Secrets of the Masters:
10 Things Every Copywriter Should Know About How to Boost Response Rates With Graphic Design

Many experts help you write the perfect package: the publisher, who gives you a general vision for the promotion; the marketing manager, who fills you in on the prospect's core psychology and helps you uncover the USP; and the list brokers, who recommend certain groups of people who have an interest in your offer.

Each one of these experts can help you boost response and write the next record-busting control. And then the royalties start rolling in Ä

But let's not forget another expert who can help you boost response – the graphic designer. He or she plays a large role in getting the promotion youêve worked so hard on read.

Given the importance of design in all successful packages, here are 10 things that every copywriter needs to know:

  1. Design sells too. Sure, copy is king. But if you've written the perfect promotion and the design makes it unreadable Ä you get no sales.
  2. The simpler, the better. If the salesman who approached you wore expensive, flashy clothes, you probably wouldn't buy from him. But if he dressed in a tidy, simple fashion, you'd probably give him a listen. The same goes for a direct mail letter.
  3. The design and color scheme should reflect the tone of the promotion. If you're writing to the do-it-yourselfer, the package elements should look like a cluttered, busy workbench. If you're writing to a housewife, the package should look welcoming and homey. As for color, red is good to convey fear. But accountants see red as an indicator of debt. Always consider your reader when making these important choices.
  4. Determine the order in which you want your prospect to read each piece of your package. Take the first page of the letter. Let's say you want the prospect to read the headline first, the subhead second, the handwritten margin notes third, and finally the lead before turning the page. The graphic designer can design the page so that the prospect's eye will naturally read these elements in the order you want them read.
  5. Decide on a theme for the whole mailing. When every piece of the mailing is laid out on a table, each piece should have a similar visual feel. That doesn't mean that each element should look exactly the same. But if your letter has a formal, exclusive feel, your order device should look formal and exclusive. And so should your lift note, buckslip, etc.
  6. Decide how you want the promotion's elements to look in the just-opened outer envelope. Do you want the prospect to see the head of the letter first? Do you want him to see the lift note first? Tell the designer how to design those pieces so they leap out of the outer envelope and demand a reading.
  7. Be prepared to explain your marketing strategy to the graphic designer. Most graphic designers studied graphic design, not marketing. So introduce your prospect to your designer Ä describe how old he is Ä what his interests are. Let your designer know what emotional strings will pull him to the sale Ä what his core complex (beliefs, feelings, and desires) is. Will it be a hard or soft sell? Should attention be drawn to the guarantee Ä etc?
  8. Prepare a rough sketch to give the designer a general idea of how you want the promotion laid out. You don't have to create a masterpiece here, just give the designer a rough idea of how the letter should look Ä with diagrams showing the placement of the heads, subheads, text, illustrations, and sidebars.
  9. Get ready for some compromise. If the graphic designer feels strongly that something youêre recommending should be designed differently, remember that he or she is the expert. You can learn a lot about how successful promotions should look from the pros.
  10. If you've tested your promotion to the point where you have the right copy, the right offer, and the right list, then you can test the graphic design to try to boost response rates. You can also rejuvenate a dying promotion by changing the graphic design. Or, if you mail the same package frequently, you can change certain elements of the design so that it looks fresh to every prospect that sees it again.
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Published: May 28, 2002

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