I'm constantly amazed by the folks in direct mail who send out these long letters asking me to sign up for one more credit card—I know they work, but it's not my style (and it doesn't work well on the Web). I am often reminded of a story from my youth—the 1960s—when a long-haired hippy was struggling to get a ride to his destination. The hitchhiker kept sticking out his thumb, but no one stopped. Finally, he scrawled on a piece of cardboard, "Going to the Barber" and he was picked up within minutes. Now, that's copywriting.
You see, copy doesn't need to be long to be effective. In fact, on the Web, the shorter copy often tests better because people scan more than they read. What is important is that you understand your target market, what they care about, and what will persuade them.
So, our hitchhiker realized that the people who owned cars in the 1960s were unlikely to be fellow hippies. And his appearance was turning off the few who might be willing to give him a ride. The idea that he was ready to change his appearance was enough to get someone to decide to stop. The key was for the hitchhiker to stop thinking about what he wanted (a ride) long enough to come up with a motivator for his audience.
Often, we marketers are guilty of the same blindness. In our quest for a sale (what we want), we often fail to understand what our audience wants. And we blather on and on in verbose fashion about all the little features of our offering, and how wonderful our employees are, and how committed we are to customer satisfaction and blah, blah, blah...
But do our customers care? Often, they don't. Now, you're unlikely to be as persuausive as our hitchhiker with one sentence of copy. Both customers and search engines tend to like more than that, just so they know what you are talking about. But do talk about what the customer is interested in.
Customers usually have a problem that needs to be solved. It could be a practical left-brain problem (my gutters are leaking) or a hard-to-articulate right brain problem (I feel too unattractive to date)—it doesn't matter. Either way, you need to frame your sales pitch in the parlance of the customer rather than in your own industry-speak. I might not know what a "leader" is or when the last time my gutter was cleaned. I might not know whether I want a matchmaking service or a makeover. (Or a haircut, you hitchhikers.)
But that is what the marketer needs to find out. That's what you need to write about. And when you get it right, you can persuade your audience in relatively few words. Mark Twain famously said, "If I had more time, I could have made it shorter." Remember that the right words carefully chosen do the trick and that we pile on more and more because we don't actually know what people are looking for, not because more is better.
And I better end here before this post itself starts to run on too long...
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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