Did you know the words you choose have a direct impact on your sales?
It’s true. The language you use—and the story you tell—can either bring customers to your store or put you out of their minds indefinitely. Understanding the importance of proper copywriting can turn a standard marketing message into a ‘must read’ piece.
According to the market research firm Yankelovich, the average city dweller sees approximately 5,000 marketing messages per day, a number that is up substantially from the 2,000 messages per day seen 30 years ago. Consumers are experiencing substantial overload; if you want your message to be read—and acted upon—the right words matter.
By applying a few basic tenets, you’ll soon be creating compelling copy worthy of your customers’ time. You might even like doing it.
Copywriting 101: The Basics
The term ‘copywriting’ refers to a specific type of language geared toward sales and marketing communications. It includes such things as product descriptions on a Web site or catalog, an online newsletter or a postcard mailing. One of the most important things to remember about copywriting is that it must appeal to the target audience. It must be read. Many retailers simply want to ‘get the thing written.’ It can be such an excruciating process that success is measured simply by completion of the process rather than by excellent execution. There’s an ocean of difference between these two end points.
You don’t have to love the process of writing to be effective, but it helps. If nothing else, approach it as you would your other business tasks—it needs to be done, and if it needs to be done, you might as well do it well.
Why the First Sentence Matters So Much…
It matters so much because it must be read. Think of your first sentence as the door to your customer’s mind. If that door doesn’t open, you’re not getting through. If you can’t enter her field of view, she’s not likely to enter the doors to your store. It’s that simple.
The first sentence is also your first impression. If you want it to deserve your customers’ attention, it deserves yours as well. Let’s take a look at how to write headlines that hit home.
First and foremost, the headline must hook the reader. You don’t have to make worldly claims or use gimmicky language—you should be clever without being deceptive. You must, however, provide a reason for the reader to continue reading. Let her know why it’s in her best interest to stay with you.
Headlines fall into a variety of categories. For example, a news headline is a straight-forward sentence that is geared toward a new product, an upgrade or related item. These are often used in retail situations, although they should be mixed with other styles to retain the reader. Headlines such as Introducing ABC Photo Books would fit under this category. Direct sales headlines are also a common staple with Christmas Cards Now 35% Off being an example of this discipline. Both methods can work as part of a larger communication strategy; just don’t let them carry all the water every time.
One of the most popular headline styles is the ‘how-to’ headline. People are interested in learning new things and learning how to do existing tasks more efficiently or more cost effectively. This is an excellent method of attracting your readers and can be a cornerstone of a regular online newsletter or blog post. For example, How to Take Great Vacation Pictures can compel readers to stay with you, and the piece can include products and services for sale in your store. You’re giving the reader valuable information while subtlety promoting your business.
Wordplay is a marvelous method of attracting attention. Alliteration is simply the repetitive use of a consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words in a sentence. Fun Family Photo Projects is an example of alliteration.
Secrets of Compelling Copy
If you want to retain readers, making the content matter to them is a must. In our industry, we have an additional challenge in that digital photography houses more acronyms than several branches of the federal government. You may understand how stabilization technology positively impacts your customers’ picture-taking; your customer, however, may just see a term he/she doesn’t understand. So for the photo retailer, taking features and converting them to relevant benefits is a skill worthy of developing (no pun intended).
By taking a look at the particular feature and then extracting why it matters to your customer, you can unearth the true benefit and use that issue in your copy. For example, image stabilization technology means that blurry photos can be a thing of the past. If your customer is taking photos of sporting events or other small children (who are notorious for not being able to sit still longer than 1/25th of a second), this is the key benefit. Minimize blurry shots.
Just think of how your sales team explains the benefits of different cameras and accessories to your customers. Make sure that your copy uses the same method of explanation.
Uncover Hidden Talent
You may have a writer or two in your midst. Consider hosting a contest for employees to see who can come up with the best headline or sentence covering a particular product or service. A dinner for two or a gift certificate is a very small expense if you’re rewarded with a headline that readers love.
Consider Going Pro
I must admit a bias up front. For me, writing is almost as important as breathing. In my previous corporate life, I was the one who would volunteer to write newsletter articles and workshop manuals. I can ruin a great book by studying its structure and have been accused of spending too much time analyzing catalog copy. A few friends think I should get out more.
Would you rather have a root canal than write an article for a newsletter? Can you find 467 other things that need to be tended to in your store at the exact same time you were planning to sit down to pen a pithy piece about the latest happenings and sales in your store?
You’ve got lots of company. Most people equate writing with the painful term papers back in the day when the topic was dry and proper punctuation mattered above all else.
Part of running a business involves making sure that your talents are being maximized; you don’t want to invest a substantial amount of time on something that isn’t your forte. You can’t be all things to all people, and that’s okay. In fact, recognizing this fact allows you to invest your efforts where they are put to the best use.
Consider contacting your local Chamber of Commerce or business peers (such as Rotary Club) and ask whom they would recommend for professional writing services. You may find it’s far more cost effective to pay a professional who can take your bullet-point ideas and convert them into captivating copy rather than suffering through several hours tweaking a few paragraphs that are just okay. Think of what your time is worth per hour; it may make sense to get a skilled writer in your stable so you can apply your expertise where it is most effective. After all, you probably could change your own oil or serve as the general contractor in the building of your new home, but is the money saved really worth the time and energy you’d expend? This is a decision only you can make, so choose wisely.
Regardless of the path you take, just remember to keep the customer (and her needs) in your sights. If your copy speaks to her life and how your business can make her photography more artistic, interesting or enjoyable, you’ve just cleared a crucial hurdle—one that makes it easier for her to find her way to your store. yy