Writing Compelling Copy – Part III

Legendary direct response copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis once said, “A well-written sales letter is an amalgam of sales psychology, word manipulation, and mechanical application.”

Truer words were never spoken. I could write a book on the psychology aspect, but I’ll spare you (for now). However, when it comes to solid copywriting, there ARE certain rules and details that, when effectively applied, can work quite well within the email channel.

So enough on generalities: It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty… the manipulations and mechanics, as Mr. Lewis put it, that make up an effective promotion. And how to make them work online.

The following highlights fall under the “Things That Are Working Now” category:

1. Be brief.

  • Keep the overall promotion fairly short. Historically speaking, online readers have neither the time nor the patience to sift through a lengthy message. That means “write tight” – keep the copy short but packed with a ton of click-inducing information about your product or company. Easier said than done.

  • Leave plenty of white space in and around the text to make it easier for your prospects to read.
  • Keep the column width narrow. Text messages should be no more than 65 characters across.
  • Single-space within paragraphs. Double-space between. Again… makes for easier online viewing.

2. Have a conversation.

  • Use simple words and phrases. Don’t try to impress with two-buck words. Don’t bore your readers with too many details, either.

  • Pretend one of your top prospects is sitting right across the table from you: You’ve taken him to lunch to pitch him on your products and services. Envision what you would say. Think of the anecdotes and wording you might use… even the humor. Now put those words into writing, EXACTLY as you’ve imagined. Don’t think about it; just write. Doesn’t matter if it isn’t 100 percent grammatically correct. Remember: Your job is to sell, NOT to be an eighth-grade grammar teacher. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Ignore everything your eighth-grade grammar teacher taught you.

  • While Mrs. Hill – MY own former teacher – would be aghast, the fact is that the strongest copy often comes from the use of grammatical faux pas such as incomplete sentences and phrases… not to mention the use of the conjunctions “and” and “but” to begin sentences.

    Such tactics can really pack a punch. Why? It’s a matter of rhythm, pure and simple. There’s a certain cadence that goes along with reading an effective sales pitch. Take a look at the following two examples, the latter of which was part of a winning promotion:

    “…Their lives in business were different because of their useful knowledge and its application.”


    “…So what made their lives in business different? Knowledge. Useful knowledge. And its application.”

    Can you “hear” the difference? The rhythmic ebb and flow creates pauses. The pauses create reflection. That reflection gets you one step closer to the reader/prospect.

4. Emphasize.

  • Use one-line paragraphs to emphasize certain sentences. But don’t overdo it.

  • When you need to highlight certain points or words, use capitalization (or, for HTML promos, bold) for easy-on-the-eyes online viewing.

    Take a look at the following excerpt:

    “We’ll help you manage your time. And nothing more.”

    Sure, it would work in print. But the fact is, italicized text is more difficult to read online. Instead:

    “We’ll help you manage your time. And nothing more.”

    See the difference? This may seem like a minor point, but you’d be surprised at the boost it can give.

5. Load the benefits.

This is nothing new as far as copywriting goes. In fact, I’ve brought it up before. It bears mentioning again because it is, in my opinion, one of THE most essential components to creating a potent sales message.

Just keep the following in mind: Let every sentence pack a punch. That means weave a true benefit into each and every line. Yes, it IS possible. And it’s something to strive for.

Okay. Now here’s a challenge – well, maybe not so much a challenge as a call to action. Ready?

If you’ve had success (or failure) with email promotional copywriting and you’d care to share your lessons learned, send me an email (anonymously, if you wish), and I’ll post a condensed, de-duped synopsis of the most relevant specifics in a future article.

Hmmm… Real-life email fodder from ClickZ readers. Now if THAT isn’t compelling, I don’t know what is.

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