Thursday, April 21, 2016

Professional Writing Fundamentals

The ability to write effective copy is an important skill to acquire if you are part of your company or organization’s marketing team. In this issue, we will discuss the characteristics of effective copy and reveal some techniques to help you improve your skills. Effective marketing copy has an accepted form which is in three parts: a headline or attention-grabbing first sentence, the development of the pitch, and a call to action. Whether you are writing a sales letter, ad copy, a brochure, or a direct mail marketing piece, the same three parts will always be present.

The Headline

Realize that you have less than ten seconds to grab the readers’ attention and convince them that it is worth their time to continue reading. Therefore, headlines and first sentences have a disproportionate effect on the success of the copywriting. Make your headlines provocative to make sure you engage the reader.

Develop the Message

Before you begin writing the body copy, determine the primary message or selling points. If you use the primary message as part of your headline, then dedicate a few lines to expand that point. Follow it with the selling points in order of importance using short sentences. Aim to keep all sentences to 12 words or less. Use words that are simple and easy to understand. Your readers will not invest in dissecting or studying your copy; instead, they’ll do something else more engaging. Make it easy for the reader to understand and follow your copy.

The Call to Action

Always include a call to action, and consider creating urgency to act. A call to action might tell your audience what will happen if they buy your product or service, or it could tell them what will happen if they don’t buy your product. If you use the latter version, select a problem your audience won’t be able to solve without your product. Other closings could be offering a guarantee or free bonus. If there is a time limit for your offer or bonus, you have created an urgency to act. You can also modify product solutions by adding how long the solution will take. The statement “Consolidate Your Overdue Bills” is less powerful than “Consolidate Your Overdue Bills In Just Six Weeks.”

Before you can begin writing, you must think through the who, what, and why so you know how to write the copy. The content will always consist of three parts: Who, What, and Why.

  • Who means the audience that is targeted by the message. You may think that anyone (or everyone) is the potential audience for your product or service, but marketing to an audience that broad is not feasible. In fact, most businesses derive about 80% of their sales from about 20% of their customers. Find this group in your own business and see what characteristics they have in common. Or, study your competitors, and see whom they are targeting.

    If you can’t decide who your customers are, decide who they are not. It may be easier to decide who you do not want to serve than who you do. Remember that a target audience is more than a statement of demographics. Visualize a real person to represent the target audience, and be as specific as you can. To describe a target audience as “working mothers ages 18-45” is a more effective planning tool than the more general “women ages 18-45”. If you can precisely define your target audience, you will be able to write advertising copy that appeals directly to that audience.
  • What means the specifics of the product or service being sold. Begin by spotlighting the features and benefits of the product or service you are selling. For each feature, develop an accompanying benefit – this will be used later to develop the appeal to your audience. For example, if your product is made of durable material (feature), the benefit is that the product will last longer, need to be replaced less frequently, and retain its attractive appearance longer.

    Benefit statements reflect how the product or service affects the customer’s life. Usually the benefits will make the customer’s life or task easier, faster, or more desirable. Remember that cost and quality are major considerations when describing product benefits. Price + quality = value, a very persuasive benefit that most buyers are seeking.
  • Why means the reasons for buying this particular product or service instead of others. Most products or services are not unique in the marketplace. To be effective, the copywriting must differentiate between your product or service and the other products or services the customer could choose from. Without a discernible and well-stated difference, the only way customers will have to differentiate is on price.

    A discerning customer will require you to support your benefit claims by providing some kind of evidence. This could be scientific facts, user testimonials, or the endorsement of a trustworthy or qualified individual. Ask your current customers for testimonials. A happy customer is a powerful persuader – nothing you could write will be as genuinely sincere as the praise of a satisfied customer.

The Role of Style

Business writers need to be familiar with the best-known guide to American English writing, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Often referred to as Strunk and White, the book presented guidelines for “cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity.” The Elements of Style remains the most popular and often-required guide to proper use of American English. With only 105 pages, it’s easy to find guiding information quickly. The book contains a surprisingly small number of rules and principles, all of which are easy to understand. The charm of the book comes from its unique tone and the wittiness of the explanations and examples that accompany each rule and principle. We heartily recommend it to all business writers.

We’re Here To Help

If you’d like a “second eye” on your finished copy, we would be happy to proofread, edit, or give our opinion on how well you have accomplished your objective. Call Brigid at 215-923-2679 for an appointment or e-mail your Word document to and we’ll get started working on it!

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