When I walk through a mall hallway and see a poster covered in text, I just have to laugh. Do they really think anyone’s going to take the time to read all that? We’re living in the information age! They can check out your website on their cell phone! Why waste space putting information on when you could be doing so much more?

Modern copywriting has rewritten the definition of the K.I.S.S. methodology. Now it’s not just about keeping it simple.

It’s about keeping it short!

1)      Posters Aren’t Textbooks


When you crack open a textbook you expect to spend an hour reading pages of useless information just to figure out a couple of key points. When you’re printing posters you need to cut the fluff and all that extraneous detail and get straight to it. Need to give them more detail? Slap a website and a phone number up there. Their cell phones will take care of the rest.


2)      You’re Not  Having a Conversation Either


This isn’t a conversation. You don’t need a lead in or a clever conversation starter. You need to tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it. Want to toss in anything else? Don’t bother. They’re not going to read it anyway.

That’s it. Seriously.

Oh sure, there are key selling points and catchy headlines and hundreds of other little marketing tools you need to know about when you’re printing posters, but a 5 year old with a lemonade stand can take these two rules and the image guidelines we’ve been talking about and be just fine.

lemonade stand poster

Now, why didn't you think of that?

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If you write the way you talk, and the way you talk doesn’t sell, how does anyone write copy for their direct mail marketing materials?

You learn (fast) how to get really good at proofreading for more than punctuation.

There’s nothing like writing copy to inspire humility to deliver a slap upside the head. I like to think I’m a fairly proficient

Proofreading: The fine, thin line between a direct mail marketing campaign that works and one that's going up in flames.

copywriter. Blogs, white papers, short stories, web content, video scripts…you name it, I wrote it. What I hadn’t done much of, however, was write copy for direct mail marketing materials. That’s been a whole new ball game, and like any new ball game it comes a whole new set of rules, which is why as soon as this post is finished I have to go delete an entire file and start all over again.

The good news is, once you know the rules, you can learn how to play!

Rule Number 1: Don’t say what you don’t mean.

Forget about double meanings, entendre, interpretation and reading between the lines. If you say it, your customers will assume you meant it just the way they read it. Your customer service team isn’t going to be happy if they have to pick up the slack.

Rule Number 2: Brevity is key.

Direct mail marketing materials have 3 seconds to catch your customers’ attention and less than a minute to keep it. You need to make your point and make it fast. Back story? What back story? That’s what your website is for.

Rule Number 3: If you don’t tell them to do it, they’re not going to do it.

You’ll be really, really sick of hearing people talk about a “call to action” before the end of your copywriting career. Don’t give in to the urge to stuff a sock in their mouth just to shut them up. If you don’t tell your customers to do it, they’re not going to do it. It really is as simple as that.

How did you do?

Take these rules and apply them to the last piece you wrote. How did you do? Were you close, or did you end up having to start all over again? If it’s sitting in the bottom of the trash can, congratulations. You’ve mastered the hardest part of copywriting-knowing when it’s time to throw it all out and just start over.

**Image created by Jeff Bucchino, www.WizardofDraws.com**

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It’s 2 pm. My mind is foggy. The coffee buzz is gone. I’m staring at a blank screen because the inspiration to blog has wandered out the window. A quick flick by my homepage (and the who-knows-how-many RSS feeds I’m subscribed to at the moment) shows there’s a new blog post from Joel Rubinson that will put my mind back on the path of vitality, creativity and excellence-or at the very least, provide a great distraction from my current, raging case of writer’s block. ‘He doesn’t post often,’ I think, ‘but when he does it’s always worth reading.

Then I realized in only a dozen words I’d summed up 90% of the problem with today’s marketing philosophy, especially direct mail marketing, and given myself today’s blog post in one fell swoop.

There are so many people out there clamoring to have their voices heard in the direct mail marketing arena that it can be difficult to pick one voice out of the chatter. So we yell louder, longer, and with more consistency than the guy next to us in the hope that somehow our voice will stick out above the crowd. But what are we going to say when they actually hear us? Do we keep yelling, or do we say something worth hearing?

Is what you say worth hearing? Or are you just hoping you can bark loud enough to be heard?

I want to hop in here with a quick confession. I’m the direct mail marketing specialist’s worst nightmare. If you can get a direct mail piece to make it from the mailbox to the little calendar pocket reserved for stuff I actually want to be able to find later, you’re doing something right. So when I say that something works, I say it with the absolute conviction of someone who spends a large percentage of her life throwing these direct mail pieces away!

You want to be heard. So you design creative pieces, use bright, fun colors and kick in great promotions to convince people to “come on down”-in other words, take the time to flip it over and look at the back! At its heart, however, the point of any direct mail marketing piece is to tell your customers you had something so important to say that you took time out of your busy day to mail it to their house. Don’t be the company that sends so much junk mail your customers look at it, shrug and say, “Junk” before tossing it in the trash. Be the company that puts enough thought and effort into their direct mail campaign that when your customers see something from you they say, “Hey, they might not mail me much, but when they do they always have something to say that’s worth hearing.”

**graphic created by Wizard of Draws Jeff Bucchino, www.wizardofdraws.com.

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Yesterday we touched on some of the fundamentals of basic copywriting. Thanks to the huge quantities of advertising materials being bandied around these days it’s not enough to have great direct mail marketing materials, however. You also have to know how to write a headline that zings!

Studies show that today’s marketer has exactly three seconds to convince their audience to listen to what they have to say. That’s right. Three. Not thirty, not ten. Three. If you haven’t hooked their attention by then, your direct marketing materials are going in

Are you familiar with the power of 3?

the trash and your customer has moved on to someone else’s marketing materials-and if that someone else knows the secret of how to write zingy headlines, they’re going to give that someone else their business.

The first rule of writing effective headlines (and my personal favorite, may I add) is the one breath rule. Why is this rule the first? Because it’s the rule so many marketers get wrong. Remember, your headline is not a dissertation. You want to get directly to the point, with just enough information to hook their interest. A good rule of thumb is, if they can’t say it in one breath, your headline is too long!

Hence the reason this blog post is titled “3 Steps to Write Headlines that Zing” and not “How to Write Headlines That Will Convince Your Readers to Listen to What You Have to Say Instead of Throwing Your Direct Mailing Materials in the Trash with the Rest of the Junk.”

See what I mean?

Next, let’s talk about sizzle and steak. The oldest rule of thumb in the marketing industry is to sell the sizzle, not the steak; in other words, to give them just enough information to get them interested without overloading them with more than they need to know. This isn’t my favorite rule when you’re designing your direct mail marketing materials, since it’s easy to get caught on a wave of hype and forget to tell your customers what you’re talking about, but it’s a key element when you’re learning how to write effective headlines. Identify their problem, let them know you can solve it. There’s a reason “Learn How to Make $20,000 a Week Working from Home” draws the clicks like moths to the flame.

Finally, rule number the third: Incorporate emotion words into your headlines. Studies have proven over and over again that being able to reach your customers on an emotional level will do more to increase your sales than just about anything else you can do, and incorporating words that hold emotional appeal (for example, “Lose weight fast”) in your headline will immediately tap into that emotional flow of information.

A direct mailing piece with a real zinger of a headline is going to be seen. One with a headline that’s about as inspired as limp broccoli is not. I’ll let you decide which way you want to go.

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How many of you out there have heard of Copyblogger? This is one of my all-time favorite blogs, and one I count as a must-read when I’m bleary eyed waiting for my morning caffeine fix to hit my bloodstream. If you design your own printed offline marketing materials and you’re looking for techniques to help you reach your customers and get right to the heart of the matter, I strongly suggest you stop by and take a look!

One of the best posts I’ve seen there had to do with using your blog to make money. Does a blog like this one exist to oh, say, sell a product? Or is it there to educate your buying public? Build a rapport between the two? Offer a chance to share opinions and vent about things that individuals outside of the industry “just don’t get”? Before you start a blog you need to figure out what it is you want to do with it to make sure that each time you sit down and write a blog, you’re blogging for all the “write” reasons.

The same rule applies when you’re writing copy for your offline marketing materials.

The first step in creating the print for your offline marketing materials is to figure out who you’re trying to reach and why. Are you trying to sell baby clothes to parents with newborns? Convince local business leaders to attend your next charity event? Announce an upcoming sale to your existing customers? Build your “street cred” with members of your industry? You should always have the who, what, when, where and yes, the why of your message firmly in your head before you sit down and put pen to paper (or boot up your word processing program of choice, whichever you prefer).

Next, think about who your audience is. There’s a reason many companies outsource their copywriting projects, and I can sum it up in one word: Jargon. When you’re used to talking with subject matter experts in your office, it can be easy to forget who you’re talking to out in the real world. If your target customer base understands the jargon you can sit there and use it all day long, but if you’re reaching out to appeal to a group of regular consumers that just aren’t that familiar with the field you’re going to need to tone it down a little. Avoid industry-specific words when you can, and make sure you explain them if you can’t.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how well you say it if your target audience can’t understand what you’re saying!

Finally, remember that in the real world you have exactly 3 seconds to catch your customer’s eye, so make sure your headline is up to the job. (Not sure how? Tune in tomorrow for a quick blurb on writing headlines.) And keep your content interesting, relevant and to the point. A good hook isn’t going to do you much good if they don’t finish reading what you have to say!

Graphic design, a bold color scheme and well designed and professionally printed offline marketing materials are only half the battle. Add in well written copy and you’ll walk away the victor every time.

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Traditionally, businesses have stepped back from the arduous task of copywriting their materials and left it up to…well…the copywriters! If you’re a person who really hates to write, you really can’t blame them for that. Not everyone was born to be a writer. With the right amount of information and a little bit of effort, however, everyone can be an effective copywriter.

 You don’t have to be a writer to write.

Before everyone out there spending their nights working on the Next Great American Novel goes up in arms, let me point out I said “effective copywriter”, not brilliant author who’s going to make millions the moment your manuscript goes to print. If you’re looking for someone to re-create a masterpiece and write a guidebook to the industry with your company’s name on it, you might want to call in a writer. On the other hand, if you’re working on creating a script for your direct marketing materials you’ve already got all the writing skills you need to make it work.

Here’s how:

1)      Identify your customers’ weak spots. What do you have that they don’t-but they ought to? Think of that “something” as the topic, and your assignment is to tell them why they want it and how you’re going to give it to them.

 2)      Prewrite. Seriously. It’s tempting to put your pen to paper and just let your thoughts come tumbling out, but you (and your accountant) will be a lot happier if you take the time to put those thoughts into some kind of order first. Make a bulleted list of points you want to talk about, then shift them around so you have a definitive outline to work from.

 3)      Write. Now that you have your outline, it’s time to write it all down. Explain each point carefully, and make sure your customers are both interested and entertained. Remember, if it makes sense, and they can relate it to their life, you’re in. If it sounds like a bunch of professional drivel, full of jargon and uninteresting points they don’t have a prayer of understanding, you just wasted your time.

 4)      Trim it down. Ask an author about the secrets of copywriting and the first thing they’ll tell you is to get rid of the parentheses and eliminate the word “and”. We always, always ramble when we first start copywriting on a project, because we have so much to say and so little time to say it. There’s a reason editing was invented! If they don’t need to know it, take it out. If it’s off-topic, take it out. If it doesn’t really fit, take it out. Ideally, you’ll have about one-half to two-thirds the amount of content you started with, and your content will be ready to roll!

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