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Copywriting, Part 2

InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
This is the second installment about copywriting. It provides a much more in depth look at copywriting and its importance.
Verbal and written communications are the interface between your marketing and your customer. This article deals with written communications, and more specifically, written communications on the web or in print. The field involved in creating written marketing communications is called copywriting. Clarity is arguably the most important aspect of copywriting. Rather than write a long-winded treatise on copywriting, this article uses a series of case studies to convey important points about this subject. A deep understanding of marketing is essential to developing good copywriting skills. But this article will help even if marketing is not your strong suit.
Another important note: this article does not discuss web site design/layout and its interaction with copywriting. That is a complex topic for another day.
The use of the word amateur in this article is not meant to convey disdain.
The Company: Ronaldo`s Markets
Ronaldo`s Markets is a fictional chain of grocery stores based in Dallas, Texas. This is the information presented on the front page of their web site.
Home | Locations | Hours | Contact
Welcome To Ronaldo`s Markets
Ronaldo`s Markets are a Dallas-based chain of grocery stores that sell food to the public. We specialize in strategy, operations, payroll, and undercutting the competition. Ronaldo`s was founded in 1979 by Ronaldo Caiman and his brother Jorge.
This is a very common, and incorrect, format for the front page of a web site designed by many small business owners. The heading welcomes the visitor and the subsequent paragraphs talk about the company and what the company "does". This copy approach is the equivalent of "talking about yourself", when you should talk about what the company offers. Using the example of a grocery store, it becomes very clear to most people that talking about what you "do" is a mistake, mostly because most small business owners "do" many different things. Do you care if a grocery store does strategy? Have you ever walked into a grocery store because you thought they had top notch strategic planning sessions? Have you ever walked into a grocery store and tried to buy strategy? Similary, the customer is rarely interested in what you "do" and far more interested in what you "offer". What you "do" is certainly important, but you should not spend any time talking about it, except on the About page, in a whitepaper, or at the customer`s request. Here`s a rewrite of the above information, this time focused on what Ronaldo`s offers, instead of what it does.
Home | Locations | Hours | Contact
Fresh Produce, Clean Stores, Excellent Service
12 convenient locations open 24 hours day. You`ll love our clean, bright stores.
Each week we give away an order of groceries to a random shopper.

Register for our weekly mailer and find out why your friends and neighbors go out of their way to shop at Ronaldo`s.
The second example is completely offer-focused. As a result the text is much more appealing. Very often the information found on the front page of a web site actually belongs on the About page instead, as is the case with the first example. The second example also features a clear call to action. The visitor is enticed by the offer of free groceries and asked to register, which would likely involve filling out a form with name, address, telephone, and email. Of course the visitor also has to show up at the store and go shopping in order to qualify for the free groceries, and since there is a chance the entire order will be free, there is extra incentive to spend more. This is the power of good copywriting.
Copywriting is more than words; it is a mechanism used to execute marketing strategy. A copywriter did not decide to offer this attractive grocery promotion. The store`s marketing director created this promotion. However the copywriter is responsible for writing the words that tell the customer about the offer, and for knowing that the front page of the web site should communicate this promotion and do so effectively. Conversely, the store`s marketing director did not write the text that says "Fresh Produce, Clean Stores, Excellent Service". This text was written by the copywriter, who must understand how to describe the store`s offering in plain English.
Offer -vs- Do
The problem with writing about what you "do" is that what you "do" often provides no direct benefit to the customer. While proper attention to payroll and strategy provides an indirect benefit to the customer, most customers are not interested in indirect benefits, and it takes an expert copywriter to communicate indirect benefits. Fashion products such as clothes, perfume, and cosmetics are marketed using indirect benefits and abstract imagery. What is the real benefit of cologne? Hard to visualize, isn`t it? What is the real benefit of food? Easy to visualize, isn`t it? Have you ever seen the Jaguar advertisement that shows an older man leaning against a new Jaguar? The background is out of focus but there is an unmistakably beautiful and much younger woman opening the passenger door. That is an abstract benefit. An older man and a beautiful young woman brought together by a Jaguar. Every aspect of these campaigns is directed by people with decades of marketing experience and multi-million dollar budgets. You are correct to conclude that marketing indirect benefits is best left to experts with deep pockets.
Good copywriting clearly and crisply communicates what you offer in such a way that the customer instantly understands whether or not your offer is relevant to them. Really good copywriting stimulates desire and interest in the customer and can increase the customer`s perception of relevance. Desire and interest lead to action. Good copywriting must be jargon free and written in plain English because jargon and complexity do very little to stimulate desire. In fact jargon is marketing poison. If your customer cannot understand your copy in four seconds, or if your customer has to read the copy more than once in an attempt to understand the jargon, your attempt to communicate has failed. This doesn`t mean that you should always avoid complexity. Perhaps you sell engineering products for integrated circuit design. In that case you may have to use some complex terminology. But even a company who manufactures products for integrated circuit design can choose "Designing High Performance Computer Chips?" instead of "If you design and manufacture high density, oxide-process integrated circuits...".
As a grocery store, Ronaldo`s does not offer payroll or strategy to their customers. So why talk about it? Forget about what you do and focus on what you offer.
Another problem with most amateur copywriting is its scope. Many entrepreneurs invest a lot of time trying to write copy that is "all encompassing". Often the entrepreneur either does not understand their market position, or is afraid to pigeonhole their product, service, or organization. This is always a mistake. All encompassing copywriting quickly becomes abstract and abstract copy tends to confuse people unless it has been prepared by experts. Poorly written abstract copy confuses people and does very little to establish relevance. People tend to stop paying attention once confusion sets in, and they certainly don`t pay attention to irrelevant ideas. Most people want to position your product or service somewhere in their mind, relative to other products or services, relative to their needs, or both. Relevance and irrelevance. Those are your choices.
If the customer cannot position your product or service in their mind relative to their needs, then you have no chance to establish relevance, and it`s game over at that point. People move on quickly. Remember, you not only have to compete with other businesses for the customer`s dollars ... you also have to compete for their attention. If you are fully convinced that you need "all encompassing" copywriting, start with something specific anyway. You can always talk about additional products and services but you must use specific copywriting for each product and service. You should never attempt to write umbrella copy to describe a broad array of products and services unless you are an expert copywriter.
One example from the forums at StartUpNation is a tagline that said "Strategic Market Consulting". Most people, myself included, do not understand what "Strategic Market Consulting" really means and thus cannot determine relevance. Since relevance is binary, an inability to determine relevance usually results in a determination of irrelevance. Therefore "Strategic Market Consulting" is irrelevant. Since it`s irrelevant, I don`t have to pay attention. [What`s a strategic market anyway?] An awesome tagline for a marketing consultant is "You have marketing questions. I have marketing answers." Forget about using copy if its only purpose is to make you look smart or mysterious. Great copy communicates effectively, instantly, and effortlessly. Does the tagline "You have marketing questions. I have marketing answers." leave any question in your mind about the product or service offered? If you are a small business owner, do you feel that the service offered is relevant? Do you feel inclined to pay attention?
The other problem with wide scope, general copywriting is that it often conveys multiple positions to the customer even if that is not its intent. The problem with multiple positions is that they confuse the customer and work against very basic perceptive mechanisms. While some companies, like Microsoft are able to hold multiple positions in the mind of the consumer, this is really because Microsoft means "software" to most people. Your marketing communications should be specific. It`s the difference between being offered a pair of non-specific shoes and being offered a pair of tennis shoes or a pair of dress shoes. What would you say if someone offered you a pair of shoes without any further description? Would you want to see them first? Of course you would. That`s why specifics are important.
Repeat after me: It is not the visitor`s job to figure out if my product or service is relevant.
Generic -vs- Plainspoken
Good copywriting isn`t generic. The pursuit of all encompassing copy leads to generic copy. There is a difference between clear, plainspoken copy and generic copy. Generic copy tends to be full of useless words like "intelligent solution" and "dynamic organization". Worse still are cliches and worn out ideas like "passion for customer service" and "get started today". People rarely pay attention to worn out ideas and they certainly don`t pay attention to cliches. It is impossible to establish relevance if people don`t pay attention. Your goal: clean, neutral copy that uses ordinary words at the 6th grade level. Don`t laugh. This is important. Most amateur copy tends to be so poorly written that its relevance cannot be determined by anyone except the most persistent reader. Do you think most people are willing to invest a lot of their time trying to figure out if your product or service is relevant?
Word Count In General
I routinely critique web sites that have front pages with word counts of 500, 600, or even 1000. This is book report territory and it never works unless it`s contained in a white paper. Most people will simply turn off their brain and ignore any page on your site that contains hundreds of words. It is well understood that the average visitor is willing to spend four seconds reading your page before they hit the Back button or go elsewhere. When was the last time you actually read - word for word - any web page that contained 500 words? Articles don`t count. Feel free to use hundreds or thousands of words in any articles you write. When the user requests an article they are expecting a longer document.
Minor Design Elements
Front page attention-getting headlines should be displayed with large typeface and have fewer than 10 words. Taglines should follow the same general rule. Paragraphs on the front page should be constructed from a three or four short, entirely jargon-free sentences. Remember, your site has other pages. The front page needs to get the customer`s attention by establishing relevance if you want the customer to read the other pages.
Subjectives: Mindcatching, Sparkle, Hook, Brilliance
The best copywriting is almost unforgettable in the short term. Brilliance, sparkle, and hook refer to the attractive qualities of the words used and their ability to get stuck in the mind of the customer. If you`re writing your own copy, and you follow the basic rules, you have a good chance at writing something good. Writing truly great copy requires 1.] serendipity, 2.] quite a lot of practice, 3.] time. There are always the odd moment or two when the right words just pop into your mind. If find this happens to me in the car.
A hook is a series of words that gets the visitors attention. More than anything, a hook is the meat of effective copywriting. Some of the examples above that discuss Ronaldo`s Market feature quick copywriting with weak hooks. But the words "free groceries" are a great example of a hook that has the potential to hold the visitor`s interest. The more I think about it, were I to design the copy for Ronaldo`s fictional stores, I might just use the free grocery sentence at the top of the page. Hooks vary in quality, from the mesmerizing power of the atomic bomb hook, to the weak effect of words that only catch the customer`s attention for a moment.
The Obvious
Avoid spelling and grammar errors. Nothing screams "I don`t care!" as loudly as a poorly proofed marketing communication. Most people, including great writers, do a very poor job proofreading their own work.
Hallmarks of Good Copywriting
Clarity. Clear ideas are easy to understand.
Plainspokenness. People value honesty.
Directness. Don`t beat around the bush.
Relevance. People pay attention to relevant products.
Mindcatching. People remember mindcatching copy longer.
Sparkle. Is a pleasure to read.
Hook. Catchiness.
Positioning. Where does the product fit?
Offer. Focus on what you offer, not what you do.
Avoid Cliches. People won`t pay attention.
Avoid Acronyms. People won`t understand.
Avoid Worn Out Ideas. People won`t pay attention.
Avoid Too Many Qualifiers. Makes writing seem weak and afraid.CookieMonster2007-1-23 22:34:11


  • StLouisOrBustStLouisOrBust subscriber Posts: 0
    Thanks for the helpful hints, CookieMonster. Really appreciated the help with our site and thought your comments were pretty spot on. Thanks again.
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Some clarification. Copywriting isn`t the same as writing articles or essays; copywriting is not journalism. Producing a white paper is not something that involves copywriting ... it involves writing. A technical writer is the person who writes whitepapers. A journalist is the person who writes articles. A student is the person who writes term papers.
    Ineffective web sites rely on sloppy writing, high word counts, and thoughtlessness. A nearly microscopic percentage of Americans get rich by winning the lottery. Similarly, a nearly microscopic percentage of sloppily written, verbose web sites are effective. For the average business owner, a sloppy/verbose web site simply violates the laws of common sense. Does the fact that a few people get rich playing the lottery justify "playing the lottery" as a strategy for retirement? Of course not. That`s not common sense either.
    Length isn`t always bad in and of itself. There are lots of cases where an article or whitepaper is the right type of document. But most Americans do not write well, they don`t know how to create information maps, and the quality of their written work is terrible. Heck, most Americans can`t even tell you the three parts of a term paper or the difference between an article and an essay. Poor quality writing is the foundation of a communication strategy that is destined to fail. If a business owner needs to produce lengthy documents, but is not a good writer, seeking professional help is the appropriate course of action. [For the record: poor writing skills are not a character defect. Is it intelligent to write business critical documents if you don`t write well? You tell me.]
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    P.S. Dan Kennedy does not have a counter-point or any valid case that I can see. Copywriting is not the foundation of riches; it`s not a magic bullet. How much success would you expect from a combination of:
    Great Copywriting + Great Product + No Distribution = ?
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    I`ll try to answer your question and I`ll include a few tips on finance while I`m at it. Copywriting does not generate money; it`s either an expense or an investment depending on your perspective. Exchange generates money. [ Generally, an illiquid asset such as a product is exchanged for a liquid asset such as cash. It can be hard to convince people to part with liquid assets because liquid assets are easily convertible. Whereas it`s difficult to convert something you buy into liquid assets without taking a loss. ] Copywriting is not a magic bullet. It`s a single variable in a complex system. Good copywriting helps you communicate clearly ... or speak in terms a prospect can understand ... but it won`t sell a product no one wants to buy and it won`t help ROI in a poorly managed business. Is that clear enough?
    "Point is, there "good" copy that conforms to generally accepted guidelines, and then there is effective copy, as measured by $$$ generated by that copy."
    I think you might benefit from some basic financial education ... or perhaps brushing up if you`re already educated. Copy does not generate ROI except in the "small picture". In the big picture, where ROI is most important ... with respect to say ... profitability ... copywriting contributes something but precisely measuring that ROI is probably difficult.
    Let`s say you run one ten-word advertisment with good copywriting. You sell $100,000 worth of product to people who see your advertisment. Do you say that the advertisement generated $10,000 per word minus cost to advertise? What about the other variables such as product development? Measuring contribution can be very difficult. Maybe it took 2000 decisions to arrive at the point where you could finally sell the product. Do you say that each decision returned $50 minus costs? You can invent any metric you like, and believe me, there are many. Sales/Square Foot. Sales/Store. Sales/Unit. Profit/Unit. I could write about this for days and days and only scratch the surface.
    Good copywriting helps you speak clearly, which is critically important in marketing, but won`t necessarily lead to increased sales if the other components in the system are poorly implemented. EX: Good copywriting goes nowhere if no one sees your product because of poor promotion strategy.
    I`ll again propose an equation, with elaboration, from a previous post:
    Good Copywriting + Good Product + No Distribution = ?
    Good Copywriting + Mediocre Product + Distribution = ?
    Poor Copywriting + Great Product + Poor Distribution = ?
    A business is a complex system full of inter-linked variables/components. Tweaking one component causes changes to the other components. Try evaluating these equations and determine the likely result.
    "Being in business, that`s the number I`m interested in, not being graded on style criteria, but on performance."
    Sure. I wish the world worked this way too. But that`s like saying "Oh I`d date a person to whom I am not attracted just because the person is nice." EX: Women often don`t want to go out on dates with poorly groomed/dressed men who are "intrinsically good" on the inside. Most of us prefer to see a well-dressed, nicely groomed doctor or dentist. While most of us wish the world was not a popularity contest based on looks and style ... which are extrinsic elements of a person or business ... the world doesn`t always work the way we want, right? The fact is that looks and style do matter and they are linked to ROI in some manner ... but I can`t give you any reliable quantitative method to establish hard numbers. I can tell you that most people won`t pay attention to lengthy marketing material, especially on a landing page. Information competes with information? If you fill a page full of words, which words is the customer supposed to remember? Do you think most people will decide to remember a lot of words just in case?
    Great copywriting is about establishing relevance and speaking clearly. These are two of the most important elements of marketing. How does your customer know if your product is relevant if you talk about yourself the whole time? Does bad copywriting help the prospect discover that your product is relevant?
    When I wrote the article, I chose to focus on copywriting and avoid a bigger discussion of business because those matters are well outside the scope of copywriting.
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    p.s. In my opinion, anyone who advocates any particular method as a "magic bullet for business" is probably selling snake oil.
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Okay, so you prefer long copy. Go ahead and use long copy.
    Throughout this discussion I watched you attempt to hide your disagreement with my ideas ... when you should have simply said "I disagree and I want to use long copy." I have to be honest here. I don`t think you`re really interested in research at all; you`re interested in finding research that supports your beliefs. [This is called bias by the way.] There`s nothing wrong with being biased but please don`t come here and pretend that you`re actually interested in both sides of the coin. It makes you look intellectually dishonest and it wastes my time, Craig`s time, and your own, with a discussion that`s never going to go anywhere.
    Saying that too many copywriting experts "hold to short copy" is like saying "bankers are too responsible when they refuse to make bad loans", or "doctors are too cautious when they refuse to prescribe the wrong treatment". Do you want professional irresponsibility instead? Short copy on a web site ... as my article discusses ... is better communication strategy given the" four second rule". Using short copy does not preclude the use of long copy in an article or whitepaper ... as my article also states.
    It`s very well understood that the attention span of the average consumer is becoming incredibly short. Everyone who works in marketing is aware of this trend. It`s been happening for the last two or maybe three decades. But people like Al Ries, Jack Trout, and Jakob Nielsen ... well ... what do they know compared to you? Obviously not much.
    p.s. If you`re really interested in the bottom line, you probably know that "bias" is rarely good for profits. Give that some thought.
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    I really am not in the mood for a lecture based on the tone of my post. Yes, I have chided other SUN members for their tone or language but only when it involved personal attacks or outright nastiness. There isn`t any outright nastiness in my post, nor is there any form of personal attack. I`ve never chided anyone for giving a harsh critique.
    It`s intellectually dishonest for you to come here and ask questions when all you`re looking for is advice that supports the decision you`ve already made. That is bias. What do you want me to say? Should I apologize for your bias or for saying that you are biased? I`ve already made it clear that bias isn`t a character flaw.
    Asking questions is never a waste of time ... but asking questions when already disagree is a waste of time because I`m never going to be able to tell you what you want to hear ... and believe me ... I`ve tried.
    I`ve written *several* posts in which I made an entirely good faith effort to answer ALL of your questions and provide you with the right information. At some point, it became clear to me that you aren`t really looking for advice at all. Your posts are a continual stream of "thanks but..." even when I provide answers or methods by which answers can be obtained. Even when I say there isn`t necessarily an answer. What I`m trying to say is: I can`t help you. Nothing I say or write has been enough, even though I have provided you with lots and lots of information. You say that you`re not an expert yet you won`t listen to the answers given by experts. Sorry but this is no longer my problem.
    You made some remarks about being a potential customer and how I might want to rethink my customer handling procedures. Let me tell you something: you might want to rethink how you treat the people who give you high-quality professional advice and carry the costs out of their own pocket. Got it?
    Also, I don`t freelance. I`m not here looking for business. All the help I give is totally free and rendered for the sole purpose of helping people. There is no financial gain for me. My participation here is a small repayment for good turns I`ve experienced in my life. No strings attached.
  • jribbingjribbing subscriber Posts: 0
    Ahh, the old long copy v. short copy debate.
    A few years ago I was a copywriter for several major Detroit advertising agencies, eventually writing copy for automotive sites.
    The way we always approached this subject is that there should be both.
    Web sites are different than other forms of advertising because people actively seek them out. (Normally we don`t flip through the channels on our tvs looking for a particular commercial.)
    They usually come looking for particular information, and most of the other stuff is just getting in the way.
    It kind of works like this - Suppose I`m online looking to buy a new, yellow, long-sleeve sweatshirt. I go to your site,  www.ACMEshirtstore.com</A> and begin my search.
    I would expect to find SHORT COPY to describe the different types of shirts you carry. Right now I don`t care about your polo or dress or t-shirts, so I don`t want to read a lot about them.
    But when I get to the small section of the site about your yellow sweatshirts, I want the LONG COPY. I want to know what % is cotton, or if the seams are double stitched or the laundry instructions.  In this area tell me about the unique eco-friendly way that the sweatshirts are dyed. When I have this information and the price is agreeable, then I`ll decide to buy from you.
    Now when my brother visits your site looking for a green, striped, button-down dress shirt the experience is completely different for him.
    Two other things we`ve always tried to remember:
    Every consumer, when confronted with an advertisement,  will ask themselves, "what`s in it for me?" If the answer is, "Nothing" they will move along.  It doesn`t matter if your site uses long or short copy, people will not be interested in your shirt store if they really need a new basketball rim.
    The best way to write, in my opinion, is how I would talk with my friends. If I went to a transmission shop and had a good experience,  I wouldn`t tell my friends that "their knowledgeable ACE factory trained technicians, really cared about me and my car." I would tell my friends something like, "they were quick and reasonably priced and they had a Playstation in the waiting area."
    Just my 2 cents.
     jribbing2007-3-13 15:3:53
  • InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Thanks for the kind words Dean. Nice day brightener. Thanks also for providing resolution to this debate. You are of course, correct. Long copy when required. Short copy when required.
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