Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City freelance copywriter’

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 30th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Does Color Matter?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints on March 31st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.

RED!

RED!

Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: 7 Quick Tips for Brochures that Work

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints on March 21st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here are a few simple things you can do with your next brochure that will make it stand out and get results.

business woman_z1. The cover should feature a picture of a person.
People are attracted to pictures of faces. The person could be a company president, a customer, or an expert of some kind. Someone whose comments are featured inside the brochure.

2. Include “knock-outs” on the cover.
Those are one- or two-line highlights of the content inside. You know how those “People” magazine knock-outs grab you. Use them on business brochures. Make them interesting!

3. On the front inside cover, summarize the key points in the brochure. That way, it’s quick and easy for the reader to go directly to the specific content he or she is interested in.

4. Include a call to action on every page: Call this toll-free number, learn more at this Web address, whatever you need the reader to do.

5. Use a Q&A format to engage the reader. It breaks up the content into manageable chunks and makes it easy to read.

6. On the back cover, make sure to have a contact name and return address displayed prominently.

7. Keep in mind always that you need to make people stop, be drawn to your brochure (especially if you’re at a trade show), and be encouraged to read what’s inside. Study magazines at the grocery store and see what colors, designs, type fonts and other devices they use to stand out and draw you in. Some are kind of gaudy, but you can borrow a few of their tricks without looking unprofessional.

7.a. Okay, I said 7 points, but this one is important. Make sure every aspect of your brochure is relevant. Don’t stick in a picture of your plant as seen from a helicopter (a popular one, for some reason). It has nothing to do with the product that’s made in that plant. So you have a big building. What does that mean to ME, your potential customer? Likewise, unless your audience is made up of gearheads, don’t stick in photos of machines you use to make things. It’s the things you’re selling, not the machines.

Whew. Well, those are my 7 (+1) tips for making effective brochures. If you have others, please let me know.

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Speak Animal?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2nd, 2013 by liz – 1 Comment

You probably do speak “animal,” only you’re not aware of it. As a freelance copywriter, I’m always on the lookout for different ways to say things. The other day, I said someone was “happy as a clam.” That led me to wondering, “Are clams really happy?” Only a clam knows, and he’s not telling. But it spurred me to think of all the ways we incorporate animals into our language. How many of these animal-related expressions do you use? Can you think of other, newer ones?

• Sick as a dog
• Barking orders (as a Sergeant in the Army)
• Crowing (about accomplishments)
• Old bat
• Old goat
• Raven hair

Me? I didn't say a word!

Me? I didn’t say a word!

• Quiet as a mouse
• Mousy brown
• Chicken (scared)
• Flown the coop
• Bull****
• Strong as a bull
• Sly as a fox
• Foxy
• Hungry enough to eat a horse
• Gentle as a lamb
• Fat as a pig
• Proud as a peacock
• Hungry as a bear
• Catty (Meow!)
• Cowed
• Crooked as a dog’s hind leg (my grandfather’s expression)
• Low as a snake
• Parroting
I'm not gonna say THAT!

No comment.


• Dogging it
• Wolf (skirt-chaser)
• Wolf down
• Maverick
• Slug (couch potato)
• Slow as a snail/snail’s pace
• Tortoise and hare
• The ants and the grasshopper (familiar fable)
• Rat (one who betrays someone else)
• Ratty (messy)
• Cat’s paw (operative)
• Ass/jackass (fool)
• Stubborn as a mule
• Sing like a bird (either a good singer or a stool pigeon — hey, there’s another one!)
• Chirp (happy way to speak)
• Drink like a fish
• Something’s fishy
• Big as a whale
• Memory of an elephant
• Slippery as an eel
• Graceful as a gazelle
• Monkeyshines
• Monkeying around
• As much fun as a barrel full of monkeys (Not sure that would be fun)BarrelOfMonkeys
• Gorilla (Big, mean guy)
• Sting like a bee (Part of Ali’s chant)
• Busy as a bee
• Social butterfly

Got any more?

Freelance Writer Files: Brochure Success Made Simple

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7th, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

What do you do with brochures that come in the mail? Toss them into File 13, or “the circular file?” Yep. That’s what most people do. So they’re in the trash before they’re read.

Is your brochure in here?

Is your brochure in here?

If your business creates brochures, you know they cost a pretty penny to produce. There’s the fee for the writer, fee for the designer, printing, the mail list, postage, personnel to handle getting them ready to mail, and so on. That’s a lot of cost for what then amounts to recyclable material.

But there are secrets to how you can grab your potential customers’ attention long enough to get your brochure read – and acted on. Here are a few:

• Know thy customer.
It seems obvious, but don’t ever buy a mail list without sizing up your current customers and looking for other potential customers like them. Know their characteristics, what businesses they’re in, what size they are, and finally, what problem you help those customers solve. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to do any type of advertising, including brochures.

• Make your brochure action-oriented.
To save your brochure from the recycle bin, first grab the recipient’s attention with a cover design and headline that he or she can relate to; something his or her business needs. Once you’ve twanged their “need” string, they’ll probably read the copy inside, understand you’ve got what they need, and take the action you ask them to take to get on-board with you. Maybe that’s calling a toll-free number, returning a card for more information, or going to a certain page on your website or a splash page with information about your service that they need.

See, it’s not enough to get them to read your brochure or save it for later. You want them to take action right now! It’s now or never with direct mail.

• Focus on “you,” not “we.”
Don’t “we” on your prospective customers. In other words, they don’t care about your statement that “we” have 234 trucks and a 34,000-foot warehouse. They care about themselves, and how you can help their business. Bragging about yourself in a brochure is a big no-no. You’re asking the reader to connect the dots between what you have to what he or she needs. Too much work. Do the work for them. Tell them how you can help their business right now! And make sure to tell them how to reach you right now.

• Talk about benefits, not features.
Your company may have a lot of admirable features, like warehouse floors so clean you could eat off them, or a cadre of sales people ready to help you 24/7. But how do you translate those into benefits for the customer? If a customer is looking for a completely rat-free warehouse, maybe the clean floors are appealing. And having sales people available 24/7 is okay, but what if you positioned it as a team of problem-solvers who can respond to any emergency situation you have, any time of night or day? For instance, if you have a building maintenance company, and a water heater blows at 2:00 in the morning, isn’t it great to know your customer can call your company for emergency service? That’s a benefit.

• Create a compelling brochure cover.
Did you know you only have about five seconds to save your brochure from the recycle bin? Yup. We’re all busy, and we get a lot of mail. Make sure that headline goes right to the heart of a big concern your reader has and offers a solution to it.

By the way, please don’t write or design any of your sales materials, including your website, yourself (or let your computer-savvy teenager do it) to save money. Hire a professional writer and designer. When your materials look professional, so does your company.

• Let subheads tell the story in brief.
Most people scan headlines and subheads before deciding whether they want to read the text in between. Short, pithy subheads that tell enough of the story to draw the reader in are good. So are bullet points. Keep body text to a minimum. You don’t want to tell them absolutely everything you do in this brochure. That’s a sales person’s job. You only want them to know you can solve a specific problem they have, and then make it easy for them to call, visit your website, or send in a postcard for more information.

• Build in a ticking clock.

Do it now!

Do it now!


Why should your prospect call or send in that card or go to that website right NOW? Because the longer they wait, the smaller the chance they’ll respond to you. Emphasize they need to act NOW. Offer a time-limited discount on a service, a free demonstration of your service in the next week, a free gift to the first 25 people who call to meet with a sales person, a notice that prior to raising your fees next week, you’re letting them in on your old prices this week.

• Make contact information impossible to miss.
Your phone number, website address, and physical address (if relevant) should be easy to find, rendered in large type, in a different color, or done in any way that will allow people to find it easily. In the Western world, we read from left to right and top to bottom. So the lower right-hand corner is a fine place to put this information. But ask the designer for a couple of different versions, and see which seems to pop best.

• Include a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
If your prospect has any qualms about hiring you because she or he doesn’t know you, put them at ease by saying, “Look, try us out, and if you’re not completely satisfied, we will return 100% of your money.” Then there’s no harm in trying you, is there? When you visit with them, have with you a contract that says you also will pay for any damages to their facility, lost work time, or whatever is appropriate for your business.

keep-up• Keep up the good work.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Once it was said that a person had to see an ad in the newspaper 10 times before he or she actually read it. I’d say that was a poor ad, since it obviously didn’t address the reader’s (or non-reader’s, in this case) urgent problems.

But even if your brochure is a strong piece, you don’t just mail it and sit by the phone, waiting for the calls to come flooding in. You continue to send your carefully selected prospects different, on-strategy brochures or post cards on a regular basis, maybe once every four to six weeks. Then, after a few have been mailed, you follow up with phone calls. You’ll find out if the brochure hit the mark with potential customers or not. If so, you may have some new customers. If not, you may either want to delete some customers from your mail list or hone your message to make a greater impact.

• Don’t be discouraged.
They say a 2% response to a direct mail campaign is good. I think you can up the odds by being relevant, using creative design and cogent headlines and subheads, and repeating mailings at regular intervals, then following up with phone calls. After all, these customers will need to give their business to someone, so why not you?

Freelance Writer Files: Remembering Jack Klugman

Posted in Advertising Related, Other Stuff on December 27th, 2012 by liz – Be the first to comment

He was one of “Twelve Angry Men,” a visitor to “The Twilight Zone,” a slob in “The Odd Couple,” and a doctor in “Quincy, M.E.” And before that, a Broadway star in “Gypsy.” But to me, he’ll always be the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Ak-Sar-Ben” to save his life. I’m talking about Jack Klugman. He died the other day, and when I saw the notice, a shock ran through me, because I knew Jack.

Jack

Let me backtrack a little. As a horseman, Jack was a perfect spokesman for Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack, a client of the advertising agency where I worked as a writer/producer at the time. Amazingly, he agreed to do a set of TV spots for us for a reasonable fee. It must have been the horse connection that sealed the deal.

Before Jack arrived, we were instructed that he must have an excellent toupee stylist available on the set at all times. Wow, I thought. Was this guy going to be a handful? I was a little scared to meet him. He was a big star, and I was an Omaha writer/producer charged with keeping him content and doing his best job for what was probably a fraction of his normal fee.

"Blueberry? Strawberry? These aren't bagels"The first day of shooting, I brought bagels to the set. Poor Jack, who had arisen at 6 a.m. (4 a.m. California time), was greeted on Day One by fruit-flavored bagels (the only kind I could find the night before at Albertson’s). “Blueberry! Strawberry! These aren’t bagels!” First the demand for the toupee stylist, now the dissatisfaction with our Midwestern bagels. How difficult was our Hollywood star going to be?

But my fears were quickly dispelled once we started shooting. Jack took direction without a fuss, and he was open and easy to talk to, particularly when a couple of attractive young women from the agency came to visit him on the set. He enjoyed joking and chatting with his star-struck fans until we called him for the next scene.

During the shoot, the one thing that bugged him was something rather important: the name of the client. Take after take, he struggled unsuccessfully to pronounce it. “ARK-si-bin!” “Come on out to As-KIB-In!” “Awk-SER-ban!” Frustrated after a series of blown takes, he turned to me and pleaded, “Aw, honey, we don’t have to keep saying the name, do we?” Unhelpfully, I told him it was “Nebraska” spelled backward. Eventually, he got the name right, and in the finished spots, Jack’s personality and enthusiasm shone through every scene.

One day, while the crew set up for the next scene, Jack decided to bet on a race or two. I thought, “Wow, Jack knows the horses. I’ll bet with him.” So I bet the same horses he did (with one-tenth the money). We both lost, but what the hey. I got to bet with Jack Klugman.

When I read accounts of his death, I learned he had agreed to do “Quincy, M.E.” because he hoped to do stories that focused on issues like preventing child abuse and rape. His social conscience put him at odds with his producer, who didn’t think viewers wanted to see shows about those subjects. But Jack was right. “Quincy, M.E.” was the first of a new genre of popular crime-detection shows focusing on those and other social issues, among them “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

In the 1980s, Jack pushed hard to get the Orphan Drug Act passed. In fact, he had his brother, Maurice, write two episodes of “Quincy, M.E.” about the problem that pharmaceutical companies weren’t inclined to spend money developing drugs for rare diseases like ALS and cystic fibrosis. The first episode acquainted the audience with the problem. The second dramatized the real-life battle Jack was having with Washington. A senator was holding up the bill, and after the episode, the bill finally passed. Jack used the power of his own convictions and the power of the media to help people with rare diseases. For more about his crusade, read this.

Most people don’t know about Jack’s dedication to social issues. In fact, many people think Jack was Oscar Madison of “The Odd Couple,” a shambling, sloppy loudmouth with green meat and brown cheese rotting in his fridge. That’s a tribute to his ability to make a bizarre character seem real. Jack was not Oscar. He was smart, talented, dedicated and socially conscious. But okay, he was a little disheveled-looking. Rreferring to Tony Randall, his “Odd Couple” co-star, he told me, “Tony has suits that are 30 years old. He brushes them, hangs them up, and they look like new. Me, I wear a new suit for two minutes, and it looks like it’s 30 years old.” He was funny, self-deprecating, and someone you wished you could keep on being friends with after the shoot was over.

I’ve worked with other well-known actors. But the one I remember most fondly is Jack Klugman. The natural everyman. The socially conscious actor. And the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Ak-Sar-Ben” to save his life.

Freelance Writer Files: Is Bad News “Good News?”

Posted in Other Stuff on November 25th, 2012 by liz – Be the first to comment

Local newspapers are an endangered species, so I choose to subscribe to the KC Star and read it most mornings while I munch Rice Chex and sip coffee. But I’m beginning to wonder if reading it is such a keen idea.

This bright, sunny Sunday morning, I got a double whammy of depressing input. As I was reading the first section of the paper, I was listening to an episode of “This American Life” about how the settlers and Indians in Mankato, Michigan had attacked, murdered, and hanged thousands of each other in the 19th century.

In the paper, here are a few of the stories from this morning:

On the first page, there was a wonderful story about a family that had taken in homeless people, including a black student and a young family, and were helping them over the hump to a better life.

So much for the good news. Here’s the rest:

• Article about how KC Art Institute donors had reneged on a $7 million pledge because they now claim to be broke. KCAI is suing, since they’ve already built the building.
• Article about things breast cancer patients don’t know. I don’t even want to hear the words “breast cancer.” How about you?

Page A2:
• State Department headquarters blaze seriously injures three maintenance workers.
• Drug-seeking man arrested in Aurora, CO on Black Friday for shooting a hole in the ceiling of a Target store.

A4:
• Article about a couple who tortured a 16-year-old “sex slave”

A6:
• 17-year-old dies in car accident

You get the idea.

After all that news and information, I was ready to crawl back into bed and pull a pillow over my head.

The news is not going to start you out for the day with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart. And I’m not just talking about print news. Or even just the morning. The evening TV news is designed to give you nightmares all night long. The newscast starts with a tragedy (a baby injured in a rolling gun battle or a horrendous car accident), and then you see a reporter standing at the crime scene by a length of crime tape hours later, when the scene is obscured by darkness. And even if it weren’t, there’s NOTHING TO SEE! Well, there’s the crime tape.

“You Are There” was an old TV show from the 50s. It appears TV news operations are trying to bring you There, even when there’s no THERE there.

I recall Walt Bodine telling of an experience in the early days on the WDAF-TV news staff. He had been doing human interest stories, and his boss called him on the carpet and said, “What’s all this human interest stuff? I want BANG! BODIES!”

Why do we humans slow down to see a car accident? Why is the bad and the ugly considered “good news?” Why are human interest stories that lift the soul considered boring, and must-not-see TV, except maybe around the holidays? I imagine evolutionary lessons learned in millennia past make us study frightful things closely to make sure similar things don’t happen to us. We take the usual good or neutral news as the norm, so there’s no threat and no reason to take notice.

Maybe someday, bad news won’t be considered “good news.” In the meantime, if you read a newspaper or watch TV news, expect to see “BANG! BODIES!”

Freelance Writer Files: Fearless Google Optimization

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing on July 4th, 2012 by liz – Be the first to comment

The word is out: too many keywords, and Google will zap you. Keyword-stuffing, the numbing repetition of keywords in blog posts, to the point of nausea, is, thank goodness, now out of favor with the Google Gods.

Google SEO Gods

Too many keywords can get you zapped.

So what do you do to climb the ranks of Google?

• Have a blog on your website.
• And in your blog posts, use keywords. But sparingly.
• Make sure your keywords are ones people would logically use to find your company.
• Use two or three keywords in the context of a blog post that has real content, and another in the sign-off. Like this:

How much is a good roof worth?
By Liz Craig

If you’re buying or selling a house, you know that the quality of a house’s roof can dramatically increase or decrease its sale price.

That’s because if the roof is in poor condition, it can cause a lot of costly problems. Dampness, loss of heat, water leaks, and structural damage can all result from a bad roof. So even though the upfront cost of putting on a sound new roof is nothing to sneeze at, it can save you money on repairs in the long run.

If you’re not sure how sound your roof is, find a good roofing company to come out and check it out. Not just a guy on a ladder looking it over and saying, “Looks okay to me.” You should expect a full, professional assessment of your roof, including a close inspection of gutters and downspouts. Any problems with your roof or drainage should be fixed before they create bigger problems. When you use a reputable roofing company with good references, you’ll have peace of mind, and you’ll be able to maintain the value of your home.

Another reason to have your roof inspected by a professional roofing company: If you plan to sell your home, you don’t want a buyer’s survey to reveal problems with the roof that you didn’t know about, which lower the value of your home. Even if you’re not planning to sell, if you neglect needed roof repairs, you may have to pay higher homeowner’s insurance premiums or have trouble with the insurance company if you file a claim. So it’s a smart idea to keep an eye on roofing material for any signs of damage, check and clear gutters regularly, and make small repairs as soon as you notice any damage, so they don’t turn into big problems.

Liz Craig is a freelance writer who writes about roofing topics for ABC Roofing Company.

Blogging with relevant content is one of the most effective ways to get high rankings from Google. Blog content has to be brief, well-written, and interesting and helpful to the customers or clients you hope to attract.

You can’t make your blog posts “All About My Company.” You need to offer advice, tips, information, guidelines and so on, from your position as an expert in whatever industry you’re in. Be helpful. Be generous. Be heavy on relevance to the target audience (and current customers or subscribers) and sparing in your use of keywords. Oh — and this is vital — regular in your postings. That’s the way to optimize for Google without fear of the Google Gods zapping you off to Nowheresville. Which is Page 2 or lower.

Sometimes, companies’ blog posts are so old they’re festooned with spider webs. What a waste of a good marketing tool. The problem, I suppose, is that someone in the office who’s supposed to do it doesn’t have the time, the desire, or the ability to write and post blog entries on a regular basis. That’s where a professional writer can save the day. For an affordable price, the writer (in this case, me) can help you develop an ongoing blogging program that will help you climb the Google rankings ladder.

So, for help developing your fearlessly Google-optimized blog posts, give me a call.

Freelance Writer Files: Doing Direct Mail? Don’t Get Fancy, Get Relevant.

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, writing well on April 18th, 2012 by liz – Be the first to comment

Direct mail is one of those things people either hate or simply dislike. Why is that? Because most people get tons of direct mail that doesn’t offer anything they want. It simply isn’t relevant to them. Or maybe it is, but it takes the recipient too long to find out how. Either way, it’s headed for the landfill.

People decide within two or three seconds whether a piece of mail goes on the “opening” or “trash” pile, and then move on with their lives.

As an ad agency copywriter, I did mostly advertising, meaning ads, brochures, radio and TV spots. Advertising is a different animal from direct mail, I’ve learned, as I’ve had more opportunities to write direct. In advertising, you’re usually doing (a) awareness advertising, (b) image advertising, or (c) offer advertising, sometimes including a coupon. Of the three, (c) is most similar to direct mail. The offer-coupon ad wants you to do something, and it gives you both an incentive to do it and a time limit (Coupon expiration date).

The reason it’s called “direct” mail is that it comes directly to a prospect’s mailbox. Anyone writing for direct mail should keep in mind another reason: it has to communicate in a direct way in order to avoid the trashcan. And there is an art and science to doing it well.

That’s why most direct mail includes a “teaser” on the envelope, which is meant to get you to open it. Here are three teasers from direct mail pieces I plucked out of my trash at random:

• ATTENTION: TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED
Your Input and Signature Needed
REGISTERED DOCUMENT #XXXX-XX-XXXX

• Your 2012 XXXX Membership Card Is Enclosed
Urgent Response Requested

• SECOND REQUEST (in red)
MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL NOTICE
IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUESTED

These are certainly urgent requests for action. But only the first one piques my interest, and only because it’s requesting my “input,” and I’m always happy to share my opinions. And gee whiz, it had a “Registered Document number” on it. Sure looks official and all. Sadly, it doesn’t offer me anything I really want, so into the trash it goes.

At the moment, I’m doing a direct mail campaign for a client. To maximize his budget, the mailings need to be relevant to his target audience. The letters will present them with an offer they can’t refuse—if they’re in the market for what he’s selling, and if the prospects’ dissatisfaction with other providers is as high as we think it is, they will be.

But I won’t simply say, “When you choose XYZ Company, you’ll get (unique benefit).” I will go beyond that and build my message around this idea:

“When you choose XYZ Company, you will get (something they really aren’t getting now and want badly: all the service they’re paying for). Our service tracking system calculates exactly how much service you are getting from our company every week. And if you don’t get every bit of service you are paying for, that week is FREE!”

There is an additional incentive to do it: When the prospect responds within a certain time limit, either by calling or by sending in an enclosed postage-paid card, and sets up an appointment, s/he will get a free demo of the service, and s/he will be able to see measurable results! I can’t reveal how (client confidentiality), but it is a doable offer.

There is no risk and no obligation involved. There is everything to gain. Why wouldn’t the prospect respond?

• First, we’re offering something the target audience is VERY interested in (getting the most for their budget, because most companies don’t give them all the service they pay for).
• Second, we’re doing something else no one else in the market is doing: backing it up with a measurable guarantee of performance.
• Third, we’re offering a FREE demo, which gives a representative a foot in the door.
• Fourth, we’re giving them a sense of urgency about responding, since the offer expires in a couple of weeks.

In addition, the letter and the postcard will have a code number that will let us track results. A 1% to 3% response rate is standard, but if the list is honed to include only the best prospects, it could be higher.

Finally, we won’t leave it there. We’ll send prospects two more direct mail letters, each one highlighting a real pain the prospect has that my client can relieve. After that, any prospects who haven’t responded yet will receive three brochures at staged intervals detailing the same three surefire (if we’ve found out they work in DM) pain-relief scenarios.

So the net of it is this: If you’re the creative putting together a direct mail campaign, don’t kill yourself trying to think up a fancy, possibly creative-award-winning headline and tricky copy for your direct mail letter. Keep it simple (not that it’s easy). Put your head together with your client’s and come up with a solid offer of something the prospect needs and wants, something relevant to his or her needs. Then state it simply and compellingly. And finally, plot out your campaign and keep with it. That’s all there is to it. Now, go and get relevant!

POSTSCRIPT:
A day or two after the first mailing of 50 letters, my client received a call and made an appointment, the first of many, we hope. Second letter is going out early next week. Common wisdom says a 1% to 2% response rate is good for direct mail. In this case, just one new customer could easily pay for the marketing effort! Successful campaigns don’t cost, they pay.

Freelance Writer Files: That guy’s no gentleman…

Posted in Helpful Hints, Other Stuff, writing well on March 20th, 2012 by liz – Be the first to comment

On the TV news, I heard a woman being interviewed about a crime. She said, “…then that gentleman shot him and ran away.” Or something like that. Hey, lady—a guy who shoots people is no gentleman, unless he’s a cop, in which case he’s a “police officer.”

What I’m getting at is the excessive niceness of using the word “gentleman” for any old bloke. Of course, long ago, a gentleman was a fellow with some property and some manners, a man who was, if not in the upper class, at least in the upper-middle class. Someone you would call “Mister” instead of “Hey, you!” But today, people use the term, “gentleman” to refer to anyone from a gangster to a king. But hold it, folks. The word has connotations and denotations you might not mean when you use it, to-wit:

Gentleman riding to hounds


• A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man.
• A man of good social position, esp. one of wealth and leisure.

Not every old anybody you meet is a gentleman. So isn’t it okay to call a male human a “fellow,” a “man,” or a “guy,” depending on the context? For example, consider the following:

“That man at the entrance gate said we ought to park in Row R.” Generic male human.

“A fellow I know can get you a good deal on tires.” Implies some personal knowledge of the man.

“Who told you that?” “I dunno. Some guy at the bar.” Generic with a tinge of disrespect.

But “gentleman?” I wouldn’t apply it to a homeless guy living under a bridge. He may, in fact, behave in a gentlemanly manner (especially if he’s a former banker, investment broker or Humanities major). But still, I’d reserve the term for someone who is several cuts above a “guy.” Wouldn’t you?

I wonder if all this “gentleman” business is about the drive to eliminate “elitism,” that bugaboo of Yankee down-to-earthism. If every man, no matter how uneducated, crude or penniless, is a “gentleman,” then no one is really “elite.” If every 8th-grade dropout hanging on the corner talking trash is a “gentleman,” then where is the honor in being called “gentleman?”

On the other hand, it might be a well-intentioned attempt to honor every male citizen’s potential, or not to judge a man one doesn’t know. But now, let’s put the shoe on the other foot, in this case, a lady’s foot.

English ladies

There are women, ladies, girls, gals, and other names I won’t mention which are generally used by guys (not gentlemen). A “woman” can be anyone from your Great-Aunt Suzy to a female wrestler to a jailbird. A “lady,” on the other hand, generally is the female counterpart to gentleman. “Girls” and “gals” can mean women of any age—to other women of the same age. But “girls” generally refers to females under the age of 18. “Gals” generally refers to women over 30, especially when they pal around together—as “gal-pals.”

As a woman of a certain age, I recall fondly the days when store clerks and waiters called me, “Miss.” The first time someone called me, “Ma’am,” I looked around to see who they were talking to. I had crossed the Rubicon from “Miss” to “Ma’am” without knowing it, and finding it out that way stunned me temporarily. I’ve gotten over it now. I don’t feel like a “Ma’am,” still a “Miss” on the inside. But my outside apparently has given me away. Not fair, I say, but alas, there’s nothing to be done about it, so I will adopt the motto of the alley cat, Mehitabel, in Don Marquis’ brilliant book, “Archy and Mehitabel.” “Toujour gai, I say, toujour gai!”