St. Francis on Copywriting
As I'm sure you know, St. Francis of Assisi is well known and loved for many things.
One of them was his prayer, composed in 1224, called "The Canticle of the Sun."
What made this prayer so special? Previously, every prayer in Italy had been written in Latin which less than 10% percentage of the population could read.
But St. Francis wanted to reach more people and so he wrote in the vernacular. He used simple words and expressions.
And this humble and eloquent prayer became the very first work of literature in the Italian language, and is still remembered 781 years later.
So the next time you write a letter, a memo or an e-mail leave out the complicated words, terms and jargon. Instead, remember the lesson of St. Francis and write it with simple, heartfelt words that everyone can understand.
I'm obviously no Saint but I was asked by a marketing newsletter to provide 10 rules for writing more effective copy.
Here's what I wrote:
1. Start with your most important benefit.
Many copywriters hem and haw, and metaphorically clear their throat before they tell you what's important.
Or worse, they save it for the end like the punchline of a joke. Would any newspaper survive doing that or do they give you the most dramatic story right in the headline?
2. Write like you talk.
That's how people like to read. Even if you are writing to the most educated target market keep it simple.
The best test of writing is how it sounds when you read it out loud. I came across an ad for a cologne that read, "The incarnation of the masculine duality interpreted with humor." Try reading that out loud with a straight face.
3. Include ideas and information.
Some writing feels like biting into a marshmallow there's nothing to grab hold of and chew. Dont try to impress me with your writing, your knowledge or how clever you are. Give me an idea, a fact, a nugget of information in each paragraph. Otherwise, I wont continue reading.
4. Short words and sentences work.
Not sure why. Makes it easy to read. Worth testing.
5. But so do long letters.
If you really want to know what works in direct marketing study those who live and die by it. If IBM's direct mail doesn't work IBM will still grow and prosper. But if Save the Children's direct mail doesn't work
That's why so many non-profits and mail-order companies use 2, 4, 8 and even 24-page letters. They work.
6. Connect the dots.
When you use words like "And" or "But" to begin a sentence, you may be using poor grammar. But you're also leading the reader from sentence to sentence connecting the ideas and coaxing them to read on.
And it works.
7. Ask provocative questions.
Its one of the best ways to get attention. Our direct mail letter for Scott's LawnService started with "What's wrong with your lawn?" It won a Gold Echo and created over $28 million worth of additional business.
8. Write something that's never been written before.
Travel writing is the worst example of this every destination is invariably "a study in contrasts."
Every business has their share of jargon and specific terms. Try to replace them with something new and refreshing.
9. Tell me a story.
Before there was copywriting, before there were hieroglyphics people communicated by telling stories.
Children love them, and so do we. We want to know what happened, then what happened next, and how did it end? If you tell interesting stories in your copy, you will always be successful.
The famous package for the Wall Street Journal is a perfect example. It's not about the newspaper it's the story of two young men.
10. Rewrite for success.
The best writing looks almost effortless. As if the phrases and sentences flew magically onto the page.
But arent you a little too old to believe in magic?
Good writing is hard work. It involves an enormous amount of preparation and research, so you know what you are writing about. And then it involves getting it all down onto paper in a coherent and compelling manner. There are no shortcuts.
The best letter I ever wrote took me four days to finish four full days for a 2-page letter.
It was for American Express credit reporting service, and the first sentence read:
"They say they're <Alan Rosenspan.>
"They're using your name to open credit accounts, take out bank loans, and commit fraud. How would you even know?"
It hasn't been beaten for 7 years.
The French have an expression that goes "The more things change, the more things remain the same."
It may be true of certain things but not direct marketing.
At my recent seminar in New York, a number of people reported the following "changes."
And heres something new that is working.
Things are always changing. That's why it pays to keep reading in your field, attending seminars, and keep on testing.
It brings to mind this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
"The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me."
Is your next direct marketing program very important to you?
Do you want to practically guarantee a better response?
It's simple just use a larger size envelope.
We just received results from one of our clients in Nebraska. They are a company that allows college students to aggregate their loans and pay them off over a longer period of time.
One of our tests was the same letter they had been using in a 9 X 12 format. It was more expensive, but not that much more.
The results: the larger format outperformed anything else they ever did, with a lift of 75% over the same letter and enclosure in a #10. (The extra cost was approximately 30%.)
I've never had a client that didn't improve response with a larger format. It's really a no-brainer and something you might want to put on your testing schedule.
Murano Glass Demo
My trip to Italy included Venice, the home of Murano Glass. Murano is one of the islands of Venice (there are over 100) and they've been making glass there for almost 800 years.
The Murano glassmakers invented many of the techniques used in making glass, and today you can purchase beautiful sets of wineglasses, ornate mirrors, and truly amazing glass sculptures.
What does this have to do with direct marketing?
I attended a demonstration of glass making and a presentation where the owner of one of the largest shops explained what makes Murano glass so valuable. Of course, he urged us to purchase as much of it as possible.
But you don't have to haul around your purchase as you travel to other cities and countries. They'll gladly ship it for you. And that's where direct marketing comes in.
What's the first question you might have about this arrangement? I think its, "Will it break in the mail?"
The owner of the shop overcame this objection by placing several wineglasses in the box they use for shipping. He threw it to the floor then stood on it and then jumped on it!
If you can anticipate what questions or concerns your prospect may have about buying your product and answer them in a convincing or even dramatic way you will absolutely improve your response.
In advertising and direct marketing, you are always looking for one line that will capture people's imagination, and let them know exactly what your company or product stands for.
For American Express, it was "Dont Leave Home Without it."
We just came up with one for our client, SmartBargains.com. This company is an on-line, off price retailer where you can save 70% or more over regular department store prices.
We've done a number of projects for them, but I'm most proud of the line we came up with. And just like the American Express line, it's pretty simple.
"You Always Get More Than You Bargained For at SmartBargains.com"
How can you come up with a great theme line for your company or product? Here are three quick suggestions:
1. Use cliches but in a new way.
Reva Korda, my first Creative Director, and the smartest advertising person I've ever known, once said, "The color of corn is gold."
She meant that cliches are cliches for a reason everyone knows and understands them. Dont worry about being corny.
2. Come up with 100 theme lines.
It's extremely rare that you will come up with an amazing line right away. The more lines you come up with, the greater your chance of coming up with a great one.
Tom McElliot was the founder of the terrific agency, Fallon McElliot. He said, "Many people have the talent to become great, but few have the energy."
3. Play off your name.
Ideally, you want a theme line that people will remember. Wouldnt it be nice if it included your company or product name?
For example, a hospital in Massachusetts called Caritas came up with: "Its not just the care, its the Caritas."
My website, www.alanrosenspan.com has a place where you can send in a question about direct marketing. A recent visitor asked, "How can I keep my staff educated and motivated about direct marketing?"
I had three suggestions:
Copy and distribute articles that you think are worthwhile, especially case-histories
Have a library of direct marketing books in your office, and lend them to people. (It's a wise employee who reads a book recommended by his or her boss.)
Hold a weekly lunch meeting, where people bring in unusual direct mail samples and discuss them together. What works? What doesn't work? How can this piece be improved?
And if you want to jump start the process why not contact me about my "Improve Your Direct Mail in One Day" Seminar? Weve done them for dozens of companies, large and small.
For more information, simply e-mail my assistant Jodi at: Jodimaff@aol.com.
Our newsletter is now read by over 2000 marketing professionals in 42 countries. If you have any ideas or suggestions, or even comments, Id be very happy to hear them.
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Thank you, Alan
© Alan Rosenspan & Associates