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Writing that Sells

Writing that helps sell products or services or attract new customers is generally called “copywriting” or “marketing writing.” Many people tend to have visions of writers as inspired dreamers who are able to put words to deep thoughts and emotions. But a good copywriter is a salesman (or saleswoman) with a word processor. The goal of marketing writing is to sell product, or at least to move the prospect to the next step in the marketing process. Good copy is direct, persuasive and credible.

The world is a busy place. There are lots of products and lots of people trying to sell them. There are also lots of customers, who maybe don’t even know that they need these products everybody is trying to sell.

It is the job of the copywriter to find the words to break through the noise in the marketplace and get people to focus on your product or service. These days copywriters write for the internet and email as well as print and TV. But regardless of the power of the media, that will carry the message, the copywriter really only has one tool: the ability to pick the best words.

It is the job of the copywriter to use words to get the customers attention and then to talk him into taking the next step in the buying process.

Getting Started: Focus on three simple questions

The first thing you need to do before you start writing is to ask yourself three simple questions:

Who is the audience?
Your first job is to clearly define the audience for your marketing message. Are you trying to reach your customer directly, or are you making a pitch to somebody who is going to re-sell your product. How much does your prospect know or need to know about your product. What benefits will be most appealing to your audience? The more you know about your audience, the more appropriate your message will be.

What is the message?
This is the question that usually takes the most work. If you are a computer consultant who lives and works in the state of Ohio, your message may simply be that. However, if there are many Ohio computer consultants, you may want to pick another main message, for example, that you specialize in database publishing or java programming. Try to develop as many messages as you can but make sure that they are prioritized in your marketing material to give more emphasis to the more important messages.

How should the message be delivered?
This depends on the nature of your audience and the size of your marketing budget. If you are trying to reach CFO at large corporations, it may make sense to develop a list and to put together an impressive direct mail package to tell your story. On the other hand, if you are selling a product that has a wide audience, like a pogo stick or a new sure-fire fishing lure, you may choose to advertising in a specialized magazine or build a website. On the other hand if you wanted to sell your lure to fishing stores, it might pay for you to write a brochure featuring a color picture of the new lure. If you have salespeople in the field you can help them out by providing them with professional brochures telling about your services or products.

For example:
I was recently working with an instructor who specializes in teaching yoga to expectant mothers. She built up a respectable practice by word of mouth but came to see me because she wanted to tell more people about her services. So the answer to the first question is: expectant mothers who live within say a ten mile radius. The message is that yoga is a safe and pleasant way to prepare for pregnancy and holds many benefits for both mother and baby. Since the budget for this project was modest, we determined that the message could best be delivered by a well designed (4x6) postcard, distributed to obstetricians’ offices and mailed to a selected list of pregnant women.

Notice that by answering the three questions, the actual writing becomes much easier because we know exactly what we need to do; we even know exactly how much space (4”x 6”) we have to deliver the message.

Write a “treatment” first

After you have your project in focus, another important planning step is to write a treatment. A treatment is a short description of the final project. A treatment for the yoga teacher looked something like this: Design a 4x6 postcard listing the benefits of neo-natal yoga. The card must be professionally designed and easy to read at a glance. Name and contact information should be prominently displayed on both sides. Brief statement of credentials and length of experience should be included.

In many large organizations, words and images come from different places and are integrated together. Whenever possible, however, it is better to write your document based on what it is going to look like. Clearly, if you decided to write an 4-page brochure on the benefits of neo-natal yoga it would look different than if you wanted to publish a 2,500 word article for publication. Even though the information for a postcard, a brochure or a feature length article, would come from the same place, you don’t have to write the article if all you need is a postcard. The marketing messages for a brochure or a postcard would be the same. You just need to get the message across with fewer words on the postcard.

The New York Times made famous the tagline: All the news that fit to print. But in business writing we change the tagline to: All the news that fits, we print! Remember, business writing is not about art, it’s about money. Paper costs money, printing costs money, design and writing costs money. If you know what you project will look like on completion your writing task will be shorter, easier and will deliver you a better result.

These days, not all the writing you need will be produced and commercially printed. (Many business documents never get on paper at all and are “published” online instead. But the strategy of using a treatment still works. If you are writing a resume, you probably want to limit it to a single page, two at most. Some sales letters require pages of detail but most will benefit by being short and to the point. A speech or presentation should never be more than 20 minutes in length. Anything that you write can benefit by visualizing the final product. Decide what it will look like (or sound like) describe it in a treatment and start writing.

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