7 Copywriting Screw Ups…

Copywriting is a key element in your sales and marketing processes. Yet, there are a few common “copy vampires” that suck the sales and profit generating force right out of your lead gen, websites, emails and direct mail. If you find any of these vampires in your copy, put a stake in their hearts, because they are costing you sales.

I’ll lead with the most common mistake I see come across my desk. This mistake inflicts the copy of everyone from a 1-day-old start up to $20 billion dollar monoliths. It seems no one is immune from its siren call. Here it is…

Screw-Up #1: Talking about your company and products, not the customers problems, goals dreams and frustrations

Key tip off – an opening sentence that starts with self and product references. Examples: , “At Acme InterGalatic, we…” Or… “Our new X57 software has over 14 new features. Coded from the ground up, in new 64 bit..”

It’s critical to both readership and response rates that you begin talking about the customer or prospects and concerns, challenges, objectives and goals.

Screw-Up #2. The hydra-headed communication

“Communicating with the market can be expensive, so why not try to achieve a couple of objectives with each message?”

Time and again I see these “multi-purposed” communications sneak out of companies. What seems like an efficient communications actually cripples results.

There are many ways this beast rears its head, but; It seems the one of the more common variations of this mistake I see these days is the “Let’s tack a survey onto our lead-gen or sales emails”.

Here’s the hard truth. Each additional purpose or objective that gloms on to a communications cuts its power in half or more. “Single purposed focused messages” is a mantra I try to drill into my clients thinking.

Screw-Up #3: A bridge too far

Begin to look at your mediums like a rubber band. They can be stretched – but if you stretch them too far, they snap. The same is true of all mediums and variations of mediums. There are things you can do in a letter that you can’t do in a single post card. There are things you can do in a 2 minute commercial that you can’t do in a 30 second spot. There are things you can do on a website that you can’t (or shouldn’t try) in an email.

The problem comes when we try to make a post card do the same job as a sales letter.

Instead of trying to stretch a single medium to failure, think of them as a chain. One link leads to the other. Each link strengthens the one before and after it.

I was once working with a major auto company that was experimenting with voice marketing (those 30- 60 sec. messages on your home answering machine). They started fine, using the 45 sec. message to drive people to the dealerships for a test drive and a $50 gift card. But then they took a wrong turn and started trying to actually sell the car on the home answering machine, “this off-road marvel has got front and back disc brakes and air conditioning, stereo and more storage capacity than…”

Use each of your mediums to its maximum – but not more. If you need to do more, add another step in your communications process.

Screw-Up #4. Grasshopper Copy

Grasshopper copy jumps from one unrelated idea to the next, often causing your reader to fall off the readership ride.

For example, you’re reading a sales page on a website, all of a sudden there is a testimonial box in the middle of the copy. Fine. What’s not fine is that the testimonial doesn’t support the copy it is surrounded by with proof – or isn’t set up to make a point. It’s just dropped in there with no relation to anything before or after it.

Or, you read a “Shocking – Amazing True Story Headline” and then start reading the copy – but the lead in the copy starts off on a different subject or idea not related to the headline.

It’s jarring to readers – and your profits.

Screw-Up #5: Starting too far from your subjects/objective

It’s a fact of life that some products and ideas inherently have more interest to people than others. So the copywriter begins the ad with a subject that is interesting to reader, then gradually transitions to the main idea or product. Done masterfully, this makes up some of the great “Edu-Sell” ads. Done poorly and it becomes a switch and bait trick that peeves off readers. Done somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – it just fails.

The worst example I’ve seen was a headline that screamed “SEX!”. Then the lead sentence started, “Now that I have your attention I want to tell you a way to save money on…”

And making the rounds in the internet marketing world is a subject line, “Bad news”. When the email is opened it says, “not really, everything is fine.”

And then there is this one from the Obama campaign. He built a lot of suspense surrounding his VP pick. And as CNN reported he sent out an email with the subject line, “Vice presidential …” Then the opening of the email read, “Just kidding” and went on to talk about his schedule.

Right now a “somewhere in the middle” example is running during the Olympics. The ad begins at an Olympic event in ancient Greece (tying into audience interest in Olympics). Then it has a discus thrower have his discus blown off course by bad gust of wind. The discuss hits the Parthenon causing it to crumble. Then comes the voice over saying, “Wind hasn’t always played a helpful role at the Olympic games. But today wind energy from G.E. is helping to power the Olympic games in Beijing, no matter which way the wind blows.”

Screw-Up #6: One-size-fits-all messages

More and more companies have large, unsegmented list (especially email list).

Instead of creating messages tightly targeted a one specific segment on the list, they feel they need to create messages that speak to everyone. As a result response, sales and profits are lost.

It’s okay to hone in on specific segments of your customer list and address their needs specifically in your copy. This becomes more important the more “general” your list is – for example, a company may have an email list that includes agents, brokers and managers and owners. Don’t try to create one message that appeals to all those groups. Go ahead, in your subject line and the copy that follows, talk to one group specifically and make an offer that will appeal to them alone – you’ll increase your response and your relevance. Put “Brokers Only: Recruiting Mistakes” in your subject line. Or “Referral Secrets of Millionaire Agents”.

The more specific you make your headlines and messages and offers to a specific segment (even if everyone on the list will see the message) the more results you create. Often this is counter-intuitive, but test after test has proven its impact.

Screw-Up #7. Substituting personal opinion with tested results

This is a big one…

It’s only natural, if we don’t like a style or mechanical device of writing we assume our readers won’t like it either.

Here’s the problem, often our likes and dislikes are not based on scientific studies, but on personal opinion and bias. Very often, the very things we like most, are proven to reduce response rates and the things we dislike most are the very things that would dramatically improve our results.

Here are a few (of dozens) of these biases I’ve seen damage copy..

1. “I don’t like bulleted points. Makes it look too salesy”
2. “Don’t mention problems or frustrations – it’s too negative”
3. “Those paragraphs are too short – it doesn’t look professional enough”
4. “I don’t like the word “secrets” – it doesn’t work anymore”.
5. “That’s too long – no one will read it”
6. “We shouldn’t ask for the business – it will hurt our reputation”.

In each of those cases, the personal opinion exactly wrong. Test after test have proven the opposite is actually true.

The truth is, we (me included) are all victims of biases that are hurting our results. There are two anecdotes. One, constantly test your assumptions in real world, scientifically valid, A/B split test or Multi-variate test. You will be surprised. Learn to enjoy being wrong. Second, get your hands on every scientifically validated marketing test you can. We need to steep our minds in reality and let it inform our creativity.