Why so Much Copy?

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You Open a Direct Mail Package and out Falls Copy

Tons of copy. Piles of copy. Words upon words. Some shout in 64-point type, others whisper in 6-point type.

Why so much? Does anyone read all that copy? Actually, very few people read all of the copy. So why so much if nobody reads it all? Are direct mailers simply in love with verbal tonnage? Is all this copy inefficient? Could we do as well – or better – with less copy?

Probably not. Direct mailers are extremely cost-conscious and test-conscious. We would quickly spot a trend proving less copy is better.

More copy works better.

There Is an Important Distinction between Total Copy and Long Copy

In years past blocks of long copy were effective. For instance, the four-page letter consistently outperformed short letters. Recently, however, there has been a significant change towards shorter letters because today's consumers are in a hurry. They want to think the message they about to read is brief.

We give them the illusion of a shorter message by shortening the blocks of copy. Copy today, for example, tends to use letters one or two pages long instead of four. But that doesn't mean the total amount of copy in the mailing pieces is less than before.

We send them as much copy as ever but now we break it up into smaller chunks by adding extra elements to the package such as several letters, multiple brochures, lift letters, etc.

Why Send so Much Copy in the First Place?

The reason lies in how people are sold. The truth is we can seldom sell directly to people. Our readers actually sell themselves. We can't put an urge directly into someone's mind. What we can do is attract attention, involve them emotionally, and steer them toward the information and insights they need to sell themselves. That’s one of the big secrets of winning direct mail copy.

EXAMPLE: You have a product to sell by direct mail. You have a list of 15 benefits, such as, it saves work, lowers costs, etc. Then you have a list of 8 important physical features, such as, it is battery-operated, made of impact resistant plastic, weighs 4 pounds, etc. You also have 12 use-illustrations, such as, use it at home, while camping, while at the beach, in your workshop, etc. This gives you 35 major points to cover. You need to cover every one of these points (though not giving each an equal emphasis) because of our ignorance.

That's Right, Ignorance

We are ignorant of which points are the ones to best motivate a particular buyer. Of course we have a good general notion of which points are the most important and we make these points the stars of our presentation. But each person who buys will do so for a combination of his or her own reasons, a reflection of personal desires and perception.

Of the 35 points to describe your product, only a few apply to the self-selling of any single buyer, but we are ignorant of which ones, so we present them all. The reader will quickly skip the points that are unimportant, and zero in on the ones that apply.

So the real sales sequence goes something like this: We attract attention and create an emotional involvement with headline copy and in the early paragraphs of the letter. we draw the reader in with promises of benefits. Once interest and curiosity are roused something magical happens. The readers eyes promptly start to bounce around the package –

Searching for the Points That Will Satisfy Self Selling Needs

Knowing this helps you create better direct mail. Your copy and layout should be segmented so that individual points, or families of points, are displayed clearly so they are easily found by a searching reader.

Short sub headlines or paragraph headlines help enormously. The graphics should reflect this need for topic-clarity. Call-out copy by illustrations directs attention to important facts at a glance.

Avoid long unbroken blocks of copy that hide important points from readers who are avidly searching for reasons to buy – unless you have a specific sales strategy behind unbroken copy. Avoid rambling explanations to tell part of one point here and part there. Both copy and graphics must be clear, efficient and direct.

Many Readers Will Sell Themselves after Reading Only 20% of Your Copy

Others may settle in and sift through much more. But they all edit for themselves, searching for their own reason to buy, skipping over sales points of no interest.

The bounce-and-search reading dynamics a reader goes through when he opens the direct mail package aren't always apparent to a client who is handed a thick typescript draft of copy for a direct mail package. Seeing this massive draft, the client may be tempted to say, "That's too much copy!"

Yet it may not be too much copy. The client's verbatim, linear reading of the full typescript draft is never equaled by the way consumers read and browse through the package.

Your Potential Customer Is an Efficient Editor

The points of no interest will be passed over. Yet the points to make the sale will be read again and again – a spark to self-selling – even though these points may have been only a few minor sentences out of your many pages. Those few minor sentences may be exactly the ones lost if the copy were shortened simply for the sake of reducing its quantity.

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