Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Secret to Writing Memorable Sales Copy

Want to know the secret to creating MEMORABLE promotional copy? Sales copy that actually stays with your customers long after they’ve finished reading it?

Then master the art of using words to create pictures in your customers’ heads.

If you can describe your products or services in such a way that it forms images in your customers’ heads, well, then you’ve just created something that will last long after the marketing is over.

Why else do novels stay with us for so long? Those “pictures” we see draw us into the world of the novel, and those pictures stay with us long after we’ve closed the book. If you can create that kind of staying power with your marketing materials, think about how much ahead of your competition you’ll be.

So, how do you get started? Below are three tips. (Note how all three tips have the word “specific” in common. Be specific whenever you can. We don’t think in generalities, we think in details. The more specific you are, the stronger the pictures.)

1. Use specific nouns. Quick — what springs to mind when I say the word “bird”? Now erase that image. What pops into your head when I say “cardinal”?

When I said bird, you could have pictured any number of bird species or maybe even some sort of generic bird (something brown with wings and feathers). When I said cardinal, I bet you saw a bright red bird with that distinctive triangle head.

See the difference? Cardinal is specific and it brings a specific picture to mind. Bird is generic, and it brings a generic picture to mind.

Whenever possible, use the most specific noun you can. (However, if the most specific noun is something most people wouldn’t know, say some rare exotic insect only found in the Amazon jungle, then make sure you describe it as well.)

2. Use specific verbs. Verbs breathe life into your copy. They’re the difference between words lying flat and comatose on the page or jumping up and dancing a jig.

Verbs bring movement to your copy. They tell your readers if someone is walking, jogging, sauntering, skipping or crawling. Or maybe that someone is exhausted and has decided to lie down for a bit.

Now, when I say verbs, what I’m NOT talking about are “to be” verbs — am, is, are, was, were, etc. Those verbs don’t paint a picture. Not like hug, skate, sail, run, fall, spin, flip, etc. See the difference?

While “to be” verbs are necessary, the idea is to use them as little as possible. In fact, I have a fiction-writing friend who has a “was/were” rule. Only three “wases/weres” per page.

Yep, you heard me right. Per page.

Yes, it can be done. I didn’t think I could do it either in my novels. And let me tell you, when you start pruning those “wases/weres” out of your prose, it’s amazing how strong your writing becomes.

3. Describe specific situations. Compare:

“Our bookkeeping service is the best in the area. We can take care of all your bookkeeping needs, from invoices to paying bills to reconciling your bank statements.”

To this:

“Do your invoices go out late because you can’t stand the idea of sitting down to do them? Does your cash flow suffer droughts each month because no checks arrive in the mail (because your invoices went out late)? How much hair have you pulled out over the years because of accounting mistakes? Never fear, those days are over when you hire us to do your bookkeeping.”

The first example is generic (take care of bookkeeping needs). The second example shows you HOW the business does it. (In fiction we call it “show, don’t tell.” Good advice, even for copywriters.) You can actually “feel” those business problems — late invoices, cash flow droughts, loss of hair. It’s the difference between something cold and impersonal that really has nothing to do with you and something that wakes you up with a spark of recognition (“Hey, that’s me. I need that.”)

Writing Exercises — See what others are doing

Pick a piece of copy. Something with meat — at least 300 words or so. No, it doesn’t have to be something you wrote either. In fact, this exercise might be easier if it isn’t yours.

Now analyze it. Look at the nouns. Are they specific? Or are they a bit too generic? What about the verbs? Could they be stronger? And does it describe a specific situation, something that you can actually feel and touch?

Try this with a variety of writings — novels, nonfiction books, newspaper articles, Web sites, sales letters, etc. Look at both “good” and “bad” examples. (Although good and bad are somewhat subjective, follow your gut.) See what trends you discover.

By analyzing what others are doing, you’re better able to see the strengths and weaknesses in your own writing.

3 Tips On Engaging Your Ideal Prospects Using Copy

You’ve done all this work to get people to visit your website, only to have nothing happen.

No sign ups for your newsletter, no inquiries about your products and services, no sales, no nothing.

So what’s the problem? Chances are it has something to do with your copy not engaging your ideal prospects so they want to become your customers and clients.

What can you do to fix that? Well, the simple answer is your copy needs to connect on a deeper level to what your ideal clients find important. The difficult answer is how exactly do you do that. Below are 3 tips to get you started:

1. Know EXACTLY who your ideal clients are. Look, you’re not going to be able to connect with them on a deep level if you don’t know who they are, what keeps them up night and what’s important to them. This is why you need more than just the demographic stuff (age, income level, etc.) you need to know WHY they’re struggling, what they most want in the world, what their values are, etc.

The more you actually know your ideal clients on this deep level, the more you’ll be able to use the words and phrases that truly engage them.

So how do you get started finding your ideal client? Ask yourself this — who are your favorite clients? Write down a list of your favorite clients and compare them. (If you’re just starting out and haven’t had any clients, think about the other people in your life you enjoy working with and describe them.)

Why are those clients your favorites? What do they have in common? (Look beyond the external descriptions such as gender and age, and instead think about mindset and values and beliefs.) Start there and see where it takes you.

Then once you have a picture of your ideal clients in your head, it’s time to look at tip 2.

2. Don’t write to a group (even if it’s a group of your ideal clients). Instead, pick one person and write to that person. When you do this, your writing will naturally sound more intimate. In fact, I would take it one step further and imagine yourself writing a letter to a friend. Your friend has a problem, you KNOW what could really help them, wouldn’t you try and write an engaging, persuasive letter because you REALLY want to help your friend? That’s the way you’ll really start to connect with your ideal clients.

3. Use THEIR language, not yours. In other words, don’t spend hours and hours trying to figure out a cute way to describe what you do that means nothing, or worse, requires a great deal of explanation before anyone even understands what you’re talking about. The best (and easiest) way is to use the same words your ideal clients are using.

Now, you may be wondering to yourself, how do you find out what words your ideal clients are using? Ask them.

Do a survey or ask a question on social networking forums or groups. See what language THEY use to describe their problems and what they’re looking for to solve it. Then use their words in your marketing copy. (Yes, honestly, it really CAN be that easy.)

Ask PW — “Auto-Glass biz on Pinterest? Worth time and effort?”

Beth, www.adventureautoglass.com, asks if an auto-glass business should promote on Pinterest.

And actually I think that would be a perfect place for you, provided you can use it in a creative way.

I don’t think pictures of just auto-glass would necessarily be all that interesting. But maybe pictures of what you could see OUTSIDE the window would work. You could even group them into funny or dramatic or famous scenes or whatever. Or maybe there’s some other creative way you could use it.

One thing social media has shown us is that pictures work. People love pictures. So anytime you can work pictures into your social networking is a good thing. I would recommend not only “pinning” pictures on Pinterest but also putting those same pictures up on Facebook and Twitter.

(In fact, my good friend Nancy Marmolejo is doing some really cool promotions right now using Pinterest and Facebook to promote her “Engage and Persuade” telesummit. So in other words, yes even if you’re in the service or information biz you can still use pictures to promote. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://www.engageandpersuade.com/meetmichele )

So what are your thoughts about using Pinterest? Please share below in the comment section. Or if you have a question about marketing, business or writing copy, feel free to put in the comment section and I’ll answer those in a future Ask PW column.

 

3 tips to improve your writing rhythm

As a professional copywriter, not only do I do a lot of writing but I also look at a lot of writing. One of the things I’ve noticed that set the good/great writers from the so-so is rhythm.

What I mean by rhythm is how the writing sounds. The rhythm of the words and sentences. It’s a subtle aspect of writing, one not normally talked about, but that doesn’t lessen its importance.

Unfortunately, rhythm is also tough to teach (which is probably why it isn’t talked about very much). It’s something felt deep inside, like it is with music. It isn’t as straight forward as pointing out a grammar error. What makes it tougher is that everyone has his/her own style and own unique rhythm. However, these three tips should get you started thinking about your own writing rhythm and how to improve it.

1. Watch out for long sentences. In fact, you might want to consider avoiding them altogether.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with long sentences. And there are times where longer sentences are necessary (see next tip — but note I said longer and not long). The problem is that long sentences have a tendency to turn into flabby sentences.

Think of a sentence as an eel. The longer it gets, the more slippery and elusive it becomes. Long sentences are sentences just waiting to slither far away and completely out of your control.

So what’s going on with long sentences? One problem is they’re tiring to read. By the time readers reach the end of a long sentence, they’ve most likely forgotten the subject/verb/point of the sentence. And they’re probably too tired or too lazy or too busy to go back to the beginning of the sentence and sort the whole thing out.

Another problem is long sentences lack punctuation. Punctuation is a big part of rhythm. The start and stop of a period. The bated breath of an em-dash. Think of punctuation as your percussion section.

But when you write a long sentence, all you have to work with is the quiet sigh of the unobtrusive comma. Yes, they have their place. But it’s a subtler instrument. (Think triangle rather than kettledrum.)

A good rule of thumb is to make sure a single sentence doesn’t go over 30 words. If it does, strongly consider breaking it in two. Or three.

2. Vary sentence length. In music, a steady beat is usually a good thing. In writing, it’s considered one of the deadly sins. (Okay, not really. But it still isn’t good writing.)

If every sentence is the same length, your writing is going to get pretty dull pretty quick. You need short sentences, longer sentences (but not too long) medium length sentences and very short sentences.

How do you know if your sentences are all the same? Does your piece sound monotonous? Are you getting a sing-song voice in your head when you read it? Better take a closer look at those sentence lengths. They’re probably all pretty close to being the same.

3. Sentence fragments are a good thing. Forget your fourth-grade English teacher. Forget that obnoxious green line in Microsoft Word telling you your grammar is wrong. In copywriting, as well as in many other forms of writing, sentence fragments are a lifesaver. Those fragments allow you to quickly and easily vary your sentence length. Plus, they can help your writing sound conversational. People talk in sentence fragments. Therefore, reading sentence fragments gives people the impression you’re talking to them — in your own voice and your own style.

So what’s a sentence fragment? A sentence that isn’t complete. It’s missing something — noun, verb, both. It’s not a complete sentence.

Rhythm in writing is much more than just what’s going on with your sentences. (Not that we’ve covered everything that goes wrong with sentences.) But it’s a good place to start.

Writing Exercises — Get in touch with your writing rhythm

Hearing things out loud is a good way to start getting in touch with your writing rhythm. You may have heard of this technique to find mistakes — and yes, it’s a good way to discover errors. But, this is also an excellent way to start getting to know your own unique rhythm.

Start by reading your own work out loud. If you’ve never done this before, try not to be too hard on yourself. Chances are you’re going to discover all sorts of problems — including too long sentences and paragraphs where all the sentences are the same length. Make a note of what needs fixing.

Once you fix it, read it out loud again. Then read it the original way. Listen to the difference. Even better, try to feel the difference — deep inside, in your gut. Our gut is an excellent rhythm sensor.

You should also read out loud things you haven’t written. And read a variety of things — plays, novels, direct mail pieces, newspaper articles, Web sites, poems. Read bad writing and read writing that’s so beautiful your knees buckle. Listen to the rhythm while you’re reading. How does it make you feel? More importantly, how does it make your gut feel? Your gut will never lie to you — learn to trust it.