ThunderWord Copywriting Blog
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.
Ok. You got your prospect to your website or you got them to open your catalog.
And you got them to actually look at a specific product.
Now, you need to get them to add that product to that shopping cart or call you to order it.
And, that can be no easy task.
I know. I have been a product copywriter for many years. In my copywriting career I have written hundreds, probably thousands of product descriptions.
And through my experience I have learned several rules and tactics that can help in writing effective product descriptions.
Here, I give you what are the 3 biggies that I hope help in writing your own descriptions.
1. Include a Differentiating Benefit
The benefit is what a feature does for the customer. Like helping them save time, save money, or make their job easier or....
For instance, I have written a lot about safety products. Like reflective vests. Here the reflective tape is the feature and the benefit is that it helps customers to be seen so they don't get hurt.
It can be tempting to just list the features and leave out benefits in a product description.
Especially if you short on space like in a catalog.
Or in B2B selling. I used to hear all the time "they know what it is for". Yes, many of your customers may know. But, some may not. So why take the chance. Of course, if it is a product with new technology all prospects may need to know what the benefit is. Also, even if your prospect does know the benefit of a feature here's your opportunity to reinforce the benefit and connect the dots for them. (See my blog post about connecting the dots for your customer.)
So, find a way to at least put in the main benefit of your product. Put it in the headline and/or the body copy. Maybe even try and be creative and put in the name of your product.
And, if your product is in a category with lots of similar products, you need to take it a step further.
You must spotlight the benefit that differentiates it from all the other similar products.
Let's say you sell lots of flashlights. It's not enough to say that they help you see in the dark. Heck, they all have that benefit. Tell your prospect what is different about THAT flashlight. Is it brighter, more durable, lighter weight...what?
I find it infuriating when I look at a company's site or catalog that sells tons of similar products and I have to work at trying to figure out the difference for each.
Maybe you find it maddening too.
I am sure many people are just as irritated. And, I bet many will not do the work that we as marketers should be doing. They will just move on to someone who makes their shopping experience a little easier.
2. Give Prospects All the Details They Need to Make a Decision
I know. This sounds like a given.
But, it bears repeating as it is that important.
These are the seemingly little things that can stop interested prospects in their tracks. That can keep from clicking that "Add to Cart" button.
Like the dimensions of a product. If the item needs to fit in a certain space the dimensions are vital.
And for clothing it can be the fabric type. Is it cotton? Polyester? A blend? Or some other high-tech performance fabric? Many customers want to know.
Does a product meet certain certifications? Again, I have written for a lot of safety products and a product’s certification is vital to a worker's safety.
And what does the product come with? Does it come with a certain electrical cord that you'll need to connect to another device? And the almost universal question that goes with electronic devices...does it come with batteries? What type of battery does it take too? A common battery? Or some hard-to-find battery?
All of these can be crucial. And deal killers.
Don't think everyone will call you about those details either.
Many people won’t take the time. Many don't want to talk to a person.
They will just move on to someone who does give them that information.
3. Make the Product Description Easy to Read
This too can stop prospects in their tracks.
You can include all the differentiating benefits and all the necessary details to make a decision, but if the product description is hard to read your prospects may never read them.
This entails things like choosing the right type and the right contrast between the type and the background.
It can mean breaking the copy into digestible chunks that is inviting to read. Few people will venture into some big long chunk of copy.
Maybe use small separate paragraphs and subheads.
Maybe use bullets.
For catalogs, maybe place some of the information in the form of captions under certain photos. Or maybe make a separate side bar for a specific, but related topic.
For websites, you could create separate tabs for specs and certifications.
Use short sentences. And even sentence fragments if it gets the message across easily. (Yes, it is ok to use fragments.)
The bottom line is to make your product copy inviting and simple to read.
If you do, and you include the benefits and details your prospects are looking for in your product descriptions, I believe you are likely to turn more of your busy and overwhelmed prospects into customers.
I still see space ads for personnel announcements in the business section of newspaper.
Not little line listing, but big space ads.
They are usually for a professional service firm.
It could be an ad announcing a new investment advisor at a bank or an attorney at a law office. Many times I see medical offices too announcing new doctors. These latter ones are not in the business section though.
But, whatever the profession, I usually think "So".
Now, you may think my reaction is because I am not looking for an investment advisor or a lawyer.
My answer to that is even if I was, these ads certainly wouldn't get me to call them.
That's because the space ad is usually something like this. It has the business name, some kind of statement that says so and so has joined our firm, and then maybe some kind of tagline for the firm. And, that's it.
Ok. Such a sparse ad may have some benefit.
For instance, if someone does know that person or had done business with that person before he or she may in fact give them a call at their new place of business.
The announcement also provides an excuse for the firm to run an ad. Every little bit of exposure may help keep their business in the minds of people for when they do need your type of services.
And third, I wonder if such ads provide a little boost of confidence to the new person.
And, there is nothing wrong with any of these.
Yet, I guess it is the copywriter and marketer in me that sees such ads as missed opportunities. It seems that they could do a little more informing and persuading as there is generally plenty of space to add a little more information.
They could beef up the person's credentials and expertise. Maybe state their years of experience. Maybe state there licensing and other certifications. Maybe weave in how they fit into your firm's niche and philosophy.
Information like that just may move some customers to give you or that person a call. Maybe even me.
Of course, there are some professional service firms that do include more information in their personnel announcements.
But, a lot more should do the same.
To me, it is a missed opportunity in the marketing of professional service firms (who often do so little marketing as it is).
Like not having that P.S. at the end of a letter.
Like not having a caption that would do wonders to clarify a photo.
So, if your firm runs personnel announcement ads from time to time, and they have been bare bones, you may want to put a little extra effort into it and includes a little more information about the person and your firm.
It may be that little extra fact that gets a prospect to contact you.
"You Do the Math"
Oh, how I am so tired of that phrase.
Maybe you too.
Partly, I guess, it is just been so overused.
But for me, it is also asking customers to figure it out for themselves.
And, that shouldn't be.
When I was learning the copywriting trade one of the mantras that guided me was to "connect the dots for your customers". This meant don't make them work to figure things out. It was our job to spell it out for them.
Because when you don't, you run the risk making your customers hesitate. And hesitation can mean lost sales as people, more than ever, do not have the time to figure out what you meant.
So, here I give you three areas where I think it is crucial that marketers have to connect the dots for their customers.
Help Them Understanding the Savings
Ok, back to "You Do the Math".
I understand that the phrase is meant to somehow convey the idea that the numbers of the offer are so incredible the customer can easily understand what a great deal it is.
Of course, the problem is what if they don't fully understand how great a deal it is, especially if all your competitors are offering their own incredible deals too. Then you have lost a sale and probably and insulted a few customers too.
So, why not tell them directly what the savings are?
When it comes to offers that are great deals connect the dots for the customer.
If you are offering something on sale, tell customers what the former price was. Maybe tell them the savings too, whether by percentage or in dollars and cents.
If a product is priced less than your competitors', tell your customer what that savings is. Maybe even use that subtle "compare at..." phrasing to show what the higher price is elsewhere.
And, if you offer special volume or kit savings, be sure to show what your customers is saving versus if they bought the items in smaller amounts or individually. Don't force them to do the math.
Even when you have a giveaway be sure to tell the customer the value is of this gift. Don't make them guess. They may not realize just how valuable those freebies are. Connect the dots for them.
Help Them Understand the Product or Service
For complicated products, it is crucial to clearly communicate how the product works.
When it's your own product or service, it is easy to become so familiar with it that you can easily forget to include certain information that customers may not know. And that can stop customers in their tracks.
For example, over the years I have written a lot about various systems jackets. These are the kind that can be worn various ways. Maybe they are reversible or have zip-out linings that can be worn separately. Anyway, it is not enough to just say it can be worn multiple ways or can be worn three ways. I would think most customers would like to know what those ways are.
If you have a new innovative product extra care in helping your customers understand the product or service is often needed. Especially if it makes a promise that is way better or different than what exists on the market. Providing some details or explanation helps to connect the dots in the customer's minds of how this product could do what you claim.
And that extra information may be just what is needed to nudge the customer closer to the "buy" button.
Help Them Understand How to Buy the Product or Service
Ok. You have shown them the great savings they get. You have shown them how the product or service works.
But, many times you have to connect the dots for the customer to still complete the transaction.
For instance, if you sell products or services online you need to walk your customers the final transaction stage. Show them where and how to fill out each piece of information. Their shipping info. The discount code. You need to make the purchasing process as easy as possible. Because if customers gets too frustrated they may abandon you.
Also, if you offer a product or service that is complicated to order, it can be critical to lay out all what is involved to make the purchase.
This is especially true for products and services that have lots of options or require several steps to order. For years, I have worked for companies that sold embroidery services along with their apparel. It was always a struggle as to communicate how to order the embroidery as there were so many options for the customer to consider. Where do you want the embroidery located? Do you want one line or two? What color do you want?
As you can see it would be hard for customer to anticipate all the options they had. That's why we worked hard at laying out the process for them. We tried to connect the dots for them.
Finally, if you are a manufacturer it is important to tell your customers where they can find your products. Tell them what stores carry them. Maybe even tell customers what section in the store they can find it. Especially if it is a product that may not be clear what category it fits.
Of course, this is not new. I recall hearing TV commercials from food manufacturers saying stuff like how you can find it in the dairy aisle. Or you can find it in the frozen section. What they were doing was simply connecting the dots for the customer.
And, it is a classic principle that we should keep in mind in all of our customer communications.
Do you think copywriters as the quiet type?
Well, you may be surprised that there are a few of us out there with a little bark in us.
A little bulldog or fight in us you might say.
Now, I don't mean we are difficult. That we won't change something. That our creative prose is not to be tampered with.
I am talking about a copywriter who will challenge or question things.
And, for many business owners and marketers this can be a good thing.
It May Lead to a Better Core Message
Some owners and marketers may not be communicating the best message.
And if so, that means a lot less sales.
Copywriters with a little bulldog in them may be just what is needed to get that right message.
They often will not just accept whatever message they are given.
Instead, they will be dogged (I couldn't help it) in their pursuit to find the right message.
That means they will do some of their own digging and research. They will ask lots of questions. They will often read those testimonials. They may talk to the customer. They will see what the competitors are saying. They may even use the product or service if they can.
All to be sure they get the right message.
It May Lead to a Better Execution of the Message
For many projects, this is often the process.
The designer creates a design and then the copywriter fills in the spaces allotted for the copy.
And, that's it.
A lot of the time such a process works fairly well, but many times there is more work to be done.
Maybe the copywriter finds that a better case could be made for the product if there was a side bar of some sort that explained the product.
Or, that the photos would do a better job of selling if they had captions along with them.
Or, space was made for a couple of subheads in order to better walk the customer down the sales message.
Or maybe body copy was more appealing through the use of bullets that take up more space.
This is also where copywriters need a little bulldog in them.
They fight for copy space, and not just accept the space given to them.
Now, when working with many designers, I don't have to do much barking or fighting.
Most welcome added input.
They understand that the creative process of advertising projects is not like a relay race. It is not just the designer handing it off and then let the copywriter bring it home.
Instead, the process is more like a dance but where one takes the lead then the other. Such a process is what often can lead to a much better piece.
Sometimes the copywriter should even take the initial lead.
When I was writing about a complicated product, the designer and I would often agree that I would write the copy first. This would give a designer a much better idea of the space they need to allow for the copy.
And, It May Make Your Message Read Better
Often, business will have an idea of how the copy should be written. A preference to certain style and tone they want.
But sometimes that is not what's best.
That is where they should hire copywriters with the courage to write it like they feel is best. Copywriters that don't just accept the style you have always used and will argue for something different if they feel it is needed.
As a result, they may be able to show you a style that resonates better with your audience.
For instance, instead of a stilted, corporate style, maybe you can put out something with a little life to it. Communications that are more clear, simple and direct. Communications that have some personality to it.
Plus, to make your materials read better, you need copywriters that challenge your comments to fix certain grammar "errors".
You may think "hey, rules are rules when it comes to grammar".
But, times change. Rules often change where it comes to language and grammar.
What's more, popular communications like in marketing is little different from that which you learned in school.
If you want marketing materials that are more readable and more conversational in tone you need a copywriter that also will challenge or educate you or whoever approves your copy about certain grammar issues.
Like it's ok to use sentence fragments.
Like it's ok to begin a sentence with "And".
Like it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition.
I know, I know. That is not what you were taught.
And I know you it's your communication piece.
And you are the client and you are paying the bills. It's always your call iin the end.
Yet, I urge to not fear hiring copywriters that will challenge things.
Because it may lead to more effective marketing materials.
And, isn't that ultimately what you really want?
The first thing I bet most business look for in a copywriter is the ability to write.
It's in the job title.
A person must be able to string words and sentences together in a coherent manner.
The person needs to know grammar.
So, yes the ability to write is essential.
But, it is not the only thing needed to be a copywriter.
It is a profession that involves a lot of different skills and qualities.
So here, I give 5 big ones that you may want to look for in hiring a copywriter. A couple may surprise you.
This is a big one.
Legendary advertiser and copywriter, David Ogilvy (in his book Ogilvy on Advertising) put curiosity at the top of his list of qualities a successful copywriter should have.
Curiosity is what drives a copywriter to find just the right message to communicate.
It is what motivated him or her to learn about your product or service. To find out what makes it different from your competitors.
It is what pushes the copywriter to learn about your competitors and industry.
And to learn about your customers...what they really want and what motivates them.
The curious copywriter often is someone who asks lots of questions and will often have a variety of interests.
It seems everyone is looking for creativity.
So, it is with copywriters.
Every business is looking for a way to communicate their message differently. So they can break through the clutter and can catch the attention of their customers.
It can be a simple turn of phrase or a whole advertising concept.
Now, it does not always have to be the often over-the-top, laugh-out-loud creativity we see in Super Bowl commercials.
Creativity can be much more subtle but still very effective. It can result in explaining something in a different way. A way that better resonates with your customers. A way that is different from your competitors. Creativity can lead to a great product name. Maybe a tagline or slogan. An email subject line.
You may be surprised by the amount of creativity behind so much of the communications that you see.
How to Sell
Copywriting is about persuading someone to do something.
It could be selling that product or service. Raising funds for a charity. Getting someone to visit your website.
So, a copywriter needs to know how to use write words that sell.
He or she needs to understand the principles of selling. Like how to explain the benefits of a product's features so customers can understand what the product will do for them. How to appeal to certain emotions to create a desire in the customer. How to motivate your customers.
It's also understanding how to use just the right words to build trust with your customer.
And remembering to ask for the order and have a call to action, and phrase it just the right way.
For printed and web projects, the copywriter also needs to be aware of how the copy will look on the page.
Now, you may be thinking that the layout is the job of the designer.
And primarily it is.
But there are some areas where I feel both the copywriter and the designer share responsibilities. And, layout of the copy is one.
As you know, the effectiveness of a message is just not in what you say, but how you say it.
So, a copywriter should also make sure the copy is structured and formatted so the important messages are emphasized and so the copy is inviting to read. This could be making certain words bold. It could be making sure sentences and words break at the right place. It may mean breaking the copy into small chunks with the use of subheads, small paragraphs and maybe bullets too.
He or she should also take the initiative to think about where else copy should be added beyond the main copy block. This could be could be adding a call out or caption to a photo to better explain what is being shown. For a complex topic it could mean adding a sidebar to explain a topic...if space allows.
A Hunger for Numbers
Now, with this one some of you may be thinking "Hold it. I want a copywriter. Not a number cruncher."
But, hear me out.
Again, the goal of a copywriter is to get someone to do something.
And, it is numbers that tell us how we did. How many people did we draw to our website? How many visitors signed up for our newsletter? How many products we sell?
It is with numbers that we find how if we need to change anything and even what we may want to change.
These numbers give us the necessary feedback to make our messages better and better.
So, while most copywriters are probably more comfortable with words than numbers.
They should embrace numbers to better understand just how effective their words were.
What Other Skills Do You Think Copywriters Should Have?
Being a good copywriter involves a mix of skills and qualities. Here, I give just five. Yes, there are more. So, if you have some other critical skills you think a copywriter should have I would love to hear your thoughts. I would also love to hear any comments you have on the ones I discussed.
Advertising and copywriting are often thought of as fuzzy things.
They usually involve that magical thing called creativity.
Ok. We all know that.
Still, that does not mean when you receive the final draft of a project it should be a big surprise.
Now, surprises can be nice at times.
But, not when it results in something you don't like.
And definitely not when you're up against a deadline.
So, for those of you who have had this happen to you, or for those of you who have not worked much with marketing professionals, I provide some ideas to boost your chances of getting the results you want.
Begin with a thorough kickoff meeting. Yes, every project has to start somewhere. But, when it starts badly, the problems seem to just cascade throughout the project.
Now, the kickoff meeting (aka the briefing) where overarching topics are discussed. Things like the medium, the product, the prospect...and, of course, the goal of the project. Yes, the goal is sales. But, many marketing projects have more immediate goals like getting the customer to visit your website or stop by your store.
Here are two crucial keys to a good beginning.
1. Make sure the people who will be approving the project are in the room. Too many times I have seen projects get derailed at the end because a manager who was not involved at the beginning rejects it.
2. Provide the designer and copywriter with as much information as you can. The more the better. First, even though you may know your business inside and out, they may not. Second, they may find a gem you hadn't even thought about that may lead to just the right message.
Include a concept stage. This is often the most fun part of many projects. Where the ideas for approaches are discussed. The good, the bad and the crazy ones. This is where you can consider all kinds of angles before you get too far down the road.
This can be a grand, formal presentation with lots of wow and sizzle. It's the kind of thing that a big agency may do for a new campaign.
It also can be rather informal. It depends on the size of the project. I have often sent short descriptions and ideas to a client in an email.
Have a layout stage. This is a great way for you to get a visual idea of what a printed project and web page will look like. You get to see how each element is positioned, ideas for the pictures to be used, and the headlines. Note: If you were doing a television commercial you would be shown storyboards.
This stage is similar to a concept stage because the layouts often include different concepts. In fact, you may combine them. I tend to think of the layout more about providing the details about how the concept will be executed. In doing tons of catalog work, we often had just the layout stage and not a separate concept stage.
Ask for an outline. Yeah, this may invoke memories of what you did in school. But, it can be very helpful. Especially for big projects with lots of text. It makes it easy to see if all the topics you wanted are included and if they are in the right order. The right structure can be huge in making a project a success.
Complete the project in stages. This is great for big projects including company capability kits, websites or any modular project. Rather than wait for the whole thing to be completed (and then find you don't like it), you may decide to have the project delivered in stages.
Schedule drafts to be delivered before the deadline. This seems obvious. But it's easier said than done. With our fast paced world, extra time is often a luxury most of us don't get. And, it can be hard to get buy in from your creative team who often need as much time as they can get to complete the project in the first place. But for your most important projects, earlier the better is always advisable.
Refrain from looking over your copywriter's shoulder. I had to throw this in here. While I am big proponent of being engaged with the client throughout the project, there can be too much engagement.
You don't want to flood him or her with emails and phone calls checking on every little thing. First, copywriters can be a sensitive lot and for the most part are not keen on being micromanaged. But more importantly, creative types need blocks of time to find just the right way to communicate your message.
Of course, the types of steps you want depend on the project and whatever you and your copywriter are comfortable with. For some big catalogs I worked on we used to have a host of other little stages and checkpoints in addition to what I listed here.
But whatever you do, don't just provide some vague direction like "I want a brochure", and don't just hand off your material and then wait for the project to be delivered at deadline time.
Instead, do your planning. Clearly communicate what you want. Follow a systematic process. If you do these things, you are likely to avoid lots of headaches and those ugly surprises.
Recently, I read that Sears was going to spin off Lands' End.
And, it made me think how it never seemed right that Lands' End clothes were sold right in the Sears stores.
They just always seemed out of place. Alone.
They looked like the many other clothes hanging in the store.
I guess it was because I was used to seeing them displayed in their catalog, surrounded by the great photos and all the great copy.
I always loved the copywriting at Lands' End. And no wonder, it was founded by an award-winning copywriter.
Lands' End has always done such a great job selling their clothing...by educating me about an item, telling me why I would want it, and of course why it was a great value.
But, in the store there was none of that. The clothes were left on their own.
It is comparable to J. Peterman selling their apparel without all the stories of romance and adventure.
Anyway, this got me to thinking about the bigger marketing issue of why the selling environment is so important.
It's Not Just for Clothing Either
The right setting and atmosphere are crucial for every kind of business.
They have to meet the expectations and desires of your customer. They are part of what you are selling.
Probably the business that we most easily see the importance of environment is restaurants.
Yes, we go to that high restaurant expecting exquisite epicurean delights. But, we also want the table cloths, the mood lighting, and the fine furnishings too.
The sports restaurant may have great buffalo wings. But, you may also want the big screens placed everywhere you could possibly look, sports decor and memorabilia on the walls, and a raucous atmosphere.
And, there are all of those theme restaurants like the nautical restaurants or the various ones that just have lots of whimsical decor (or flair) everywhere to make it a happy and fun experience.
But, having the right environment goes beyond just retail stores.
It's your office too. How your office looks can be another key piece of the selling puzzle.
For instance, if you visit your advertising agency's office you may expect to see an edgy decor with wild colors and flashy furniture. They confirm that your agency is creative and on the forefront of today's trends.
Yet, when you visit your accountant, you expect a whole different look. More conservative furniture and artwork that give you a sense of trust and carefulness.
That's not all.
The feelings and image you project extend beyond your place of business.
It's in the Way You Communicate Too
As you know, it's not just what you say...but how you say it.
So, when thinking about your image and environment you need to remember your marketing communications.
Be consistent with the ways you represent yourself in your physical environment.
This means you need to carefully consider the design of your communications. This includes things like the colors you use, the spacing and white space, the typeface you choose, and the photos you use.
Of course, it also means how you write those words.
What kind of tone should you use? Formal or casual.
Should you use long copy or short? Write paragraphs or present your information with bullets.
And, what kind of words and phrases should you use for your type of business? Does your customer use industry jargon? If so, use it. It's what they would expect.
It's all part of telling your customers they are in the right place.
It's all part of making an environment that can lead to more sales.
Tis the season for the song, "My Favorite Things".
So, I thought it might be the time to share a few of my own favorite things.
Like my favorite copywriting words and phrases. Some of these are ones that I use over and over. Ones that attract special attention and can really spur customers to take action. You may think of them as power words or trigger words.
Now, this list isn't a comprehensive. And it's not in any particular order.
Anyway, enjoy. Hope it helps with your own marketing messages.
Yes, it's an obvious one. It's everywhere. In fact, I have heard some people argue not to use it as it is too overused.
But, no other word says you get something for nothing like "free". No other word says it with such power and conviction. Oh, the words "no obligation" and "complimentary" have their place. But, if you can use it legitimately, never underestimate the persuasiveness of "free".
Here's an example of its power. Many times you will see the phrase "free gift". But, adding "free" is redundant, right? So, why do so many copywriters still use this phrase? Just saying...
2. How to
Like "free" you see "how to" a lot.
It’s almost a failsafe phrase for starting a headline.
You see, "how to" suggests that an answer to your problem awaits...whether it be how to lose weight...how to make more money...how to relieve stress...and so on. People are constantly looking to solve some kind of problem. So, you may want to use this phrase to communicate to your prospects' how your product or service can solve their problem.
A restrictive little word that can really pack a punch.
"Only" can be a tap into several core emotions.
It can make us feel guilty. Remember the fire prevention mantra "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires".
It can make a customer feel special with a statement like "We developed this offer only for small business owners like you".
And, it may make customers fear they will miss out something. All the time you see stuff for sales that shout something like "Only 24 Hours Left in Our Big Sale". You'll also frequently see some form of the statement, "You'll only find such and such here!". The such and such can be a product a service or some technology.
We are all searching for something to make life easier. We're always interested in what will save time or work.
Now, instead of actually using the word "easy" you can convey the same meaning with other words. All the time you see messages like "flat abs in just 5 minutes a day" or "get customers flocking to your website with this simple change". Actually, I think the more specific you can be in conveying easy, the better.
But, using the word alone shouldn’t be scoffed at. Heck, Staples built a whole campaign around the word with their "Easy" button, and they use "easy" in their tagline.
5. Last Chance
Here's a phrase that can definitely send customers over the top and make them buy. Especially if it regards a product or service they have been thinking about already.
It employs the principle of scarcity, and as a result, strikes fear into customers that they may lose out on an opportunity. It is used everywhere on just about anything. It's the "last chance" to sign up for that webinar...to get that reduced rate on that marketing course...or to order your holiday gifts in time for Christmas.
One more note. If you use it, stick to your guns. Don't extend the deadline. It can hurt your credibility.
Not sure if it's curiosity, or simply boredom, but we seem to love checking out just about anything that is new. It's why we see new car and clothing styles every year. It's why fast food restaurants keep introducing new sandwiches all the time.
What this means for you is if you have a new product or service, shout it from the rooftops. Highlight the fact that is new in your headlines.
Actually, I am a little embarrassed at this one. The word "secret" just seems such a blatant, over-the-top appeal to our sense of curiosity.
Yet, it works. It must from all the times I see it used. At least, it works on me. I guess, like so many people, I want to know that secret that will help me do something better. Maybe that is what has been keeping me from reaching that goal. It is a secret that only the experts know. And, now it will be revealed to me.
So, if you have some special knowledge or expertise that you are offering, you may want to package it as a secret.
Have Some of Your Own Favorite Marketing Words? I would Love to Hear Them!
More than ever, customers are swamped with marketing messages.
So, wouldn't you love a way to help you cut through all those messages so you can better connect with your customers?
Well, here's one that may help.
I often call this idea the power of 1.
The general idea is that just concentrating on just one thing or even one person can make a big difference in getting your message heard.
Here, I explain three ways this concept may make your communications more effective.
1. Get Your Customer to Focus on One Thing
It's been years ago when I first heard the adage that went something like...you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.
It was a warning about trying to emphasize too many things to your customer. Because when you do, you confuse your customer. It makes it hard for him or her to make a decision. It can also make it hard for any one message to get through.
And, I think it is a warning that is even more applicable today.
So, you need to try your utmost to limit your communications to just one main topic.
Yes, I know you have all kinds of important things you would love to tell your customer. I never said it would be easy.
Still, you have to be disciplined if you want your message to be heard. Include just one major benefit or promise in your advertisement and headline. Stick to one overall theme or product on your catalog cover or home page.
By focusing your customer's attention, your message will likely have a lot more impact.
2. Connect Better with Your Customer by Writing to Just One Person
Legendary adman, David Ogilvy, wrote years ago in "Ogilvy on Advertising": "Do not, however, address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium".
Yet, this sage advice is often not followed.
Often, I see writing where it is cold and aloof. So sterile. So corporate. The writing does not connect with me personally.
So, how should you write?
Write conversationally. Like you're sitting across from the person.
Now, this too can be a hard to do for a lot people.
You may have to break some old writing habits.
For instance, it means ditching the third person for the second person. You may use the word "you" in your writing. And maybe even write in the first person too.
It also means substituting that corporate jargon with simpler words.
And, if you're worried that your communications won't sound professional, don't be. You can write conversational and still be professional.
But what is more important, your communications will be a whole lot easier to read and will better resonate with your customers. And that's what really counts.
3. Create Urgency and Curiosity by Limiting Your List to One Thing
Every day, we are bombarded with messages that offer a list of things to help us do something better.
10 ways to save money...37 ways to optimize your website...101 ways to cut your stress...
I am sure many of these are useful. They probably get lots of action and clicks.
But, for me, the really is hard-to-pass up message is the one that references just one thing.
It's a message that goes like...
The biggest mistake you can make in optimizing your website.
The one question copywriters must ask prospective clients.
The one book that should be in every marketer's library.
Now, these really stir my curiosity. Often they create a sense of urgency too.
I think it's because they focus on just one thing. The writers could have given me a list of mistakes, questions and books. But they didn't .So the one thing they do refer to must be really important. And, that makes me want to read it, even more.
So, the next time you are writing an article or blog...and you have a big long list, maybe try picking out just one thing and send that out.
You may discover the power of 1 has more power than you thought.
Yes, it's Halloween time.
So, it's natural to hear a story about the famous Orson Wells radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds. The show that seemed to actually convince quite a few listeners we were actually being invaded by aliens.
And, you may hear even more about it this year, as this year is the 75th anniversary of that famous broadcast.
Over the weekend I happened to catch a fascinating discussion of it on the program, Radio Lab.
On the show, they addressed the question of how could such a show convince so many that aliens were attacking.
I found it captivating. I encourage you to go and listen to it yourself at Radio Lab.
After the show, it hit me that the show and the discussion actually helped to illustrate the use of some key marketing concepts. The kind that we should keep in mind for our own marketing, even if what you're selling is a little more down to earth than that of selling an alien invasion.
Anyway, here are 3 marketing concepts that I came away with about why this show was so convincing to so many people.
The Importance of Timing
Ok. The show was done at Halloween. But, that's not what hit me as a biggie for the show's success. Then, who knows, the fact it was Halloween may have made some people a little more anxious, at least unconsciously, and little more receptive to the idea of invading martians.
And, there is maybe the timing of the airing of the show that night compared to the shows on the other radio stations. Radio Lab discussion talked about how many listeners switched from another show and started listening to the War of the Worlds show after it already began. So, they did not hear the beginning that said it was a just a show or play. And, that may have just been luck.
But, I think the biggest illustration of the show's timing is how it tapped into the growing fears people had of a real World War. That of World War II. It may have tapped into this emotion at the right time. There was a heck a lot of anxiety out there at that time. This was 1938. Germany was already making noise and threats. And, in less than a year, the full war would begin.
In fact, in the Radio Lab discussion, they remark how some listeners of the show said that they thought the invasion they were reporting was that of Germans. Not aliens. That the reporters just were confused.
Create the Right Selling Environment
This is the most obvious marketing principle that the radio show employed.
You have probably have heard how important it is to create the right selling environment. For a retail store, it may mean the right music is being played. Maybe for another service it may mean serving refreshments and how the customers are greeted. And for marketing communications it could be the tone of the message, the font type used, even the format of the communications. All can play an important role in persuading and convincing customers.
For the War of the Worlds, it was the use of the "special report" and "live reporting". Both made it sound as if an actual emergency happening right then and there.
On the Radio Lab discussion they mention how the use of a special report had been on the rise. So if a program was saying this was a special report, listeners may think this has to be real. And it must be important. Radio Lab also reminded its listeners that the now haunting live report of the Hindenburg crash was just the previous year too.
Make It Personal
This kind of overlaps with creating the right selling environment.
Again, in so many effective marketing communications, they want to address the problems, fears and desires that YOU feel. They want to address your personal needs. It's why they address you by name. It's why they tell you about the termite problem your neighbor had. It's no longer somebody else's problem. It may be your problem too.
This is something the War of the Worlds show did brilliantly. They used actual they used actual place names in New Jersey. Not some fictional ones. Or someplace far away. These were places right here...at home.
It was a Martian invasion in many of the listeners' own back yards.
And, that probably helped make the show so convincing.
Have Your Own Marketing Takeaways from this Famous Radio Broadcast?
I would love to hear you own ideas about what made this show so effective. And what kind of marketing concepts were used.
And, if you didn't hear the Radio Lab show, remember you can hear it online. Just visit www.radiolab.org.
Tell a story.
Again and again, we here how telling a story is a great way to get your message across.
Here, I am talking about one particular story you may want to tell.
It's the story about how you started your own business.
I am often fascinated by stories about how people started their businesses.
And, I bet I am not the only one.
Who knows, it could be that extra element that helps build a stronger relationship with your customers.
Not sure if your story is worth telling?
Here are 3 types of startup stories that I think would especially resonate with your customers.
1. Stories that Inspire
Let's face it.
Many of us are suckers for the stories that show someone overcoming great odds.
We pull for the underdog. Like in the Rocky movies.
We admire people who are self made. Who come from nothing. Who follow the classic rags to riches story.
We marvel at the determination of people who overcome great tragedies and failure.
All the time, I read about entrepreneurs who tell how they have had numerous business failures before they found success.
So, if you have triumphed over financial difficulties, health problems or even all those naysayers that said your business wouldn't fly...tell your story.
It may go a long way in helping you win the admiration of your customers.
2. Stories that Just Entertain Us
Hey, we all like to have fun. It's why we see so many funny commercials. Why we see so many cute cat videos.
So, if you have a funny or fascinating story about how your business got started, share it with your customers.
Maybe it is some serendipitous way you started. Like how your hobby became a viable business.
Or, how your business got its name. I often see lots of business names where I wonder how they came to be.
Or, maybe your business took a strange twist or turn before it became successful. I always chuckle at the story of how William Wrigley first gave away gum as just a bonus to sell baking powder.
Whatever your fascinating story is, it can be a great way to show off your business personality and reinforce your company brand.
3. Stories about Solving Your Customer's Problem
Of course, as much as we like to have fun, we also seek out businesses to find a solution to a problem.
And, many businesses were started to do just that.
Often, it was because of the founder's personal experience.
Business history is full of these kinds of stories.
Some classic examples include:
Edwin Land inventing the instant Polaroid camera in response to his daughter's question about why she couldn't see the picture now.
Kemmons Wilson starting the Holiday Inn motel chain after he and his family had difficulty finding a good, moderately priced motel on a vacation.
Margaret Rudkin founding Pepperidge Farm when she came up with a bread recipe to improve the health of her son.
And, here are two more recent examples.
The idea for Carbonite, the digital backup firm, came about partly because his daughter had a computer crash.
And there is Sam Farber who started Oxo kitchen ware because his wife found her kitchen ware difficult to use.
Fascinating stuff, huh?
So, if you started your business to solve a particular problem, tell your story.
Who knows, it may have a more powerful effect than you think as it tells the customer your company is rooted in solving their particular problem.
After all, it is why it was started.
A Final Word on Communicating Your Story
Your first thought in communicating your story may be to place it in the About section of your website.
And, that makes sense.
But, if it is a good story, you may not want to bury it there. Why not make it easier for your customers to see.
My advice is to lead with it somewhere in the default page of your About section. Make it visible. Make sure your customers can see it. Grab their attention with it.
What's more, the About section may not be the only place you want to display your story.
You may want to put a lead or teaser to your story elsewhere on your website...yes, like the home page.
And, don't forget your other sales collateral. Maybe put in a brochure. Maybe use it as an insert in your marketing materials.
Finally, let others help you tell your story too. Contact publications or reporters to see if they may be interested in doing an article about it.
I believe lots of publications and websites are hungry for great stories.
And that great story may be your very own.
Has this happened to you?
You go to a company's website.
You read the headline and maybe the intro copy on the home page. And you look at the photo.
And, you still don't know what this company does.
Well, I run to this more than I would expect.
It can be frustrating, to say the least.
Here's a typical example from my experience.
Often, when I research a prospective copywriting client I start at their website.
I read their Home page. And, then I read their About page. (Yes, the About page is important! Maybe more on this in another post).
Yet, after I do this, many times I still don't know what this company does.
Instead, I often find fluff copy on the order of "we're committed to customer satisfaction" or "Or we're all about quality" or some other general statement that is not very convincing and is something so many companies also say.
Or, it leads with the mission statement in all its corporate lingo.
Now, maybe the reason is that these companies don't rely much on their website to get new customers. Maybe all their customers are acquired by account reps. Or some bidding process.
But why take the chance of blowing it with a prospective customer that is looking for a business like theirs, and do happen to find their website. I doubt most are going to play web archeologist and dig around their website. They don't have time.
Also, such copy fluff can be a missed opportunity to reinforce their message to current customers or prospects that they have made contact with in other ways.
So, if your company's website happens to give such general statements on the Home page or About page, here are some suggestions.
First, if your company name doesn't communicate what line of business of business you are in (and many don't), then say who you are and what your line of business is. Make it clear that you are an accounting firm or a civil engineering firm.
Second, tell what problem or problems you solve. Customers are often looking for solutions. So be as specific as you can. Tell them how your company can help them. Don't use this valuable space for irrelevant corporate jargon.
And third, tell why the customer (or prospect) should choose your company over your competitor. Say what your unique advantage is.
Let's face it. In this fast-paced and competitive world, every company should take advantage of every medium they can to make their case to prospects and current customers alike.
Especially on their Home and About pages.
These aren't the places to hem and haw about what you do. Not the places to wax poetic (at least in the introductory messages).
And, not the places to put such vacuous and tired statements that other companies make.
Again, these are where you need to tell who you are and what you do as quickly and as easy as you can.
Becasue it could be the loss of prospective customer and maybe even a current one.
There is something about three things.
Not sure what it is.
But, it's a number that can help move your customers to take action and even create more sales for yourself.
Here are three ways (of course) to use what I call the "Rule of Three".
It Can Make a Process Sound Easy
You see it all the time whenever someone is giving directions or instructions.
It's the phrase...yes, you guessed it, "easy as 1, 2, 3".
I think it's one of those overused and worn out phrases. But, you'll find it used everywhere.
I admit, I still use it sometimes. Though I try not to.
But, I think the principle can be effective even without actually saying verbatim "easy as 1, 2, 3".
I believe just listing the directions in three steps can convey the feeling that whatever it is will be easy.
And, more than ever, customers are looking for easy.
It Can Better Engage Your Readers
Interesting writing often involves rhythm.
It's why writing experts suggest to vary your sentence length.
It's why many copywriting gurus advise beginning copywriters to read poetry or great speeches. Both are great sources of how to use rhythm in communications.
And it's why experienced copywriters often use the technique of expressing ideas in groups of three.
For example, a company may express that they offer selection, service and value. Here, it's a sequence of three words that give the sentence its rhythm.
Legendary copywriter, Joseph Sugarman calls this technique the "triad". He says it's a style tactic he often uses in his copywriting.
It's a technique orators have used thoughout history.
It Can Sell More of a Higher Price Offering
The idea of three can even increase sales by dictating your product offering.
In the book "Yes!", the authors, Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini, illustrate how people often compromise when confronted with choices.
For instance, if you have two choices, evidence says more than likely you will pick the cheaper one.
But, when you have three choices, you will often select the middle one. It's not the cheapest, yet it's not the best and most expensive either. It may be the one you would reject if there were just two choices.
Have you found yourself doing choosing this way?
I do all the time.
I bet many others do too. In the houses they buy, the cars they buy, and in more everyday items too.
When a company's offer includes a good, better and best selection of a particular product, I bet more customers choose the better.
And, with it the company likely sells more of the better product than if they only offered good and better.
So Think "3" When It Comes to Your Marketing
The "Rule of 3" can be a powerful and proven persuasive tactic.
Employ it in your web pages, catalog pages, sales letters, space ads, and emails.
Even think 3 about the number of styles and price levels of a product you offer.
And, think 3 in the number of ways you package your services.
For the Mighty Casey, it was 3 strikes and he was out.
But, in marketing the number 3 can be a homerun.
If You Need Help with a Project
(Even if It's Just One Project and Not Three),
Let's See How I Can Help.
Does your product or service have a big benefit that blows the doors off your competition?
But somehow your customers don't seem to be getting it?
Then you may want to take a look at the placement of the benefits so your customer can more easily see your biggest benefits.
Here, I give you a couple of general guidelines I like to follow.
The Importance of Benefits
Now, if you already know what a benefit is. And, you know its importance. Then skip this.
But, if not. Or you need a refresher. Stay with me for a second.
A benefit is simply the answer to the question of "why is that feature of your product or service important?"
Or, you can think of it as the answer to your customers' questions like "why is that feature important to me?" and "so what?" when you describe a feature.
Here are couple of examples.
If you are selling a shirt with a moisture-wicking fabric, that is the feature. The benefit is that it helps you stay drier and more comfortable.
Or, in the case of a jacket that has reflective striping, the reflectivity is the feature. The benefit is that it makes your more visible and safer.
So, you see the importance for communicating benefits.
Benefits were pounded into me when I first started copywriting. And, today, as I write this I can almost hear the drums in the background and a chant of "benefits, benefits, benefits".
For these are the real reasons customers want your product or service.
But, they have to see them first.
Put Your Biggest Benefits at the Top or Beginning
So, here is my biggest guideline. It is simple. It is the most obvious.
Put your big benefits at the top of your print ad, web page, sales letter or product description.
In radio, video or TV, start off with your biggest benefits.
Put your biggest benefits in your headlines at the opening of your letter or product description.
Even if you have a list of bullets. Check the order of them. List your bullets with the most important benefits first. Not all bullets are equal!
I can't stress this guideline enough.
You can't count on your reader reading to the very end of your message or viewing your video all of the way through.
So, if your biggest benefits are at the end of your message, there is a good chance many of your audience will never see them.
But, you may be saying to yourself "hey, I read articles and hear presentations all of the time where the best is stated last". And, so many times they say straight out "Now, I have saved the best for last".
Then, there are the movies where the big action and climax is near the end.
But, these often have captive audiences. For us in marketing, we're often not so lucky.
And, in the case of movies, audiences expect big stuff at the end. But, even then, the stuff before the big finale better be good. Very good.
One way to help you make sure you put the big benefits first is to follow the journalistic way of writing. At least, in general.
In this style of writing, all the essential info is in the first paragraph or two. It answers the questions of who? what? when? and where? It's the info that immediately tells the reader what the article is all about, and hopefully entices them to read more, which is exactly what you want to do too.
Then, the details and explanations are provided down below.
Now, let's take this whole idea of putting your best foot forwards one step further.
And Position Your Benefits at the Beginning of Your Sentence
This is really the same principle as the previous one, only on a smaller scale.
But, it too, can make a big difference in getting your benefits noticed.
The tactic here is to put your benefits at the beginning of the sentence.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is puts a greater spotlight on the customer's interest.
Again, the customer is primarily interested in the benefits of your product or service. So, why not mention them first.
It is a tactic I learned from a veteran copywriter when I first started.
Here's what I mean.
In the above example above about a moisture wicking fabric, it is often written in this format, "The moisture wicking fabric will keep you dry and comfortable". The feature is stated first then the benefit second.
But, you could say the benefit first like this, "Stay dry and comfortable with this shirt's moisture wicking fabric".
Here the benefit comes first and the feature second.
How big a difference putting the benefit first can be was communicated recently in a test done by Marketing Experiments.
They tested several headlines that included a benefit and a call to action (instead of a feature). And, the one with the best results was the one with the benefit stated first followed by the call to action.
In fact, it had a 10% greater result over the original headline!
So, if you can, figure out some way to put the customer's interest first before asking them to perform some action.
(To see the webinar from Marketing Experiments or just the slides show for the webinar, click here, Minor Changes, Major Lifts).
Now, here's the second reason for putting your benefit at the beginning.
It's the way people read. From left to right.
What's more, at least for web page, the bias towards information that is on the left side page has been proven by eyetracking studies.
Here are a couple from Jacob Nielsen's Alert Box. One famous study describes how viewers generally look at a page in an "F" pattern. And another study, "Horizontal Attention Leans Left", describes how viewers spend nearly 70% of their time looking on the left side of the page.
The takeaway here is why not put your important messages where your readers are most likely to look.
The Bottom Line
So, if you want to get your benefits noticed more, the bottom line is this...
First, don't put them at the bottom.
Give them top billing. Put them in the spotlight.
And, second, don't let them be the tail of your sentences.
Let your benefits lead the way, and put them at the beginning of the line.
Then see if people don't finally realize the benefits of your better mousetrap.
Need More Help Communicating Your Benefits?
Contact me! I have years of benefit-oriented copywriting experience.
Is your catalog not performing as you think it should? A little under the weather?
Maybe I can help.
You see, I cut my teeth on writing catalogs. I have spent years writing catalogs. I have even won a few awards for my catalog work along the way.
So, here are three things I have learned in making a successful catalog.
One or more may just what you need to nurse your catalog back to health.
Include as Many Benefits as You Can
Benefits are what the features of your product do.
They communicate the reason why someone should care about a product and its features.
For instance, take shirts made of no-iron fabric. The fabric is the feature. The benefit is easy care. You no longer have to iron them!
Benefits are vital in any persuasive copywriting.
And catalogs are no exception.
Despite the often tight space limitations of catalogs, you still have to include benefits. Don't fall in the trap of just listing the features of the products. You have to find a way to tell the customer why they should care about those features.
So, communicate the benefits of as many features as you can.
This goes for B2B catalogs too. Buyers of business catalogs respond to benefits too. Yes, they may know the basic benefit of a product, but don't assume they know the benefit of some new or special feature. And, that can make all the difference.
And, one more note about benefits. Don't forget to include the benefits of your company too. Tell customers why they need to buy these products from you. Is it the convenience? The guarantee? The service?
Provide the Necessary Information for a Customer to Place an Order
So, you get their attention with your benefit. You built their desire. They want it. But, then they stop.
A crucial piece of information is missing.
So, they don't place an order.
If you were selling electronics the missing information could be about the batteries. Did you tell the customer if it comes with batteries? Did you tell them they are replaceable? Did you tell them what kind it takes?
If you fail to include this information, he or she may just turn the page.
The point here is that whatever you sell, details matter.
Catalogs are often not just for browsing and window shoppers. They're goal is to close the sale too.
So, think from a customer's view. What would you need to know before you purchased that item?
The little thing you don't include could be the thing that stops a purchase.
Present the Copy in an Easy to Read Format
How the copy looks can be crucial helping a reader to understand your message.
Now, you may think isn't that the designer's job? Well, generally is for stuff like the type size, font and color.
But, the copywriter can help too.
One way is to keep an eye on line and word breaks in headlines and display type.
Line breaks deal with the idea that people read in groups of words, not each word separately. Tony Antin, author of Great Print Advertising, calls this reading in "visual gulps". So when a headline breaks up words that go together, it slows down the readers, and it may make it harder for them to digest your message.
Word breaks can put the brakes on a reader too. So, don't break up a word if it is part of a formal name of a product or a brand name, or a word that stretches from one page to the next.
A second way a copywriter can help is by presenting the copy in small chunks.
Of course, in catalogs there is a limit to your space. And often, making something too long is not the problem.
But, there are times when a product requires a lot of information. So, that's when you have to think of ways to in easy-to-read chunks and not make your readers eyes glaze over with a long blocks of gray type.
For headlines, add a subhead or maybe put offers some of the information in the form of display type.
For body copy, two common tactics are to use bullets or reduce the number of words. But each have their challenges. Bullets are the simplest, but they take up more space. And, reducing the number of words involves the hard work of rewriting.
But, here is my secret weapon for reducing copy. Ok, it's not really secret, but I think it is highly underused, especially in B2B catalogs.
Just move some copy from the body and make it a caption of a photo, or add callouts in a photo. I have often found captions and call outs to be great escape valves for when I needed to include more copy.
But, here's the extra bonus.
By adding copy to your photo, you are getting another opportunity to catch your reader's attention. Many times a reader will look at the photo first. So when you include captions and callouts, you may provide a message that may induce your reader to take a closer look at your incredible product.
And, who knows? That technique alone may breathe new life in your catalog and cure what ails it.
Need More Help with Your Catalog?
Of course, getting something free is always nice. But, it seems to have even more impact when it is a surprise.
Lagniappe is just that.
For those of you not familiar with the term, Lagniappe, pronounced "lan yap", is an American French word evolved from American Spanish. It's often heard in New Orleans. I first heard the word years ago from a former boss of mine who lived for years in New Orleans.
I hear it often described as giving the customer a little something a little extra at the time of purchase. The example I hear again and again is a baker throwing in an extra donut at no extra charge.
But, it doesn't have to be donuts. (I'm not sure why that is the typical example).
It can apply to about any product or service.
I guess in corporate speak you may call it "over delivering", or just providing more than what you promised...and what the customer expects.
For me in my copywriting, it may be offering an extra copy suggestion on an element that was never discussed in the original project description. And doing it for free.
Of course, my feeling is that the real power of lagniappe is not just in providing something for free.
It's the surprise.
You see, a surprise gift or gesture can go along ways in building or deepening a customer relationship.
Here are a couple of recent personal examples.
Just a few weeks ago in running some errands, I noticed my tire was losing air. Since I just happened to be near the shop that I usually bring my vehicle, I called them to see if they could squeeze me right in then and check it out.
So get this. Not only were they able to see me, they even patched it, yet they didn't charge me a dime! You can imagine my surprise. (I did tip the mechanic anyway).
And here is another example that happened to my Dad. He recently had a dental emergency. So he called his dentist. They too squeezed him in on short notice. And when left he asked about the bill, they said No Charge! Wow!
Imagine that. An auto dealership and a dentist. Two places that you may not associate with giving products and services away.
Now, do you think I will be going back to that dealership and my Dad will go back to this dentist?
You bet we will!
So, think about your own business. Think about ways you may be able to offer something of value to your customers that they may not expect. It could be a product. But it could be a service too. Maybe even some extra advice.
Think about when and how you may be able to offer that unexpected gift or gesture.
It may not cost as much as you think.
And the returns may be far greater than you can imagine.
Your customers come to you for something specific. So your communications should stick to the subject that brought them.
Yet, I've seen several company communications stray from their line of business.
Here are a couple of examples.
I receive newsletters from a couple of local car dealerships (though it may be put together by the manufacturer). I expect deals on servicing, new car models, and maintenance tips. And I get some of that.
But then they often include articles that have nothing to do with cars. There are often more of these articles than car articles.
In a January issue from one dealership, it had articles on getting your flu shot, ways to celebrate Valentine's Day, income tax updates, fun facts about the Inauguration, and yes, a look at American Idol winners.
I am like what? Why are you including these articles?
And, here's another one from the other dealership. Their newsletter ran articles about foods with antioxidants, movie musicals, TV sitcoms, musical events here in my region.
Again, I shake my head.
Is it that hard to come up with more articles about cars?
Heck. Car Talk lasted 25 years talking about cars. There has to be tons of things you could tell me about cars.
The only topic that I really expect from my auto dealerships are those that deal with cars. And I expect many others would feel the same.
After all, would you go to your dealership looking for help with your Valentine ideas, tax info or help with your nutrition? Of course not.
And yes, these are real examples.
Now, does this mean you can never insert anything else in your communications?
I can see a company talk about a fundraising campaign for some charity. I can see a community business talking about some local issue even. And, I like it sometimes when a business reveals something personable about themselves or their employees from time to time. Especially for owners of small businesses, and services businesses. It can help the customer get to know you a little better. It can be another piece of the puzzle that causes a customer to want to do business with you.
But, I think such other topics should be limited.
Take me for example.
You come to my blog to read about marketing and copywriting.
But, I have other interests too. Lots of interests. Some of which a few readers may enjoy. For instance, I like following horse racing and talking about the bourbon industry. Go figure for a person here in Lexington, Kentucky. (By the way, I even work once in a while as a tour guide for bourbon distillery. It is so much fun!)
But, these are not topics people come to my blog for.
It's not the place for it.
I even have separate Twitter accounts for that very reason.
My business account is all about marketing, copywriting and business. I leave all the other topics I am interested in to my personal account.
I have even unfollowed a marketing person because most of the time they were just commenting about sports. Now, I like sports. But, it isn't what I want when I am looking for marketing and copywriting info.
So, in short, stay on topic.
If you are an accountant, give me accounting related information. Maybe tax tips or bookkeeping advice. Or how to choose an accountant.
If you are a Heating and Air Conditioning business, give me info on buying a new system, how to maintain my existing unit, and just make my home more comfortable.
If you are real estate agent, don't send me food recipes. Send me info about houses and real estate. How to buy a house. How to sell a house. How to maintain my house. Trends about housing and real estate.
Show that you're a go-to resource for your line of business. Show that you are an authority in your field.
Because if you don't...you may find people stop coming to your blog at all. Or they start unsubscribing to your newsletter, or trashing those postcards.
Then, when they do need your product or service, they may not come to you at all anymore.
I think the deadline rivals the use of Free as an advertising trigger.
It needs to be a prime technique in every copywriter's and business person's marketing tool box. And, it should be kept close at hand too.
It's certainly no secret technique by any means.
You see it used everywhere.
That's because, like Free, it is still very powerful. It often gets customers off their duffs to take some action.
And, it has been a deadline that has dominated the news headlines of late with the "fiscal cliff". (It certainly got some legislators off their duffs.)
That's why I thought this may be the perfect time to chat a little about why this persuasion technique works, and how it is used.
Maybe it will remind you of the power of the deadline, or give you some ideas about how to employ this technique in your business.
Scarcity and Fear
Giving customers a deadline involves the scarcity principle. (This is explained by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. in his classic book, Influence. If you haven't read it, you must. Be sure to put it on your New Year's Resolution List now.)
The scarcity here is time. And a deadline gives customers only so much time...whether to take advantage of that special deal or business opportunity...or to avoid some catastrophe, like some say would happen if the U.S. fell off that fiscal cliff.
It also plays on the emotion of fear, to varying degrees.
It could be as simple as the fear in missing out on a chance to save some money on a sweater. It could be the fear in what may happen if you don't take advantage of that career changing business opportunity. I talk about a few more examples below.
But, in all cases, the deadline generates an underlying sense of loss that goes along with not performing the requested action by a certain date.
And, the fear of loss is often strong. Very strong.
The Warning Takes Many Forms
Deadlines are phrased in all kinds of ways too. Here are just a few. There are many variations of these.
There are the phrases of "Limited Time" and "Hurry! Ends Soon". These have no specific dates. They are general statements that the sales aren't going to last forever. So, you better act now. It could be over anytime. (To be fair, I think I have seen some of these used as curiosities in email subject lines to get the recipient to open the email and see the specifics).
Then, there are the direct and specific phrases. They have specific dates, plus other specifics about the deadline. "Save xx% When You Order by Such and Such Date." "Sale Ends Such and Such Date".
Then, there is the often used "Early Bird Special", with the details following.
And, for workshops and events I often see "Reserve Your Seat by Such and Such Date".
Then there are all of those constant notices during the holiday season that said, "Only xx Shopping Days Left".
And, here's one that is especially impactful and emotionally-laden, at least for me. It's "Last Chance". Not sure why I find it so potent. Maybe it is the word "Last". It seems so final. Maybe it is the feeling that it will be gone forever.
Works for All Kinds of Products and Services
If you haven't used deadlines in your business, you should definitely look for how you can. Deadlines are used to motivate customers in all kinds of fields.
You are probably most accustomed to seeing deadlines used in consumer retail. You know...the sales for TVs, clothes, fast food, and cars, to name just a few.
You'll find them in finance too. Not just for credit card applications. For example, your accountant may remind you about a certain financial maneuver you need to make before a deadline, especially at year end. I constantly see reminders about the need to make your IRA investment by a certain date.
I have seen deadlines for home improvement. HVAC businesses perennially offer deadlines for service checkups in the spring and fall, trying to generate some business before the busy summer and winter seasons. I also recall a home improvement company reminding customers they can get an energy credit on their incomes taxes if they purchase new windows before the end of the year.
Even in B2B, I expect numerous opportunities exist to use deadlines to spur on clients. It could be reminding a client about how they have to meet a new regulation by a certain time, and how your company can help them do it.
These are just a few ideas and ways deadlines can be used.
Maybe they'll give you some inspiration of how you can use a deadline in your business.
A Few Comments About Using This Powerful Tool
Finally, here a few comments about how to use and not to use a deadline. And, ways that may make this powerful technique even stronger.
1. Give a reason for a deadline if you can. We are constantly hit with artificial deadlines where no reason is given for the deadline. But, it seems they would be stronger if a reason for a deadline was given. It just puts a little more weight behind it. (Almost anytime you can provide a reason for an action or offer, it generally makes it stronger.)
Some reasons include: A new model is coming out; Only so many seats are left; A New Season will be here soon.
2. Keep to the deadline. This is a biggie for me. When you have a deadline, stick to it. Don't back pedal and extend the deadline. If you do, the reason better be good, like maybe a technical one. Otherwise, when you extend your deadline, you also lessen your credibility.
3. Don't have deadlines all the time for the same product or service. You know these stores. They have sales and deadlines all the time. And, it is the same stuff. Of course, we all know the store that has the never ending going out of business. For these stores, I just think, what's the hurry. I can just catch the next sale that's just around the corner. I bet many others think the same. These kinds of deadlines surely must lessen their credibility and their effectiveness
4. Use the shortest time unit. This is a based on a time communication technique I think I first heard from copywriting guru and pioneer, Herschell Gordon Lewis. What this says is that a time period can be expressed so it sounds longer or shorter based on the time unit used. It's not the number of units that's important. For instance, in stating a deadline, instead of saying "1 week", say "7 days". "Days" make it seem shorter and makes the deadline seem more pressing. So, instead of "2 days", say "48 hours". Expressing it in hours makes it seem shorter.
This past holiday shopping season, I even received an email that said "Tick, Tick, Tick" to remind you how seconds were ticking away. Now, that's pressure.
Are you constantly hearing how you need to market more with video?
You should do your blog post in a video. Here's how to produce a better video. Or, here's how to make your video go viral.
Stuff like that?
And, I probably do need to add a video to my website or blog from time to time.
But, for the most part I am not a big fan of videos.
Now, that doesn't mean they don't have their place.
A video can play an important part in your marketing mix.
A video is ideal for demonstrating how to use many products or how effective they are. Television is proof of that.
There is the entertainment factor. If you can work your product into a video that is entertaining and can capture an audience's attention, that can be gold. It can really provide a wow factor that can touch people emotionally. Movies have shown that.
And here's one of my favorite reasons for using video.
Adding a video of someone talking can even provide an extra element of trust for your visitor. Seeing and hearing that you are a real person may give your visitor more confidence in what you say and in doing business with you. News anchors, like Walter Cronkite, can do that.
Then, many people learn better with a video. So, you may get your message across better to some people. (For more on this see the end note below).
Some people just prefer to get their information via video.
But, I feel many don't.
In fact, when I see a story that is only on video, many times I just hit the back button.
Often when I see a message with a link and it says [Video], I am not attracted by it like many people probably are. I usually don't click on it.
Especially if I know it is a video that is just showing someone talking.
The biggest reason, at least for me, is simply this.
That's Not the Way I Want to Get My Information
Frankly, I just don't always want to watch and hear someone talking.
Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean I don't like to interact with people. I do. I love talking with people face-to-face, via video conferencing, and over the phone. But those are real-time, two-way conversations.
But sometimes I even find video, depending on the speaking ability and the voice of the person, a little annoying.
I would rather read the news on the internet than watch it on TV or by video on the internet. And, I must not be alone in my reading preference either, as many news stories do include text to go along with their videos. Even if it is just a short summary of the story.
And, for another clue that maybe not everyone is going to jump for joy at seeing your video, consider the texting explosion.
I hear all the time about how more people are texting than talking to each other.
Last year in a survey by the Pew Research Center, it was reported that nearly a third of Americans who text on their phones prefer to get texts to talking on the phone.
Of course, this doesn't in anyway prove that these same people don't prefer watching videos.
But, it does suggest that people have definite preferences of how they choose to communicate, and it isn't always to hear a voice.
More Practical Considerations for Adding Text
I have seen a number of comments on forums and blogs say they simply find video just too slow.
They remark how they can read the blog or story much faster than it can be told through a video.
And, being a need-it-fast society I think that could repel some readers from a video. Like me. We don't want to wait.
Here's another related reason of mine.
When the information is in text form, I find it easier to reread passages. I can quickly glance up. Or scroll up and reread that important point you were trying to make. Much faster than rewatching a video.
And, consider this advantage of text.
With text, you can use subheads to further pull readers into your article. When many people first encounter an article they read the headline then the subheads. So if your headline still leaves the reader a little uncertain about whether to spend time reading the article, the subheads give you an added tool to get their attention. They could be your closer. (Maybe videos need trailers like the movies to pull more people in.)
And, of course, there are the considerate visitors who forget their earphones and do not want to disturb their neighbors. They may not want to play a video that disturbs their coworkers or the person next to them waiting at the airport.
So, Add Some Text to Your Video
Yes, video can help get your message out there. Even I should be adding some video to my website.
But, I wouldn't depend on it solely.
While a video may attract some new visitors, it may also turnoff some potential visitors and customers too.
So my suggestion is to add some text in addition to your video.
Cover all your bases.
It may help you reach more of your audience. Maybe more than you think.
*********Hearing Someone Speaking Can Be Powerful*********
Again, the post is not to suggest that video cannot be a powerful tool in getting you message across to your audience. It can. Noted psychologist, Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. points this out in her incredibly fascinating book, "100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People". In one section, she recounts experiments that have shown when someone talks, the listener's brain often syncs up with the speakers. And, as that happens the message is better received by the listener. So, in her "Takeaways" she suggests to not just rely on reading to communicate. And, I agree. But, in reemphasizing my point above, let me say that you may not want to bet all of your marketing dollars on that recording or video either. That's because many visitors may never click on it in the first place.