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Pump Up the Volume With Copy That Sells

  |  April 30, 2001   |  Comments

What’s the secret to creating strong copy? Copy that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go till a sale is made? Alas, a magic formula doesn’t exist. But following some guidelines can turn copy that’s just passable into copy that packs a real punch.

I get a lot of requests from readers for copywriting tips. How do you create an outstanding, response-generating email promotion? What do you look for to ensure that email copy is above par?

As most of you know, good copy doesn’t come from a one-size-fits-all approach. Sure, there are certain "rules," though I’ve seen many a winning promotion break plenty of them. In other words, there is no sure-fire formula that you can apply across the board; however, there are certain things you can keep in mind while you’re in copy-development mode.

What Motivates Your Audience?

Everyone wants something. Discover what lies at the heart of your target audience’s desires, and you’re halfway there. If you’re selling compact discs, perhaps your potential customers are looking for peer acceptance -- they want to be perceived as hip. Or maybe they want to relieve boredom. Find the right soundtrack for their leisure time. Express their personalities.

If you’re selling life insurance or financial content, members of your audience probably want to protect their loved ones, be good parents, accumulate and/or preserve money, have security in their old age... Or maybe they want to proverbially keep up with the Joneses.

If you’re selling travel services or vacation packages, audience members may be looking for ways to save money, fulfill a few fantasies, seek new adventures, or simply have fun.

What Features and Benefits Appeal?

You can see where this is going. Start with the core -- audience motivation -- and the rest will come naturally. Well, almost.

What you’ll end up with is a list of benefits, each of which will appeal to a specific motivation. Stay focused on what you’ve determined to be your primary motivation, and hone any and all benefits related to it.

For instance, a vacation-resort promotion that drives home the fact that it includes everything from drinks to tips is touting features -- and benefits -- to appeal to the cost-conscious. If it were targeting the fantasy seekers, it would instead sing the praises of the various decadent features that vacationers could enjoy.

Here’s the kicker: Those features and benefits might very well be the same, or similar, for each version (the one for the cost-conscious and the one for the fantasy seekers). However, since the audience motivations would be different, the positioning of those features would be different as well.

Just remember that it’s the benefits that truly sell. The features are simply there to substantiate those benefits. So instead of "We have seven miles of prime beachfront property," think in terms of bennies: "You’ll have 7 unique miles of white, sandy beaches to stretch out on... Sip a few piqa coladas, relax, and enjoy."

Know Thy Audience

Let it be said for the thousandth time: It’s the little things that can make all the difference in the world.

And although it’s not a little thing in terms of time, the following is something that we often don’t spend enough time on: research. Therefore, know the market even more than you know the product. Know the lists that the promotion will be sent to. Know them inside and out; in fact: Who are these lists made up of? How did they become members of those lists? Picture them in your head in terms of things such as age, occupation, and lifestyle. That’s when you really begin to know who you’re "speaking" to.

Think in terms of objections that this audience may have. Then develop answers for those objections -- and why they shouldn’t be objections at all.

Keep words, sentences, and paragraphs short for those impatient scanners who need to quickly comprehend the gist of the offer and message. Strive to keep most of your words down to five characters or fewer. Sentences should be no more than one-and-a-half lines long. Paragraphs should be three to four lines max.

Another excellent suggestion I learned long ago is that you should write your copy so that a 12-year-old can understand it. No matter who your target audience is. Even if you are targeting multimillionaire Mensa members (Wow! Say that 10 times really fast!), your copy shouldn’t be so high-falutin’ that the preteen brainiacs in the group can’t understand what you’re saying.

Last, but not least (for the purposes of this article, anyway), remember that less is more -- for the most part -- when you’re writing for the email landscape. Especially when you’re trying to generate leads. The opposite is generally true for a paid offer. But be careful here -- although longer promotions can work in an email, those that are way too verbose rarely make the grade.

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Kim MacPherson

Kim MacPherson is President and Founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency specializing in promotional copywriting, HTML design, planning, and deployment/tracking solutions. Kim is also the author of "Permission-Based E-mail Marketing That Works!"

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