Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing That Sells: A Guide To Effective Copywriting

If everything begins with a sale, then we are all selling something to somebody. Some of us are selling products or services for cash, while others (such as charitable organizations) are selling the idea that their cause is worthy of support. Even people who offer things for free are selling something – that what they are providing is useful.

Copywriting Services
Copywriting is an essential element of any sales or marketing effort, regardless of the medium chosen to deliver it. Here are some typical projects that benefit from copywriting:
  • Printed sales material: brochure, display ad, direct mail campaign, product description, sales letters
  • Printed informational material: case study, white paper, newsletter article
  • Websites: landing and inner pages, SEO content
  • Social media: blogging, Facebook, tweets
Besides creating original material, copywriting services may also include proofreading and editing of existing text. Proofreading checks for spelling, grammar and sentence structure – the basic elements that readers use to judge the quality of the writing. Editing looks at context and syntax – the elements that improve or hinder the reader’s comprehension of the text. Neither proofreading nor editing includes rewriting, though. 

Effective Copywriting

Direct response copywriting – using the written or spoken word to get people to take some form of action – requires the same skills when used for traditional media (print, television, radio) or new media (websites and social media).
When we are selling, communication with our audience is grounded in the mechanics of the sales process. One enduring description of the sales process is summarized by the acronym AIDA: get the reader’s attention; engage his interest; create desire to own; and provoke action.
AIDA describes the four phases buyers follow when accepting a new idea or purchasing a new product. Here is a way to apply AIDA to a copywriting project:
  • Attention: Use a compelling headline to attract the reader’s attention. Then use a subhead to reinforce the headline, and an illustration or photograph for emphasis.
  • Interest: Develop interest beginning with the first sentence of the body copy. Its sole purpose is to get the reader to read the next sentence. So focus on benefits to the reader rather than features of the product or service.
  • Desire: Use the second and subsequent paragraphs to elaborate on benefits and describe how the product or service will solve a problem or enhance the reader’s life. Aim for a logical progression of benefits that ends with the reader concluding “I must have this.”
  • Action: The final paragraph is the call to action – it tells the reader what to do next. Add a final thought as a P.S. to further stimulate desire and action.

Compelling Content Is Based On Knowledge
Before you begin writing, it is important to understand the target market, the benefits the product or service brings to the target market, and what motivates the buying decision. Very large corporations or businesses find these answers with research, focus groups and other techniques outside the budget of a small business or local non profit organization.

So then, how can you get the information you need? An excellent way is to ask your top customers. Most businesses follow the Pareto Principle, better known as the 80-20 Rule. As applied to business, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, making the task of surveying customers a lot more manageable. Here is what you want to learn from a combination of survey questions and what you already know about your customers:
  • What demographic characteristics do your customers share? For individuals, this could include age, marital status, household income, ethnicity, etc. For businesses and organizations, SIC code, annual sales, number of employees, etc.
  • What separates your product or service from those of your competitors? Look for measurable characteristics like better performance, more features and benefits, on time delivery, ease of ordering, etc.
  • What motivates your customers to buy? Is it convenience? Delivery time? Superior quality?
With the answers you are better prepared to write the copy to develop the interest and desire. You will also know what kind of an offer to make.
Copy That Sells
Using the AIDA approach means keeping the reader engaged from the headline all the way through to the call to action. This is best done by keeping the copy itself straightforward, focused and easy to understand. Here are some guidelines:
  • Keep the focus on the reader. An excellent test of this concept is to be sure the copy answers the reader’s question “what’s in it for me?” When you apply this test, it becomes instantly apparent why leading with benefits is more persuasive than a list of features. Made of titanium (a feature) is less persuasive than will last a lifetime (a benefit).
  • Use a topic sentence for each paragraph. A topic sentence is the theme or main idea for the paragraph and is usually the first or last sentence. All sentences in the paragraph support the topic sentence by providing evidence or a persuasive argument.
  • Present evidence. By citing accepted positions, research or statistics, you’ll be giving the reader more than your opinion and be building credibility. This is especially important if you are developing a new or counter intuitive idea.
  • Provide a specific offer. No matter what you are selling – a product, service or idea – it has to be specifically stated to be accepted. Without a clear, even bold offer, you risk the reader misinterpreting what you have said.
  • End with a summary. Restate the original benefits and remind the reader of the evidence you presented to support the benefit.
Don’t Settle For Bad Writing
Some people are natural writers – they intuitively know how to develop an idea that persuades others. That’s why people follow syndicated columnists and read editorials.

But if writing is not your strength, or if you lack experience in direct response copywriting, consider hiring a writer to do this work. As a skill, it is as important as good graphic design. Here at Creative Characters we can help you with copywriting, either with our staff or using outside resources. Contact Brigid at or (215) 923-2679 for more information.

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