I got the strangest Christmas card this year. 

It was from my landlord. 

The envelope was correctly addressed and it arrived on December 24th. 

Inside was a pleasant, traditional Christmas card showing a painting of an outdoor scene of a cabin in the snow. Smoke curled from the chimney. An orangey glow in the front window told of comfort and relief from the cold. 

I opened it and read the message: “Have a Merry Christmas,” it said, in plain type. 

My landlord hadn’t written anything. He hadn’t even signed it.  

As I dropped in into the recycling bin, I wondered why he’d bothered to even mail it.  

What’s this got to do with you and your marketing? 

You, You, You…

My landlord evidently had very little (or maybe no) interest in delivering a genuine holiday greeting to me. He seems to have only been trying to fulfill a holiday-time obligation as quickly and effortlessly as possible. 

It was unmistakably all about him—his time and his convenience. A Christmas card should be sent for the other person (or should at least give that impression).

And it’s not different with a marketing message.

Now, I am not implying that you would ever be as indifferent as my landlord was, but sometimes, as business owners or marketers, we may send out marketing communications—emails, sales letters, etc.—that, in one way or another, are about us and our products or services. When we do that, it creates various effects:

  • The recipient thinks “spam” or “junk mail.” 
  • They throw it away/delete it without reading all of it.
  • They feel disregarded.
  • They resent having their time wasted.

If what I am saying seems confusing, I understand. Obviously, you market and promote for the purpose of selling your products or services. So why wouldn’t your marketing pieces be about your products or services?

Of course you have to talk about what you’re selling but the most successful direct marketing starts out paying a good deal of attention to the customer—their needs, problems, and concerns (often referred to as “pain points”).

This is not news. It’s a fundamental of direct marketing: Customers/prospects don’t care about you or your product; they care about solving their problems and fulfilling their dreams.

Yet I see this fundamental being violated all the time.

Here’s one small example: I received a connection request recently on LinkedIn from someone I did not know. Within an hour of accepting their invitation, I got a message from them. They thanked me for the connect but the majority of the message was all about them and their business:

  • “I am looking to connect with…”
  • “I am really into…”
  • “I specialize in…”
  • “My idea client is…”

Granted, her message wasn’t overtly trying to sell me anything but it did have a call to action. (“I’d love to talk. Here is the link to my calendar to set up a time that is convenient for you.”) So, it could be considered a small bit of direct marketing.

I was a bit put off by it, simply and only because it didn’t seem to take much of an interest in me.

Now before anyone (particularly the person who sent me the message) protests, let me just say that any marketing is better than no marketing. So, if you’re promoting your business—in any way—you have a certain degree of my respect.

However, effective marketing is the best kind. And the most effective is about the customer and their pain points.

How Do I Do That With My Marketing?

You have to be the audience you’re writing to.

I spent 20 years of my life working in the industrial and automotive industries. Now, I write a lot for industrial and service businesses, tool makers, and similar clients. My experience has given me a good understanding of that audience.

When I am hired to write for an audience I am less familiar with, I do research:

  • Customer demographic and other info from the client
  • Online forums about the product or topic
  • Amazon reviews about similar products
  • Online reviews of competing products/services (Yelp can be handy this way) to see what people complain about

A mediocre writer with a good understanding of his audience will always have better success than a “rock star” writer who is less familiar with the audience.

Do enough research, and you can start to take on that audience’s viewpoint. You can understand their attitudes, their biases, and their emotions about their problem and its solution. We all have the capacity to do this.

When you “get into their head” this way, you get a better understanding of how to talk to your audience about their pain points. You know better how to position the benefits of your product or service in relation to those pain points.

All of this falls under “about your audience.” Only after you’ve spent a decent amount of time (or paragraphs) talking about them would you begin to talk about you or your product or service.

Final Thought

People are as cynical as ever about advertising but a well-done direct marketing piece quickly gets past the reader’s cynicism because it talks about their primary interest: self-interest.

As consumers, that’s what we all run on.

So if you’re going to market directly to prospects or customers, always write or speak to them about what matters to them—their concerns, problems, dreams, or fears. Then show how your product/service solves their problem or fulfills their desire.  

Need help reaching your audience? I can help you with that. Call me: 323-646-2469 or email steve (at) stevewagnercopy (dot) com

(or, what's copy got to do with it?)

The "wish list" of many a direct marketer probably looks something like this:

1. More sales. 

2. More customers. 

3. Umm... more conversions, sales and customers. 

Makes sense, right?

But while some direct marketers regularly have high sales and attract new customers, other marketers struggle and even fail. 

Why? Ask Bly.

In his white paper, "The 12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes... And How To Avoid Them," renowned direct marketer Bob Bly isolates 12 factors. Not surprisingly, seven of them are related to the copy itself. 

So, all other things (product/service, mailing list and number of mailings) being equal, the greatest difference is the copy they use in their direct marketing efforts: 

•   High-quality copy gets read. A  percentage of readers take action (make a purchase or take another desired action such as "click here" or "call now"). Life is good!

•   Poor-quality copy does not get read. Less or no action occurs. Life ain't so good.

High-quality direct response copy is effective. It grabs readers' attention right from the headline or subject line and holds it. It fires their imaginations and increases desire for the marketer's solution to their pain point or deep desire. It presents an offer that's magnetic, irresistible--so high in value and low in risk, that the reader can't not buy it. 

Hence, high-quality copy makes you more money. 

Get Better Results

If your sales or lead generation aren't as healthy as they should be, the copy is often the first place to look, especially if it was written by someone without a lot of direct response experience or training. 

If you're going to tackle it yourself, I would highly recommend studying Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook or any of Dan Kennedy's "No B.S." books on the subject. 

Or contact me and let's discuss your copy and your marketing aims and see how I might be able to help.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn.)

I have traveled and lived in several places in the U.S. over the last year. In talking to the various people I've met, they've invariably asked what kind of work I did for a living.

"I'm a copywriter," I told them. 

Their responses ranged from a furrowed-browed nod to a change of subject.

Many people have no idea what "copywriting" or "copy" is or what a copywriter does.

Here is a short, easy-to-remember definition: A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to act. No, I don't mean getting them to do community theater or pack up and move to Hollywood. By "act" I mean to "take an action."

If you've ever been looking around online and decided to give your email address to some website in exchange for a free e-book, newsletter subscription  or similar item, you've experienced copywriting. If you've ever ordered something on TV after watching an infomercial or QVC, you've experienced it.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain what 'copy' is," you're saying right now.

Definition of "Copy"

"Copy" is another word for "text," particularly text that is used to sell something (or get a person to take an action which may lead to a sale). It is not something that the writer "copied" from somewhere else, but something he/she wrote which is to be copied--printed in a magazine or newspaper or used in a TV/radio commercial, which gets broadcasted over and over.

The terms "copy," "copywriter" and "copywriting," traditionally relate to advertising, marketing and promotion but these terms sometimes get applied to other kinds of writing and writers. For instance, news writers and editors deal with their own kind of "copy."

Copywriters (the capable ones, that is) are trained in a specific and somewhat complex technology that they use to produce writing that engages the reader. It holds and increases their interest because it appeals to some fundamental desire or need for a solution to a problem. Ultimately, if it's written well, it gets them to take action.

To some this may seem sneaky or unethical but there's this one fact: people's desires and needs for solutions to their problems existed long before there were copywriters or the field of marketing. The only thing that marketing does is channel that existing desire or need in the direction of a particular product or service.

A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to take action.
Take for instance the "mid-life crisis." For some men who've reach their forties or fifties, an insecurity may have set in about their looks, physical condition or ability with the opposite sex. They may long to recapture some of their youthful vitality. This phenomenon exists. You've observed it. And it's this phenomenon--not the copy--that enables companies to sell convertible sports cars, hair replacement surgery and Viagra. If one company doesn't make the sale, another will. And truly, all other things being equal, the winner will be the company with the most effective copy. 

Who Uses Copywriters? 

You might be surprised by the number and variety of businesses that use copywriters:
  • companies that advertise by mail (banks, book publishers, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.)
  • companies that advertise via infomercials (fitness equipment, greatest hits music collections, etc.)
  • companies that sell online (too many to list), by way of landing pages, sales pages, long-form video sales letters, pay-per-click ads, etc.
  • non-profit organizations, who use copywriters to help in their fundraising efforts

(Though regular TV or radio commercials may be written by copywriters, much of that kind of this kind of advertising, which is usually short and clever or cute [and sometimes, confusing], doesn't follow the tenets of actual copywriting.)

Copywriters can also use this writing technology to help companies and individuals define who they are, how they are unique or what they do best, so as to differentiate themselves from their competition. This action is a part of what is broadly known as "branding." 

The Copywriter and the Brand

Branding is not entirely a matter of copywriting but of building an image and emphasizing a particular and desirable value, skill or strength. You've seen and felt it with with many companies. Some that come to mind are Chevrolet (long-lasting, "Like a rock"), Apple Computers (innovation, "Think Different") and Netflix (selection and convenience). 

Once the brand "message" is established, copywriters may write copy that conforms to the brand, to be used on everything from business cards to websites to television. 

And that, friends, is what copywriting is.

If you have questions about your current copy, need a review, or have a future copy project you'd like help in planning, call me at 323-646-2469 or
email me.