The Importance of Being Trivial

mail pouch barnDo you like the title of this article? I stole it from chapter 3 of The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch.

Back in the 40s and 50s, Flesch was hailed as the guru of clear, direct writing. His advice remains powerful and relevant today.

When Flesch recommended being “trivial,” he meant you should use details to energize your writing. That requires researching your subject and sharing specifics with your reader to create vivid mental images.

I can illustrate this simple idea with the following two descriptions.

Version 1:
I drove from Virginia to Ohio. In no hurry, I took the back roads to enjoy the scenery. Along the way, I saw a bunch of those old Mail Pouch barns. You see barns anytime you pass through rural areas, but the Mail Pouch barns are famous.

They started as ordinary barns, but painters transformed them into advertisements. They offered to paint the whole barn if the farmer agreed to an advertisement on the side. Few farmers could resist. At one point there were Mail Pouch barns along many roads in several states.

Version 2:
I drove my old Ford F-10 from Roanoke, Virginia to Chillocothe, Ohio. In no hurry, I avoided the busy interstate and took the back roads to enjoy the colorful Fall leaves. Along the way, I saw at least 20 of those old Mail Pouch barns. You see barns anytime you pass through rural areas, but many of the Mail Pouch barns are listed as National Historic Landmarks.

They started as ordinary barns, but from 1890 to 1992 painters working for the West Virginia Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco company transformed them into roadside advertisements. “Mr. Farmer,” they would say, “If you let me paint a Mail Pouch advertisement on the side of your barn, I’ll paint the rest of your barn for free.”

Few farmers could resist. At one point there were 20,000 Mail Pouch barns along the roads across 22 states urging drivers to “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco.”

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9 editing tactics to supercharge your selling copy

copywriting editing tipsAs any professional copywriter knows, writing copy is often the easy part of a project. It’s the editing that’s hard.

After all, who wants to mess with copy once it’s written? It’s agonizing to rip into your own prose. But that’s exactly what it takes to turn good copy into great copy.

Here are 9 ways to polish and energize your copy when you give it that second go-around.

Write long and cut. It’s easier to overwrite and cut than to underwrite and add. Get everything down — no matter how sloppy or rough — then go back to trim and rearrange.

Be ruthless. Don’t fall in love with your own patter. Stay focused on your big idea and the action you want to create. Get rid of everything that doesn’t support response.

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10+ tips for making the most of your customer testimonials

testimonial tipsAround this time last year, I shared my SPURF method for collecting testimonials.

I’m sure you’ve been spurfing up a storm and have tons of testimonials by now. So let’s look at how to make them work for you.

Select testimonials from customers similar to your prospect. This increases the feeling of identification and relevance. A teacher will believe other teachers. A business owner will believe other business owners.

The more similarity you can show, the more weight your prospect will give to your testimonials. Even seemingly nonsensical similarities, such as where people live, have an effect. “Oh, he’s from Ohio too!”

Select testimonials that give specifics. Consider these two testimonials for a lawn fertilizer:

“I think Lawn Magic is a wonderful product. My lawn looks great.”

“For 6 years I tried every weed control powder and spray at my local garden store, but nothing could get rid of those darned dandelions. Then I saw your ad for Lawn Magic and decided to give it a try. I got it in the mail last Saturday and immediately tried the Quick Cover method you suggested and WOW! Just a week later, there’s not a single speck of yellow anywhere – except in my neighbor’s yard.”

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Why good copy goes bad (you’re not dumb, you’re just ignorant)

ignorant copywriterOne of the worst mistakes copywriters make is to assume their job is about writing. It’s not.

Now I know that sounds a bit odd. After all, the word “writing” is in the word “copywriting.” So it’s understandable why you might misunderstand.

But writing and copywriting are two very different things.

When you write a novel or a poem, readers wants great words. They enjoy the rhythm, the imagery, the wordplay. People expect this kind of writing to deliver a certain art and beauty.

When you write websites, ads, white papers, or other business materials, readers simply want information. They don’t care about the artistry. They aren’t looking for beauty. They just want to find out how to solve a problem or meet a need.

This isn’t to say that copywriting can’t be well-crafted. It should be. But it should be crafted in such a way that the words disappear and the meaning shows through. I like to think of good copywriting as if it’s a toy store window, clean, polished, and invisible, providing a clear view of the wondrous goodies inside.

So when copywriters forget that their job is to convey meaning, to connect with needs, to influence and persuade, they focus on the words alone and create, well … crap. When you do this, it’s not that you’re stupid. It’s just that you’re ignorant.

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I wish all catalog copy could be written like this

Duluth Trading catalogThe J. Peterman Company has long been hailed as the reigning king of catalog copy. And I’ve been a fan ever since I bought one of their “anti-gravity” shirts.

But they have some serious competition from the Duluth Trading Co., which you might describe as J. Peterman for the working class.

Here’s an example of their masterful copy from the April 2011 catalog, which I received just last week:

WE DARE YOU TO WEAR ‘EM OUT
TOUGHEST WORK PANTS EVER OR YOUR MONEY BACK

FIRE HOSE: America’s most heroic fabric. So durable, so surprisingly comfortable, you’ll wonder why we were the first to use it in clothing. It’s the same great 100% cotton canvas that once wrapped rubber fire hoses, responding to call after call, dragged up and down stairs, pulled through windows, yanked around sharp corners. We located a supplier for that cotton canvas and specially washed it to make it soft and comfortable. Then, we treated it to resist stains and water. Supreme toughness and supreme softness in one fabric. Now that’s something to get fired up about!

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15 copywriting formulas that sell like gangbusters

copywriting formulasIt seems like people in direct marketing are crazy about formulas.

I suppose that’s because we are focused on what works, rather than what’s cool or pretty. And a good formula gets us to where we want to go a lot faster.

In the world of copywriting, there are plenty of arcane formulas. Some are useful. Some are absurd. But all of them are interesting.

I’ve collected copywriting formulas over the years and would like to share 15 of the very best.

The first you’ll recognize because it’s the most famous. But I’m guessing many of the others are new to you. I’ve even thrown in one of my own for good measure.

I’ll admit that I don’t put a lot of faith in rigid formulas, since they are often of little use in actually writing copy. But they are quite good at analyzing copy after it is written.

So here are 15 of my favorite copywriting formulas:

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Dazzle your clients with Google search hacks

Dazzle Your Clients and Double Your IncomeThis is an excerpt from my just published free report, 12 Astonishingly Simple Ways to Dazzle Your Clients & Double Your Income.

I encourage you to download it now and share it with your friends.

***

Before I write a single word for any direct marketing project, I ask a lot of questions. A LOT of questions.

In fact, I use a checklist to gather basic information. And I recommend you do the same.

However, even if you’ve asked lots of questions, there is no substitute for digging deeper and learning about your client’s company, products, customers, and competitors.

Clients can’t be fully objective, so you can often discover facts and ideas that your client can’t see or doesn’t think are important.

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5 bilingual copy mistakes and how to avoid them

It’s hard enough to write good copy in one language. Writing copy that works in two languages is at least twice as hard.

Here are some mistakes you should avoid if you’re creating bilingual copy for the first time.

Mistake #1: Doing a simple translation.

Let’s say you have a direct mail package that works for an English-speaking audience. Now you want to break into the Hispanic market with a bilingual package. So you figure all you have to do is hire a translator. Right? Not quite.

The “words” may translate, more or less, but the meaning may not. Try this experiment: take a simple phrase and use an online translator to go from English to German then back to English.

English: He’s mellowing out and getting his grove on.

Translates to German: Er ist aus Gärung und immer sein Hain auf.

Translates back to English: He is on from fermentation and always be Hain.

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Long copy vs. short copy. Who is right?

long copy advertisement

Click to see a larger version of this ad.

The long copy vs. short copy debate has been raging for decades.

And it rages on today.

On one side are the traditional direct marketing people who look at history and at testing to support their notion that long copy is proven to engage readers and sell products.

On the other side are, well, everyone else, who claim that long copy is outdated and that people today are overloaded with information and don’t have the patience to read lots of words.

Who is right?

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Has “FREE” become cliche?

Is "free" cliche?I recently received an email from a young copywriter who informed me that the word “free” was now dead.

“It’s a cliche. No one uses this anymore and no one pays attention to headlines that say free. Who believes that anymore? You have to be more subtle now.”

Well golly, thanks for sharing your 6 months of experience. I’ll inform the entire marketing world that “free” should officially be dropped from the selling lexicon because … um … why did you say we can’t use “free” any longer?

Oh, it’s a cliche. Well, let’s think about that before we take any drastic action. What is a cliche?

Here’s how Dictionary.com defines the word cliche:

  1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.
  2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
  3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

So if the word “free” is a cliche, that means it’s a common idea, it has lost its originality, and it no longer has impact. Is that true?

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