Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Alive!

"You cannot bore someone into buying your product." - David Ogilvy

That quote is how copywriting guru Steve Slaunwhite, author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy, introduces the core copywriting task of making your product/services' benefits come to life for the prospect. Benefits sell better than features, and tangible, fleshed-out benefits sell best of all.

Consider those TV ads for the OnStar system. They don’t just talk about the benefit of having a system that can detect when you’ve been in an accident and call for help. They bring it to life with a dramatic picture of a person sitting stunned in a car after an accident hearing a reassuring voice addressing her by name and saying, “don’t worry, help is on the way, and I’ll stay with you.”

That’s how to bring the benefit to life: create a scenario or tell a story with the benefit in the starring role. You can do it in the third person, as above, or in the first person, by using customer testimonials that highlight in a practical way how the benefit improved their lives. Similarly, you can use poignant before-and-after scenes to show the benefit in action.

These techniques are especially effective, of course, if they evoke an appropriately strong emotional chord in the prospect - fear, pride, embarrassment. These emotions can be elicited on the flip side, too, as consequences of NOT buying the product or service. Just be careful not to overdo it - if you evoke too much fear, for example, the emotional backlash can negate the story’s message.

Talking about benefits rather than features is something all good copywriters do. The best copywriters make those benefits come to life.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Don't Make Me Think!

That is the title of a terrific book on web usability by Steve Krug. He argues a pretty common sense approach to web usability that I find pretty compelling.

Take his First Law of Web Usability: Don't Make Me Think! His contention is that web users are scanners not readers (not unlike ad readers, IMHO), and each page, and the elements in it, have to be as self-evident as possible. Web visitors should be able to grasp instantly (and thoughtlessly) what the page is for and why they should care to stop there. It starts with design (bad design will usually obscure great language), but the language is the "closer." The design steers the visitor to the words, and the words have to be simple, self-evident and compelling enough to entice the visitor to take the action you want.

His Third Law is, from a copy point of view, a close corollary of the First: Get rid of half the words on each page. Then get rid of half of what's left. Think "Scanners, not readers." Think "Short and Sweet." Many of the least user-friendly web sites out there are those where the company thinks of their site as an online brochure or, worst-case, an online direct mail piece. Here's where, if I might be permitted a short plug, professional copywriters are worth their weight in gold. A good copywriter should be able to cut the first 50% of the words in their sleep while maintaining, and often enhancing, the message.

Both of which reflect Kelberer's First Law of Good Business Writing: Given a choice between clever and clear, choose clear every time. Fewer awards, but you'll laugh all the way to the bank.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Can we talk?

Most business communications succeed best when they establish a rapport with their intended audience. Many things go into establishing that rapport, but perhaps the most fundamental is this: getting the audience to feel like they are in a conversation. Not talked "at" or "down to", not lectured, not sold, not even "hail fellow well met"-ed. Just plain talked to.
  • That's why the best "style" for a communications piece is usually "conversational."
  • That's why the best "content" for a communications piece is usually "information."
  • That's why the best "emphasis" for a communications piece is usually "helpful."
You wouldn't go into a long-winded speech if you were trying to tell a friend about something they'd find interesting. Just talk to your audience simply (they are friends - no need for pushiness or hype) and confidently (you're telling them something you're sure they'd want to know), and you'll go a long way toward holding their attention.