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Keep it interesting

At a workshop I was running last week, we got to discussing the merits of long copy (funny how this one just runs and runs). One of the delegates asked how you can keep people reading long letters. The answer, as of course you know, is the same way you keep them reading a short letter. By making it interesting.

Here are three things that companies imagine their customers find interesting. I assume they do because so many sales letters, websites and brochures begin like this. (I’m going to follow this list with some things that customers actually DO find interesting.)

What companies think their customers are interested in

  1. A description of the writer’s state of mind. Eg “I am delighted to tell you…” or “We are pleased to announce…”
  2. Statements about the customer ’s job or industry. Eg “As a busy finance director, you need to know about…” or “The widget industry is currently experiencing record levels of turmoil…”
  3. Narratives explaining the company’s development (usually from humble roots) eg “We first began manufacturing widgets in 1979. Since then…” or (and very common nowadays) “We have totally redesigned our website…”

What customers are REALLY interested in

Now for that list of things customers like reading about…

  1. Themselves.
  2. Er…
  3. That’s it.

Now of course I don’t mean that you, as a copywriter, should tell people about themselves. Apart from anything else, when you display the fruits of your list research or database analysis, you’ll come across as a stalker. You know the kind of thing…

“Dear Mr Sample,

With your preference for red satin boxers, you’ll be dying to get your hands on our new catalogue of exotic underclothing for today’s go-getting gentleman.”

No, I mean, write about your products from your customer’s perspective. Don’t tell them what it is: tell them what it does for them. In fact, I’ll be more specific. Tell them how your product will make their life easier. If you don’t know, find out, work it out or make something up.

That old black magic called benefits

Most–no, make that all–people want an easier life.

If you are selling books for lawyers, for example, focus on how they’ll win more cases. And therefore more work.

If you are selling an investment newsletter, duh! – tell them this isn’t just another get rich quick scheme – they’re actually going to get rich. And quick!

People don’t really care what’s in it. They’ll say they do, sure. But that’s because they know that to say otherwise would brand them as credible fools. So give them features – if you must – but make sure you explain how those features will bring peace, prosperity and everlasting youth.

And my point is?

You can write as much copy as you like, providing it’s interesting. And to make it interesting, you have to concentrate on your reader’s needs, wants, fears and desires. Not yours. Not your manager’s. Not your Chairman’s.

The idea that people don’t read long copy is a myth. Especially when it’s espoused by a writer who adds, “I know because I don’t read it.” People will keep reading as long as your message is relevant to their lives. Having said that, there are also a few tricks you can employ to keep the fish on the line and I’ll return to this subject next month.

Categories: Marketing Copywriting and Maslen on Marketing.

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