Direct, Forceful Copywriting
Effective direct mail marketing requires plain, direct, forceful copywriting that goes straight to the emotions of the reader: specifically the “Big Three” emotions of pride, greed, and fear. The copy has to be real, it has to be large, and it has to be human.
Several years ago, my wife and I started a pet boutique that sells premium pet food. There are some terrible dangers to feeding your pet, things that they’re not supposed to eat that are nonetheless in most commercial pet foods sold in grocery stores. People are mostly unaware of that, sadly. Well, all our pet food is grain-free, because dogs and cats (cats in particularly) aren’t made to eat grain. Companies put grain in pet foods in order to boost their profitability, because it doesn’t kill the pet… right away, anyhow.
But it does shorten their lives. There are many health problems related to that type of diet, problems we need to educate our customers about. So one of the headline ideas my marketing director came up with was simply: “Are you killing your dog or cat?” That’s an ideal example of this concept of using plain, direct, and forceful writing that goes straight to the emotions.
This may seem like a rough way to get someone’s attention, but it’s necessary. People are busy; they don’t have time to sit there and try to figure out what you’re trying to say. You’ve got a tiny window of opportunity to grab their attention and get your message in there before they close the door on you. You can’t use big, complicated words; you’ve got to write in a way a third-grader can understand. Don’t try to impress people; they’re too busy to figure out anything complex. They want a quick headline idea, and when they hear someone ask, “Are you killing your dog or cat?,” it’s newsworthy. They’re going to go, “Wait, what?”
Never forget that people are looking for instant results. They want to know what’s in it for them. They’re selfish… and what’s wrong with that? We each only have so much time, so we’ve got to be selfish and guard it. Plus, they’re skeptical and jaded; they’re fighting to hold onto their money, so they don’t trust people. They’re inundated with ads and offers. There are all kinds of people trying to take their money… so you’ve got to do what you legitimately can to get to them. If that means being blunt, so be it.
Think of it as driving a wedge into a log; you can’t split it until you manage to get the thin edge of that wedge into a crack. Once the wedge is in place, all it takes is a few hits from the sledgehammer to divide the wood… but it all starts with that small wedge. Your marketing message is that small wedge. To get it into a crack, you’ve got to slip past the typical consumer’s shield. That’s hard to do these days, given all the competition.
And just because you absolutely love your product or service, just because you’re excited about it, doesn’t mean that other people will be. That’s another reason why you’ve got to be forceful. Try to find out your prospect’s emotional hot buttons. Ask yourself: how can I use greed? How can I use fear? How can I use pride? How can I use love? These are emotions that are already there, just under the surface. Ideally, you’ve got to capture their attention by lassoing those emotions, so you can present the benefits of your products or service in a compelling way.
You want to be bold. You want to be audacious, and you want your marketing message to be just a little dangerous. Let me say that again: you want your marketing message to be just a little dangerous. If it doesn’t scare you just a little, if you don’t ask yourself, “Holy cow, can we really say that?”, then you’re probably not being aggressive enough. You’ve got to think not so about much the people you’re going to turn off as the ones that you’re going to get through to. They count a lot more.
So use short, punchy words. Become a student of good advertising copy. There’s nobody better at it than direct response marketers, all of whom make their living on one thing and one thing only: results. When you’re studying good direct response copy, you’re studying people who know how to sell. They know how to get to the heart of the matter, how to drive those wedges into the cracks of skepticism and apathy that characterize the marketplace — to command attention and make compelling arguments that cause people to get excited, to recognize that what’s being offered to them is worth more than the money they’re trying so hard to hold onto.
One of the things I think of when I consider this type of writing is the fact that you
often see people trying to be creative in their selling process. They try to use humor, for example, and that’s usually where they go wrong. Most of us think we’re funnier than we really are, so when we try to be funny, we write sales copy that doesn’t go to the heart of why we’re writing. Now, you can tell a good story; there’s certainly a place for storytelling as part of your selling process, as long as the story relates to what you’re selling, and to your ultimate goal of trying to get them to place an order with you. But usually people just tell jokes, so their advertising isn’t driving home the sales message.
This is easy to spot in TV commercials, because you see it all the time. There’s a car dealership in Kansas that advertises on TV. For more than 10 years now they’ve used the same basic approach… and their commercials are funny. I always wonder how many cars they sell, because the owner tries to act like a comedian during his pitch. You see in that in a lot of TV commercials; they want you come into their store, and they hope that you watched their commercial because you wanted to laugh. Maybe there’s some effectiveness there, or they wouldn’t keep doing it… or at least, I’d hope not.
My recommendation is to avoid the funny. It rarely comes off the way you hope it will, and usually you get off-message. Instead, use plain, direct and simple language that goes where you want it to. Be forceful; be very specific about what you’re trying to do. What’s the purpose of your communication? Why are you talking at all? Tell them what’s in it for them right up front. Promise a big, bold, daring benefit to get them to read and respond to your offer. When you stray from the main reason why you’re communicating with them, you end up costing yourself sales.
Take your subject straight to the heart of the prospect. Don’t worry what others might think, because it doesn’t matter who you upset — it only matters who you sell. Most people are too nice in their sales messages, too polite and politically correct, to get the point across. Well, when you’re trying to sell to a certain marketplace, you have to know going in that you’re not going to make everybody happy, as much as you might like to. It’s just not going to happen, no matter how often you tell yourself otherwise. If you know that going in, if you can accept that not everybody will buy, then you can start asking yourself, “What can I do to get the biggest percentage of the right kinds of people?”
That’s how you find the main benefits that your marketplace will respond to. Selling isn’t about winning friends; it’s about making sales. If you offend or upset some people, that’s okay. Now, if your numbers stink and you’re not selling to anybody, there may be something else wrong there. But if your sales are good, it doesn’t matter who doesn’t respond, because some people won’t. That’s reality.
One of the great things about DRM is that you can make good money with bad numbers, as long as you make the offer to enough people. In some scenarios, you can have 95-99% of the people you mail your offer to say, “No,” and you can still make a profit. It depends on the offer and the associated profit margins, which involve many factors. But let’s say 95% of the people who receive your offer don’t like you at all. You can offend them, make them cranky, make them crabby. It doesn’t matter, because the 5% who responded are the customers you’re looking for. Now, don’t intentionally offend people. You’re not trying to stir up trouble. But you do want to write in such a way as to attract the people whom you want to respond, while not worrying about the rest. You don’t care much about what they think, so if what you say makes them not like you, in the end it doesn’t even matter.
Stay on message. Stay focused on intently serving your best prospects and customers by providing the most value and the biggest possible benefits to them. Don’t worry about the other people at all. Whatever they think or don’t think about you is inconsequential, because you’re there to serve the customers who are going to buy — the ones who are going to give you money.
That’s the point here. Use plain, direct, and forceful writing that goes straight to the emotions of not only your readership at large, but specifically to the people that are going to respond and become your best customers. And don’t be afraid to tell a lot of stories, because stories help people remember you better. Just be real in every way.
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