Rieck's Response Letter
March 2009

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Note: Occasional errors in this newsletter exist to bring joy to readers who find them and point them out. Please don't spoil their fun by demanding perfection from me.

Don't make me think!

If you're interested in online success, I recommend Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition by Steve Krug.

This book has been around for a while, but it holds up remarkably well. That's because it's not about trendy design tips or today's Web technology. It's about the psychology of Web design, meaning how to make Web sites so easy to read and use that it requires little brain power. Thus the title.

Krug spends most of the book talking about "conventions," or how to design a site so that it meets a user's expectations. For example, people expect that a site logo should be clickable and lead to the home page. If you don't design it that way, users can be frustrated. He also discusses copy conventions, such as using clear words to designate actions. A search button should read "Search" rather than "Go."

This is a short book, but packed with sage, simple advice. The best part is how Krug shows Web site makeovers using his copy and design principles, with before and after photos. You can breeze through this book in one or two sittings.

Get a copy now at Amazon.

Quote of the Month

"I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one." - Leo Burnett

On the Blog

Visit my blog to get copywriting and design tips for direct marketing success. Here are some of the most recent posts:

Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting

A while back, the good people at AWAI sent me a copy of this self-study copywriting course. I was impressed.

There's a lot of information out there about how to "be" a copywriter, but far too little on how to actually do the "work" of a copywriter. This course reveals insider tips and strategies such as the 4-part structure of a sales letter, how to write a powerful opening sentence, the "architecture of persuasion," and the "4-legged stool."

I don't care how good you think you are as a "writer." Copywriting is a whole different animal. It's less about writing than about selling. So to be a good copywriter, and thus get hired regularly by businesses that want results, you have to learn the tricks of the trade.

Fair warning: Don't expect to just read this (it's a massive 3-ring binder with over 450 pages.) This copywriting program will put you to work writing copy and practicing the principles it teaches you.

Click here for more information about the course.

Response Booster: Find the "dream" in your product

What do people need? They need food, water, shelter, clothing, and warmth. Apart from those basic items, most purchases today are discretionary. In other words, people buy things they want, not necessarily things they need.

So, ultimately, you're selling a dream, not a product. People seek a better life, more wealth, respect of their peers, a sense of security, and many other intangibles. In order to create effective advertising, you must discover what your prospects are wishing for and make a promise to fulfill their desires.

Looking for a copywriting job? Visit my job site. 

It's tough out there. Companies are laying off people and shrinking staff. But that doesn't mean you can't get a copywriting job.

Actually, in times like this, many companies are in desperate need of good copywriters for direct mail, catalogs, technical writing, and other key work. You just have to know where to look.

My job site lists a wide variety of jobs available right now. As I write this, there are job openings for:

Technical copywriter in L.A.
Copywriter in Cleveland
Senior catalog copywriter in Waukegan, IL
Senior Copywriter for the Nestle Company in St. Louis
Pharmaceutical copywriter in Philadelphia
And many others

Take a look at my job site now.

Is "free" going out of style?

Recently, someone contacted me to ask if I thought certain selling tactics got so much exposure that people started to have a negative reaction to them. The example he used was the tactic of offering something "free" to boost response. He said that word put him off and he almost didn't subscribe to this newsletter because I offer a free report.

The answer, of course, is "no." People never get tired of being offered free things. It's fair to say that some tactics get tired if people are overexposed to them, like if they start getting too many similar direct mail packages. But in general, tactics that are good tend to keep working.

More often than not, those who say they are repelled by this or that tactic are those who are antagonistic to selling tactics to begin with. The public at large consider selling to be a natural, even an entertaining, part of life. Even people who complain buy things.

It's like when Christmas rolls around and you start hearing all the complaints about catalogs. A friend once commented that she never buys anything in catalogs and didn't understand why she got so many in the mail. "Really?" I asked her. "Never?" After some pointed questions, I discovered her memory failed her. She had ordered from catalogs.

"Oh, but that was just a couple gifts. And I got a few things for the house. That doesn't count."

Again, I won't say some tactics don't get a bit worn if overused. But if a tactic works, it works because of psychology. And human psychology doesn't change. So you might rest this or that tactic for a while, but don't ever throw them away. Selling tactics like "free" will still be working a thousand years from now.

Copy Tricks that Break the Rules

Mark Twain once said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word...[is] the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Unfortunately, most of us were taught by a series of grammar hounds who were less inspired than my esteemed cousin Mr. Twain. And if I have learned anything in this business, it's that it's better to be effective than correct.

So with humble apologies to my well-meaning instructors, I hereby reveal a few rule-breaking tricks of the trade. Used wisely, they can help transform your sales copy from a dull glow into a brilliant flash.

Write in the second person. This means you should speak directly to the reader with words like you, your, and yourself. You can occasionally use the first person (I, my, mine, me, we, our, us) in letters and other one-on-one communications, but it should be used sparingly elsewhere. Unless you're telling a story about someone, third person (he, she, they) is almost never appropriate.

Use command language. On your envelopes say, Look inside or Open immediately. At the bottom of the first page of your letter say, More, Over please, or Read on. On your order forms say, Complete and mail within 14 days or Ask for your free issue today. Don't be a delicate doily. If you want people to do something, tell them to do it.

Avoid rambling sentences. According to readability research, your average sentence should be about 16 words and express a single thought. Once a sentence exceeds 32 words, it becomes harder to understand. When you have a long sentence with two or more ideas, break it into separate sentences. Of course, you should vary individual sentence length - some short, some long - for variety. (And by the way, the average sentence in this article is 11 words.)

Keep most paragraphs short. Ideally, they should be no longer than 7 lines, especially in letters. If a paragraph gets too long, break it into shorter chunks. Forget standard paragraph development. Your goal is to keep people reading. Short paragraphs are easier on the eye and make reading "feel" easier and more pleasant. Look at any newspaper and see how short most paragraphs are.

Drop in one-sentence paragraphs. They're punchy and add variety.

Begin sentences with conjunctions. This includes and, also, besides, furthermore, likewise, moreover, or, else, otherwise, but, however, nevertheless, so, then, and therefore. They can help you break long sentences into shorter ones and still make your copy flow smoothly. This is particularly helpful when you have a number of items you want to include which are difficult to logically fit together. For example, "The new RX9 is twice as fast as the RX8. Plus you get 12 new features."

End sentences with prepositions. This will send the persnickety into a dead faint. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the preposition commandment is a rule up with which I will not put. In ordinary conversation, do you say, "With whom are you going?" or "Who are you going with?" Allow yourself the freedom of putting of, for, with, and other prepositions at the end of a sentence. Strive to be natural, not slavishly correct.

Add occasional fragments. This helps add excitement. Urgency. Picks up the pace. And creates a firm tone. Don't overuse this technique, though, or you'll annoy readers.

Write like you talk. Use dialog and conversational writing. "People especially like to read anything in quotation marks." Use pronouns: I, we, you, they. Use familiar expressions: a sure thing, rip-off, O.K. Use contractions: they're, you're, it's, here's.

Use intelligent redundancy. Free gift, actual fact, call anytime 24-hours a day, and other such constructions may get you poor marks in English class, but in the real world they help to emphasize your point and clarify your meaning.

Punctuate headlines lightly. Periods signal a stop, so you should avoid using them. To draw the reader into the body copy, you can use ellipses (...) at the end, but no punctuation at all is often best. Avoid colons and semicolons, because they also signal a stop and are too formal for most copy. To separate thoughts in long headlines, use a dash - like I'm doing now - or use ellipses ... both signal a pause, but don't stop the reader.

Get FREE magazine subscriptions!

If you haven't visited my magazine shop, you're missing out on free subscriptions to tons of top business publications. There's no catch. Website Magazine, Catalog Success, Business Week, Target Marketing, and more. All free.

You're welcome to subscribe to as many as you like with my complements.

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Dean Rieck is an internationally respected copywriter, designer, and consultant who has created direct mail and ads for over 200 clients.

Phone: 614-882-8823
Web: www.DirectCreative.com

Copyright 2009 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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