by Cheryl Goldberg
You're working on a key marketing-communications piece for your next product rollout or marketing campaign. It might be an ad, a direct-mail piece, a brochure, or a white paper. You've searched high and low for a writer with the right mix of style and expertise. You've given the writer a two-foot stack containing every piece of marketing material you've ever produced about the product or service. You, the writer, and the designer have tossed around creative concepts for weeks. You've completed a creative brief. Or maybe you haven't done any of these things. Either way, now is the moment of truth. You've just received the first draft of the copy. What do you do?
Do you show the copy to everyone in the company‹product managers, marketing vice presidents, creative-services managers, product experts‹for their "take." Do you wind up with dozens of comments such as, "I don't like it" or "I'd like the intro to be more compelling" or "I like the style, but the messages need work." Do you then throw the stack of comments on the writer's desk and hope for the best?
There is a better way. One that allows you to step back and evaluate how well the copy meets your objectives and that enables you to give the writer the clear-cut guidelines he or she needs to modify the copy to meet your goals - and to create copy that sells your products.
Begin with the End in Mind
As Stephen Covey wrote in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," "begin with the end in mind." In other words, if you want your marketing copy to be effective, you need to define what "effective" means before anyone writes a single word of copy. Usually objectives and parameters are stated in the form of a creative brief, which identifies the following:
The Rest Is Commentary
- The primary audience for the piece, whether it's a CEO or other senior-level manager, the CIO, midlevel managers, or techies.
- The secondary audience. For example, a CEO might make the final purchasing decision based on what product or service best meets the company's business objectives. But the product or service will still have to pass muster with the secondary audience, the technical team.
- The pain your audience is experiencing that your product or service can alleviate.
- The purpose of the piece, whether it is to create awareness, generate leads, provide technical background, stimulate purchase at the point of sale, and so on.
- A description of what the product or service is.
- The positioning of the product‹that is, how the product or service is unique, compare to the competition, and the main value proposition it offers customers.
- The three to five major selling points of the product and the proof points that back up these selling points.
The completed creative brief will serve as your bible for evaluating the completed copy. But as you'll soon discover when reading the five books of Moses, translating the creative brief into guidelines for interpreting content requires some commentary. So let's go through a creative brief and translate it into guidelines for evaluating content.
- Audience. Your audience is one of the primary determinants of the tone you will use for your piece and the type of information it should contain. For example, a piece designed for skeptical journalists should be straightforward and include plenty of facts about features and applications, market needs, and comparisons to competitive products. If the audience is a CEO or other high-level executive, the tone should be businesslike and include lots of information about how the product or service affects the bottom line. A technical audience will want product specifications. In contrast, a young consumer audience will respond to a hipper style and information about how the product will improve their lifestyle.
- Pain. The pain the audience is experiencing determines the need for your product. Only if you really understand that pain can you come up with an effective solution. But like a novelist who maps out an entire life history for each character and then uses only the telling details, the writer for a marketing piece should use extensive knowledge as a backdrop. The copy itself shouldn't dwell on the pain. After all, the audience already knows its pain. Instead, the piece should quickly get to the real point‹how the product or service solves the reader's problem.
- Purpose. The purpose of the piece is also a key to determining what type of information the copy should include. If the piece is meant to be a leave-behind after a sales call, the copy might summarize the main sales points brought out in the presentation. White papers spell out all the details. A white paper for a business audience will often provide in-depth descriptions of the business problem, the requirements for addressing that problem, and often how the product or service meets those requirements. A technical white paper might provide an in-depth description of product features. An advertisement designed to create awareness, in contrast, might provide just enough information to get prospects coming back for more information when they're closer to making a purchase.
- Positioning. The positioning and messages are the heart of any marketing piece. These determine its content, including the key benefits the piece will highlight, as well as proof of those benefits. Such proof might take the form of in-depth feature descriptions‹such as examples of how the product is easy to use, accompanied by screen shots of your intuitive user interface. Or it might include customer testimonials, benchmark-test results, awards from trade magazines, and so on.
A Logical Structure
In addition to figuring out whether the piece contains the right content, presented so that the audience can relate to it, you need to look at whether the overall structure of the document makes sense and whether each element does what it is supposed to.
All marketing materials should have a clear and logical structure that includes:
The headline and the first few paragraphs, often called the lead, are meant to attract the target audience's attention and pique their interest. The body copy convinces them to act. The close tells them how to act.
- a headline and a lead
- body copy
- a close
A Compelling Lead
The headline and lead must perform the following four tasks:
As the parenthetical examples show, headlines get attention by
- Get attention
- Select the audience
- Deliver a complete message‹preferably one that states the most important product features and why the customer would want to buy the product
- Draw the reader into the body copy
- Appealing to readers' self-interest ("Live Service for Real Sales," "Deliver Total Customer Satisfaction Online")
- Giving readers news ("Introducing the First 700-MHz PC")
- Offering them useful information ("How to Design a Usable Web Site")
When evaluating the headline, look at whether it
- Offers a benefit or reward for reading the piece. For a product or service brochure, the headline should ideally state the primary benefit.
- Gets the point across simply and quickly.
- Is specific, definite, and concrete. Does it include facts, figures, and real product features? Does it relate specifically to your product, or could it apply to many products? For example, the headline "Which Would You Rather Have? A Software Company That Promises You the World? Or One that Delivers It?" gives you no clue about what the product is or what unique benefit it provides. Any company is going to claim to deliver on its promises. By contrast, this next headline offers concrete benefits for the advertised product: "At 8:01 a.m., this piston head cost United Technologies $3.02; at 8:39 a.m., it cost $1.95." The ad goes on to state the exact amount the product reduced overall costs. Now that's specific.
- States the message in a fresh new way, making it dramatic and memorable. Apple Computer's old "The Computer for the Rest of Us" tag line still gets its point across.
- Relates logically to the product. Avoid cute headlines that grab attention but don't mean anything unless you read the copy underneath. "Expand your desktop, and your mind will follow" is a catchy headline, but does it tell you that the ad is about monitors? And what exactly is the connection between a monitor and expanding your mind?
- Avoid negatives. Instead of highlighting the solution, which is what readers want, a headline with a negative assertion highlights the problem. Readers want to avoid the problem. So they may avoid your ad.
- Ideally, the headline should also state the name of the product and the advertiser's name. That way, if readers go no further, they will know what the product is and from whom they should buy it.
A Good Body
The body copy should cover all the important sales points in a logical sequence, with a beginning, middle, and end. One way the copy might organize major sales points is in order of importance, with the most important point in the headline, then major features, and finally minor features as you go through the body copy. If the copy is a testimonial ad or a case history, it might be organized in chronological order to tell the story as it happened. Or the copy might use a problem/solution format to show how the product solved the problem.
When evaluating the body copy, look at whether the copy fulfills the promise of the headline in an interesting, believable, easy-to-read way.
Interesting copy states how the product or service will improve customers' lives. It should cover benefits rather than features. A feature is a descriptive fact about a product or service. A benefit is what the user of the product or service gains as a result of the feature. For example, a laser printer might offer 1,200-dpi printing as a feature, but the benefit is that it lets you add photo-quality images to your newsletter. Features should appear as facts supporting the benefit. That means you'd highlight the printer's ability to print photo-quality images and then indicate that the product accomplishes that by providing 1200-dpi printing.
Copy is boring if it covers the company, its philosophy, and its success; if it deals only with how the product is made or how it works; if it talks about features rather than benefits; or if it presents facts without showing readers how those facts relate to their needs.
For copy to be believable, it should include concrete facts that back up what you say. These facts can include customer testimonials, quotes from analysts, demonstrations, or scientific evidence that support your claim. In addition, it should be specific, including facts, features, benefits, savings, and other reasons why a customer should buy your product.
Persuasive copy must attract attention, hook the reader's interest, create a desire for the product, and prove the product's superiority.
The writing itself should be easy to read and must flow smoothly. The copy should be written in plain, simple language, using short sentences, short paragraphs, and short words. It should flow smoothly from one point to the next without awkward phrases, confusing arguments, or strange terms that break the flow.
A Call to Action
The conclusion should include one last, strong statement of the most important reason the customer should buy the product. Then it should tell the reader to take the next step in the buying process, whether that's going to the store to buy the product, calling a sales rep for more information, or going to your Web site.
Although there's nothing wrong with using your gut instincts as part of your copy-evaluation process, it helps to have a few objective tools at your disposal as well. By using the criteria discussed here, you will have a road map of what to look for in evaluating any piece of marketing or ad copy and a way to provide your writers with specific, relevant comments to improve their copy. As a result, you'll have a greater chance of getting the copy you want with fewer revisions at less cost in less time.
Copyright 2000 Marketing Choices All rights
reserved. Used with permission.
Cheryl Goldberg is a marketing writer with more than 15 years of experience in high tech. Her clients include Lucent Technologies, PeopleSoft, Inprise, Corio, and Sybase. Based in Oakland, she can be reached at email@example.com.