This is One of the Best Writing Tools for Determining Short vs. Long Copy

Bob Bly

Since time immemorial — or at least for 35-plus years I’ve been in direct marketing — people have vigorously debated the merits of long vs. short copy.

“If you are selling something worth more than $20, I’ll put my money on longer copy every time,” says Jim Murphy. “Because it gives me a chance to provide more facts, benefits, and credible copy. And I’ll put my money on a direct-mail kit over a self-mailer. Because with a kit, I have a chance to get your order with the letter, brochure, or order form.”

I don’t pretend I can settle the debate once and for all. But I’ve developed one of the best writing tools you’ll find, which I call the Copy Length Grid (see below), that can at least enable us to determine copy length in a somewhat more scientific and semi-quantitative fashion.

The Copy Length Grid says there are two major factors determining whether long or short copy will work best for your promotion: involvement and emotion.

Emotion refers to the degree to which the purchase is emotional. Buying a diamond engagement ring is a highly emotional purchase, while you are moved very little emotionally when deciding which brand of paper clips to buy.

Involvement refers to how much time, effort, and thought goes into the product purchase. As with most large purchases, a lot of consideration goes into the selection and purchase of a diamond engagement ring. But most of us grab the first box of paper clips on the shelf of the stationery store without giving it a second thought.

To use this writing tool for determining copy length, rate these two criteria — emotion and involvement — as high or low. This dictates what quadrant of the Copy Length Grid you end up in, which in turn gives you at least a rough guideline for copy length.

For instance, the purchase of a diamond engagement ring is highly emotional. And, it’s a “considered purchase” — something you give a lot of thought to — so it rates high in involvement.

As you can see in the Copy Length Grid Chart, this puts us firmly in the upper left quadrant of the grid, indicating that long copy is appropriate for this offer. On the other hand, paper clips are more of an impulse purchase; when we need them, we go to the store and pick up the first box we see, providing it’s the right size. There’s no emotion and very little thought that goes into this purchase.

This puts us in the lower right quadrant of the grid, which indicates that writing long, passionate copy about paper clips probably isn’t going to sell more of them.

Of course, the Copy Length Grid is only a rough guide, not a precise analyzer. There are a number of other factors that also must be taken into account when determining copy length.

These factors include:

*Price. The more expensive a product is, the more copy you generally need to sell it. Lots of copy is needed to build the case for value before asking for the order, so that when the price is finally given, it seems like a drop in the bucket compared to what the buyer is getting in return.

*Purpose. Copy that sells the product directly off the printed page or screen (known as “one-step” or “mail order” copy) usually has to be long, because it must present all product information and overcome all objections. Copy designed to generate a lead (“two-step copy”) can be short, since a catalog, brochure, online promo, or salesperson will have the opportunity to present product details and overcome objections later.

*Audience. People who are pressed for time, such as busy executives and professionals, often respond better to short copy. Prospects with more time on their hands, such as retirees, as well as those with a keen interest in your offer, such as hobbyists, are more likely to read long copy.

*Importance. Products that people need (e.g., a refrigerator, a phone) can be sold with short copy because … well, the prospect has to buy them. Products that people want but don’t have to buy (e.g., exercise DVDs, self-help audio programs, financial newsletters) must be “sold” and require long copy to do so.

*Familiarity. Short copy works well with products the prospect already is familiar with and understands. This is why vouchers and double postcards are used so frequently to sell subscriptions to popular, well-known magazines (e.g., Newsweek, BusinessWeek).

Based on the Copy Length Grid and these other factors, clearly long copy is not always better, and there are many instances when short or almost no copy works well. This is the case with items that “sell themselves,” such as staplers or garden hoses.

But for items that have to be “sold” — life insurance policies, luxury automobiles, IT systems, collectibles, high-end jewelry, career training — long copy is often required because of the degree of emotion and involvement.

Your takeaway for today: There’s no reason to wonder how long your copy should be. Start using one of the best writing tools you’ll find: Bob’s Copy Length Grid.

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Published: April 10, 2017

2 Responses to “This is One of the Best Writing Tools for Determining Short vs. Long Copy ”

  1. Hey Bob,

    First off, I have to say thanks so much for this.

    I admit to being a bit of a long form copy advocate. Though reading this has opened up my eyes to the fact that, at times, longer copy is not needed and might actually perform worse than shorter copy.

    Your Copy Length grid is something I'll certainly keep in mind for all future projects.

    As for your point about executives and professionals responding better to shorter copy, is this something you've tested?

    The reason I ask is I'd presume long form copy would work just as well on these execs as it would any other person, as long as you were writing about a topic that really interested them.

    Interested to hear your thoughts, Bob.

    Thanks again for a great read.

    Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews

  2. Hi Bob,short vs long copy,some products that's with emotion will need long copy, paper clips will need short copy skills make lucrative business.


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