Thursday, June 5, 2014

Creating effective printed materials - Tip 2

Following the blog theme – we will now look at writing copy for documents and promotional printing and hope this will provide a bit of extra help and advice.


“Keep it Short and Sweet”

There are people who advocate circumstances where both long and short copy may be appropriate.  My view is that in modern times the shorter the copy the better – in all circumstances. 

We are now in the age of Twitter and social media and our content is often determined by the number of characters in our message.

Always follow the old adage that “your copy should be as long as it needs to be and no longer”.
As we are all increasingly so short of time – everything has to be presented faster and in words we can scan and comprehend quickly.
A simple tool is the “Fog Index” which measures the average number of words in each sentence. Try and keep this around 10 words per sentence as an average.  If it is any more edit ruthlessly.

The golden rule is to know your audience.  Your copy has to be targeted and relevant to their needs.  You need to understand what makes them happy?  What are their biggest problems?

Your writing style should always be based upon how you want them to feel.  Do you want to simply state facts or do you want to amuse or entertain? 

This will depend on what you are writing for.  Obviously, there is a difference when preparing legal documents or sales literature.  When preparing copy for business documents or training manuals you need to avoid descriptive terms and stick to the relevant points.

You always create an image through your writing.  You also may need to build up a mental image of the product or service you are trying to sell or the message you are trying to communicate.

Anecdotes and Case Studies make a very effective theme for copy writing because they help to trigger the imagination of the reader.  These “hooks” can also help memory – because a picture is easier to remember than text.

5 simple guidelines to writing effective copy

1    1. Have a Clear Objective
Be very clear about the objective of the copy – is it to sell, educate or to persuade.  Avoid trying to put too much information.  Keep referring back to this objective regularly to see whether what you are writing is “on track”. 

In terms of priority the best points should be made early rather than hidden away or held back.  It would be better if they were repeated later for extra emphasis.

2    2. Follow a theme
The more you write the more likely that the reader will “turn off” or “click away” if you are writing copy for digital media. 

You need to make every point in the most concise way possible.  Adjectives and adverbs are just “filler”.  Try and make every word tell.

Like a good speech, try to grab attention immediately (the headline) and always try to have a good beginning and finish off with a good end. The end is usually the call to action. 
If the theme has not been followed it is unlikely to prompt the desired response.
There are certain buzz words, action words, descriptive words and emotive words that can be used to add effect.

Buzz Words
Free, Now, New, Here, At Last, Today
Action Words
Buy, Try, Ask, Get, See, Ring, Write, Call, Click, Send, Cut, Taste, Start, Enjoy, Replace, Renew, Repair, Examine, Consider
Emotive Words
Splendid, Excellent, Amazing, Delightful, Gorgeous, Wonderful, Beautiful, Explode,
Descriptive Words
Economical, Inexpensive, Satisfying, Rewarding, Value, Time Saving

3    3. Do not overwrite
Your copy should have a logical flow in keeping with your theme and style.  Your introduction would normally follow on from the headline by carrying the case forward in clear and unambiguous terms. 

Complexity is not a sign of intelligence.  Don’t overstate any point and always avoid superlatives.  Try and keep sentences short – more like “The Sun” rather than “the Times”. Use the “Fog Index” to measure.

4    4. Address your audience personally
Write in the present tense.  Use the word “you” not “we”.  For example – “You will receive your documents tomorrow” is better than “We deliver all our digital printing within 24 hours”. 

By personalising your message the chances are that the audience will be more receptive.
Variable data is a means by which you can mail-merge images and text to great effect – adding the recipient’s name throughout the body of your message. 
Including testimonials or a customer quote can add to the personal nature of the message – particularly if they are regarded as a credible third party. 

5    5. Proof read and edit
Do some editing.  Cut out any unnecessary words and consolidate your ideas – this should reduce the amount of text by between 30% and 50%.  Then walk away and do something else.  If you have time revisit your copy next day. This will give you a fresh perspective on your content.

Do some more editing when it has been printed out.  For various reasons people are better able to edit the printed word easier than the words that are displayed on a screen. 
Try reading your copy out loud to confirm the rhythm and reads as you would speak.

Needless to say your copy should be thoroughly checked for any spelling or grammatical errors by a third party.  We are all prone to make mistakes even with word processing spellchecks.

We recently printed a brochure that had apparently been supplied print-ready and proof-read by ten people only to find on our final proof more than 15 errors.  Many of these words also passed through the spell check.  However, printing and distributing this material would have seriously damaged the original objective of presenting a high value company image.

How to Write Effective Sales or Marketing Copy

In most cases you want to persuade or sell something, particularly in your marketing copy. 
Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it is to the point – but in all situations it requires a considerable amount of planning and preparation. There is only one question to answer.

What’s in it for me?

This is the only relevant question when preparing any sales or marketing message.
Your copy has to be your very best “salesmanship in print”. 

The secret is to put into words benefits rather than features.  The product or service is far less important than its ability to fulfil customers’ needs.

There is nothing worse than seeing printing companies with an equipment list of their machines on websites and in brochures – they would mean nothing to the majority of their clients. 

A good technique is to list all the features and then add an extra column which converts the feature into a benefit.  This is simply done by adding a column headed by “which means that” or “so what” – where you carry on the sentence by converting the feature into something that the audience would value (i.e. a real benefit!). 

If any of these are unique to your product or service they are unique benefits and will give you a competitive advantage.  The process described above is an invaluable exercise if you operate in a competitive market.  And these days this applies to virtually all of us.  Anything that can give us an edge – no matter how small can sometimes win a major contract or new client.

Now you are ready to add visual stimulation in the form of colour and photographs to help communicate your message.

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