7 Tips for Writing Your Own Copy

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

I write for a living. Clients ask me to sell their products, services and unique capabilities in print and online. After 30 years of writing direct response promotions, I can handle just about whatever comes down the pike.

Things get tricky however, when friends ask me to comment on, or to tweak the websites, blog posts, email campaigns, brochures and advertising promotions they write themselves. When egos get involved, the road always gets bumpy.  So here are a few universal tips to help DIYers write compelling business copy that gets noticed and gets results.  Keep in mind that every medium has its own do’s and don’ts. But that’s a topic for another post.

1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY
The subtext here is start with something useful, relevant and appropriate to say. Diaries, memoirs and journals are places to let your imagination take flight. If you want to write a business promotion, start with an outline of your main ideas. Then fill in your thoughts under each heading. Extract the most compelling points and use those as headlines. Go over your copy and replace generalizations with specific examples—the more specific the better.  Use action words that paint a picture. Read and refine. Then do it again.  And again.

2. DON’T GET FANCY
Clarity always trumps cleverness.  My manager at the American Management Associations scribbled “KISS” on one of my first assignments.  I thought it was an inappropriate compliment. It’s wasn’t—KISS is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. It was great advice then and applies now more than ever. With information coming at us from every direction, competition for a reader’s time is fierce and attention spans are limited. So keep your sentences short and crystal clear.  Don’t use multisyllabic (sorry!) words or convoluted thoughts to impress. You want to solve a prospect’s problems, not create a new one. Write at the level of an average 6th grader.

3. BE CONVERSATIONAL
Many writing taboos are no longer observed. Your goal is to come across as REAL. Read your work aloud. Do you sound authentic? Would you speak in that same “voice?” If not, it’s time to lighten things up. 

4. BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT
If you want to make a sale, get a job, get information, generate interest or contributions, you need to ask for what you want.  Don’t bury your request in a sea of gray type. And always show why meeting your request will mean positive results for the reader.

5. BENEFITS ARE BENEFICIAL ALL AROUND
Everyone is concerned about him or herself.  Your prospect wants to know what the product or service you’re selling will do for him. Every day, when we talk or write, we’re selling our ideas, politics or opinions. The best way to convince anyone of your position is to support your ideas with proof. Focus on reasoned, tangible benefits for your reader and you’ll reap benefits for yourself.

6. TAILOR YOUR MESSAGE
Know your reader. Do your homework. Visit the places they visit.  What are their fears, frustrations and deepest desires? Read blogs by and about them. Ask questions. Listen for the way they answer. Then write to their emotional core. Caution: Use jargon with great care if you’re not one of them. Play it safe and have your writing vetted by a member of their group before you send it out.

7. A DAY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
When you’ve finished writing something, put it aside and don’t look at it for at least 24 hours. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to improve your work with a fresh eye and new insights after letting it marinate for a day.

Do you have writing tips you would like to share?

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The Power of Words…To Sell

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

As a copywriter, my stock-in-trade is words.

Words are powerful. They have the power to wound, to woo, to mend a broken heart and build new worlds.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” 
― Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale

Our hope as copywriters is that the words we use have the power to make our prospects believe in—and ultimately buy—the idea/product/service we’re selling. In a sense, we play a game of verbal seduction. And if we’re lucky enough to get an assignment to promote something we believe in, our words become even more potent because passion is our springboard.

Artfully strung together, words become stories, and good stories translate into emotions.  If told well, our reader (or prospect) is thrust smack into middle of our drama. As a child, no matter how many times I heard my favorite story, I always experienced the same nail-biting tension just before the heroine was saved from the clutches of the villain.

This response to stories is common. As a species we’re hard-wired to be empathetic, and stories appeal to our emotions. If things turn out well, we’re happy. We feel pleasure and experience satisfaction. If not, we’re disappointed.

When I started out as a direct response copywriter, I cut my teeth writing direct mail packages for American Express. I sold fine jewelry and expensive furs by mail. At first, I found it hard to believe that a prospect would buy anything as personal as a diamond ring, jewel encrusted watch, or fur coat BY MAIL. But I learned fast.

I quickly realized that the better the story I told, the better the response.  Our prospects were mostly men with little time to shop in stores for their wives and girlfriends. Actually, some of our customers shopped by mail for their wives and girlfriends. I know this because we often received two orders for the same ring or necklace and were asked to send each order to a different address. This happened a lot. (I assume these men thought they could avoid being tripped up by forgetting which gift they gave to whom.)

In any case, based on romances I knew about or conjured up, I told stories about how relationships (no matter how tarnished) could be rekindled, or how an unlikely love might bloom, or how a broken heart could be mended with the perfect gift. These stories generated millions of dollars in sales.

Today’s stories told by content marketers are not meant to sell. They’re about brand, developing relationships and engagement. Although content certainly has its place, I believe it won’t be long before content marketers start incorporating direct selling techniques. With more clients chanting, “show me the money,” they can’t afford not to.

In the world of digital marketing, the basic rules of direct response are as effective as ever. Changes are made to accommodate specific channels: mobile, email, landing pages, microsites, etc….along with modifications for a prospect’s limited time and shortened attention span. But the basic tenets of direct marketing remain the same. Sales are made and companies stay solvent. Here are a few of those money-making golden rules…

1. Humanize the stories you tell. Your story needs to show the problem your protagonist/prospect may be experiencing, and how your product will solve it. The prospect has to know you understand his pain point or goal, and you can make that pain go away or help him achieve his objective.

2. Make it easy for your prospect to identify with your story. My goal when writing for AmEx was to make a prospect “relate” to the story. If giving a luxury gift could work wonders for others, it could also work for him.

3. Show your own passion. If you’re not a fan of the product you’re selling, others won’t be. When I wrote these promotions, I lusted after some of the things I sold. So much so, that on a few occasions, I also became a buyer.

4. Back up your story with facts. The time to cover the technical aspects of your product (size, shape, weight, number of carats, etc.) is after you’ve captured your prospects’ imagination and they are predisposed to buy. Emotions come first. Facts second. Always.

5. Follow up with a call to action. Show your prospect how quick and easy it is to order your product. Make the offer as irresistible as you can—and impossible to ignore.

6. Always include a guarantee. This will put your prospect at ease and boost sales.

Beware Obscene Charity Scams

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, you want to do something right away. You visit doctors, advisors, anyone who might help. The next step for me was to find an organization whose mission was the same as mine—to fight our common enemy: lung cancer.

My son and I corralled a posse of friends and family to join us in a Lung Force Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We raised more than $3,300 for the American Lung Association. We were on a roll and it felt good.

What didn’t feel good were the stories that hit major news outlets soon after.  It seems not all organizations are as reputable as the American Lung Association. Charges were recently filed against four cancer charities who allegedly scammed donors out of $187 million dollars over several years. Instead of helping cancer patients, the money was spent on lavish vacations, gym memberships, jet ski excursions and dating website subscriptions.  About 3% was directed toward the cause they espoused.

Complaints against the Cancer Fund of America, the Children’s Cancer Fund, the Breast Cancer Society and Cancer Support Services included charges that “they operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest and excessive insider compensation.”  As I understand it, the government’s objective is to shut down these charities. A rather tepid goal in my view. Instead, I’d like to see the clowns who run these phony charities thrown in jail.

My takeaway is this: Don’t stop giving to worthy charities. Just first make sure your charity IS worthy. A good place to start is by going to Charity Navigator.  You’ll find vital info here including board member compensation, income stats, transparency and performance metrics, and lots more.  Give wisely: but before you open your checkbook, check out your charity first.

Want to Avoid a Misdiagnosis? Here’s how…

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

Two years ago, a dear friend, AJ was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She had a family history of MS, plus years of ongoing symptoms including a loss of balance, blurred eyesight, slurred speech, worsening fatigue and mental haziness (my word)—all symptomatic of MS.

From the onset of her symptoms, AJ visited many doctors. When her diagnosis of MS was finally confirmed by her doctors, they attached terms like “permanent” and “progressive” to the offending initials. AJ was devastated. In time, she was confined to a wheelchair, heavily medicated, and needed around-the-clock attendants. Here was someone who went from a smart, savvy world traveler, to a homebound, confused, exhausted woman who found it difficult to walk, talk, or even stay awake during a meal. Life changed on a dime.

Here’s the good news. AJ was one of the fortunate ones because she had a tenacious advocate—in this case, a daughter who just wouldn’t give up. Although AJ’s posse of physicians (including renowned neurologists) agreed she had MS, one neurologist expressed his doubts. He suspected her condition might be caused by hydrocephalus, an excess buildup of fluid on the brain. It was risky, he said, but surgery was the only way to see what was actually happening to the brain. AJ’s daughter together with the dissenting doctor zeroed in on a surgeon.

They reasoned that if after surgery the MS diagnosis was confirmed, AJ’s condition would get progressively worse her life would continue on a downward spiral.

If AJ’s symptoms were a result of hydrocephalus or other condition, there was hope for significant improvement if the disease hadn’t progressed too far. Only surgery would tell the full story. AJ’s daughter championed the latter option and the family pressed ahead.

The operation was a success. AJ did not have MS. Instead, fluid had accumulated on her brain which impacted both her motor and mental activities. A clogged tube was the culprit. To solve the problem, the surgeon inserted a shunt in the brain cavity to drain off the excess fluid. The result was astounding.  AJ’s balance was restored; her cognition returned; her tremors disappeared. She returned whole. Was this a miracle?  Or was it a clear case of misdiagnosis?

MS is a slippery disease.  It can only be diagnosed by eliminating all other possible causes. Due to AJ’s family history, a diagnosis of MS seemed like the obvious answer. It was only because of AJ’s daughter who was determined to dig deeper that her mother’s life was spared.

What I find most frightening about this matter is the frequency of patients who are routinely misdiagnosed. A 2013 AJMA study found that more than 1 in 5 patients will receive at least one misdiagnosis in a lifetime. In addition, between $17- 29 billion dollars are spent each year on unnecessary or inaccurate patient care. How can you avoid a misdiagnosis?

Here are 6 suggestions inspired by the Chief Strategy Officer of “Best Doctors, Inc.” a global health company founded by Harvard Medical School Professors that could help you or a loved one from becoming an unlucky statistic…

  1. Don’t be shy. Be curious and insistent. Ask things like “What else could this be?” Keep asking questions until you’re 100% satisfied with the answers.
  2. Get a second, third or fourth opinion if necessary. Let each doctor tell you what s/he thinks without being influenced by previous opinions.  Each time you visit a new doctor, come in with a list of symptoms so nothing is overlooked.
  3. Know your family medical history and share it with your physicians.
  4. Don’t assume your family history is your history as well.
  5. Find an advocate who accompanies you on doctor visits. It’s difficult to listen to and remember unpleasant medical news. Having someone who takes notes and can think clearly is a big help in keeping the facts and your options straight.
  6. If you had a biopsy or other test and your diagnosis is based on one report, have it checked more than once. Pathology is incorrectly interpreted more often than commonly thought.

Have you ever been misdiagnosed? How was the problem solved?

My Meeting With Hillary Clinton

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

Last Sunday, Hillary Clinton was in West Hampton Beach for a book signing to promote her latest tome, “Hard Choices.”

I arrived hours after the opening to avoid the crowds and long lines. My plan worked. The wait to shake the hand of the former Secretary of State and possible presidential candidate was 10 minutes at most. During that time, I was approached by a reporter and cameraman from Channel 12 Long Island News for a short interview.  Did I think Hillary was trying to distance herself from Obama? What do I think of her Middle East policies? What effect will a Paul Ryan candidacy have on her chances to win?

My answers consisted of a short rant about how our candidates, our country, and the world is polarized and paralyzed with anger and hate. How we need more thoughtful candidates. How money controls power regardless of who wins. Yada. Yada. Yada.

When I saw the interview that night on TV, my responses were reduced to a profound “Yes, I’m glad Hillary may be running.” So much for my TV career.

Here are my take-aways from my meeting with Hill…

● It seems she’s had lots of Botox and fillers on her current wrinkle-less face.

● She looked tired and a bit chunky while she shook hands with each person in line saying “Thank you for coming.”

While I’d love to see a woman presidential candidate, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Hillary for years. Currently I’m in the wait and see phase. What I ask myself is this: With colossal problems in our world including a divided country, terrorism, climate change, and hotspots erupting in every corner of the globe, why would anyone want this job anyway.

What do you think?