Friday, August 29, 2014

15 tweaking (not twerking) tips for response

Good writing depends on good editing (aka tweaking), whether it's self-editing or editing by someone else who understands the audience and objective. 

If you're interested in increasing clicks, calls or visits to your store or website, try these 15 tweaking tips. If you want more detail, check out my recent article for Direct Marketing IQ.  

1.   Move your call-to-action to front and center.

2.   Keep copy short and succinct, just long enough to tell your story.

3.   Hot spots are eye magnets. Fill them with benefits.

4.   Lead with the benefit, follow with the feature.

5.   Use bullets to draw the scanner's eye.

6.   Sentence fragments and one-word sentences often communicate more effectively than 
      longer sentences. Try 'em.

7.   Start sentences with verbs--active verbs--to create reader momentum.

8.   Use numerals versus numbers written as words. Find out why here.

9.   Avoid starting sentences with the word there.

10.  Read what you write out loud.Often you can hear edits easier than you can see them.

11.  Use FIND and REPLACE to avoid overusing individual words.

12.  Give what you've written a rest before editing.  Preferably overnight.

13.  Circle punctuation marks, then consider other options for improving scannability and 
       clarity.   

14.  Contractions can be controversial, but also conversational. Check out this infographic
       from the writers at Divine Write, titled "Contractions: When Can I Use Them?"

Last thought. Editing and proofing are different tasks. Edit first, proof last.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Open Sesame: 11 Tips for Writing Subject Lines


Subject lines may look short and simple to write, but they're not. 

Similar to outer envelope teasers, subject lines are gatekeepers that can keep readers out ... or invite them in. So, it's no surprise that there's more to creating successful ones than just stringing together words. Direct response writers know every detail counts.

We use details to snag reader involvement that leads to response. And to do this, we're always looking for new tricks to try. So, yes, we give careful consideration to every little detail including the use of personalization, punctuation, special characters, and even those eye-flow-stopping | vertical | bars | also | called | pipes.


While you need to be aware of how different web browsers display special characters and how spam filters will react to subject line punctuation, testing is the tool that helps you learn what works and what doesn't. That's especially important with email since best practices seem to constantly change.

Here are 10 tips for creating subject lines that get opened. As always, test to see what works best for your audience and offer.

1. Verbs. Start subject lines with active verbs to create momentum. Recent emails delivered to my inbox started with: Join, Indulge, Meet, View, Find and Lose.

2. Questions. Questions can be compelling ... and tricky. The trick is to ask a question that engages rather than loses your reader. "Concerned about your pet's bad breath?" arrived in my inbox (and got opened) because I buy dog and cat products online.

3. Length. On any given day, you'll find a new study and resulting best practices regarding subject line length. I've seen both longer and short subject lines work. The key is to test. When writing longer subject lines, make sure to put a grabber at the beginning because this is what a scanner see first.

4. Symbols. A year or two ago, the use of symbols (
☼ ♫ ) became a hot trend and they're still being used today. Symbols are a quick way to draw the scanners' eye, but the rest of the subject line still needs to deliver value or intrigue to get opened. Example: "Flash sale: American Airlines US routes fr $114 R/T - One week only!"

5. Special Characters. I often use vertical bars (a.k.a., pipes) instead of commas to | visually | separate | elements | in subject lines. [Brackets], {braces}, and +s also link, separate, and/or save character space and draw the eye. Example: [Free 42-Page Ebook] The Smart Guide to Lead Generation

6. Punctuation. Punctuation in subject lines may add to your spam score, so test and screen before rolling out. While I'd never put a period at the end of a subject line, I do use punctuation to draw attention and create expectation. Examples:

  • Exclusive Offer: Back up another computer
  • 5...4...3...Time is running out
  • "Million Dollar Secrets" on Tour: Reserve your space today

7. Personalization. There's plenty of data indicating subject lines personalized with the recipient's name have higher open rates. Test it to see if it works for you. Example: "Pat, 50% off site-wide for just 48 hours."

8. Localization. People identify with their city's or neighborhood's name, as well as their own. When it's appropriate, localize subject lines. Example: "Pat, visit our new Country Club Plaza store near you."

9. Numbers. $50 vs. fifty dollars. You tell me which has instant impact. Numerals read faster and frequently take up less space. $s are magical for reinforcing value.


10. Countdown/Deadline. One of the beauties of email vs. direct mail is the ability to time delivery down to the hour to create genuine urgency. Examples:
  • 6 Hours Left ... Biggest Summer Sale Ever
  • Registration closes at 4:00 EST today, August 1st.

One More Tip: The power of any subject line is coupled with the FROM line. Some companies use a variety of FROM lines depending on the messages being delivered. Again, test to see what works for you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What I learned from P.O. Box 1857


Opening envelopes and unzipping direct mail snap packs provides cross-channel marketers with the chance to lurk-and-learn from their direct mail marketing colleagues. I speak from experience.

Lurking, learning and confirming is what I've been doing for more than a year as I saved a stack of mail pieces I received from P.O. Box 1857 in Alpharetta, Ga. Sometimes I received two or three pieces a month from this address. You probably did, too, if you're an AT&T customer. P.O. Box 1857 is the home address for AT&T Customer Care. Here's what I learned:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I'm a word nerd.

Yep! I truly am a word nerd. As a cross-channel marketing writer, I know every word  counts. Word choices can make or break the response by which I'm measured.  

For example, direct response writers have long understood the power of the word free versus using no charge or complimentary for generating traffic, leads and sales. Direct mail expert Dick Benson  once proclaimed the word free as magical.

I was reminded of the power of a single word during a recent discussion with a new client and the company's legal department. The discussion focused on using get vs. win. In the context of my copy, get delivered a reward... while win implied a prize. I wanted my reader to feel like she was earning a reward, not playing the lottery. We compromised and used both, depending on context.

Examples of word power permeate our everyday lives. Case in point, I recently drove by a house with a real estate sign in the front yard. I assumed the sign was going to read, "House for Sale." Wrong. Instead it said, "Site for Sale." House versus Site. One word had me looking at the property completely differently. After reading the sign, I figured the house must have major problems and the owner had decided the only reason someone would buy the property was for the lot, not the current house. Which led me to assume the price would reflect this. I remembered the sign because of one word. 

Every word you choose — no matter what you're writing — impacts your readers' perceptions and, ultimately, their actions. Everyone who writes subject lines, Twitter posts, catalog copy and call-to-action buttons with space limitations understands this.  If you're interested, you can read more about choosing the right word for the right reason.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tips for Dealing with the Sticky Business of Direct Mail



Even if you don't write, design or send a lot of direct mail, you need to read this. It's a short article for writers and designers of direct mail.  Production people, too.  It's about why you should pay attention to stickiness when creating and mailing formats the USPS requires to be tabbed, wafer sealed spot or (ugh) continuously glued.

Friday, February 28, 2014

No Excuses (Part 2)



As promised, here are 11 more reasons to write your customers to let them know you're thinking about them

11. Anniversary. Celebrate customers' anniversaries with your company. People appreciate the acknowledgement that you know they've been doing business with you since _____.
12. Announcement. Tell your customers about new products, new people, new services, new store hours, new partners or new lower pricing.
13. New and similar. Amazon is a master at cross-selling by keeping customers informed of new book releases that are similar in topic and/or author to customers' past purchases.
14. Early bird. Early bird offers with enticing rewards (which don't have to be discounts) encourage early response.
15. Celebrate Third Thursday …or First Friday or any other reoccurring day of the month. Turn it into your organization's special event celebration to offer sale prices, focus on little known facts about your products or unique customer reviews.
16. Sneak preview. The better the customer, the more he/she likes to get the inside scoop. Give your most avid fans a sneak preview to build brand loyalty. It's a great opportunity to use video or augmented reality.
17. Special recognition. Recognize special relationships, such as those you have with preferred customers, new donors or 10-year members.
18. Welcome. A first-time buyer is a trier. Transform that trier into a multi-buyer with a special welcome note and offer.
19. We value your opinion. Everyone has an opinion, and most of us enjoy sharing them. So give your customers the opportunity to engage with you by sharing theirs.
20. Enter to win. Need customer photos for your website? Have a contest and tell people about it through every channel.
21. Time is running out. Remind readers that time is running out to take advantage of sale prices … enter your contest … or RSVP for a special event.
22. Deadline extended. While it's not a good idea to extend every deadline you set, when you have good reason to give people more time to respond, make sure to tell them.
23. 'Introducing …' is a powerful word. It implies something's new, sounds a bit social and sets up the start of a relationship.
24. Success story. Share a success story, case history or series of customer reviews. People love to read stories.
25. Surprise! Everybody loves a good surprise. Yours could be a new product announcement, preferred customer reward or return of a favorite that was discontinued.
26. Open house. Give it a name or reason for being, then mail or email invitations.
27. Limited. Make a limited time or limited edition offer. Scarcity=extra special.
28. Friends and family. Extend the reach of your message by making your offer available to your recipient's friends and family.
29. Post-sales event. There's always a way to capture the attention of those who missed on a sale mailing or email.
30. Confirmation. It's reassuring to receive a confirmation of anything, from an order received to a password change. Confirming a customer's action reaffirms that you are paying attention.
31. Historical milestones. In a world filled with milestones, celebrity birthdays and other less well-known special events—such as Bed Bug Awareness Week, April 22-26—check out "Chase's Calendar of Events 2014." It offers more than 12,500 events in 196-plus countries, covering every day in the year.

Still at a loss for ideas? Take a look at Trish Witkowski's month-by-month calendar of 50+ marketing ideas on Page 6 of her e-book, "Direct Mail (Simplified): Track & Measure." It's a great checklist of more reasons to write.