Are You Using These “Mini-billboards” to Entice Your Reader?

Make your reader’s life easy.

His journey through your direct-marketing piece must feel effortless. This is true if you’re writing a sales letter, web page, email, or even your self-promotional letter.

Your copy must be easy. Easy to read. Easy to follow through to the final action you want. Easy to sense what’s in it for him.

A number of features of your letter make this happen.

The simplicity of the words you use can make your reader feel from the outset that “I can speed through this effortlessly.”

Your subheads guide him through your ideas, giving him a sense of the benefits you’re offering. Your pictures, graphs and diagrams make your abstract idea concrete and visible.

But many copywriters often forget or misuse one important element of effective copy … bullets.

When I started writing many, many years ago (that’s 55 years!), I didn’t know what a bullet was. So, just to be sure we’re on the same page …

  • This is a bullet …
  • Actually, it’s a bullet point, but we short cut the name …
  • But, what we call them doesn’t matter …
  • How we use them does matter!

Why should you use bullets in your copy?

Well, for one, they jump out from the page. Or, they can. They also break your copy up visually. When you use bullets properly, your copy looks easier to read.

But, these are superficial reasons for using bullets. The deeper reason: Bullets add power and push to your copy. They can accentuate your promise, benefits, and compelling reasons to act.

Bullets are like miniature billboards highlighting your strongest points … when you know the do’s and don’ts for using them effectively.

7 do’s and don’ts for effective bullets

As with any writing tool, there are proper and not-so-proper ways of using them. Misused bullets will weaken your copy. Here are 7 (really 10) guidelines for effective bullets …

1. Do fascinate with your bullets. (Thank you, Bottom Line.)

Effective bullets summarize key ideas. But, they need to do more. They should “fascinate” your reader. I’ve stolen that term from Bottom Line Books. They call bullets “fascinations” to drive home this idea with their copywriters.

When your reader reads your bullets, he should feel an “aha.” Or, a sense of excitement. Or, a need to know more.

Ho-hum bullets don’t excite. They deaden.

How do you rise above ho-hum? Consider your bullets mini-headlines. When you first write them, don’t worry too much about how strong they are. But, when you go back to edit, work diligently to make each bullet as strong as you can. Use the Four U’s. Don’t be satisfied with “good enough.”

Hint: If you’ve written many practice headlines, go back and see which of those would make good bullets.

2. Don’t focus on the negative.

I’ve reviewed copy in the past where the copywriter has carefully bulleted all the bad things that will happen if …

It doesn’t matter what those bad things are, or if the promotion is what we call a problem-solution promo. When you focus on negatives in bullets, you waste their power to motivate your reader to read on or to act.

Your prospect sees bad stuff in his mind. You want the dominant image to be how he will benefit.

Does this mean you never use negative things in your bullets? There are no absolutes in copywriting. So, yes, you can use negatives, but I advise against it.

Write powerful, positive bullets.

3. Do follow the hidden success-structure.

  • Bullets must look inviting. Keep them to no more than three lines long, shorter if possible. Long bulleted copy can be uninviting …
  • All the bullets in one list should relate to one theme. For example, all your bullets could be about benefits. Or, they could be about the premiums the reader will get. This is called “parallelism” …
  • All your bullets should be of similar length. Having vastly different lengths makes your list look choppy. More important, shorter bullets seem less important …
  • For bullets with longer entries, like this list, separate each item with a space as I’ve done here.

    Shorter bulleted lists like the one above no not necessarily need to be separated this way …

  • Though not a hard and fast rule, I like to end all bullet points except the last one with ellipses ( … ). This visually carries one bullet point into the next. I end the list with a period, as I’ve done here.

4. Don’t drop your conversational tone.

Just because you’re writing bullets doesn’t mean you can drop your conversational tone. That tone is you talking directly to your reader. It’s easy to lose that tone when you write bullets, so be careful to keep that tone. You want your reader to feel you’re talking to him through all parts of your copy.

5. Do NOT lead with bullets.

You can use bullets effectively in your headline, particularly in the deck copy (the extended copy following your main headline). But it’s a mistake to use bullets in the first two or three paragraphs of your copy.

Why?

Because you and I don’t talk in bullets. Your first few paragraphs (your lead) are crucial in establishing your personal, conversational tone. Sticking a bullet list in here prevents or destroys that tone.

6. Numbered lists are almost like bulleted lists.

If you use numbered lists in your copy, all the do’s and don’ts you’ve gotten here still apply. However, numbered lists imply an inherent order. Your reader will interpret the list as going from most to least important or from least to most important.

So, if you’re listing benefits, using a numbered list implies the first benefit is the most important. The following ones will seem less and less so. This is how you invisibly want to structure your list, but you don’t necessarily want your reader to know that. Using bullets instead of numbers gives equal or almost equal weight to all your benefits – a good thing when you want to impress your reader.

7. Use bullets sparingly.

As with any specialized copy, overuse diminishes the effectiveness of bullets. As I mentioned a bit ago, you have to work to maintain your conversational tone in bullets. The more you use them in your copy, the more difficult that task becomes.

Too many bullet lists change the visual impact of your copy from pleasant and easy to read to more like a checkerboard.

How many is too many? Let your bullets come naturally rather than shooting for a certain number. When you take that tack, you’ll come out about where you need to be.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Average: 5.0
Published: May 25, 2015

2 Responses to “Are You Using These “Mini-billboards” to Entice Your Reader?”

  1. In high school, and later my college years, I was taught to use bullets in my essay writing. However, my mentor, an absolutely wonderful Internal Medicine physician used bullets practically all the time in his articles in medical journals. I learned so much having worked for him. Now, I have learned even more from Will Newman. Thank you Mr. Newman for your expertise. Perhaps now, I know the reasons why my former employer and mentor received excellent reviews!

    Shelley MaidenJune 5, 2015 at 4:16 pm


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