3 Secrets of Catalog Copywriting Success From Herschell Gordon Lewis

Without a doubt, Christmas is catalog season. Every time you’ve visited your mailbox during the last three months, it’s probably been chock full of these passports to your copywriting success.

The beauty of catalogs for marketers and copywriters is that they’re a lucrative, year-round business. The Direct Marketing Association estimates that sales from print catalogs this year will reach $152 BILLION, up from $143 billion last year.

And this number doesn’t include sales from online catalogs. Nor does it include people who read catalogs and then come into "brick and mortar stores" to do their shopping.

Why this success? That’s easy: 80% of Americans shop from home. Many of them do it for the convenience, even if there’s a store nearby. A substantial number do it because physical disabilities make home shopping easier. But many people use catalogs for the same reason the first Sears catalog in 1888 was so successful. They live in rural areas where the stores and merchandise they want to buy simply don’t exist.

So what does this mean to you as a copywriter? Well, for starters, someone has to write every single word that you see in a catalog … from the introduction to the descriptions of the products. That "someone" could be you.

Even though Christmas is catalog season, there is a strong year-round demand for catalog copywriters. And if you look closely at the copy in many, if not most, of the catalogs you receive, you can see that much of it is not convincingly written.

So there is not only a demand for catalog copywriters, there’s a HUGE demand for well-trained catalog copywriters. And, as a trained catalog copywriter, you can easily start your career at $100/hour and quickly work your way up to six-figures and above – like "Catalog Master" Herschell Gordon Lewis, who clears seven figures annually.

Herschell was a keynote speaker at this year’s Bootcamp, where he shared his secrets of writing successful catalog copy. Here are two of the secrets he presented, plus another one that he feels is especially important for you to know.

Secret #1. Catalog Copy Is Not Much Different From Direct-Mail Copy.

Herschell told Bootcamp attendees that if you’re learning copywriting in one of the AWAI programs, you are establishing a good foundation for writing strong catalog copy.

There are differences, of course. For one, catalog copy is greatly condensed. There’s no room for long, engaging stories or extensive proofs. Instead, you have to rely on good, tight writing and good illustrations or photos. Most important, you have to concentrate on using his next secret …

Secret #2. Effective Catalog Copy Is USUALLY Benefit-Oriented.

As you already know, benefits sell more effectively than features. But because you need to use condensed copy in catalogs to do the job, you must really home in on the benefits of the product. When doing this, it helps to understand your prospect so you can strike a strong emotional chord with very few words.

However, there are times when you must describe features in order to convince your prospect to buy. Failure to do so would violate what Herschell describes as the most important rule in catalog copywriting – a rule so important that he calls it …

Secret #3. The Clarity Commandment.

"When you choose words and phrases, clarity is paramount. Don’t let any other component of your communication interfere with it."

This advice works for any type of sales communication: direct mail, email, online sales, and so on. It seems deceptively easy, but, as Herschell points out, it isn’t.

Herschell’s " Clarity Commandment" means that you avoid words and phrases that are unclear or too fancy. For example, you wouldn’t say "Eschew obfuscation." Instead, you’d say, "Write in plain English and use words that are easy to understand."

But it goes beyond that. Clarity means using words and approaches suitable for your market – even industry jargon when appropriate. For example, in selling computer components to professionals, failure to describe features in the kind of technical language they’re used to violates Herschell’s commandment … because your copy will not be clear to your prospects.

These are just three of Herschell’s essential secrets of powerful catalog copy. But, as you can see, becoming successful in this lucrative copywriting niche is well within your reach.

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Published: December 12, 2005

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