Steve Slaunwhite is an award-winning author, speaker and recognized expert in the best practices of high-response copywriting. More than 100 Fortune 500 companies, mid-size businesses, and publishers have relied on his copywriting expertise for direct mail letters, email letters, ads, web pages and other marketing communications.
I’m pleased to have a chance to share a few of his thoughts with you.
Dean: What is the most common mistake you see direct marketers make?
Steve: Not studying the list or target market BEFORE creating the campaign. The list contains the people you’re trying to persuade. To have any hope of selling them, you need to know what makes them tick. Example: Instead of running the same ad in multiple publications, study the reader profiles of each publication and customize accordingly.
Dean: What does the future hold for direct mail and print advertising? Some say direct mail and print will disappear.
Steve: The old-fashioned print sales letter still works very well. Print advertising is not going to disappear because people still read print publications. However, there’s no disputing the fact that online advertising is growing by leaps and bounds. Wherever there are READERS, there will be advertising.
Dean: I’m glad you said that. Reading is a huge part of direct response advertising. A lot of readers are turning to the Internet now. What effect do you think the Internet will have on direct marketing?
Steve: I think the Internet is an expansion of direct marketing, not a replacement. Many of the same direct-response principles apply, whether connecting to a prospect’s desktop, laptop or mobile.
Dean: What is the most innovative thing you see happening or on the horizon in the direct marketing industry?
Steve: I wish I was a visionary. But I’m not. I don’t have a clue what’s around the corner.
Dean: Well that’s honest. I think no one has a clue. What do you think about branding. Is it important in direct marketing?
Steve: Branding builds awareness. And awareness makes everything you do as a direct marketer easier. Dean, you probably get a higher response to your own marketing efforts because you’re a well-known brand. Joe Smith, “Direct Marketing Guy”, using the same marketing approaches would not get the same response rates because he’s not as well known.
Dean: I’m a brand? Guess it’s time to raise my rates. Is there one thing you ALWAYS do for any direct mail piece?
Steve: Strategically: Focus on the prospect. Structurally: Include a P.S.
Dean: Is there anything you NEVER do?
Steve: NOT focus on the prospect.
Dean: In your opinion, what is the single most important element of a direct mail piece and why?
Steve: The lead. If you don’t captivate the reader with a compelling headline and lead, readership will be low. And if readership is low, so is the response rate.
Dean: Again, reading is important. I agree. What’s your preference: plain envelope or envelope with teaser copy?
Steve: B2B: plain. B2C: teaser.
Dean: Can’t go wrong with that advice. Do you think dimensional mail is worth the extra cost?
Steve: Only if the salesforce is 100% behind it and follows-up. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of expensive leads, but they won’t go anywhere.
Dean: That probably applies to just about any lead generator. More and more people seem to be using postcards. What are the best ways to use a postcard?
Steve: Making a free offer. I often use postcards to drive prospects to a landing page to download a free report.
Dean: Now let’s talk about e-mail. With all the abuse and spam concerns, e-mail marketing can be challenging. What do you think is the key to effective e-mail marketing?
Steve: Building your own in-house opt-in list.
Dean: Do you think e-mail marketing will get easier or harder in the years ahead?
Steve: We’re heading toward a 100% whitelist system. Not only will you have to get permission, but you’ll also have to persuade the prospect to add you to his or her whitelist or safe list. So, essentially, it’s going to be twice as hard to build a list.
Dean: Scary. But you’re probably right. Do you write elements of your copy in a particular order?
Steve: I tend to write the elements in logical order. For example: the letter, then the brochure, then the other inserts, then the order form. In the letter itself, I write from beginning to end. For some reason, I can’t do anything else until I get the lead of the letter (the headline and opening sentences) perfect.
Dean: I have to have a good lead before I proceed as well. But otherwise, I often write in a completely hodgepodge fashion. Whatever works, right? I’ve found that it helps to set copy aside for a few days and look at it fresh to see areas where I can improve and strengthen. Do you do that? Do you have any tricks for staying objective and fresh while working on a project?
Steve: Incubation is the key to great copywriting. Unfortunately, these days, everyone wants everything tomorrow. So there isn’t always time to put your copy in a drawer for a few days. If find that printing my copy and reading it on paper instead of on screen helps me gain a fresh perspective.
Dean: If you could give just one piece of advice for better copy, what would you say?
Steve: It’s not enough just to state the benefits. Bring the benefits to life … into the life of the reader. Don’t just say that a time management seminar will give executives two extra hours of productive time each week. Dramatize what those executives can do with those two extra hours. For example: Get home for dinner with the family more often!
Dean: In your opinion, how important is design?
Steve: More important than most copywriters care to admit to. We live in a visual society. Most people are viewers, not readers. The designer needs to be the co-writer of the piece, helping to communicate the key messages clearly and persuasively.
Dean: Amen. Ever since I started designing my own direct mail, I’ve had a huge boost in response. Design is part of the message too. Is there a certain medium you especially like to work in?
Steve: I enjoy working on sales letters in all formats: print, email, online.
Dean: Yeah, sales letters are fun. They’re the work horse of direct marketing. Thanks, Steve. I’m sure your advice will help a lot of people improve their response.