In his book, Mysterious Stranger, magician David Blaine reveals the most important secret behind Harry Houdini's extraordinary death-defying escapes: obsessive advance preparation. While his audiences never saw the months of practice and planning, they would have found no magic to applaud if Houdini hadn't invested so much effort in his non-magical preliminaries.
Likewise, the secret to successful copy is in the all the thought, work and research you do before you write a single word. In the following 10 tips, I lift the curtain to reveal the backstage mechanics you can leverage for more effective copywriting.
1. Gather your proof points. These are all the tangible pieces of physical evidence, such as research statistics, units sold, customers satisfied and performance figures that reinforce your promises. Without this proof, broad claims for "innovation," "commitment," "quality" and "excellence" ring hollow and shallow. Innovators must be prepared to describe new products or features; those committed to quality should be able to measure their performance and show the results.
This tip comes first, not necessarily because it's more important than the other nine, but for the amount of time it may require to assemble the proof points you need within your organization. Start making inquiries now, then mull over the following nine points as you collect responses.
2. Answer, "What do you want readers to do next?" There's no point in communicating, whether through a Web page or a direct mail piece, if you don't have a clear idea of what you want prospects to do as a consequence of reading your work. Do you want them to buy something, register for an event, attend a workshop, remember a brand, shop somewhere, order an item, request more information... or something else?
The answer's important, because it will dictate both the form of your writing and its content. Even a marketing tactic as oblique as a bylined article has an intent: You want the reader to regard the author as an expert worthy of future consideration as a partner or vendor. Be sure your purpose is crystal clear.
3. Make an offer. Tell customers to do "x" to get "y": That's an offer. Yeah, yeah, I know—offers are germane to direct response marketing and not necessarily anything else. But good old-fashioned direct response methods are gaining ground even as its hipper cousin, brand advertising, is finding it ever harder to attract customer attention.
Learn from direct: Don't get so lost in the weeds of "creativity" that you fail to blaze a path to the sale. In mail, ads, Web pages, email or what have you, make your offer explicit—"Save $25 when you renew today"—and be sure you tell customers exactly what they have to do to get it.