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.”
“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.