size of Product
It is extremely important to include the size of a product. A customer can easily be disappointed if what they receive is not the size they expected.
For hard goods, whether it is a gadget or something like furniture, size is paramount. It makes a difference whether that item will fit in a certain storage space or in a room. Often, the customer has a place in mind of where that product will go. And, if it does not work, the customer is unhappy.
It is important for soft goods too. Of course, it is necessary for soft luggage. But, it is a huge issue for clothing. I bet one of the biggest reasons for the return of clothing is that it does not fit as expected.
For clothing, state the sizing as accurate as you can. If it is slim fit or relaxed fit say so. If it runs large, say so. And, if possible include a size guide that gives the customer more details of what you mean by a Large size.
Related to size is a product's weight.
As so many customers are more mobile these days they are looking for lightweight items. Whether it is gadgets, tools or even clothing, people don't want to be weighed down.
Stating the weight can also be good so the customer won't be surprised by the shipping costs if it is more than what he or she expected.
This is huge too. Customers want to know what something is made of.
This is especially true of apparel. Many customers are very partial to certain fabrics. Is it cotton, polyester, a blend or some high-tech material? Also, is the material smooth, textured, thick or thin?
And don't forget to state the material for hard goods. Is it plastic and the customer expected metal? Another disappointed customer. And, if it is metal, how thick is it?
Always state the color too, and try to state the color as accurately as possible.
Yes, the pictures should shoulder much of the work here. But sometimes the images are not accurate on a screen or in a catalog. Sometimes it is hard to say if that is black or dark navy.
That's why you should always include captions with each color image, and in the copy state the colors in the same order that they are shown. Make it as easy as possible for the customer to see determine the color.
Make sure the customer knows what is included with the product. Customers can feel shortchanged if they don't receive something that they were expecting.
That means tell the customer what accessories come with it and if it comes with a storage case or gift box that makes it easy to wrap.
What Kind of Batteries
Speaking of telling customers what is included. If you are selling something that runs on batteries, tell your customers if they are included. If your customers think batteries are included and they are not, they likely won't be happy when they get it and turn it on.
Also tell your customers what kind of batteries it runs on. Is it a common AA or some harder to find battery? It may matter to your customer.
Of course, copywriting and product descriptions are not the blame for all the returns. Again, the pictures can play a part too. And, then there is problem of damaged or defective products. And, when it comes to gifts there isn't much you can do if what the giver thinks would make a good gift does not match what the receiver thinks.
Still, product descriptions can play a huge role in reducing costly returns. They can play a huge role in managing customers' expectations. And, as more customers shop online those expectations will be more important than ever in determining the number of returns.
It's an emotion you know well.
It's one most of us experience every day.
And, as a copywriter it's one of my go-to emotional triggers for writing product descriptions.
It's the emotion of frustration.
Many copywriters may call this emotion the customer's pain-point.
Others may just call it addressing the customer's problem.
But, the word frustration seems to more accurately describe what so many consumers feel.
With the word frustration you can almost visualize customers' expressions. You can see them grit their teeth, you can see them pound their fists and you can see them pound their keyboards.
It is so common an emotion that it can be used in selling many products and services.
Examples Are Everywhere
They say necessity is the mother of invention. But, I think frustration is the mother of invention may be a more accurate way to put it.
It is used everywhere to appeal to consumers.
Like the selling of jeans that actually fit.
Or shoes that actually fit or come in your size.
Or a store simply offering a shirt in the color you really want.
You see it used in promoting home services. For instance, a plumber may promise to actually show up on time, so homeowners don't have to wait and wait for someone to show up.
A software vendor may promise that their software is easier to use, and when you do you need help you won't be stuck for hours on the phone waiting for someone to answer.
All of these are appealing to a customers' frustrations.
It's what most of the entire infomercial industry seems to be based on. The product they promote spares you some kind of hassle or helps to clean up some kind of mess or saves you time...in other words it saves you from the frustration you feel in the way you do something today. Heck, frustration seems to have created the kitchen appliance industry.
And, frustration can be big reason for the whole online shopping industry. Customers can get just what they want and have it delivered to their door without the frustration of having to deal with all the traffic in driving to the store.
It's Easy to Address a Customer's Frustration
When it comes to product descriptions, it is easy to acknowledge a customer's frustration. And, it can be done in all kinds of ways.
One of my favorites is to begin with a question. Like these for example:
Tired of [insert product] [insert frustration]? Ex: "Tired of socks that won't stay up?"
Tired of searching for [insert product] that [insert frustration]?
Are you frustrated by [insert product] that [insert frustration]?
Don't like [insert frustration]?
Can't understand the instructions to [insert product]?
You can also use statements like these...
Finally, get a [insert product] that [insert answer to a frustration]. Ex: "Finally, get socks that actually hold their shape."
Get a [insert product] without [insert frustration], or get a [insert product] without having to [insert frustration]. Ex: "Create a great looking website without having to learn to code".
These are just a few ideas. Maybe they will spark your own ways to address how a product addresses a customer's frustration.
Add Frustration to Your Emotional Appeal Toolbox
You can use a variety of emotional appeals when selling products....greed, exclusivity, scarcity, fear are some of the biggies.
And, I would add frustration to that list.
The appeal to customers' frustrations can be powerful.
As consumers, we are a frustrated lot.
We want things a certain way. And, we want them now.
So, if you can provide customers these things you can end their frustration, and with it are likely to get more sales.
I would love to hear how you have used the emotion of frustration to sell a product or service, or how you bought a product or service because it ended some frustration for you.
Frustrated in Finding the Right Copywriter to Sell Your Products or Services?
Then check out my website to learn more about me and my services. Then, call or email me so we can talk more about your project. Let's see if I can help end your frustration.
Maybe you've done this yourself.
You flip through the pages of a catalog and nothing catches your eye.
Maybe that's what many of your shoppers do to your catalog.
So, what do you do to get them to slow down and look inside your catalog?
One way is to add some stopper pages.
These are pages designed to catch the shopper's eye. They are designed to stop those catalog flippers and skimmers.
They are designed to stand out from the other pages.
You see, when all the pages have the same basic layout and look there is nothing exciting to capture the shopper's attention. And so they flip through the pages without interruption.
So how do you create stopper pages?
Here are some ideas.
1. Give More Space to Certain Products.
This takes courage.
It means taking away valuable space that you could use to sell other products.
But a large product display is often a good way to catch a shopper's eyes.
If your catalog is going to prospects you may want to give the extra space to one of your best sellers. It's a proven winner and more likely to draw in new customers. So, there is less risk than using the space for some untested product.
2. Add Drama to a Few Product Photos.
Drama, drama, drama. Who doesn't like a little drama?
Now, this can involve more time and resources to do. But, that is why you may want to do this for a few of your products.
But adding drama or showing your product in use can be a great way to make a stopper page.
Action photos get attention. Especially when you compare them to all the still shots in your catalog. They will really stand out.
3. Add a Big Display Type.
Don't rely on just the usual headline format and type size you use for your products. Do a little shouting.
Add a little emotion to your message too.
Instead of just saying the name of the product, state a big benefit of your product, use a testimonial (they are always powerful) or even use a pull-quote from the product copy.
4. Add a Price Point.
Have a product that's a great deal?
Make sure the reader sees it. Say it big elsewhere in the product display.
Use a bright red color or something for the price point too. Make it stand out from your other display type.
5. Allot Space for Some Editorial or Spotlight Some Service You Offer.
This even takes more courage than giving more space to a product.
It is not directly selling a product. But, it can help improve sales. It can help show what makes you different from competitors selling similar products.
Editorial information could be all sorts of things...how to choose a certain type of product, an explanation of terms, even something about a community event or charity in which your company supports.
Service messages may be something that you do that makes you different, or is often a big question or obstacle that customers face when shopping for products like yours. It could be your shipping costs. Your return policy. Your guarantee.
6. Give Special Treatment to Category Openings.
Have a big catalog?
Then you certainly have it organized by categories.
Category openings can be a natural way to get the interest of your shoppers.
You can identify categories with special headers, colors or design. Maybe even have special display type or opening messages.
7. Make Sure They See Your Stopper Page Too
Whatever you use to catch your shopper's attention be sure you place them where they will likely see it.
That means place it on the outside of the pages and not buried in the middle of the spread. For photos make them bleed off the end of the page. For background colors and category markets extend them to the edge of the page.
If you can place you big product or other element in the upper right hand corner of the right hand or odd page. For catalogs this is a big hotspot.
Stop the Catalog Flippers or Maybe Lose the Sale
Again, one of the biggest arguments for not doing any of the above is that it can take away valuable real estate used for selling more products.
But, if the shopper never sees them then there will be no sale anyway.
So think long and hard about putting some speed bumps to slow down those catalog flippers.
Need More Help with Your Catalog?
If you would like more help with your catalog, just contact me. I offer catalog reviews and even offer catalog copywriting services. I have extensive experience with catalogs and have helped produce award-winning catalogs. For more about my services just go to: http://www.thunderwordcopy.com/Services.html
Here's what I suspect is a common scenario for many businesses.
They put oodles of resources into their website design. They hire a hotshot creative agency who gives them the latest in design trends and functionality.
They get captivated by social media. They hire some hip young person or persons who are familiar with the latest social media apps.
But, when it comes to product descriptions...many businesses treat them as afterthoughts.
I am not sure why product descriptions seem to get forgotten.
Maybe they just are not sexy enough like web design and social media.
Maybe businesses who sell lots of products are simply overwhelmed by the overwhelming task. So, they never get around to putting in a process to address product descriptions.
Whatever the excuse, it can be a big mistake that can cost business lots of sales.
Here are two big reasons why strong product descriptions are so important.
They Are the Critical Last Link in Your Selling Process
Imagine a selling process without trying to close the sale.
Well, that is what many business websites are like.
Product descriptions are your closing of the sale. It is the stage where the prospects (yes, they are not customers yet) decide to buy or click elsewhere.
Yet, so many times very little effort is put into the product descriptions.
Many times, they are a boring list of features. No or few benefits are given. No emotional appeals are made. No story is told. No persuasive case is made as to why someone should buy the product.
This seems especially true for B2B sites. But, even these need to make some compelling case. Even B2B purchasers have emotions.
I have also seen B2C sites with minimal copy.
Again, it is puzzling.
They spend all of those resources making customers aware of their company and gathering leads, and then they make little effort to close the sale.
They Are Fuel for SEO
You often read how SEO is all about content, content, content.
That's why you often hear the suggestion to start a blog.
For some companies, some of the greatest content can come from product descriptions. By writing great unique content you give lots of fuel for the search engines. Such content will also more likely appeal to the information that potential customers are seeking.
Customers are not typing "fancy website" into that search field. They are typing words that are related to the products and information that they want or can solve their problem. The more your product descriptions can appeal to those phrases and information customers are searching for, the more likely your product page will appear in their search results.
This leads to another thing to keep in mind.
Many times customers do not visit your site through the front door. They don't all come to the home page first. They often come to other pages, your blog, your about page and your product pages. It's just another reason to make your product page as compelling as possible.
Rethink Your Priorities
As a result, my suggestion is to boost the attention given to product descriptions. Give it as much effort as you give your web design and more than your social media.
If you do not have anyone in your company with copywriting experience then hire someone. It's that important, and it often entails certain skills that only an experienced copywriter can provide. If you have a lot of products, you will find it worth it to hire your own in-house copywriter or copywriters. If you don't have a lot of products, you may want to hire a freelance copywriter at times.
Again, product descriptions shouldn't be sacrificed to give attention to your fancy web design or your hip and funny social messages.
The fancy web and social media sometimes are kind of like those fancy, trendy new restaurants. They are what everyone is talking about.
But, the product descriptions are the comfort food that brings everyone to the table.
Ever find yourself where you can't decide on a marketing tactic?
One guru says to always do it this way. But, something inside you says maybe not.
Then, you need to take a lesson from Galileo.
Ok. Galileo is not known for marketing.
Instead, he is known as the father of modern science.
Until Galileo came a long during the Renaissance period, scientists held to the scientific pronouncements Aristotle made centuries ago. But Galileo was a brilliant and curious person who wondered if such scientific pronouncements were right.
So, he set about to test such statements through observation and experimentation. And what he found was some of those century-old theories of how the world worked were wrong.
This is a lesson that all of us marketers need to heed too.
Yes, there can be lots of good advice and guide lines out there. But, marketing can be complicated, and often involves a lot of variables. So, there are many suggestions that may not apply in all situations.
That means like Galileo you need to ask questions, plus you should test various approaches and tactics.
For instance, in regards to copywriting, you may here different advice about the length of copy. Some say customer will never read long copy. But, maybe in your case they will. It just may depend on what you are selling what you have to say and what you customers are looking for.
Another copywriting suggestion says to always frame you headline in a positive way. But, there are tons of cases where using a negative angle has worked.
Galileo would probably say test it.
So don't blindly follow rules and guides. Some may work and may be good places to start. But, if they do not work you may want to try something else.
Now, if you have ever found success by challenging some marketing best practice, I would love to hear it. I am sure others would too.
When it comes to copywriting many people probably first think of words, grammar and spelling.
But, copywriting involves so much more than the act of writing. It involves learning human behavior and what motivates people. It involves knowing how to sell. It also involves how to package and deliver your message.
So, in this post I am providing 3 books that I have relied on again and again to help me with these things.
They are not copywriting per-se, so here I call them copywriting-related books. But, to me they are so integral to creating effective copy they are copywriting books. They are also books that every marketing person would find useful.
This easy to read book delivers 50 fascinating lessons on how to be more persuasive. It was written by Noah J. Goldstein, Steven J. Martin and Robert J. Cialdini the author of the iconic book, Influence (another must read by the way).
Each lesson presents research to spotlight a particular persuasive behavior and psychology principle. They include those made famous by Cialdini in Influence like reciprocity, scarcity along with other principles.
The book spans a variety of situations that you might help you in your business. For instance, there are lessons that may help you decide what product mix you should offer. There are lessons to help develop a greater trust with your customers.
Of course, you'll find several gems that may make your communications more effective and persuasive too. Here are a couple I especially like.
1. Lesson 35 "What single word will strengthen your persuasion attempts?"
Here they illustrate how the simple word "because" can make a statement more persuasive. People like to be given reasons when being asked to do something.
2. Lesson 38 "How can rhyme make your influence climb?"
While this may be something you already know, now you have proof. Blurbs and statements that rhyme are often easier to remember and easier to digest. Now, you know why you remember those jingles from way back when.
This book is about selling services. Much of our economy is about selling services (like copywriting), but even businesses that sell products have an element of service to it.
Written by Harry Beckwith, this book is chocked full of wisdom. The author uses examples and anecdotes to illustrate his points. It is divided into super brief lessons and is written in a conversational tone that makes this book easy and inviting to read.
The lessons cover almost all aspects of marketing like conducting research, positioning your business and branding your company. Of course, it has numerous nuggets about communications. Here are a couple of samples:
1. "The Clout of Reverse Hype".
Here the author points out that saying something simply can have more impact than communications that make use of hype and superlative adjectives.
2. "A Robe Is Not a Robe".
In this lesson, the author relays the example where a retailer found a way to increase the sales of robes by changing the name of them. It shows you should never underestimate the power of words.
Good advertising calls for your message to be packaged so that it gets attention and is easy to read. That's why design is so important. In fact, I think it is too important to leave design just to designers. Copywriters and other marketers should know some elements of design too.
This book is a great resource for designers and non-designers alike. Written by Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D., this book provides 100 things about design in a thin easy-to-read format.
It offers best practices for design that is backed up by science. And, it covers a broad array of subjects, much more than you may normally associate with design. Yes, it covers topics like color and font type. But it also includes sections like "What Motivates People" and "How People Remember".
Here a couple of chapters that cover topics I always try to keep in mind in copywriting.
1. "People Process Information Best in Story Form".
Here the author provides various story formats and emphasizes how the story can be used where you may not think it would.
2. "People Process Information Better in Bite-Sized Chunks".
The author states that our brains can handle too much information at once. As a result, she says we need use the principle of progressive disclosure.
What Is in Your Library?
Of course, there are many more useful copywriting-related books out there. In fact, you probably have a few of your own gems that you turn to again and again. If so, please share. I would love to hear what some of these are.
We've all heard the saying "familiarity breeds contempt".
Yes, most of us like new things. As it relates to business, it could mean seeing new products, and communicating them in new creative ways.
But, familiarity can be a good thing too. And, that can mean more customers and sales.
Here's a situation many of us have experienced.
We are travelling or have moved to a new place. We go to a store and find it is organized totally different from the store back home.
Now, if you have plenty of time that can be ok. It can be fun to explore something new.
If you are in a hurry though, it can be so frustrating. It can mean taking much longer to find what you need. It may mean never finding the product you wanted. It may even lead to you just walking back out. I know, I have even left a store when I cannot find something and there is no one to ask either. Maybe you have too.
So, presenting your business and products in a familiar and consistent way can have its benefits.
With this in mind, here are three marketing areas besides your store layout where you need to provide enough familiarity and consistency so your customers find it easy to shop with you.
Your website can be so tempting to open up the valve on your creative inspirations. But, be careful. Too much creativity can make it hard for your customers to find what they are looking for. And, like the store example above, they may just leave.
So think about what the customer is looking for. They expect to see an About page, a Contact page and a Product or Services tab.
Plus, think about where the customer expects to find it. Present it with the customary left side links or top horizontal links.
Even think about things like is the type face readable and are the links easily recognizable if the customer wants to read more information about a product.
2. Product Organization
This is super important if you offer many different products.
And organizing your products can take a lot of work to do it well. You need to do some research about where customers would look for certain products. You need to research what category names and even product names you use. If you are too cute and unique the customer may never find it.
If you have a product that could be found in more than one category then on your website list it under all the appropriate categories.
3. Design and Copy
Consistent and familiar design and copy can also be crucial in making it easier for your customers to shop with you.
That means providing familiarity and consistency across all the pages of your website and catalog as well as across all of your mediums. This is so the customer associates the communication piece with your company and the customer can easily understand your advertisements, product descriptions and other content.
To do so, your company should have some sort of style guide. For design, that means defining issues like the color, elements and a layout to use. For copywriting, that means defining things like type face (though this can be a design issue too), the use of bullets, the way terms are abbreviated, and even the general tone of your communications.
So Don't Underestimate the Value of Familiarity
Sure, your company needs to show how different it is from your competitors.
But don't be so different it makes it hard for your customer to shop. They need to be able to figure out how to navigate your website, find your products and understand your product descriptions.
Customers need a certain amount of familiarity and consistency.
So while the saying says "familiarity breeds contempt" the lack of familiarity can breed contempt too.
Arguments. They happen in every business.
It could be colleagues in a company arguing over a strategy decision. It could be an advertising agency and a client arguing over a campaign idea.
You may have been part of such a dispute. And, surely you have witnessed one. I know I have.
They can be pretty heated. Sparks can really fly at times. They can be pretty tense.
After all, each party can have a lot at stake. It can be a battle of egos and pride. It can be a be a matter showing who is the expert. It can be about showing who has control. It can be part of maneuvering for a promotion.
Sometimes they are solved by who outranks whom, or simply by who is paying the bills in the case of a client.
But, there can be another way. It is one that may not leave each party's feathers ruffled and egos bruised.
It is invoking a simple phrase.
And, it is this: "what's best for the customer".
Now, some of you may think, really?
But, I have seen it in action. I have seen arguments suddenly change. Sometimes it is like a reset button.
It is a simple phrase that may refocus the goal of each party's argument. It is not about them; it is about the customer.
It's similar to the manager of a baseball team asking a player to sacrifice a runner into scoring position. The batter may want to get the game-winning hit, but he is being asked to do what is best for the team.
So, next time you find yourself in such an argument or witness to one, try it.
You may find it bring a quicker solution that is amenable to all parties.
And who knows?
You may come across as the wise one who has his or her feet on the ground, and kept all parties focused on the right goal.
That is doing what is best for the customer.
We all like to think we are special in some way.
And marketers know this.
Making customers feel special has long been used in as a psychological trigger to get them to buy products and services.
Below I provide six ways to help you make your customers feel special. They include very basic tactics to ways that reach your customer on a deeper level.
1. You're Getting This Offer, So You Must Be Special
This is the one of the most basic ways I have seen marketers try to make customers feel special.
Often I get sales letters that start with something like "You've been especially selected..." or "You've been preselected to receive..." or "Here's an offer that is not going to everyone."
My first impression is like duh?
Of course, I was especially selected. Of course, you had to preselect my email or address before you could send it to me. And, of course, you did not make this offer to everyone. Surely someone in the world did not get it.
Still, despite my thoughts of the obviousness of such statements, maybe they still engage the customer somehow. Maybe if the reader just quickly reads your letter or email without thinking too much about it, such statements may still make them feel special.
So, if you are struggling for a way to arouse the feelings of exclusivity in your customer, you may try such statements.
Now, I have also received pitches that do take this a step further.
For instance, some back it up with some kind of statistic to show what a select group you are to receive this. You could tell them something like only x % of such and such a group are receiving this letter and offer. Hard numbers add a little credibility to the specialness of the offer.
Also, if you are going after prospects that meet a certain qualification, you may want to tell your customer this straight up.
A car insurance company could say something like "Because of your excellent driving record...". A bank may say something like "Because of your excellent credit rating..." Both obviously, are appealing to a very special group that may make the customer feel more special too.
2. Personalize It!
Everyone likes people to call them by their name.
Instead of "Dear Occupant or Dear Business Owner" address the recipient by name.
This is an old standard way to make some feel special.
But, make sure you spell the name right.
Screwing up someone's name can turn a customer off.
Also, don't overdo it.
We have all received the pitches where every other line and element in the direct mail package seems to use your name. It's a little much and pushy.
It's like the salesman who learns your name and then says it again and again. It can be a little creepy. You just met after all, and even my friends would not use my name over and over again.
3. By Invitation Only
Here's another standard technique of making customers feel special.
Send your customer or prospect an invitation.
When we get an invitation we often feel special. It could be to a party, a wedding or so some other social event.
Now, for your business could send an invitation to a special sales event or an educational event to learn more about your products or services.
When you use this technique, think about going beyond just saying the words "You are invited." Format your message to make it look like an actual invitation. Maybe use smaller invitation size envelopes. And maybe even use a more formal typeface as you would expect in an invitation.
Yes, the technique may be an oldie, but it can still be effective. An invitation can be hard for someone to resist opening. At least, it is for me.
4. Let Your Best Customers Know They Are Your Best Customers
Most businesses have their best customers.
So, don't take them for granted.
Make sure they know how much you appreciate and value them.
Treat them special.
This can be done a number of ways. You could have a VIP Sale. You could offer them a sneak preview at some of your products before everyone else gets to see them. You could also offer them extra rewards or bonuses for their loyalty and business.
And if you want to add extra punch to sending them a bonus, send it unexpectedly.
To me, the most special gifts are the unexpected gifts. (Be sure to see: http://www.thunderwordcopy.com/Blog.html?entry=a-great-gift-idea-to1)
5. Remind the Customer of the Benefits of Your Group
If you are marketing on behalf of some group, make sure the customer feels special to be part of your group.
Such groups could include an auto club, a credit union, an alumni group...whatever.
Often such groups offer products and services at special rates or with special benefits that are not available to customers outside these groups. For those cases, emphasize that such offers or products are exclusive to your members.
You need to remind your members that they are receiving a special offer.
6. Make Them Feel Special for Wanting Your Product
This tactic reaches customers on a deeper level.
This ties directly into the type of product or service you are offering.
For certain kind of products you can tap into how your product or service fulfills a special need or desire the customer has.
You often see this being used for family consumer products. They will say something on the order of this product or service is for someone who wants the best for his or her family. It could be that water purifier, home security system or the food they buy. This taps into the customer who feels they want more than the average family. They are special.
You often see it in ads for vehicles that show families exploring the country. These families want more out of life than the average family. They are special.
But, this special feeling can be used in a wide variety of products and services. Not just consumer goods.
For years, I wrote copy in marketing to public safety professionals. We acknowledged the fact that because these customers risked their lives every day they deserved top quality products. After all, they were everyday heroes. They truly were special.
So, you may want to see how your product or service itself can make people feel special.
You know the message.
You have seen it many times.
When many doctors' offices want new patients they would advertise simply with the message "Now Accepting New Patients".
Oh, how most of us wish we could rely on this message.
This falls into the most basic of advertising messages.
Of course, most of us need a more compelling message than that.
Here, I provide three levels of advertising messages and how each can have its place. It may provide a framework for you to develop your advertising message and strategy.
1. Hey, I'm Here!
This is the most basic. This is the category in which the doctor's message falls.
But, it can be an effective tactic for a variety of businesses. Not just health care. It could be other businesses that we all need from time to time...a bank, an accountant, heating and air conditioning or an insurance agent just to name a few.
When customers do need services in your industry you want to be on their radar screen.
Such advertising may not include those famous words like the doctors do when they say "Now accepting new patients." That may be taken as a little arrogant coming from another business. But it is effectively saying the same thing by just advertising your business name, maybe just with your tagline or contact information.
It is saying here we are. We are open for business, and are ready when you are.
Now, this may require some commitment and repetition of your advertising. This is to make sure customers think of you when they are ready. They may happen to see your business name just at the time they are thinking of your service. Or they may recall it from the many times they have seen your name from earlier advertising. You want customers to say to themselves "Hey...I know that name. Maybe I will call them to find out more."
I have seen many businesses do this type of advertising. I bet you have too. You see a business name over and over in a newspaper, magazine, on a website or on a billboard. You may not give them too much thought...until you need them.
2. Convey a Generic Benefit of Your Service or Product
This a step up from the "Hey, I'm Here!" stage.
It often involves reminding your customer what your product or service will do for them.
It is nothing earth shattering here. Nothing new really. They are benefits that almost everyone in your industry can make.
For instance, if it is a winter coat it could be how it keeps you warm and toasty.
All the time I see advertising from dentists about how they can help brighten my teeth or smile.
And from tax accountants, I see their ads about how they can save me money.
Now, some of you may be thinking well duh? Aren't those benefits understood?
Yes, they probably are. But, even these basic benefits seem to resonate more than just advertising your name like in the first category.
What's more, you can expand these basic benefits. These still may be fairly basic benefits that most anyone in your industry can offer, but they can reach the customer on a little deeper level.
For tax accountants, you may want to add what that tax savings could be used for...like to take a dream vacation.
You see this same approach with home lenders all the time. Instead of just saying we can give you an inexpensive loan, they often say how you can use that loan like to do remodeling job to turn your house into a dream home.
So, when you add a benefit you may want to see how you can take your basic benefits up a notch.
3. Tell the Customer Something Different About Your Product or Service
This is the type of message most of us should shoot for...especially those of us in very competitive industries.
The first two types of messages may get you a few customers. But your many competitors are also likely to advertise their name and promote the same basic benefits.
So, to get the number of customers you really want you need to separate yourself from the pack. This is often referred to as your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It is a concept attributed to advertising legend, Rosser Reeves.
It basically deals with how in your advertising you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
One way to do this is to tell what is different about your product, service or business. Maybe you have a certain technology that makes your product or service better. Maybe it is convenience. For instance, you may be located in an easily accessible location or open during evenings and weekends in an industry where most are closed during those times. Or maybe you could emphasize a certain niche that you serve. For an accountant, it could be a certain industry or small business.
Of course, for many businesses there is just not much of a difference.
In this case, your USP, could be simply saying something different about your product or service that none of your other competitors are making (even if they could make it).
Now, this latter strategy can be hard. Really hard. It may take some digging to find out what you can say new.
But, the rewards can be great. Maybe much greater than saying "Now Accepting New Customers".
Are you thinking about changing your advertising?
It can be a big decision.
And in our always-wanting-to-be-entertained world of today and our expectation of immediate response, it can be oh so tempting.
But, before you do.
Here are some things to think about.
Make Sure You Have a Good Reason
You have lived and breathed your advertising campaign for a while.
Its novelty has worn off.
You want a change.
Or, your advertising agency or copywriter may suggest a change because they are bored with producing the same thing.
But you need to remember it is not about you, or your creatives.
It's about your customers.
I have often heard someone say let's change the message or freshen up a message.
My first thought is why.
Now, there can be good reasons to change. Like falling or slow growing sales. Or, it could be to battle a new competitor, or to introduce a new product or service.
But, if your advertising seems to be working, why change?
If you are bored, maybe it is time to redecorate your office or something. Yes, make a change. But not with your advertising.
Maybe Not Everyone Has Seen Your Advertising
So, you ran your advertising, and you think that everyone that you have targeted has seen this advertisement.
But, have they?
There may be new prospects coming along.
For years, I was part of a company that sold products to public safety professionals. We had to keep in mind that there were new people coming into the field all the time and they had not heard our message yet.
And here's another example I recall from a sales workshop. The speaker asked the audience who had read the tire ads in the newspaper the day before. I don't recall the response. But it seems the speaker raised his hand and a couple more attendees did as well. So why did he and these few people look at the tire ads? His own answer was simple: he needed tires.
The point is that there maybe people who have not seen your advertising earlier because they did not need your product or service. But now that they do their antennas will be up looking for all kinds of advertising related to what they need. If their furnace is on the blink, they will be now looking for a HVAC dealer.
Don't Underestimate the Value of Repetition
What's more, for those that have seen your advertisement they may just need to see it a few more times.
It's been a long held guide in advertising that to make your advertising more effective you need to repeat your ads again and again.
I am not sure that there is some magical number. Though I am sure there are some rules about that out there somewhere. In fact, I just ran across this article about retail marketing and the third thing on the list is the value of repetition. And it states that the number customers need to see your message is seven times.
And, I don't have any specific studies of the value of this advice to provide. But I believe. I believe repetition is powerful. In fact, here are a couple of more articles that talk about the power of repetition from experts who now this better than I do.
This is from Roger Dooley, a neuroscience marketing expert. http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/repetition.htm
And this is a fascinating read by Joel Weinberg, Ph.D. that I found at the Marketing Research Association website: http://www.marketingresearch.org/article/why-ads-should-name-brands-%E2%80%9Cearly-and-often%E2%80%9D-it%E2%80%99s-not-what-you-think
Then there are the numerous ads we all see and hear run all the time. I just feel these people running the advertising campaigns know something about the power of repetition or they would not keep spending all that money to keep running them.
So, my advice is to not cut short that ad or campaign. Run it a few times.
I have seen many times where marketers will try something and if it does not work they quickly discontinue it. It could be a new product. It could be a new ad campaign. They may have just needed to give it more of a chance.
And maybe you need to adhere to this with your existing advertising.
So before you change your advertising think twice before you do. It may be more effective than you think.
Does your business make claims like these?
"We're a [insert business type] you can trust"
"You can depend on us"
"We're the experts"
Well, you're not alone. These are claims that many businesses make.
And, I understand why.
They address what's on many of your prospects' minds. They want to know if you are honest. They want to know if you will do what you say you will. They want to know if you really know what you are talking about and will provide them with the best solution.
But, such claims and promises by themselves can be weak and unconvincing. This is especially true when so many businesses are making these same claims.
That's why it is so important to support such promises and blanket claims.
You need to prove your claims.
Potential customers want to know why they should trust you or what makes an expert.
This Are Many Ways to Support Your Claims
When it comes to trust you may want to use a number of things. One of the best ways is to cite your excellent ratings and reviews by third parties like The Better Business Bureau or Angie's List. You may show your membership in a professional organization. Many times these organizations have rules of ethics and how businesses should conduct themselves in their field. You could show your place of business to try and show you're not some fly-by-night business.
I have seen many home service contractors like plumbers and HVAC prominently display their business license to show their legitimacy.
To show your dependability, you may want to share the words and stories of your many satisfied customers. These are also helpful to show your trust and expertise too. I am a big believer in the power of true, authentic testimonials. It's hard for even a great copywriter to match what a customer says. Many customers may like case studies where you tell a bigger story of how you helped a customer. These may resonate when selling more complex products or when selling to other businesses.
For those customers that like to see numbers, you could provide statistics and maybe even the results of a survey that back up your claim of dependability.
And, to prove your expertise, one of the easiest ways is to highlight your years of experience. It always gets my attention when I have seen a business who has been in business a while. I figure they must be know something and must be doing something right to stay in business so long.
Another common way to show your expertise is to display some sort of professional certification. Yes, I want to see your NATE certification if you are a HVAC business and that you are a CPA if you are an accountant.
You can also demonstrate that you know your field through speaking at events or conferences, or through the writing of articles or blogs.
Support the Claims You Make for Your Products Too
Now, I think the need to prove your claims may be most needed for service businesses.
After all, customers can not touch and feel the product. They cannot return it either.
But, companies that sell products need to back up the claims they make for their products too. (Of course, there is an element of service even for companies that do sell products.)
If you say your product is the sturdiest, toughest of its kind, you need to prove it. You need to say why it is so tough. Is it the material or the design?
If you say it is the most versatile product, show me all the ways it can be used. Don't just make the claim and let the customer have to complete the thought. Don't force them to think of all the ways it can be uses. Most probably won't take the time and trouble to do so. They may not think of all the ways that you do, and as a result, they may not think of it as being so versatile.
If you claim the shoe or bed you sell is exceptionally comfortable. Tell me what makes it so comfortable. Maybe even throw in some testimonials too.
If your widget is the lightest weight one out there, at least tell me what it weighs.
So, whether you sell a service or product, back up your claims. Don't leave them defenseless, subject to criticism and doubt from potential customers.
Recently, the marketing news has been filled with how companies are returning to marketing with catalogs.
So, if you are considering developing a catalog here are some vital elements, beyond just the copywriting, you need to consider to produce a catalog that will sell and be worthy of its cost.
1. Captivating Covers
This list is not necessarily in any order of importance. But, all the rest won't matter if the customer does not open your catalog.
So, be sure to consider your covers carefully...front and back.
Think what would get your customers to open it.
If you have seasonal products, you may want to put something the customer may want for the season.
You could put a great offer on the cover. One they can't refuse.
Maybe show off a product with an interesting action photo to spark emotion with the customer.
Or how about introducing some amazing new product.
Whatever the idea though, remember these two things.
Don't leave your cover to the last minute. Time and time again, I have seen the covers put off until the last minute. Then, everyone is scrambling to put something together. The cover is too important for that. It deserves more attention than any other single page in your catalog.
And second, be sure to include some sort of call to action on the cover. Urge your customers to do something. Maybe go to a specific page where they can get all the details about this product. Or maybe tell them to check out a particular group of products, and tell them what pages they are on.
2. Company Information and Services
This can be one of the most overlooked elements of the catalog.
Space is obviously limited in a catalog and it can be expensive. So it can be hard to give space to anything that is not selling a product.
Yet, customers often need to know something about your company before they will buy that product.
For instance, they need to know if they can trust you. You could devote some space to testimonials to show how you have satisfied other customers. Maybe highlight your terrific money-back guarantee to show your customer they won't risk a thing when they place an order. You can even show a picture of your business to show you are not some fly-by-night operator. And you can shout how long you have been in business.
You can also help develop a bond with your customers by having a letter and photo from the president of your company.
Customers also need to know what services you offer. Can you ship the product overnight? Can you customize it? Do you gift wrap?
They also need to know how to place an order, at the very least like what number to call or what website to visit.
And, here is additional piece of advice.
Don't just squeeze them all into page two or the order form. In addition to placing your messages in these traditional areas, I suggest that you spread a few of the messages around your catalog to make it increase the odds for them to catch your readers' eyes. Like maybe your guarantee. Your customization services. Or shipping services.
So be brave and give up some of that product space for these types of messages.
3. Effective Product Descriptions
This seems so obvious.
But catalog copywriting is a special skill so be sure to take this seriously.
And, as opposed to face to face selling or even over the phone selling, you can't respond to questions in a catalog.
So you need to be sure your copy is accurate, benefit-oriented and complete so the customers can make an easy and informed decision. This can be a tough job when you have a very limited space. But, if you leave out an important feature the customer needs to know, they may look elsewhere.
Also, consider the tone and voice of your descriptions to be sure they match your audience.
And when writing your product descriptions don't fall into the trap of assuming all your customers know something so you don't need to put into the copy. Some customers may not know that piece of information, especially new customers. So be sure your product descriptions are comprehensive enough to answer their questions.
4. Strategic Pagination
For successful catalogs, a lot of thought is put into what goes where in a catalog. The products are not just thrown together haphazardly.
This process is known as pagination. It is a key step in planning a catalog. It deals with the order in which the products are positioned in the catalog and the space given to certain products.
This process can help customers find certain products and it can help promote certain products.
For instance, certain products seem to go together. They maybe complement each other. So, it makes sense to put these categories next to each other. So, when the customers shop for one type of product they can more easily find that other accessory to go with it.
Pagination can also help gain more attention for certain products. You may want to put certain products at the beginning or at the end of the catalog. Or you may want place certain products on the upper right hand of certain pages. This is often thought of as a spot that gets noticed more by customers. Or you may want to give more page space to certain products.
The products that you may want to get more attention may be certain seasonal products, best sellers, and new products.
5. Navigation Tools and Icons
This is partially related to pagination. Helping your customers find what they need is especially important if you have a big catalog.
To me it is so maddening when I waste time shopping for something and I can't find it. Like these huge grocery stores or some big box store. And, I am sure it is the same for many other shoppers.
So, I am a big believer that in producing a catalog you should do whatever you can to make it as easy as possible for the customer to find what they need.
Here are some ways to help your customers navigate your catalog.
Insert a table of contents. I find them useful even in small catalogs.
And, if you have a big catalog, you must include an index. I remember having several pages of index for some of our catalogs.
Also, if you have a big catalog you may want to indicate categories with page headers, footers and colors.
Other techniques are to use icons to call out your new products and bestsellers.
You can use huge display type headlines to point out what is on a page.
And, in the other direction, don't forget those small page references next to your photos to tell customers where to find those the products shown in the photo.
6. Great Design
As with all advertising, great design is vital in the effectiveness of a catalog.
Design helps to spotlight certain products, to showing the products, and even to make your catalog easy to read.
A big task of design regards the layout of the page. And, it is more than just making sure all the pieces of the catalog puzzle fit on the page. Though that can be big job in itself. Layout also involves sure the right products get the space they deserve and certain products are spotlighted so customers will more likely notice them.
Another critical task that falls under the design is the photography. Customers often need to see it before they buy it. So, it is crucial to show your products clearly show the customer understands what they are getting. They need to see what colors products come in. If you sell a kit, they need to see all those components that come with it.
What's more, in-use photos also can be extra helpful in getting the customer to buy. This is especially true for complex products as a photo can help the customer understand how it works. In-use photos can also appeal to certain emotions of the customer that can motivate them to make a purchase.
Finally, design is crucial in making your catalog easy to read. This includes from how the copy and art work together, the typeface used and even the backgrounds behind the type.
A Final Word
Producing an effective catalog can be daunting. There are a lot of elements that need to be considered. But if you follow some of the suggestions I highlighted above you will be on your way to producing one that can play an important part in your sales and marketing strategies.
It may be the hardest job in advertising.
It's getting customers to read your message.
And it is getting harder all the time as people are pressed for time as never before.
In just seconds people are going to decide if they want to spend more time reading your web page, a product description or your sales letter.
It's asking a lot of a headline and photo, the work horses of capturing readers' attentions.
So why not give them a little help.
Sometimes all it takes is a few extra words in the right place that can catch a reader's eye. It could be a message that can make them stop for a second and maybe get them to read a little more of your message.
Here are three tactics I often use to try and pull in readers.
I think of subheads as mini-headlines.
You often see them under the main headline. They can be effective way to expand on the headline and draw the reader down the page and into the body copy. I have even seen ads that have more than one subheadline. Often each will have a smaller type size and sentence length than the previous one. It often looks like a sales funnel, drawing the reader down into the body copy.
Subheads are also often used throughout a web page, a space ad or a sales letter. I think that subheads should be used in any marketing communication piece that's longer than a paragraph.
One reason is they simply make the copy appear more inviting to read. Inserting subheads can make it easier to read as opposed to having to look at a massive block of small-type body copy.
The second reason is subheads give you another way to capture your readers as they quickly scan your marketing piece. One of those subheads may contain just that extra bit of information to trigger a reader to stop and read more.
For instance, I recently received a sales letter from a life insurance company that illustrates the typical use of subheads. It was a short, one-page letter with three subheads.
The first subhead addressed the benefit of life insurance. That is to provide financial security to your family if you were gone. Although this is a well-known benefit of life insurance it may be just the reminder needed to nudge the reader to take action. Maybe the reader's family situation has changed and they have more to protect so he or she had been thinking about how to provide for them.
The second subhead dealt with the trustworthiness of the insurance company. This can get the attention of a reader who is worried about whether the company will be around or be able to make good on the policy in the future.
And the third subhead stated how easy to is to apply for a life insurance policy and that there is no medical exam. This addressed what for many people is a huge obstacle to buying life insurance. They know they need it but they fear their health is not good enough for them to qualify. Or they won't be put the ringer answering a long list of questions about their health. So by highlighting the easy application process in a subhead the company may have attracted a few more customers who may have missed it if it was just buried in the body copy.
2. Photo Captions or Callouts
Despite the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" sometimes a few more words can help.
This is especially true for photos of technical products.
In these instances, the reader may not be sure what the photo is showing. This is where a photo caption or call out can help explain what is going on. They can also help point out a particular feature that the reader may overlook. They definitely should accompany any inset photos that are focusing on a particular feature.
But even if the photos are pretty self evident, adding words to a photo is a great way to take advantage of where the reader's eyes probably naturally gravitate towards.
I suspect that for many readers when they are scanning some advertising piece they generally glance at the photos in the ad. So why not add an extra plug about the benefit of what it is being shown or some detail about what is being shown. And try and make it compelling and intriguing as possible to get the reader stop and want to find out more.
3. A Post Script or the P.S.
Finally, and oldie but goodie.
Whenever you write a sales letter and for many emails too be sure to include a P.S.
It may be the last element in your letter or email but it is one readers generally read. It's an element that stands out from the rest of the message and usually contains important information.
The P.S. is where many marketers will include things like the deadline for ordering, or an extra benefit of the product or service they are selling, or even an extra bonus for ordering.
Yes, in the letter I referred to above they included a deadline for ordering.
From my earliest days as a copywriter my boss emphasized to include a P.S. with every sales letter.
And like I noted how some ads will use a double headline, some marketers will use double and even triple post script messages.
To me, it is kind of like infomercials that say "Wait! There's More".
It's the last words before the reader decides whether to listen to your whole spiel or to walk out the door.
So make sure you include a P.S. and include a strong message.
It may be one of those extra lures or hooks that can pull in your prospect and get them to read your entire message.
Just the other week, J.C. Penney's announced it was bringing back its home catalog. See "J.C. Penney to bring back a home catalog: WSJ"
They said it would boost their online sales.
They said they found that a lot of people who receive catalogs turn to the internet to make a purchase.
Such behavior may have been a big surprise to many marketers.
But, not to me.
For years I have worked with multichannel merchants who issued catalogs while also operating an ecommerce store.
And everyone on our marketing team was very aware that the catalog nearly always provided a boost to online sales.
Many times in reviewing online sales results whenever we would see a spike in sales we would ask ourselves whether we had a catalog drop around that time. And, many times we found that we had.
So, I am really surprised that J.C. Penney's didn't know the power a catalog could have on online sales. After all, I often get a catalog and if something catches my eye I then go to the internet to research it some more and if it fits my needs I order it online. And many of you may do the same.
Catalogs can be a great way to gets back on a customer's radar screen for those times when they are not online.
Also, catalogs can often present products differently and sometimes better than your computer screen can. Catalog can inspire readers with their rich color, full-bleed photographs. The text in a catalog is often easier on the eyes and easier to read too.
Now, for sure, the hey-day of catalogs is in the past. So, that means most companies shouldn't go producing humongous catalogs as companies used to do. In fact, J.C. Penney's said it would be producing a 120 page book, not the heavy-duty catalogs they were known for.
There are several strategies in using small catalogs. I have helped produce smaller catalogs that showcased the variety of products a company offers, or their bestsellers, or just their new products.
You see, their role was not to duplicate their ecommerce sight. It was to complement it. To provide a spark. To get people to go their site.
So, for some marketers there is still a role for them.
What's more, this lesson about catalogs goes to show that marketers may not want to give up on so-called old marketing channels too quickly.
Here, I give you two more avenues you may want to rethink using.
Catalogs may not be the only thing you should send through the mail.
You may also want to send postcards, flyers, sales letters or some other direct mail piece.
Now, like catalogs, direct mail is not as popular as it once was. Sales people and marketers have for several years embraced email. And, no wonder. It is cheaper and faster.
But, the decline of direct mail can also be its power.
With less to compete with in people's mailboxes, your piece may stand out more. It may gain more attention. Especially in comparison to email where your message has to do battle with a lot more messages.
Here is an interesting study that shows direct mail still has some punch. Completed by the Direct Marketing Association in 2012 this study showed direct mail had a much bigger response rate versus email. Their numbers showed a direct mail response rate to existing customers of over 3.4% while email brought in a tiny 0.12%. See "Back to the Basics: Why Direct Mail Is Not Dead".
And, here are some more things to think about.
Many elders don't have internet. So, to reach them directly email is not even an option.
And, how about this. Another study surprisingly said that even the young prefer to direct mail to the internet. See "Direct Mail: Alive and Kicking". This was reported three years ago, so I wonder if this is true today. But, the fact that such a study found this result even then is pretty amazing.
Finally, here is one of my own theories.
I don't have any big study to back me up here. But, I wonder if the fact that direct mail is tangible and costs more to produce gives the marketer a little more credibility. The fact that they went through the effort to produce such a direct mail piece may send a different message than an email. So, I wonder if direct mail could be particularly helpful for high-end or products that need to develop a lot of trust with their customers.
Of course, there is nothing more tangible in marketing than marketing with the actual physical goods.
But today the trend seems more about having a business model with direct delivery to customers' homes.
At the holiday time it seemed much of the media attention was on whether Fed Ex and UPS would get all of their packages delivered on time.
And, I am always seemingly reading about a new ecommerce business. And that is understandable, as I would imagine setting up an ecommerce site is often less expensive than a physical store with all its overhead. Just design a website. Put your inventory in the garage. And you're started.
But you know, a retail store still can be powerful.
And as a result, you may be losing out on some customers by not having a retail store.
One reason is that a lot of people may not buy your product unless they can feel it, test drive it or try it on. I remember telling a couple of people that I bought my shoes online. I have a hard to find size. They’re response was that they could never see themselves ordering shoes online. I am sure there are many more customers just like them.
Then there is the social aspect. Many people want to go shopping with their family and friends. They want to have an experience somewhere. They want to get out of the house. It is not quite the same as gathering around your computer clicking a mouse.
So Consider Complementing Your Marketing with Those Old Ways
I certainly don't mean for these to be an either/or decision. I am suggesting you at least consider these old ways of marketing as a complement to your ecommerce site, email, and social channels. Think about whether you might gain more sales through opening a retail store, using direct mail or sending out a catalog like J.C. Penney's is doing.
Consider all the different ways you may be able to reach new customers and all the different ways they like to shop.
Then test those ways. See if they help to bring some more sales. See if it is worth the extra cost.
You may find the old ways just may bring in more new customers than you thought.
Tis the season when many us ask ourselves what is the best gift to give.
Well, for me, it's not necessarily the biggest.
Nor the cutest.
Nor the most outrageous.
Nor the most expensive.
Instead, it is often the unexpected gift.
It is giving someone a present who does not expect to get anything from me.
Maybe you have experienced the thrill of doing the same.
Or, maybe you have received a gift from someone you didn't anticipate giving you a present.
If so, you know the emotion such a surprise can elicit.
The emotion is authentic, so raw, and so deeply touching.
Anyway, giving unexpected gifts can be a nice added touch to your business's marketing plan. It may help your business get a few points in the customer loyalty department and it may attract attention drawing in new customers.
Some companies do it on a grand scale.
Here are a couple of examples that may get your creative juices flowing. But, I want to warn you that you may need a tissue.
Last year, a great example was the WestJet Airlines. It was an amazing idea. Through the use of technology and some great coordination they put a lot of smiles on some passengers. If you have not seen it, take a look. Here's the link.
Now, don't put away the tissues just yet.
This year, another airline (not sure what it is about airlines), Air Canada, made some people very happy with an amazing and surprising gesture. Again, take a look yourself. Here is the link.
Yet, it does not even have to be a for-profit company. It could be a civic organization. The unexpected gift may work wonders for the people you serve. Take a look at this one from a police department.
It doesn't have to be as grand a gesture as all of these examples either.
As I write this, I just read about a mystery woman who paid off everyone's layaway account at a toy store. Yes, that is a grand gesture by this giving person. But for some of these people the pay off was fairly small. One person said it was $50 for her account. Yet, this person was so appreciative. (See the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/12/12/a-mystery-woman-paid-off-everyones-layaway-accounts-at-a-toys-r-us/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost )
It goes to show you that small gestures can make a difference when it comes to receiving a gift from someone you never expected to give you a gift.
So, you may want to think of ways you can give someone an unexpected gift. Maybe an extra product. Or throw in an added service you don't normally do.
It does not even have to be a customer. Maybe it could be doing something for a charitable organization. Not just giving money either. Maybe offer a product or service that your business offers.
And, if you want to make it even more of a surprise to your customers, provide them with unexpected gifts not just at the holiday season. Make it an ongoing practice throughout out the year. You may catch them even more off guard.
And, you may get even more loyal customers and a few more new ones too.
Do you struggle on how to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
Well, you're not alone.
It's a fundamental problem that most of us running businesses face.
Most of us simply don't sell a product or service that is vastly different from our competitors.
Oh, there may be some little things we can highlight.
But, often we have no earth shattering new technology or innovation that's different from everyone else.
And, this is where a skilled marketer and copywriter is needed to help find and communicate some difference you have or some perceived difference.
But, there is another way. One that is maybe against my own interest as a copywriter as you may not need my services.
Instead of emphasizing what's different about your main product or service emphasize what's different about how you sell your product or service.
And in particular, highlight how your business addresses a major obstacle that customers have with your industry...if you truly can.
Now, that may separate you from your competitors.
Some Examples of Companies That Address Customers' Major Obstacles
Several major industries take this approach.
Like the cell phone industry.
A big obstacle for customers is that they don't want to be locked into a long term contract.
So instead of emphasizing the benefits of their phone service many phone carriers now offer options that emphasize the fact that no contract needed.
And, how about life insurance.
There are tons life insurance companies trying to sell you a policy. You know you need it. But, for many customers, especially as we age, the obstacle becomes whether we can qualify. Whether we can pass the medical test. Or whether we are healthy enough to get life insurance we can afford.
So, instead of emphasizing the benefits of life insurance, a few companies highlight the fact that no health exam is required for to purchase their life insurance.
And take all those companies selling products by the internet or catalog.
There, one of their customers' big obstacles is shipping costs.
L.L. Bean has taken the shipping cost issue head on. They differentiated their company by offering FREE shipping. And, they made sure their customers know this as they have made Free shipping their main message on the front of their catalogs.
And, then there is Zappos. They offer FREE shipping on both delivery and returns. Just reading some of their reviews I can also bet this has garnered lots of customers that otherwise may have not shopped at Zappos or even online altogether.
A Great Strategy for Service Firms
Tackling a major obstacle customers have in a particular industry and then communicating it can be a big advantage for various service firms.
This could be for home improvement companies and professional service companies.
For a service company it can be especially hard to differentiate itself. You have a great BBB rating. But so do your competitors. Great reviews on Angie's List. So do many of your competitors. And you offer this and that service. And, so do many of your competitors. (This is where it is really helpful if you can specialize in some service that few others offer).
Anyway, now what do you do?
You can differentiate yourself by addressing a big obstacle that customers have with you industry.
Like maybe being on time.
I constantly read and hear how frustrated people are when a service company does not keep an appointment. This includes home improvement professionals. And of course the cable company. And, even health professionals. Many patients hate waiting for an appointment that should have been hours ago.
So if you can address that, you may be able to attract more customers.
Another obstacle that pertains to home improvement businesses is whether they are careful about cleaning up after themselves or not dirtying the house in the first place when they visit.
Again, I have seen many reviews where the comments are about the company were careful to not track dirt in through the house. Or how impressed they were that the company cleaned up the job site.
One more common obstacle in the service industry is about how the person explains things to their customers.
Many times I have seen reviews where customers rave about how the professional took the time to explain things to them. This is a huge thing with me too. I want my plumber or doctor to take the time to explain to me the problem, explain my options and explain it in words that I can understand...all so I can make an informed decision.
So, maybe if you're that professional that explains things better you will get even more customers.
So See What Customer Obstacle You Can Address
You may have something else that is a big obstacle with customers in your industry.
If so, see if you can address it in your business.
It could be what separates your competitors. Especially if you are in a business where you sell similar products and services as many other businesses. And where the benefit of the product service is already known.
Then shout it from the rooftops. Put in your headlines in your advertising messages.
Here I have just provided a few examples of obstacles customers have with certain industries and professions.
I would love to hear from you about other obstacles customers may have in your industry. And I would love to hear about your experiences in addressing such industry-wide obstacles.