The Long Copy Debate

Ask almost any business owner whether their marketing materials should feature long or short copy, and their answer will almost certainly be: “My clients just don’t have time to read long copy”.

Which is strange, really, because research and testing has proven time and time again that long copy outsells short copy almost unfailingly.

Yes, even though times are changing, and we are all getting busier and more frustrated by the amount of advertising out there, it still remains true that long copy outsells short copy.

The important point to remember is that your long copy must be well-written, targeted, relevant, interesting and compelling.  If you can genuinely claim to have achieved all of those requisites, then your true prospect (yes, that is the key!) will read every last word.

And, if you can write copy gripping enough to lead your true prospect through every word, then you will have your sale (or your lead, or whatever) – because in your long copy you will have given all the relevant information, provided every benefit and countered every objection.  You will have done the job of your best salesperson.

So, before we discuss the inevitable qualifications and considerations that need to be addressed, let’s take a look at how to make sure that your copy is compelling enough to lead your prospect to the next step:

1) The Reading Process.

First, it is vital to understand the process that your prospect goes through when he (I apologize if your prospect is a she, but bear with me) first sees your communication.  He will review your piece in a very predictable pattern:

1.    The graphic or picture will catch the eye first

2.    Then the eye moves downward, hopefully to your headline

3.    Then your prospect will scan the copy for interesting points, registering only those flashes that leap off the page

4.    This will lead to the end of the copy (the p.s. in a sales letter) where he can find the conclusion of your message

5.    Then, if what he has seen so far has retained his attention and grabbed his interest, he will go back and read the whole thing through.

2)      The Layout

So, obviously it is vital that your message is laid out in such a way that your most persuasive pieces of information are accessible and prominent.  Here are a few tips:

1.    Ideally, your main graphic should be at the top of the page as the eye automatically moves down from there.  A headline or text above the graphic is easy to ignore.

2.    Your headline is perhaps the single most vital element in persuading your prospect to look further into your copy.  Unfortunately, writing good headlines is a subject for an entirely separate article, but think carefully about offering your prospect something that will really grab them.

3.    Once you have got your prospect past the headline, it is very important that your copy is broken into small, manageable chunks or paragraphs.  Pepper your copy with visual devices such as bold text, underlining, bullet points, colour etc, as a way to visually pull out your most important selling points and draw attention to your benefits.

4.    Always end your piece with a very strong argument – a summary of your benefits and a powerful call to action, ideally with a sense of urgency (such as a time limited offer).  Believe it or not, a p.s. will always improve your response.

3)      Your Copy

When writing your copy, try to really develop an empathy with your prospect.  Try to remember the following:

1.    Write in your prospect’s language.  Imagine the way your prospect speaks and thinks, and try to write that way.  Avoid industry jargon unless that is how your prospect also thinks.   This will show that you understand your prospect, and help you to develop an empathy with them.

2.    Keep it simple.  Here you have to draw a balance between offending your most educated prospect and confusing your least educated prospect.  But remember, it doesn’t matter how smart you think you sound if your prospect doesn’t really get what you mean.

3.    Speak to the logical and the emotional factors behind the purchase decision.  And remember, even in a business-to-business purchase there is always a personal, emotional element to that decision.  Focus on it.

4.    Focus on benefits, not on yourself.  Sadly, your prospect is not that fascinated by you or your company, they are just interested in “what’s in it for me”.  So make sure that the benefits that your prospect will experience are up front.  Obviously there is a place for your credentials and experience, but that is supportive, it should not be your main message.

5.    Make every word count.  Finally, review your copy to make sure that every single word is relevant and interesting to your prospect.  They will need a good reason to carry on reading every step of the way, and you run the risk of losing them if you stray from their precise needs and desires.

So, writing good long copy is not as easy as it sounds, but when you get it right, it makes an enormous difference.

However, before I sign off, there are a couple of qualifications to make:

¨      E-Mail is a difficult format to read and your e-mail messages should be as concise as possible.  However, they should always provide a link to a website where your prospect can get the full information.

¨      Long copy has been enormously successful on the web, and yet many people still shy from it because reading on the screen is definitely harder than reading in print.  I think the key here is to make sure that your copy is really easy to scan.  Plan your visual devices for even the smallest screen so that all your readers have a compelling reason to scan down.

This has turned into a pretty long article (well, really it had to be, didn’t it?), but it is impossible to place too much emphasis on the fact that if your copy is well-written, relevant and targeted, your prospect will read all the information you can provide.

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