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Make Your Messages Understood, Believed and Acted Upon

You can develop ads, letters, e-mail messages, and complete web sites that do a more effective job of hooking the reader's attention moving them to a desired course of action.  Your messages must be easily understood and believable.  The message must be clear, easy to read and very interesting because people will turn off and quit reading a boring message much quicker than they will tune out a boring speaker.

In writing, just like in speaking, what counts is focusing on communication with the others rather than trying to impress them with your wit, knowledge or experience. And just like in speaking, the more effective you are the more people trust you, like you and buy from you.

1. Know your objective

Before you even start writing, decide what result do you want to produce. It is critical to have a clear objective, and target your message to a specific action or outcome.  Do you want to:

Educate your readers?
Entertain your readers? ( sometimes a viable tactic, even on a business site)
Impress them with your brilliance? (not a good tactic, unless done subtly via quality of content)
Make them think?
Develop rapport and trust?
Get them to call you?
Sign in your guest book?  Or fill out your information form?  Or online survey?
Get them to request further information via autoresponder?
Get them to refer you to others?
Get them to go to your site?
Get them return to your site? (if the copy is for the web site)
Get them to subscribe to you ezine?
Get them to order a special report?
Get them to buy something? (better done on second e-mail message or web site, rather than on the first e-mail message)
Get them to switch from another company to you?

Write down your objective.  In other words, what one action are you wanting the prospect to take at this time.   Focus on getting them to do one thing (although there may be different options on how to do it, such as phoning, responding by e-mail, or going to the web site).  Don't ask them to buy a product, return a card, go visit a store, etc. all in one presentation.  Trying to get the reader to do two things is likely to confuse the reader and have them not respond at all.  Aim at one favorable response, and direct your entire piece at getting that result.

2.  Know your target audience

You can not be everything to everyone, but you can position yourself effectively to meet the needs of a specific group. This means understanding who your customers/visitors are and what motivates their buying decisions. Take the time to learn as much about your customers' business as you know your own. Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor your message in terms they will understand and appreciate.

3.  Know what you are writing about.

Your letter must have information or an offer that is truly of value to the reader.  Faking it and writing about something you do not really know will show through.  If you are not already an expert on the subject, do some research that will be of value to the reader.  A clear focus on your objective will aid in directing your research.

4. Gather the "what's in it for me" points.

With the objective from point 1 firmly in mind, what features of your offer will be attractive?  What benefits will they receive from just taking the limited action you want them to take at this time? 

Brainstorm and write down all of the benefits the readers will gain by doing what you want them to do.  Think of "gain" benefits and "maintain" benefits.  See Why People Buy.  Be clear about why the reader should respond favorably.  If you cannot come up with compelling reasons, go back to the drawing board to offer something of greater value.

Remember that features are nothing more than the vehicles to get the benefits the customer wants.  That is, no customer wants a drill; they want the hole the drill makes.  Therefore, talk about the benefits of returning the response card, if that is the action you want them to take.  Talk about the benefits of coming in to visit, if coming in is the action you want them to take. If you're asking them to buy -- talk about the benefits they will receive from the purchase. Talk about the benefits or results they can expect to receive or what they can expect to occur in an introductory phone call, if you're asking them to talk by phone   Stress the BENEFITS the prospect will receive by utilizing the features of your product or service, or by doing what you want them to do.

5.  Organize your message logically

Use the AIDA formula or the old "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them" routine.  Use your strongest points first and last. They will be the most remembered statements that you make.

Create an outline - from the first point in your introduction to the last one in the conclusion. Arrange your major points in a logical order. And then start to work on your opening and on your conclusion.

You should know your conclusion before you write the rest.  Like in everything else, the only way to write clearly is to know where you are going.

A good headline is a must.  Spend a lot of time on the headline and introduction because if you don't grab the reader's attention right from the beginning, the reader won't read the rest no matter how good it may be!

6. Use plain language

Use simple words. Plain talk. Write the way you and your readers talk. A good way to compose these messages is to look at your outline and dictate the message onto a tape recorder.  We use shorter words - of one, two, or three syllables - than when we write.  Write in short, easy-to-read sentences.

Avoid clichés - however, use familiar word combinations. Such phrases are usually well understood and remembered longer than the sophisticated language.

Don't use jargon or big, fancy words that some readers may not understand. You are trying to get them to do something, not get them upset.  For example, when talking about the internet to professionals who don't have a web presence, be careful to use real world terms and not cyber-jargon. Many people have a negative reaction to particulars they don't understand. For example you may want to refer to a firewall as "a security checkpoint," a URL as a "web address", a hacker as an "internet burglar" and the backbone as "the internet interstate."

7.  Add impact with power words.  Popular power or "magic" words include:

you
free

save
safe
easy

win
right
fun
sale
why
new
results
money

bonus
gain
value
love
proud
now
happy
discover
guaranteed
exciting
comfortable
announcing
introducing
valuable
benefits
alternative
trustworthy
proven
healthy

special
exclusive
security
winnings
advice
wanted
people
beautiful

The 12 words bolded have been found by researchers at Yale University to be the most powerful words in the English language. Use them to your advantage.

"Tragic" words to avoid include:

buy
purchase
obligation
failure
bad
sell
loss
liability
difficult
wrong
decision
deal
hard
death
order
fail
cost
worry
contract

8.  Vary the length of copy to the media and goal aimed at.  For follow up messages to inquiries, short e-mail messages may be best.   Keep your copy short and to the point, allowing the reader to quickly understand what's in it for them.  Nobody likes a windbag, and where people can click away from you in a nanosecond, you want to keep them moving along. Besides, too much copy can actually talk you OUT of the sale.

At other times, a longer message is appropriate. Keep in mind that long copy always sells more than short copy -- this has been proven by many great copywriters.  Long copy can be very readable, as long as you continue to address the reader's needs, use effective headlines and subheadings to emphasize key messages and tell the basic story, and use bullets. 

9. Don't tell them everything. The trick to writing copy that turns text into sales is to direct a viewer into contacting you for more information. If you tell them every little detail on your site, they don't have any reason to call. In fact, if you tell them too much, you may give them a reason NOT to contact you. On the other hand, if your copy directs them into contacting you, you open up the opportunity of bringing in those fence-sitters who might not otherwise have bought. (Looks like this is one hint I did not take to heart, with this site the size it is! )

10.   Use bullets to increase readability and add emphasis. 

Bullets, especially in long copy ads, help to give the read a visual break along with strengthening the benefits of the offer. The use of bullets can increase your response ratio. Bullets are captivating, short and sweet, intriguing, and pleasing to the eye. Most important, they deliver straight-to-the-point benefits.

Two great ways to use bullets within the heart of your ad copy are when using the words "you get" or "reasons why." Since people are always looking for what's in it for them, the words "you get" grants the reader of the ad the ability to know exactly what they are getting out of responding to your offer.

For example, "With your special Abdominoflex Toning Machine, you get..." and then use bullets to list the benefits one would receive. If you list the features of that which you offer, always follow each feature with its equivalent benefit.

To illustrate the above example, take the following:

"With your special Abdominoflex Toning Machine, you get:

  • An easier yet intense workout that will burn off unwanted calories more rapidly and enjoyably;
  • An exercise that laser-targets specific areas of the body for a faster, firmer, and more shapely figure;
  • A FREE special bonus videotape (valued at $19.95) offering unique workout tips as well as ways to make the best use of your machine;

...And so on."

A feature from the previous example would be the fact that the machine is lightweight, compact, and easy to use. The equivalent benefit would be that you can store it under your bed, pull it out when needed, and use it in an instant, without the hassle or inconvenience associated with larger toning machines.

In other words, ease-of-use is a feature. The feelings that will stem out of the machine's ease-of-use are the benefits. This is why another set of bullets, based on "reasons why," is so important. In essence, you are telling your reader "here are the reasons why you should take advantage of this offer (and do so now)."

When describing benefits, be specific as possible. With the headline, the copy, the bullets, and the offer, use specific descriptions or words. Give detailed benefits regarding your offer and tell the reader what you want him or her to do specifically.

11.  Be specific. Use odd, non-rounded numbers instead of generalizations. Odd, non-rounded numbers are more credible and have pulled more than even or rounded numbers. For example, the headline "Amazing new system helped me earn $3,956.75 in 29 days!" is much more credible than simply "4,000 in 1 month!" (That's why, for example, Ivory is 99 and 44/100% pure. If Ivory said 100%, it wouldn't have been as believable.)

12.  Use good grammar - to a point. And forget about the strict grammar rules! Not about ALL the rules -- good grammar is important because it allows us to express ourselves clearly and helps portray a professional image.. But forget about your high school English teacher. It is OK to start a sentence with "but". And don't be afraid of sentence fragments. Like this one (without a verb!).  Break the rules if it helps you make your point, i.e., whenever you feel that it will make the message sound more real. This is advertising.  Write what works.

13. Concentrate on your reader

Get your readers involved with whatever you write about.  Help them understand it.  Help them remember it.

Check your use of pronouns "me" and "you". By saying "you" (and yours) at least three times as often as saying I (and me, we, mine, our) you take the focus away from yourself and put it on the reader where it belongs.  If you see too many "me" and "mine", rewrite until your balance is right.

For example: instead of "I think that this is really important", say -  "You will find that this is very important".

14.  Talk with your readers. One of the best ways to improve your writing's effectiveness is to talk with your readers, instead of writing to them. When all is said and done, your reader should be able to "hear" you as if you were talking to them. It makes your site -- and what you're saying on it -- a lot more personable. If you want a trick that I teach my students, start out your sell copy with "Dear Mom". Then write the letter to your Mom the way you normally would. After that, cut off the "Dear Mom" part and you'll see what I mean. Nobody ever writes, "Dear Mom! Finally a way for you to turn 46¢ into $100,000 in your spare time!"  Try this:

a. Know what you want to say. Review the objective and benefits you want to feature. Don't waste everyone's time trying to guess what you mean. Ask yourself, "What is it that I want the reader to do?  What do I want to say? What's the one message here?"

b. Pretend you are speaking to one person who is sitting across the desk from you, "Mom". Mentally role play a dialogue that begins, "Here's what I want to say..." Write your monologue down.  This technique increases the likelihood that you will speak with your readers.

Alternatively, sit down with somebody you trust and make the most compelling, one-on-one case you can for your product or your service. Talk about the beneficial results your product or service provides. Talk through every compelling point, reason why and advantage that your product offers. Follow that A-I-D-A Formula. Getting Attention. Getting Interest. Developing Desire. And Calling Them to Action.

Challenge your friend or associate to ask questions. Answer every question that could be in a prospect's mind or that can be humanly posed.

Record the session. When you're done, get it transcribed.

c. Now edit. Whittle your message down to the essential points. Pretend you are writing a telegram and every word will have a price tag on it. The more words you cut out, the less the message will cost you.

You will have written a better sales letter than almost any copywriter you can engage.  This method works because a sales letter is nothing more than a conversation between two friends. One person gaining knowledge from another -- transferring understanding and information.

15.  Rewrite and perfect your message before you ever post or send any message.  One of the biggest mistakes many e-mailers make is writing their material quickly, and zipping it off without rewriting it or editing it or even re-reading it. If your site looks great, but is loaded with badly written text, you'll have undermined your entire marketing effort. Anything you write for the online world needs to be polished as anything you write for publication. It's very easy to dash off a response to someone and send it off. The problem is, the potential for miscommunication is enormous. And when you consider the fact that your e-mail message can potentially be read by thousands of people, there's cause for alarm. You don't want a written blunder to get broadcast around the world.

16.  Follow the "Benefit Path" - Problem, Solution, Advantage, Benefit

A great headline is needed to capture their attention.  But that is only the beginning.  You must keep the focus on the reader and "What's in it for me?" to keep them reading.  Customers buy benefits, not products. So focus on the benefits you bring to your customers, not just your capabilities and the product features. Present your products or services in terms of customer needs and your solutions.  For more on the Solution - Advantage - Benefit formula, click here.

17. Tell them to do something.

Point number one was to know your objective.  It should almost always be to get the reader to do something.  So, be very clear on what that is and tell them to do it!  Instead of saying, "if you want more information, will you click on the button on the left?"  Tell them, "for the free report that will increase your income and make you financially independent, click here."

18.  Consider using a method called "the plunge." You begin your e-message right after something has happened and before people fully grasp what you are talking about. Good fiction uses this technique. The story begins with gun smoke floating up from a revolver, someone dead, and someone else running out the door. "What's happening?" asks the reader, and before he or she knows it, they're reading the entire story. The opening "started" them.

You can apply the same method to online communications by starting your message where other writers might have their third paragraph. In other words, most online writers take too long to get to their point. Most of them could delete the top half of their message and lose nothing. I suggest that a good "starter" would be to begin your message where others might have their fourth paragraph. If you get a message beginning with the words, "He looked shocked when we told him the sales reports," you'd probably read on to find out who was shocked, why he was shocked, and what the sales reports actually said.

Consider starting your message in places where readers are forced to read on to discover what is going on.

19.  Consider using the "redirection" technique. Say you are about to reply to a message concerning a new delivery system that someone asked you about. You begin your message by saying, "Here's what you wanted to know about our delivery system..."

But then you stop and redirect the message with a new statement:

"...But before I tell you about it, let me mention something about our new overnight service."

What you've done is capture people's attention, and then held on to it. They'll wait and read on because they expect you to return to your original statement and complete it (and of course you should return and complete what you start). This is a powerful way to use Twain's technique and keep people riveted to the screen.