Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Satisfaction guaranteed

How do you write an effective guarantee? Keep it simple.

A straightforward promise of unconditional satisfaction is most effective. It diffuses buying objections to increase profits. It can mean the difference between gaining a first-time buyer who becomes a loyal customer…or not.

A risk-free promise of complete satisfaction entices fence-sitters to jump off the fence and comparison-shoppers to choose you over your competitors. It’s a key element of your overall offer--what you’re willing to give in exchange for response.

If you don’t have a guarantee, you should. And if you have a guarantee but don’t promote it, shame on you. There are few things worse than making a prospective customer search for your guarantee. This is someone who WANTS to spend money with you but needs reassurance. Your guarantee should be easy to find--on your website, in your store, or in a direct mail piece.

Aaron Montgomery Ward, THE mail order pioneer, recognized the power of the guarantee in 1875 when he introduced his company’s policy of "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back." It was his way of reassuring rural customers accustomed to shopping in dry goods stores--not by mail--they could trust his catalog as a reputable source of quality products. With a solid guarantee aimed at diffusing doubters, he built a mail order business that sold everything from clothing to barbed wire, saddles and even steam engines. The Amazon of its time.

In the following 143 years, the guarantee has become a problem-solving staple of marketers across channels—print, broadcast and digital.

Diffuse objections. Here’s a guarantee that resolves one of the biggest concerns of homeowners involved in painting projects. It addresses the “BUT-what-if-I-really-don’t-like-the-color-once-it’s-on-all-four-walls?” objection. Valspar Paint understands this concern and also knows their product is a commodity marketed by many. That’s why they offer The Perfect Color Guarantee and promote it on their website: "If your first color isn't just right, have another free." My only complaint is that while the promise is strong, the 1,047 words of disclaimer copy found on a separate web page is NOT simple nor straightforward. Yuck.

Stand apart. How many plumbers are there in your city and how much time have you wasted waiting for one of them to show up? What if a plumber promised to be on time or he would pay you for your time lost? Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, The Punctual Plumber does just that. Their guarantee sets them apart: “If there’s any delay, it’s you we pay.® If we’re not on time, we pay you $5.00 per each minute late up to $300.00.” What reinforces the attention-grabbing value of this guarantee is its specificity. And no surprise, it’s even featured on the back of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing trucks.

Be succinct. Valspar's disclaimer copy is proof why you don’t want a lawyer to write your guarantee or other marketing copy. The best guarantees are short, to the point, without asterisks or legalese. When it comes to the shortest, most unconditional guarantee on record, Lands’ End wins hands down. “Guaranteed. Period.® “ To prove they mean what they say, their website shares stories like this one:

“As you'd expect, over the years our guarantee has been put to the test. We've been given countless opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to customer satisfaction and our willingness to stand behind the products we sell -though none more demonstrative than the return and refund of an original London taxi. Featured on the cover of our 1984 holiday catalog, the taxi was purchased for $19,000 by a Kansas native as a gift for her husband (an avid car collector). In 2005, her husband contacted Lands' End and expressed interest in returning the car for a full refund. Of course, we obliged - because whether your purchase includes a tote or a taxi, your satisfaction is Guaranteed. Period.®”

Intangible reassurance. If you’re an insurance marketer, you may think guarantees don’t apply to selling intangibles. Think again. A guarantee answers the question, “What if I change my mind?” And if you’re making a significant purchase such as life insurance, you may need or want to change your mind. The question is, can you. Some life insurance companies offer a 30-day “free look” that guarantees you can return your policy/certificate for a full refund of premiums paid within 30 days. While this may (or may not) be required by state insurance commissions, it addresses an important buying objection.

Add value. This guarantee adds value by addressing the concern, “What if I don’t get the results I need?” Green Training USA, a provider of training programs for contractor certification, offers a 100% Success Guarantee. “Our students count on over a 90% first time pass rate for certification exams, but should you not pass for whatever reason, you have unlimited access to all of your online training course and supplementary materials with no additional charge for as long as you require it. You also get continued email and phone support access to our staff and instructors.” It's a guarantee potentially worth hundreds of dollars to the student.

Be bold. Think ink-on-paper planners and organizers are dead? Take a look at this no-risk guarantee made by the Planner Pad® Organizer. "We are so certain that the Planner Pad organizer will help you get more organized that we offer this no-risk guarantee! Try the Planner Pad organizer for the first time for up to six months. If you feel it has not given you an extra hour a day you can call your own... if it has not helped you become more productive in your job or personal life ... then send it right back to us for a full product refund!"

So, what’s your guarantee? Don’t be shy about telling tire-kickers and comparison-shoppers you stand behind what you sell and value your customers’ satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Word of the Day:

Haptics. It's the science of touch. What we know about haptics is based on extensive research and the findings are fascinating.

Why should communicators (aka writers) care about haptics? According to neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman, "Human touch represents a powerful form of non-verbal communication."

Which is why you should take a look at A Communicator's Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch, a project of Sappi North America in collaboration with Dr. Eagleman. It's a quick read--just 50 pages--with many illustrations. While you can read it online, the printed version is, of course, an excellent example of haptics-in-your-hands.

A few highlights to pique your interest:

More than half the brain is devoted to processing sensory experience, and much of that sensory receptivity focuses on touch. (PF: Hmmm. So, words on paper are likely to get extra attention from your brain. Good to know.)

When you touch something, it triggers a reaction; we begin to feel differently about what we've touched. We begin to feel we own it, and research shows that makes us value it more. (PF: This may explain why I can't throw away greeting cards, saved magazine articles and catalogs that catch my interest.)

Rough. Smooth. Heavy. Light. Hard. Soft. Whatever we touch shapes what we feel, influencing perceptions both consciously and subconsciously. (PF: By tapping technology, paper companies, printers and savvy designers know how to capitalize on this.)

Here's where it gets really interesting for those of us who write for both digital and traditional print media. According to Ferris Jabr, whose article "Why The Brain Prefers Paper" appeared in Scientific American, "People understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screen. Researchers think the physicality of paper explains the discrepancy."

Studies show people read best on paper for three reasons: it makes content more intuitively navigable; it facilitates better mental mapping of information; and reading on paper drains fewer of our cognitive resources, making retention a little easier. You're invited to watch Dr. Eagleman discuss how the medium shapes the message--online versus paper.

Before showcasing examples from three haptic brands (BMW, Apple and World Wildlife Fund), the Guide reminds us, "The main job of communicators is to identify what is unique, and good, about a brand and create a program that reveals it clearly. A communicator's tools are words and ideas, expressed through typefaces, colors, and form, delivered on a medium that further shapes the content it carries. With so many media vying for a share of brand dollars, communicators sometimes look to science to help assess the alternatives."

I wish I'd written that. It's a super succinct description of what marketing communicators do for a living.

Full disclosure: Ink-on-paper is in my DNA. I'm the daughter of a postmaster who started my career as a writer of catalogs and direct mail. That said, I fully appreciate the immediacy, brevity and linkability of my words delivered digitally. But learning more about haptics has reinforced why I continue to enjoy writing--and reading--words on paper.

One more thing. A big shout out to the writers, designers, researchers and creative strategists at Rigsby Hull, the communications firm instrumental in creating A Communicator's Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch. They are haptic hotshots.

By the way, A Communicator's Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch is free for the asking, but it was published in 2015, so print copies are limited. Of course, you can also download the content. But trust me, it's not the same as the touchable ink-on-paper version. It's all about haptics.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Words That Convert

I just told an art director buddy I was writing a blog post about verbs. I could see her rolling her eyes all the way from South Carolina...and we weren't using Skype. But then she knows I'm a word nerd.

I love words, especially verbs. If you're a marketer, you should love them, too, because a well-chosen verb has the power to increase opens and clicks that convert to traffic and sales.

Spoiler Alert: For those who slept through grade school grammar, a verb is a word that describes an action, condition or experience. For example, the words run, click, keep, share and feel are all verbs.

With most marketing messages including at least one call-to-action (CTA), verbs are very valuable. That's why you should choose them carefully. Specificity really does count when it comes to choosing a verb that engages, motivates and persuades readers to convert.

For those of you on Twitter, here's an ah-ha. According to Hubspot Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrell, "Verbs beat all--adverbs, adjectives and nouns--in terms of attracting the highest number of shares. In fact, Twitter updates that include verbs have a 2% higher shareability than the average tweet."

So, whether you're writing a tweet, subject line, headline, envelope teaser or CTA button, the right verb can dramatically amp up the clicks, calls, opens, and visits by which your writing is measured. Here's a list of 55 verbs to get you started. Test for the best.

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If you want scientific proof of the power of verbs to encourage a physical motor response (aka a click or call), read this. Caution: Be prepared to dig through the science-speak. This is not marketing copy.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Writing for Skimmers and Other Non-Readers

Let's face it; every word you and I write doesn't get read. Even those people who are genuinely interested will skim, scan and then, maybe—just maybe—read what we write.

But take heart. Accept the challenge of learning how to attract more readership. Start by using these tools-of-the-trade for writing scanner-friendly web content, emails, direct mail, blog posts, even LinkedIn profiles.

Punctuation is your BFF. Use it to direct eye traffic, add emphasis to your words, build momentum, break up long sentences, snag attention and more. Scanners look for periods, commas, colons, ellipses, parentheses, em-dashes, etc. to help them skim, digest and decide whether to dig deeper. Use your punctuation pals to deepen engagement. (Can you tell I'm a patron of punctuation?

Be cautious with capitalization. Initial upper case letters (Pet Waste Bags vs. pet waste bags) imply importance or a proper name versus a generic term. The eye lands on them, then tries to figure out why the words are capitalized. Use caps ubiquitously and you'll cause confusion that disengages your scanner.

Related, but different: STRING TOGETHER TOO MANY WORDS IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS and your message is difficult to scan and read. In digital-speak, you're shouting and too much noise drowns out your message.

Make it easy to find essentials. This includes important little details such as date, time, location and cost. It's seriously annoying to be interested in attending an event and not be able to find when and where it's taking place. Likewise, product details matter. Yesterday I was interested in buying a bracelet online and all I saw was a stamp-sized photo and price. What was it made of? Did it have a clasp or was it elastic? I tried clicking on both photo and price to no avail. Ouch! Lost sale.

Copy and paste with care. I recently visited an event website that featured the same bio for two speakers. Oops!

Which brings me to this: Have someone else proofread what you write. As writers we often see what we want to see ... not what our readers see.

Make the same point from different directions. Sure, use your words. But consider adding a graph, comparison chart, photo, testimonial, statistic and/or video to support your message. You never know which will catch a non-reader's eye.

Capture interest with captions. Scanners are drawn to images, then they want to know the story behind what they see. Use photo captions as hot spots that encourage people to spend more time reading.

Speaking of hot spots...everything you write has them. But these valuable eye magnets are often ignored by writers.Think of hot spots as where the skimmer's eye goes first. Some hot spots are innate, some you create (as I've done in this post using bold face type.)

Numerals jump off the page; numbers as words get lost in the crowd. Twitter fans also know numerals use fewer characters. Example: 257 vs. two hundred fifty-seven.

Edit for engagement. Unlike a novelist, you've got just seconds to snag your reader's attention. Try these tweaking (aka editing) tips to make your copy/content more engaging and effective.

Button up. Test CTA copy to know which words work best on buttons. Then make sure your buttons are eye-catching using color, size and shape. You never know when a scanner will be ready to click, so test placement, too.

Long sentences and long paragraphs are...long. And difficult to scan, as well as read. Transform long ones into smaller, bite-size pieces. It's a simple edit.  

Interrupt eye flow. Use violators (aka snipes) to draw attention to important message points. While traditional bursts and banners still work, no one says you and your designer can't create your own.

Good luck reeling in more readers!

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 

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: