Four Copywriting Tips That Can Skyrocket Response

I spent more than 30 years writing direct-mail copy for newsletter publishers. These people are especially sharp marketers. Working with them, I learned a lot.

Here are four of those lessons. The ideas below apply to all types of products and services, and to both online and print marketing.

  1. Give a headline, envelope teaser, or subject line a creative twist that makes it sound new and surprising.

    One of the biggest challenges a copywriter faces is to devise a headline or teaser that communicates the sales message in a different, exciting, attention-grabbing way. To launch Tax Angles, a consumer tax advisory newsletter, I came up with an envelope teaser that quickly became the control: “Counting on your tax advisor to help you cut your taxes? You’re making the most expensive mistake of your life!”

    Then my client, the publisher, wrote one that was more concise but equally successful: "You don't have to cheat to cut your taxes." Ingenious! It encapsulated the publication's major benefit, but with an unexpected twist. It’s especially clever because of what it implies without stating outright.

    Decades ago, a magazine ad was headlined: “How to pick the best color portable [TV] from Sears or anyone else.” Note how those last three words give the ad real credibility.

    I’ve long been convinced that my most successful headline, “Speak Spanish Like a Diplomat,” would not have generated tens of millions of dollars in sales if it had read “Speak Spanish Like a Native.”

    Finally, sometimes you can tweak a cliché or familiar phrase so that it becomes fresh and startling. One example: "Get Rich Slowly."

    These are just a few illustrations of how an ordinary idea can be expressed in an extraordinary way.

  2. Shorten the distance between the offer and the sale.

    A major European publisher and direct marketer, Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft (Publisher for the German Economy), generated new subscribers for a newsletter for entrepreneurs via this deft headline: "With which of these ideas would you like to start your own business?"

    Observe the principle at work here. The writer adroitly conflated two steps into one, thus helping to bridge the gap between the pitch and the order. This strategy parallels the "assumptive close" that aggressive salespeople employ: "Have you decided to take the blue Cadillac or the gold one?"

    The bottom-line point: If you can find words that compress the space separating the prospect and the product, you’ve overcome a significant obstacle.

  3. Ignore the "you" rule … sometimes.

    One of the oldest direct marketing commandments is to write with a "you" focus. That’s sound advice, especially in contrast to the often excessive use of boastful, non-selling "we" copy.

    But there's an exception to the rule: when the product involves matters that are regarded as negative or shameful. Consider, for instance, procrastination or indebtedness. The prospect may be offended by the suggestion that he or she is guilty of these sins. A better approach is oblique, employing the third person: "Some people put off taking action." "Joe Smith was in over his head … " Similarly, a treatment for obesity might best be sold not by referring to the reader but via a third-person case history or testimonial.

    A true story can make the case without pointing a finger at the prospect. Accusations tend to generate a defensive response, a reaction that isn’t conducive to motivating someone to buy.

  4. Know when too much is more than enough.

    Specific numbers are often persuasive, as in "5 Gardening Mistakes" or "17 Surprising Predictions." But watch out for the point of diminishing returns. In one sales letter, I spotted this promise: "1,000 tax questions answered." That may be more than anyone who isn’t a CPA wants to know. Similarly, it's probably unwise to offer "537 ways to save time." Avoid copy that implies that using the product requires a lot of effort ("800 tightly spaced pages").

    This caveat applies particularly when selling to business audiences. The late Howard Penn Hudson, once the dean of the newsletter industry, taught this useful rule: “Consumers buy their information by the pound, while executives will pay more to read less.”

How many of the ideas above can you use? In future articles, I’ll reveal more “secrets” of newsletter marketers than can help you, no matter what product or service your copy is selling.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 4.7
Published: February 11, 2011

2 Responses to “Four Copywriting Tips That Can Skyrocket Response”

  1. Thank you.

    Guest (Nwilley)

  2. Good stuff. Real, substantial advice.


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)