Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Writing about intangibles

Next week I'm teaching a mini-workshop for writers at a major financial services company.  In preparation, I've been reviewing what I've learned writing for all types of insurance (including pet and burial) as well as other financial services including mutual funds.  Some of these points may seem basic, but they're often overlooked and/or under-valued.

Call to action (CTA).   Tell people what you want them to do and why they should do it.  What action do you want your customer or prospect to take as a result of reading your message?  What can you do to motivate them to call, click or complete an application?

Humanize benefits.  Show people enjoying the end benefit of what you sell.  For example, most parents want their children to get an education.  So, if you market education loans or life insurance, show a smiling graduate in cap and gown with a benefit caption below it.

“You can’t say that.”  The next time your attorney or compliance officer utters these words after reading your copy, respond with, “OK, what can I say?”  It may mean changing just one or two words and make your copy even stronger. 

Engage readers with something unusual.  Providing toilet tune-ups is more attention–grabbing than saying you check for mundane leaks and rusted parts.  And who could have imagined a gecko would become the unforgettably engaging spokesperson for an auto insurance company with an otherwise-difficult-to-remember name?    

Focus on customer benefits, not company history. Nobody really cares that you are headquartered in Omaha and have been in business over a hundred years unless you tell them why it’s important.  You have a hundred-year history of paying claims promptly and customer service calls are all taken in the heart of America, not off-shore. 

Create an offer with value that supports what you sell.  Instead of giving away tangibles such as iPods, toasters and free dinners, provide an easy-to-use online calculator that helps people figure how much insurance they need.  Or provide a free checklist that assists potential customers in comparing confusing mortgage loans, apples-to-apples. Today’s consumers value content that educates and empowers.   

Keep it simple.  Intangibles like insurance are often perceived as being difficult to understand.  Confusion slows down decision-making and results in avoidance.  Your marketing mission is to make your product simple and understandable.  For example, Aflac has forever redefined disability coverage as something that simply pays you money when you’re hurt and miss work. 

Never use the words “applying is easy' unless it’s true.  When was the last time you completed your company’s application?  Give it to 5 people that fit your customer profile but don’t work for your company, and ask them to fill it out. Watch them do it. Simple-to-complete applications/forms combine the right words with good design, simple organization and readable typefaces.    

Write in plain English.  Yes, insurance and financial services do have regulatory content that must be included. However, don’t pepper your marketing copy with killers words like “undersigned,” “heretofore,” “the party of the first part,” and other legal gibberish in mouse type.  Instead, use plain English that’s easily understood.  Said another way, don’t let compliance officers, attorneys or software developers write your marketing copy.       

Have your creative team work as a team.  No matter which type of media delivers your message or which channel you're selling through, you get the best, most effective end-product when you have your writer, designer, programmer and others involved in the creative process work together.  Don’t isolate them in cubicles, silos and windowless corners.  The best ideas come from shared understanding and creative collaboration. 

There's a lot more to talk about but this is going to have to do for starters.

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