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Words that (really) sell

This month’s article is adapted from the second half of a piece I wrote for the excellent InCirculation magazine. It’s aimed at subscriptions marketers, but keep reading if you’re not one. There are plenty of practical tips for general copywriting.

Exciting, delighted and fantastic

As I was writing this, my wife’s copy of She plopped onto our doormat complete with a carrier sheet promoting a “fantastic” discount on a subscription to Good Housekeeping, “the number one magazine for grown up women”.

If the writer believed in their own strapline, then surely they would avoid this sort of glib phrasemaking.

I have yet to meet a grown up woman who would call a saving of a few pounds on a magazine subscription “fantastic”.

Likewise, describing a subscription incentive as “fantastic” is patronising and insulting (unless it’s a yacht or an all-expenses-paid trip to the Oscars, which it never is).

Outers that over-promise

Looking at print DM, the outer is our first chance to make contact with our reader. (For e-DM, it’s the subject line.)

And here’s where things get tricky. It’s back to the bums on seats versus long-term profitability equation. An unscrupulous writer can get people to open the envelope/email in greater numbers by over-claiming or over-promising.

A line reading, “Inside, your free guide to buying a digital SLR camera” will turn prospective subscribers off if, on opening, they find they have to place an order to get the guide.

Yet, without open envelopes or emails, DM fails. So maybe we could take our original line and tweak it slightly to read, “How to buy the right digital SLR”. Same underlying promise, but no explicit (and untruthful) offer of a free guide.

“Everything you need to know about…”

This is a line that I freely confess to having cranked out myself (though not for many years).

When I used to promote market reports on different industries around the world, I’d often include a phrase that ran something like this: “World Hot Drinks Report tells you everything you need to know about trends and developments in the global market for tea, coffee and hot chocolate.”

Even then I suspect I only half-believed the claim I was making, but now I squirm. This is not to say that the report wasn’t useful, valuable or interesting. But it didn’t … couldn’t … tell the CEO of a tea company everything he needed to know.

This kind of writing fails because it’s an empty boast. Instead, we should find out or work out what our reader does want from our title and talk about that.

Do they want to make smarter property deals? Take better photographs? Feel part of a select group of transatlantic culture-vultures? There’s the hook.

Inappropriate language is, like, so over

Emulating the argot of teenagers spells, like, doom for any copywriter. But for pretty much any other market it pays to aim for an appropriate tone of voice.

Lawyers, mothers-to-be, classic car nuts: there’s a tone of voice that will strike a chord with each of them. Though what you do about a pregnant barrister who drives an E-type I’m not sure.

There are a few ideas that should work well with any group, however (even the MySpace crowd). One is to keep it simple. Use plain English and short sentences. Be polite. And try, please try, to sound like a human being and not an “I (management) speak your weight” machine.

And I’m telling you this because?

Selling subscriptions – selling anything – is about making a proposition your reader finds so compelling they can’t help but buy from you. Believe it or not, showering them with empty platitudes and “marketing speak” won’t do it.

Instead, look for a fresh and original way of communicating your product’s benefits. Treat your reader with some respect. And please, delete “exciting” from your dictionary.

Categories: Marketing Copywriting and Maslen on Marketing.

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