There are so many metrics surrounding direct marketing. So many facts, figures, test results and other sundry measurements.
It’s tempting to think the only thing that matters with direct marketing copy is to get the tried and tested elements in place.
If that were the case, you would be able to buy DM copywriting software.
You would just enter a few lines of information about your product - price, offer and audience - and the software would draw on a database of thousands of previous, proven DM letters and ads. Press Enter and you would have near-perfect copy delivered to your screen in the blink of an eye.
Sounds cool, eh?
The trouble is, the ‘metrics’ approach to direct response writing – whether written by you or a machine - limits your potential considerably.
One major attribute of every good direct response piece is how it touches its audience at a personal level. Great DM speaks to us as individuals. It touches our hopes, fears and ambitions. It makes us feel, it makes us ‘want’.
And by that, I’m not talking about the ‘smack-em-in-mouth’ approach. As in, “If your life isn’t insured, your children could end up on the streets”. Or, “Get out of debt in 30 minutes”. I don’t think our industry is served well by manipulating the fears of decent people. Or over-promising in any way.
>> An example of DM copy that touches the reader
A long time ago I was given the job of beating a control brochure that was selling a book on the subject of US forces in Vietnam.
I changed nothing except the captions under the photos.
I remember one photo that showed an American ‘Tunnel Rat’ about to enter one of the Viet Cong’s tunnel systems. A scary job, to say the least. The existing caption said something like, “At the entrance of a tunnel system”.
There are two things wrong with this caption. First, it is redundant, telling you nothing the photo itself doesn’t already communicate. Second, it fails to ‘touch’ the reader in any way.
It’s a long time ago, but my rewrite was something like this, “Tunnel Rat tenses before plunging into the darkness”.
What I wrote was probably much better than that. I spent a lot of time on that brochure. But hopefully you get the point. What I did was use words that said something the photo alone didn’t express. I also put the reader in the mind of the soldier. To some small degree. I simply wrote in a way that engaged the reader’s emotions.
Good DM writing does that all the time.
And yes, the new brochure beat control.
>> How this applies to the Web
When it comes to touching your reader on a personal level, the web offers more opportunity and potential than any other mass medium. Online, people respond immediately and positively to any sense that a web site has a personal voice. People love that someone is ‘there’.
Where can you add these personal touches? Where can you reach people on an emotional level? Just about anywhere in the text. In headlines, subheads, body text or links.
(By the way, don’t start writing captions for all the images on your site. In a print brochure people generally look at the photos first, and then read the captions second. Not so online. Visitors to web sites look at the text first. They want to know if your site will give them what they are looking for. )
You’ll be most successful with this personal approach if you use a light touch. Put the verbal hammer and exclamation points away. There’s no need to shout. Just make sure the text sounds like it was written by a living, breathing, feeling human being. Don't just state the facts. . . write in a way that touches the reader's emotions. Help them feel it, not just read it.
Things really begin to fly when you combine the proven principles of direct marketing with the personal potential of the web.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.