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?

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.

Wear What You Love, and Make Money from What You Don’t

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

I’ve always thought of myself as being resourceful. I think most women are, simply because we have to be.

After reading Tom Friedman’s editorial about Tracy DiNunzio in The Sunday Times, I knew this was one gal whose black belt in resourcefulness could inspire those of us thinking about launching our own business in 2014.

DiNunzio’s back-story is simple. After a rapid-fire wedding and equally speedy divorce, she found a way to unload piles of unwanted wedding gifts, and in the process created a multi-million dollar business.

Instead of the hassle of returning her wedding stash to department stores, she started a clearinghouse called Recycled Bride. Her idea was to enable couples (or newly singles) to ditch unwanted or duplicate gifts, and select the swag they did want. It was a success.

Next, she turned her attention to her wardrobe overflowing with clothing she was also ready to divorce. She knew she wasn’t alone in thinking how nice it would be to get money for the unloved items hanging in her closet—and buy what she wanted at less-than-retail prices. As a result, Tradsey.com was born—a centralized online marketplace that lets women buy, sell, and trade clothing and accessories without online hassles or paying full price.

For a 9% cut on all transactions, Tradsey prices, lists, posts, ships, and handles returned goods. Starting with only $12,000 four years ago, DiNunzio now has a staff of 22 employees, and serves over 1 million customers a month who are able to buy luxury goods they couldn’t afford otherwise. A definite win for the seller, buyer, and according to Friedman, the “sharing” economy as well.

If this sounds all too easy, it wasn’t. DiNunzio scaled the learning curve, inch by inch, using the Internet to teach herself marketing, web design, and basic coding.

DiNunzio sees her recycling business as “lightweight living” which she thinks reflects the way many people prefer to live today. Instead of accumulating possessions, the focus is on utility: It’s about buying want you want, when you want it; then selling or trading it at will.

As she said in The New York Times:  “We have a whole swath of middle-class consumers who are tired of buying disposable fashions…Now women can have their cake and eat it too.” Which is exactly what DiNunzio did.

Here’s to a happy New Year of resourceful thinking, and launching your own dreams, whatever they are.

Do you have a business idea you’re ready to launch?

Has Going Native Gone Too Far?

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

In the good old days of publishing, I was a rookie copywriter cranking out advertorials for Ziff Davis’ special interest magazines. Advertorials were a crazy mix of storytelling, advertising and editorials.

Publishers liked advertorials because they provided content and brought in advertising dollars. Readers enjoyed the personal content, and advertisers welcomed the change from conventional, me-too ads to relatable information.

One advertorial I wrote for Flying magazine was about a teen pilot, who was too young for a driver’s license, but old enough to barnstorm the country in his private Cessna (accompanied by a co-pilot, of course). The advertorial brought in lots of white mail and probably was the reason I decided to take flying lessons years later. But there was no question that this was an ad. It was advertising. And if that wasn’t clear enough, the word ADVERTORIAL was positioned prominently at the header of every magazine page featuring this ad form.

Fast forward to the digital era. Today, traditional newspapers and magazines are fighting to stay alive.  Their revenue is shrinking because ad dollars buy so much more in the digital arena.  And since advertisers are getting more value and eyeballs for their money, digital makes sense on every level.

So what’s the problem? A growing number of people are concerned about the lack of separation between editorial (church) and advertising (state). This BFF alliance is apparent in native advertising as well as social media. As a result, it’s hard to know what’s fact, what isn’t.

The question is—have things gotten too cozy between business and advertisers? Will regulators decide to do something about ads masquerading as editorial? Will readers become so overexposed and distrustful of content that they turn it off completely?

According to the OPA (Online Publishers Association), using Best Practices help everyone. For starters, they believe native advertising should provide real value to the reader—as much value as “pure” content.  And second, that native advertising should be fully transparent to distinguish ads from editorial.

In truth, the best digital pubs already do this. But my guess is that they are in the minority.

In the social media arena, guru Gary Vaynerchuk uses his formula “jab, jab, jab, right hook” to sell products for his clients. His “jabs” represent giving something of value to his followers. This could be a joke, story, an introduction or even a meal. He then follows up with a “right hook”—a request to buy something. Using this technique, he’s helped many big-name clients build a notable marketing presence in social. Vaynerchuk himself says, this process “guilts people into buying stuff.”

In a recent Facebook campaign for Nilla Wafer cookies, he used “Momisms,” cute quips of interest to his audience. After rolling out with the most popular quips including, “The best families are like fudge, mostly sweet with lots of nuts” the Nilla Wafers Facebook page skyrocketed from 15,000 to 356,000 likes—and sales went up 9%! But as Veynerchuk readily admits, marketers are their own worst enemy. They take methods that work, and then beat consumers over the head with them until these methods stop working because consumers gradually tune them out.

Do you think editorial and advertising are too close? Have native advertising and social media ads reached a tipping point?

It’s Time for a Divorce

This post originally appeared on MOMentumNation.com.

 

My son was married this past weekend. It was an amazing wedding and I hope that union lasts a lifetime.

I’m all for marriage, but there’s definitely a time and place for divorce.

Take politics for example: Wouldn’t it be great to divorce the extreme political fundamentalists who are holding the rest of us hostage to their rigid ideologies? Or to maintain the separation church and state which was clearly stated in the first amendment of our Constitution more than 200 years ago?

Our own home-grown extremists, Republicans or Democrats alike, don’t insist women wear head scarves, or that thieves have an offending hand cut off. But in their own way, our made-in-the-USA mullahs are just as irresponsible as religious fanatics.

They put principle ahead of pragmatism. They care little or nothing about the consequences of their actions as they continue to receive government paychecks and enjoy benefits which include paid healthcare. It just makes no sense.

What’s important to this not-so-merry band of narrow-minded jesters is that nothing stand in the way of their beliefs. So what if we default on our debt, further impoverish the poor, damage our fragile economy, and endanger the security of the nation? These guys have the majority of Americans by the short hairs and they know it.

The worst thing we can do as a nation is to avoid compromise and move further in the direction of fundamentalism. Let’s do what we have to do and vote these obstructionists out of office. It’s time we came to our senses and divorce these bozos. The sooner the better!