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Copy Chat: Back to the Basics

Recently updated on April 6th, 2016 at 11:23 pm

While the digital world continues to squeeze the printed page into oblivion, it’s still important to write effectively. And, thanks to the powerful tracking and measuring tools made possible by digital technology—many of the basic rules of copywriting have been proven to be unbeatable. So let’s take a quick trip BACK TO THE BASICS! (‘Scuse me while I get Mr. Fusion ready…)

1. Be Prepared.
Before you write – think! Ask yourself the basic questions –the who-what-when-where-why-and how? This simple discipline will keep you focused and make your copy more powerful.

2. Create headlines that communicate benefits quickly.
The headline must contain a benefit that is meaningful to the reader. If you can’t grab someone with the headline, all that body copy will be ignored.

3. AIDA (No, not the opera.)
Over the years, the acronym – AIDA – has shown itself to be universally practical. Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. They are the four key elements of effective communication.

4. Your first paragraph must pay off the headline.
The first paragraph must, in some way answer the headline. The benefit in the headline must be substantiated, enhanced and expanded if possible, in the first and second paragraphs.

5. Use simple words.
Another acronym – KISS – which refers to Keep It Simple Stupid – reminds us that simple words are the most effective. Use everyday words — words that people are comfortable with.

6. People buy benefits not features.
Another way this has been said is “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Tell the reader what the product will do for them first. You can bore them with details and specifications later.

7. Emotional words are stronger than smart and clever words.
People buy for emotional reasons and later explain those reasons with logic. “Who cares what kind of mileage it gets? Its candy apple red!”

8. Five ways your readers fight off your sales pitch.

  • I don’t believe it.
  • I don’t need it.
  • I don’t have the time.
  • I don’t have the money.
  • It will never work for me.

Overcoming these objections is your duty as a writer.

9. Be enthusiastic, but tell the truth.
We live in a skeptical world. So you have to be honest—always. But you must also weave excitement and energy into the writing or it will lose your reader quickly.

10. The layout and type make a difference.
The use of the graphics, fonts, and layouts can make or break the delivery and understanding of your message. Don’t let an unreadable font or confusing layout kill your communications.
11. Get out the old bag of tricks.
Most readers will be turned off by the sight of long body copy. Sub-heads, bullet points and indents help keep them reading. Underlining, italics and various colors also help keep your readers involved.

12. Be specific, vagueness fuels skepticism.
You can lose a reader as soon as they suspect foul play. Being specific helps make copy more believable: for example “75.6%” is more credible than “more than 75%”

13. Testimonials are gold.
Testimonials give your reader confidence. They provide reassurance. They add credibility. However, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER fake it – your brand’s reputation can be seriously damaged.

14. Guarantees are expected. Ante up!
Give a guarantee. It’s expected. Consider it a cost of doing business. People may get suspicious if you don’t give one, or if you bury it in fine print. (Studies show that less than 2% of customers ask for their money back, so a guarantee is a very low risk.)

15. Don’t forget to tell the reader what to doask for the order!
By the time your reader is finished, hopefully they will want to buy. Help them, guide them, and tell them exactly what to do. Make it easy to respond and order.

16. Use the magic words.
Remember when your parents told you to use the magic word to get what you wanted? You may not want to say “pretty please” in your marketing, but there are a number of words that have been statistically proven to increase response—here are just a few:

Introducing, announcing, exclusive, first, guaranteed, improved, limited, successful, time-sensitive, unique, urgent, you, breakthrough, new, how-to, and of course – FREE.

17. NEVER overlook the P.S. of a letter.
Years of testing have shown that 79% of people who open your letter will read the P.S.. (In many cases before reading body of the letter!) Always use the P.S. to restate the offer and benefit.

18. Test relentlessly.
Find out what works. Find out what doesn’t. Learn from your mistakes. Refine and sharpen your skills. Many variables can be tested, but be sure you only change one at a time; otherwise you won’t know which element is responsible for the different results.

19. Make no offer, make no sale.
If you don’t make a valuable offer, chances are good that the reader will go shopping somewhere else. Your competition is always ready to dangle offers to steal your prospects.

20. Study what works.
Keep an eye on the work you see again and again. The reason you see it so often is that it is working. If it wasn’t, it goes away fast. Remember that the best writers study the business. The best writers study words.

These guidelines apply to print and digital. Remember, the medium may have changed but the human brain has not evolved as quickly as technology does. You’re still appealing to the emotions of a human being.

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