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Moodle Development May 2011



The Copywriter’s Handbook

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The Copywriter’s Handbook

  1. 1. Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly •“The goal of advertising is not to be liked, to entertain, or to win advertising awards. The goal of advertising is to sell products.” – Robert Bly Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  2. 2. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at • To convince the consumer to buy the product, the copy must do three things: 1.Get attention. 2.Communicate. 3.Persuade
  3. 3. Writing to Get Attention: The Headline Direct mail sales letters have 5 seconds to gain the reader's attention. "If you come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good ad ... But even the greatest writer can't save an ad with a poor headline." -- John Caples Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  4. 4. Defining Headline / First Impression 1. In print advertising, it's the headline and visual. 2. In an email, it's the From and Subject lines. 3. In radio or TV ad, it's the first few seconds. 4. In a direct-mail package, it's the outer envelope or first few sentences of the letter. 5. In a press release, it's the lead paragraph. 6. In a sales brochure or catalog, it's the front cover. 7. In a sales presentation, it's the first few slides or flip charts. 8. On a website, it's the first screen of the homepage. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  5. 5. Four Possible Headline Functions 1. Get attention. 2. Select the audience. 3. Deliver a complete message. 4. Draw the reader into the body copy. “The headline is the most important element in most advertisements … On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” – David Ogilvy Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  6. 6. Headlines Get Attention • Appeal to the reader’s self interest – “Why Swelter Through Another Hot Summer?” – GE air conditioners • Give the reader news – “Introducing …” • Offer freebies and use the word, “free” • Offer useful information – “How to Bake Beans” – Van Camp’s • Proven headline buzzwords: – Free, how to, why, sale, quick, easy, bargain, last chance, guarantee, results, proven, save Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  7. 7. • Headline can qualify the buyer – “an ad for a $65,000 sports car should (somehow) say, ‘This is for rich folks only!’” • Select the right audience, screen out others. “We’re looking for People to Write Children’s Books!” “Is Your Electric Bill Too High?” Headlines Select the Audience Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  8. 8. Headlines Deliver a Complete Message This kind of headline can sell the 80% who read headlines only. • “Gas Energy Inc. Cuts Cooling and Heating Costs Up to 50%!” • “Caught Soon Enough, Early Tooth Decay Can Actually Be Repaired by Colgate!” * Include the selling promise and brand name. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  9. 9. Headlines Draw Reader into Copy • For products that require much information to sell, use humor, intrigue, mystery, ask a question, promise reward, news, info. “What do Japanese Managers Have That American Managers Sometimes Lack?” “The $5 Alternative to Costly Plastic Surgery” “If You’re Confused About Buying a Personal Computer, Here’s Some Help.” Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  10. 10. • Direct Headlines • Indirect Headlines • News Headlines • How-to Headlines • Question Headlines • Command Headlines • Reason-Why Headlines • Testimonial Headlines Prepared by Colin Post – find me at 8 Types of Headlines
  11. 11. 4 U’s Formula for Writing Effective Headlines 1. Urgent – gives the reader reason to act now instead of later. – “Make $100,000 working from home this year.” (add ‘this year’) 2. Unique – says something new or something familiar in a new way. – “Why Japanese women have beautiful skin” 3. Ultra-specific – “fascinations” tease the reader into reading further. – “Best time to file for a tax refund” 4. Useful – appeals to reader’s self-interest by offering a benefit. – “An Invitation to Ski and Save” * Rate every headline you write on each U from 1 – 4. Then tweak it to boost your total average rating. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  12. 12. Writing to Communicate • “You sell more merchandise when you write clear copy.” • Causes of confusing copy: – “Borrowed interest”, lengthy sentences, clichés, big words, not getting to the point, a lack of specifics, technical jargon, and poor organization Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  13. 13. 11 Tips for Writing Clear Copy 1. Put the reader first, use “you” 2. Carefully organize your selling points 3. Break the writing into short sections – Long paragraphs are intimidating 4. Use short sentences – easier to read – Best average length = 14 to 16 words 5. Use simple words 6. Avoid technical jargon 7. Be concise – avoid wordy phrases, unnecessary adjectives, redundancies, etc. 8. Be specific 9. Go straight to the point – start selling in the first line. 10. Write in a conversational style 11. Avoid sexist languagePrepared by Colin Post – find me at
  14. 14. Stylistic Tricks of the Trade • End sentences with a preposition. • Use sentence fragments – adds drama. • Begin sentences with conjunctions – easy transitions. • Use one-sentence paragraphs – lively change of pace. • Use graphic techniques to emphasize words or phrases – underlining, capitalization, boldface, italics, arrows and notes, etc. • Use bulletpoints Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  15. 15. Copywriter’s Checklist • Does the copy fulfill promise from headline? • Is the copy interesting? • Is it easy to read? • Is it believable? • Is it persuasive? • Is it specific? • Is it concise? • Is it relevant? • Does it flow smoothly? • Does it call for action? Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  16. 16. Writing to Sell • Feature: a descriptive fact about a product or service; it’s what the product is or has. • Benefit: what the product does; it’s what the user gains as a result of the feature. “Write about benefits and not about features.” – Robert W. Bly “Customers don’t buy products or services … They buy what these products and services do for them.” – Learning Dynamics Incorporated Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  17. 17. The Motivating Sequence 1. Get Attention – Headline & visual, should focus on single strongest benefit – Don’t use clever phrases, puns, irrelevant info while saving strongest benefit for a big finish inside the copy. 2. Show a Need – With most products, the need for the product may not be obvious. – Demonstrate that need. 3. Satisfy the Need and Position Your Product as a Solution – After demonstrating need, quickly show that your product satisfies the need, answers questions, or solves problems. 4. Prove Your Product Can Do What You Say It Can Do – Testimonials, comparisons to competition, studies / research, etc. 5. Ask for Action – Last step must be a call for action to the next step in buying process. – If possible, give an incentive for responding now: discounts, etc. 5-step formula to writing copy that sells: Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  18. 18. The Unique Selling Proposition USP is the major advantage your product has over competition. 3 requirements for USP: 1. Each ad must say “buy this and get this benefit.” 2. Proposition must be different from competition. 3. Proposition must be so strong it pulls new customers. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  19. 19. 4 Ways to Create USP 1. Stress an underpublicized or little-known benefit. 2. Dramatize a known benefit in compelling fashion. 3. Dramatize the product name or package. 4. Build long-term brand personalities. Advertising is “the art of getting a USP into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost.” – Rosser Reeves Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  20. 20. Know Your Customer • Find out which benefits and features your readers care about. Copy hits prospects on 3 levels: 1. Intellectual – based on logic. Not as strong as others. 2. Emotional – tap into fear, greed, love, vanity, benevolence. 3. Personal – use you, you, you. Most powerful. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  21. 21. BFD Formula To reach prospects on those 3 levels, determine your target market BFD profile: • Beliefs – attitudes toward need, your product • Feelings – Confident and brash? Nervous and fearful? • Desires – What do they want? Goals? What change? – Before writing copy, write out in narrative form the BFD profile of your target market. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  22. 22. Motivators Checklist 1. To be liked / appreciated 2. To be right 3. To feel important 4. To make / save money 5. To make work easier 6. To be secure 7. To be attractive or sexy 8. To be comfortable 9. To be distinctive Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  23. 23. Motivators Checklist, contd. 10. To be happy 11. To have fun 12. To gain knowledge 13. To be healthy 14. To gratify curiosity 15. For convenience 16. Out of fear 17. Out of greed 18. Out of guilt Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  24. 24. Long Copy vs. Short Copy Length of copy will depend on: 1. Product – how much to say about it? 2. Audience – how involved are they with the product? 3. Purpose of the copy – which step in the buying process are you asking for? Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  25. 25. Copy Length Grid • Emotion refers to the degree of which the purchase is emotional – Diamond engagement ring vs. paper clips • Involvement refers to how much time, effort, and though goes into purchase – Car vs. cheeseburger Prepared by Colin Post – find me at Low Emotion High Emotion Low Involvement Short Copy Medium Copy High Involvement Medium Copy Long Copy
  26. 26. Other Factors that Determine Length of Copy • Price – more expensive, more copy • Importance – high need products (refrigerator) can be sold with less copy • Familiarity – familiar products need less copy Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  27. 27. Getting Ready to Write 1. Get all previously published material on the product – Brochures, reports, catalogs, ads, websites, everything. 2. Ask questions about the product – Features and benefits? Which are most important? How is it different from competition? 3. Ask questions about your audience – Who will buy? Why? What is main concern? What motivates purchase? 4. Determine the objective of your copy – To generate inquiries, sales, qualify prospects, generate store traffic, keep in touch with customers Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  28. 28. Technique for Producing Ad Ideas 1. Identify the problem 2. Assemble pertinent facts 3. Gather general knowledge 4. Look for combinations 5. Sleep on it 6. Use a checklist 7. Get feedback 8. Team up 9. Give new ideas a chance Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  29. 29. 4 Missions of Print Ads 1. To sell products directly – Lengthy, answer all questions, aim to close the sale 2. To generate sales leads – May give a lot or little info, but never the full story. A salesperson is needed for this buying process. The ad asks for response for more info. 3. To build awareness of a product – When product is not sold by mail or salesperson. 4. To build the company’s image – Corporate advertising aimed at general public, stockholders, investors, etc. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  30. 30. How to Write a Good Ad 1. Headline contains an important consumer benefit, or news, or arouses curiosity, or promises a reward for reading the copy. 2. Visual illustrates the headline’s main benefit. 3. Lead paragraph expands on headline theme. 4. Layout invites readers to read the copy. 5. Body copy covers all important sales points in logical sequence. 6. Copy provides info needed to convince prospects to take next step in buying process. 7. Copy is interesting and believable. 8. The ad asks for action. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  31. 31. Checklist of Ad Ideas • Question ad – headline asks question, copy answers. • Quiz ad – copy presents quiz, which qualifies reader. • News ad – announces something new in products. • Direct ad – straightforward presentation. • Indirect ad – obscure headline arouses curiosity. • Reward ad – promises a reward for reading copy. • Command ad – commands reader to take action. • Price-and-where-to-buy-ad – announces sale. • Reason-why ad – presents reasons why you should buy. • Letter-ad – written in letter form. • Before-and-after – shows improvements. • Testimonial – product user or celebrity speaks in favor • Case history – detailed product success story. • Free information ad – offers free brochure, pamphlet, or other info. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  32. 32. Ad Ideas Checklist, contd. • Story – tells a story involving people and product. • “New Wave” – relies on far-out graphics. • Reader identification – headline selects audience. • Information ad – gives useful info related to product. • Location ad – features product in unusual location. • Fictional characters – uses brand mascots, etc. • Fictional places – e.g. Marlboro Country • Cartoons and cartoon strips • Advertiser in ad – advertiser speaks about own product. • Invent a word – “athlete’s foot” and “halitosis” were marketing inventions. • Comparative advertising – shows your product against competition. • Challenge – challenges reader to do something. • Guarantee ad – focuses on guarantee, not product. • Offer ad – focuses on the offer, sale, etc. • Demonstration – shows how product works. • Pun – attracts attention and explains pun in copy. • Contests and sweepstakes • Tie-in with current events – adds timeliness and urgency. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  33. 33. Writing Small Display or Classified Ads 1. Don’t ask directly for order. Get an inquiry. 2. Be concise – short and pithy as possible. – Minimize address. – Use phrases and sentence fragments. – Remember your objective 3. Effective words: – Free, new, amazing, now, how to, easy, discover, method, plan, reveals, show, simple, startling, advanced, improved, you Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  34. 34. Writing Direct Mail Successful direct-mail writers favor an informal, conversational style … with personality, enthusiasm, warmth, and sincerity. Classic direct-mail package contains: • Outer envelope • Sales letter • Brochure • Reply card “The letter sells; the brochure tells.” Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  35. 35. 15 Ways to Start DM Sales Letter 1. State the offer. 2. Highlight the free literature. 3. Make an announcement. 4. Tell a story. 5. Flatter the reader. 6. Write to the reader Peer-to-Peer. 7. Personal message from the president. 8. Use a provocative quote. 9. Ask a question. 10. Make it personal. 11. Identify the reader’s problem. 12. Stress a benefit. 13. Use human interest. 14. Let the reader in on inside info. 15. Sweepstakes. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  36. 36. 11 Tips on Writing Sales Brochures 1. Know where the brochure fits into the buying process. – Leave-behinds, point-of-sale, inquiry response, direct mail, sales support 2. Know whether the brochure stands alone. 3. Know your audience. 4. Put a strong selling message on the front cover. 5. Give complete info to get prospect to the next step in the buying process. 6. Organize your selling points. 7. Divide the brochure into short, easy-to-read sections. 8. Use hardworking visuals, captions stress benefits. 9. Tell reader to take next step in buying process. 10. Don’t forget the obvious: contact info, prices, hours, etc. 11. Make the brochure worth keeping.Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  37. 37. How To Organize Product Brochure Copy • Introduction – capsule description • Benefits – why customer should buy • Features – how it’s different from competition • “How it works” – description of how it works • Types of users (markets) • Applications • Product availability – models, sizes, etc. • Technical specifications • Questions and answers – FAQ • Company description • Support – info on delivery, installation, guarantees • The next step – how to order or get more info Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  38. 38. How To Organize Service Brochure Copy • Intro – outlines services, types of accounts handled, reasons why reader should be interested. • Services offered – detailed descriptions. • Benefits – describes what readers will gain and differentiates you from competition. • Methodology – outlines firm’s methods. • Client list – list of customers who endorse service. • Testimonials • Fees and terms • Biographical info – key employees • The next step – instructions on what to do next.Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  39. 39. Catalogs vs. Brochures • Brochures tell in-depth story about a single product. Catalogs give short descriptions of many products. Catalog descriptions must be terse. • Brochure’s mission is to provide enough info for reader to take next step in buying process. Catalogs are mail-order vehicles from which you order; salesperson not needed for catalogs. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  40. 40. Tips for Writing Catalogs 1. Write snappy headlines – strong benefit or descriptive adjective. 2. Include a letter from the manufacturer. 3. Give all key product facts. 4. Devote the most space to best-sellers. 5. Use techniques that stimulate sales – toll-free phone numbers, credit cards accepted, free gifts. 6. Make the order form simple. 7. Indicate discounted items – 25% off! or $11.95 $8.95 Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  41. 41. Other Types of Sales Literature • Annual reports • Flyers • Broadsides – flyers folded for mailing • Invoice stuffers – small promos mailed with monthly bills / statements • Circulars – 4-8 pgs, full color, contain coupons for local products • Pamphlets – similar to brochures but more general • White papers – in-depth reports about product or industry under guise of unbiased informationPrepared by Colin Post – find me at
  42. 42. Writing Public Relations Materials Press release: a printed news story prepared by an organization and distributed to the media for the purpose of publicizing the organization’s products, services, or activities. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  43. 43. Press Release Tips • Clarity and accuracy are more important than fancy letterhead or layouts. • Cite outside PR firm if they wrote the release. • Use release date or “For Immediate Release.” • Leave ample space between date and headline. • Headline should sum up story at one glance. Max 2-3 lines. • Lead paragraph should include “who, what, when, where, why, and how.” • Include person to be credited for quoting or if you make any claims. Editors don’t want to take the position they’re claiming something.Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  44. 44. Press Release Tips, cont’d. • Body picks up additional facts. Don’t use superlatives or complimentary adjectives. • Shoot for a single page, no more than 2. • Include name, address, phone of someone to contact for more information. • If you use photos, print & attach caption on the back of the photo w/ sources, contacts. • Keep the release simple, straightforward, and newsy. Excess verbiage turns editors off. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  45. 45. Making Press Releases Newsworthy Advertising and promotion is not news. Editors will only print that tells something new, or provides info useful to the publication’s readers. Possible topics for news releases: • New product, old product with new name or package • Product improvement, or new version • Old product available in new materials, color, size • New application of an old product • New accessories available for an old product Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  46. 46. Possible topics for news releases, cont’d • Speech or presentation given by executive • Expert opinion on any subject • Controversial issue • New employees or promotions within company • Awards / honors won by your organization • Original discoveries or innovations • New stores, offices, headquarters, facilities • New sales reps, distributors, agents • Major contracts won or achievements • Joint ventures • Management reorganization • Case histories of successful applications or projects • Tips and hints – how-to advice • Change of company name, slogan, or logo • Special events or charitable actsPrepared by Colin Post – find me at
  47. 47. Writing for the Web • Microsite: or long-copy landing page, is a website designed to sell a product directly. • Short-copy landing page: simple landing page for product / offer. Often used for white papers, software demos, inquiry fulfillment. • Transaction page: similar to SCLP but with less descriptive product copy. Basically just an order form. • Long-copy email: designed to sell product directly by driving recipient to short-copy landing page or transaction page. • Teaser email: short email designed to drive readers to microsite or long-copy landing page. • Lead-generation email: similar to teaser but drives readers to request more information. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  48. 48. Writing for the Web, cont’d • Online email conversion series: series of follow-up email messages ,sent via autoresponder, designed to convert inquiry to sale. • Online ad: typically a 100-word classified ad on e-zine. • Banner ad: HTML ad on a website. • Pop-under: window that appears on a website when visitor takes certain action (usually trying to leave site). It makes a special offer, usually in exchange for email address. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  49. 49. Email Marketing Tips • Use From and Subject lines for headline. • “Free” is effective buzzword in copywriting, but using it in the Subject line can cause ISP or email service to block the message, or forward it to junk folder. • Lead copy with a killer leading sentence. Email is read with even less attention than other mail. • Deliver mini-version of complete message in 1st paragraph. • After 1st paragraph, cover all benefits, features, details, etc. • Offer and response mechanisms should be repeated in the close of the email. • Limit response links to three.Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  50. 50. Email Marketing Tips, cont’d • Use wide margins so weird wraps or breaks don’t occur. Limit 55-60 characters per line. • Be careful with all-caps, which is hard to read and interpreted as SCREAMING online. • In general, shorter is better. • Get important points across quickly. • Use helpful, friendly, informative and educational tone. Not promotional or hard- sell. • Include an opt-out statement for readers who don’t want to receive your messages. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  51. 51. Getting Past ISPs and Spam Filters • Create a reverse DNS. • Set up a Sender Policy Framework (SPF). • Send only one message per connection. • Limit sending rate – 10,000 messages / hour. • Accept bounce messages. • Validate HTML content at W3C. • Avoid scripting (JavaScript, PHP, Perl). • Understand content filtering basics. • Monitor delivery and bounce rates by ISP and domain. • Monitor spam complaints – you’re sure to get them. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  52. 52. Writing a Conversion Email Series 1. You create some free content. – Special reports, newsletter, etc. 2. You offer people the free content online. – Get email address in exchange. 3. When they accept, you then sell them products and services they have to pay for. – Send a series of emails with the objective of turning a requester of free content into a buyer of a paid product. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  53. 53. Writing an Effective E-Zine • Be a conduit who passes along useful info. • Pay attention to questions, problems, and ideas from customers. • Distill lesson(s) into a tip easily shared. • State problem / need as intro to tip. • Give the solution – action steps. • Describe benefit resulting from solution. • List websites and other resources readers can use. • Put your best tip first. Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  54. 54. Content not Covered • I’ve left out a lot of good stuff from the book. Missing from this presentation: – How to Organize Corporate Brochure – How To Write a Feature Article – How To Write a Speech – Writing Promotional Newsletters – Writing Commercials and Multi-Media – Writing Long-Copy Landing Pages • virtually same as direct mail sales letter – Writing a Blog and SEO Copywriting – How to Get a Job as a Copywriter – How to Hire and Work with Copywriters – Graphic Design for Copywriters Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
  55. 55. THE END Colin Post Vendor and Publisher I hope this helped! Prepared by Colin Post – find me at
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