How to Defeat Your Copywriting Boogeymen

If you rely on writing to any extent in your day-to-day, you’ve faced the Big Bad Blank Page, probably at the least convenient time possible. And, if you’re anything like me, it’s never just your cut-and-dry “writer’s block”

Considering the name and nature of my blog, this post was stuck in the “blank page with blinking cursor taunting you” stage for an unforgivably long time. Creative Caffeine? More like Creative Sleepytime Tea.

If you rely on writing to any extent in your day-to-day, you’ve faced the Big Bad Blank Page, probably at the least convenient time possible. And, if you’re anything like me, it’s never just your cut-and-dry “writer’s block.”

In this blog, I’ll cover a range of copywriting-centric topics, including some testing and experimentation with real results from my own marketing endeavors. Hopefully you’ll get struck by a few creative jolts along the way. But for my first entry, why not start from square one: When I can’t even get to the writing part.

When it comes to copywriting, I am my own writer’s block. My three greatest enemies, the boogeymen in the closet that keep my fingers frozen above the keys, are as follows:

  1. I feel like I’m not being original: “There’s nothing new here, Dani, you’re not making the event/product/company sound any more interesting, they’ve read this a million times before.”
  2. I don’t know how to start: The first line is crucial, if it doesn’t shoot off fireworks your reader has already checked out by the second. No pressure though.
  3. What was I even writing about, again? So much focus on items one and two, you forget the objective of the copy in the first place.

As is the case with any creative endeavor, there really is no magic fix other than to just grind on through—and in this case, results from an A/B test can’t help much either.

But here are a few little tricks I’ve found to get the gears turning and the cursor moving:

  • Pretend You’re Emailing a Friend
    I wouldn’t agonize over convincing my sister that watching “Cupcake Wars” will change her life, so why should I when telling readers to come to a webinar? This trick is two-fold: It keeps the tone natural and readable, and it helps to quiet the pesky “originality police” in my head, since it will sound like my own unique voice.
  • Start With a Song Lyric
    Honestly a personal favorite. It’s no lie that music brings us together. If a reader recognizes a reference, you’ll have their attention—and if you get them humming a familiar song, your copy will automatically stick with them. Recently I used the subject line “All you need is love … and a great direct mail piece,” and I was rewarded with a flood of positive comments and a stellar open rate.
  • Or Any Pop Culture Reference, Really
    They make me open my emails, at least. (Stick with this blog: I’ll be testing some of these, if you don’t want to just take my word for it.)
  • Get a Little Personal
    Talk about yourself! Promoting a report on social media trends? Start with a line or two about how the information will help you tweet your way to glory. When promotion is genuine and personable, it comes through.
  • Start From the Middle
    A good way to get over “if the first line sucks what’s the point”-phobia. Start with whatever you’ve got; nine times out of 10, something catchy will hit you midway through.
  • STOP THINKING SO HARD!!!
    Sorry for yelling. But it’s important. I need this reminder constantly, and often giving myself permission to just shut up and write the [bleep]ing thing is enough for a breakthrough.

Hopefully one of these nuggets helps you through a future hitch. (If you’ve heard it all before and I just wasted ten minutes of your life … well, you kept reading buddy, so joke’s on you.)

Got any little tricks or suggestions you use when the creative juices just aren’t flowing? Hit up the comments section, I could always use more. Hope to see you here again in two weeks!

I’m a Black Widow … What Spider Are You?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a growing Facebook trend—an increase in those annoyingly stupid quizzes. What flower are you? What actress would play you in the movie version of your life? What Rolling Stones song describes you? What else is surprising is that there is a marketing method behind this madness

Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a growing Facebook trend—an increase in those annoyingly stupid quizzes.

What flower are you? What actress would play you in the movie version of your life? What Rolling Stones song describes you? Are we so bored with our lives that we have to take a quiz to help us with self-actualization?

It always surprises me how many of my seemingly intelligent friends participate in these time-wasters. And I’m not sure I care that if my neighbor were a flower, she’d be a Lily … or if my sister were a dog, she’d be a lab.

What else is surprising is that there is a marketing method behind this madness.

As Americans, we love games, trivia, puzzles, quizzes—anything where we can demonstrate our superiority or prowess. I’ll admit that The New York Times Crossword puzzle is sometimes the sole reason I purchase a newsstand copy of the Times (and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you already know that I’m obsessed with Words With Friends).

It should come as no surprise that smart brands have figured out how to turn this obsession into a marketing opportunity. Long before Facebook came into our lives, magazines used quizzes to entice readers to purchase—right from the front cover that screamed to us in the grocery check-out lane: “Are you a good kisser? Take this quiz and find out!” Cosmo turned the quizzes into an art form starting in the early 1960’s.

Online quizzes are simply a means to a financial end for popular quiz-maker Buzzfeed. They’ve figured out how to use the data to help brands market things to you.

When you take a quiz about “American Idol,” for example, you’re not just telling the network that you’re a viewer. By connecting the dots to your profile data, now the network knows your age range, gender, marital status and other habits like favorite alcohol, or food—and that can be a goldmine.

But Facebook isn’t the only one to cash in on quizzes to drive advertising sales, LinkedIn is also guilty. Recently we created a digital banner campaign for a B-to-C client that ran on LinkedIn for a few weeks. We tested different messages and offers, and our clicks (and subsequent registration) data was good, but not great. Then we leveraged their quiz option.

On LinkedIn, you create a single question with multiple response options, and the collective response results are posted in real time. After the targets answers the quiz, they are then exposed to the results—and to your banner ads—and the results were impressive. Much higher number of clicks, and a much higher percent of clicks, and a much higher number of registrants—all at a much lower CPC. Now that’s an ROI that makes much more sense to this marketer.

If a reader has figured out how to really leverage the Facebook quizzes for marketing gain, I’d love to hear about it.

And, for the record, if I were a city, I’d be …

Content Marketing and Copywriting in Tandem

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But, is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of monetizing the marketing effort? As direct marketers, most of us would agree that getting the reader to buy should be the ultimate objective of any kind of marketing. But each of these skills—content marketing and direct response sales copywriting—can lead from one to the other.

Today we share five recommendations to strengthen both. Before we do that, let’s define each:

  • Direct response copywriting is all about leading the reader to action. It might be a sale on the spot, but it could also be lead generation, or perhaps an action as simple as getting someone to opt-in to a series of emails. Likely media used: direct mail, email, landing pages, video sales letters, print ads and direct response broadcast.
  • Content marketing, on the other hand, is about writing and freely delivering content of value to the reader. It builds trust, confidence and leads into selling from a softer angle. It may not get a sale on the spot, but it should have the reader predisposed to buy when the opportunity is presented. Likely media used: blogs, articles, online press releases, social media, white papers and video.

Content marketing should inform, build trust and credibility with the prospective buyer, so that when harder-hitting, persuasive direct response sales copy with a call-to-action is presented, the response rate is higher. In other words, when both approaches are used in tandem, the sum can be greater than the parts.

Copywriter Chris Marlow suggests, “the term ‘content’ should be reserved for writing that does not have the express purpose of getting a lead or sale.” But she adds that, “sometimes you need ‘content’ to get the lead or make the sale.”

Whether you’re using content marketing or direct response copywriting, here are five recommendations to make both approaches stronger and logically flow from one to the other. Inspiration for this list comes from American Writers and Artists (where I teach a copywriting course), copywriting clients and personal experience:

  1. It all starts with the headline and lead. Use proven direct mail formulas like the four-Legged Stool (Big Idea, Promise, Credibility, Proven Track Record), or the four U’s (Useful, Unique, Urgency, Ultra-Specific), or any one of many other direct response copywriting formulas. The headline formula often works better when you fit your main idea within eight words or fewer. Using a proven direct response letter writing formula can make all the difference in your success.
  2. What’s the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)? Get the attention of the reader and quickly demonstrate you understand their pain. Most everyone has on their minds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in their personal lives, relationships, finances, career, retirement or health.
  3. Is the message confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward? Review the copy with a small inner circle of people. Reading copy aloud with someone listening and evaluating it is a must. If it’s confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward, you’ll hear it when voiced. I was again reminded of the importance of this step after logging several hours by phone when reading a long-form letter aloud with a client so we could both hear it. The extra investment of time strengthened the story, benefits, false close and call-to-action items for the right flow to build the sales message.
  4. Gather a small group to review copy and the lead. Ask each person to assign a numerical ranking (1-10 scale) on whether they’d keep reading or not. If less than 80 percent of the responders wouldn’t read beyond the headline and lead, then the writer needs to fix the headline and lead, or start over.
  5. Is it clear? When your customer or prospect reads your copy (whether using content marketing writing style or direct response copywriting), has the issue been laid out clearly? Was a complex message simplified? Did the message build rapport and trust? Does the copy naturally flow so that the prospect concludes that your product solves the issue? And check the call-to-action. Is there one? Keep in mind that if you’re using introductory content writing, the CTA may be only to opt-in, subscribe or click a link to request or read more in a series.

Bottom line: what are you asking the prospect to do? Is it advancing the prospect along in a planned spaced-repetition contact strategy that leads to your ultimate desired action: a sale?

Whether your copy style is content marketing that is conditioning the reader to make a future purchase, or direct response selling asking for an action on the spot, what you write ultimately needs to justify its existence with a strategy that leads to monetization.

Death by Whitepaper

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

According to Wikipedia, a whitepaper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. They are typically used to educate readers and help them make a decision.

In the early 1990’s, marketers started to leverage whitepapers as a way to present information about a particular topic that was of interest to a marketer’s target audience, but written in a voice that sounded like a third-party, subject matter authority. It may or may not have even mentioned the marketer’s product or service. Instead, it provided in-depth, useful information that helped readers solve a problem or expand their understanding of an issue.

In 2012, whitepapers have often been used as the lazy marketer’s brochure-ware: A forum where the product/service attributes are extolled, at length.

Sometimes they are poorly designed, or not designed at all—just pages upon pages of text (“because,” as one client informed me, “they’re supposed to be white papers”). She wasn’t kidding.

I particularly hate it when a marketer designs a whitepaper with a full-color, full-bleed, front cover (thanks for soaking up all my printer toner!). As a result, I carefully print beginning on page 2, which often means the contact information for the company which was on the front cover (website, sales contact, phone number and email address) are not included with my whitepaper when printed.

It seems that whitepapers are a lost art. So here are a few tips on whitepaper best practices that every good B-to-B marketer should follow:

  1. Start planning a whitepaper topic by identifying your target’s pain point, or determine a timely issue that would interest your target. It should NOT be focused on your company’s product/service benefits, however those could be woven into your story as a support to your point-of-view, or to demonstrate a solution to an issue.
  2. Make sure it’s well researched, with footnoted facts and figures that support the point you’re making. Include the most current data to keep your topic timely.
  3. Your writer should be an experienced whitepaper writer, not necessarily a copy writer or the named author. It’s most important that the paper is well written, well presented and interesting. It should NOT include sensational headlines, exclamation points or product demos.
  4. Include an Executive Summary: A pithy, 100-word-or-less overview that allows readers to scan and determine if they’re interested in reading more.
  5. Break up reader monotony by including well-crafted subheads, large call-outs (interesting statistics or quotes), visuals (that support the copy), charts/graphs or even icons. Eyes need a resting place when they read a long document and visuals help retain interest.
  6. Number your pages please (so much easier when the reader forwards it up the food chain and includes a note that says to the CEO, “some interesting insights on page 4, 2nd paragraph”). After all, isn’t that your ideal scenario?
  7. At the end of the paper, include an “About the Author” to provide credibility. Your author credentials don’t need to include the name of a high school or favorite pet, but they should include years of experience, where/how they gained their knowledge, the names of articles/books they’ve written, etc.
  8. Include a short paragraph about your company, positioning it in the most relevant light as it relates to the topic. Include a link to a relevant page on your website to learn more (i.e., www.xyzcompany/resources), and an 800 number and email address. You’d be surprised how many people actually want to learn more after reading a helpful whitepaper.
  9. Make sure it’s easily navigable when viewed digitally, but can also be easily printed. And, please don’t bleed my toner dry by including lots of black or lots of bleeds.

Is Blogging the Online Dinosaur?

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead. I beg to differ. 

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead.

When I asked what made her make such a profound blanket statement, she responded that with the increasing popularity of social marketing, as well as the inundation of free ezines (or free e-magazines), blogs have become the online dinosaur.

I beg to differ.

You see, each platform has its own communication style; thereby, attracting different types of readers:

  • Blogging is a more raw experience for the reader. Informal undertones which are unedited and uncut. Giving the inside scoop.
  • E-newsletters or similar still contain valuable information, but the content is more polished and editorial in nature.
  • Social marketing is typically a combination of short, pithy posts that are fun, friendly, or business-related. Sound bites that grab attention and allow followers see the writer as both guru and virtual friend.

When it comes to marketing, I never like to put all my eggs into one basket. I don’t totally use social marketing as my platform of choice. Nor do I totally rely on email marketing or blogging as a prime driver for sales or leads.

What I like to do is diversify my online marketing mix—similar to when you diversify your retirement portfolio—and deploy several means of organic and paid Web marketing strategies based on target audience, budget and business objective.

In addition, I like to use tactics that complement one another.

Know The Flow: Understanding “Push” vs. “Pull” Marketing
Blogging, social marketing posts, and free ezines/e-magazines (email marketing) are all conduits; that is, ways to communicate with readers albeit subscribers, friends, followers, or fans.

The initial goals of each are virtually the same: To provide information in exchange for a readers’ interest (bonding) and interaction. The information can be editorial, marketing or random thoughts. And the interaction can be in the form of a free subscription (email address), website visit, retweet, ‘Like’ or sale (cross-selling, affiliate or third-party ads).

With blogging and social marketing, you’re deploying “pull” marketing—you’re pulling people to your “home-base hub” whether it’s your blog, profile page or wall with “content nuggets.”

Once live, that content has become part of the Web and is now subject to search engine spiders and similar tactics that will help your nuggets get increased exposure in organic search results pages; thereby, pulling like-minded visitors from your “nugget” to your “hub” with more of that great useful, valuable, and actionable information such as SEO, SEM, article marketing, or what I call SONAR marketing.

Now, since these readers are seeking you out and visiting your “hub,” you don’t have a direct line of contact with them. In other words, you don’t have their direct email address and have permission to correspond with the user personally.

… Which leads to ‘push’ marketing.
E-newsletters and e-magazines are correspondence being “pushed” out to your audience. Since the direct message itself is going through an email service provider and then to a specific individual, it is not widely available on the Web for all to see (including search engine spiders) and will not show up on organic search engines results pages.

You already have the recipients’ email address, so the main purpose of your effort is typically bonding or cross-selling (via newsletter ads and solo emails in your sales funnel).

So you see, as long as there’s different ways to reach people and different ways people prefer to be reached, blogging isn’t dead. For some marketers, it may be on pause; but for smart marketers, it’s still part of the big plan.

I think, nowadays, marketers need to test all online platforms to see which one is right for their business, audience, and objectives.

Don’t rule anything out. Learn how to be strategically creative to satisfy YOUR specific goals and communication flow.