The Design and Copy dance team: who’s the best one to lead?

Added Value At Work! on this printed page, the sidebar about the Covert Collection has bulletpoints with explanations that make them sell harder. Yes, it takes up more room, but this mailer did enormously well to the customer list. They ended up taking that copy and making it value added copy, or content, on the web.

Added Value At Work! on this printed page, the sidebar about the Covert Collection has bulletpoints with explanations that make them sell harder. Yes, it takes up more room, but this mailer did enormously well to the customer list. They ended up taking that copy and making it value added copy, or content, on the web.

Most online and printed catalog managers believe that the creative development of a catalog is based on design. So in most catalogs, designers take the lead in the creative process.

This is an unfortunate assumption, because more often than not, it leads to copy being an afterthought.

“Poor stepchild” copywriting really shows as such, in most catalogs. The result too often is the same old ‘product on a page’ routine, which we know from response numbers is not the best way to go.

A designer alone doesn’t have the background or selling experience needed to make a catalog the strong seller it can be.

Some of the world’s most effective ecommerce sites and catalogs are actually quite copy-driven, utilizing added-value content, strong headlines and powerful, well-directed copy. On the printed catalogs, it helps create a hierarchy on each spread. On an ecommerce site, it can make the difference between a dull nuts and bolts home page, vs. one that is lively and intriguing that keeps the customer in the site for much longer.

Next time you look at working on upgrading your catalog and ecommerce creative, consider these opportunities to make it more effective…

1. Work with a smart, strategic copywriter to look over the existing website and, if you have it, your catalog. Ask them whether they can envision a better way to sell a Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 7.19.21 PMproduct or a group of products. Then, ask them to write a small feature that would make the whole group of products work harder, to sell more.
2. Create a headline for your ecommerce pages and catalog pages that will be caught quickly by search – benefit driven, product name, etc. This is what is often called the long ‘tail’ headline that has so much, you can’t miss when it comes to being found.
3. Try friendly instead of simply factual. Even in business to business, an everyman approach beats out the cold hard factual approach or ‘engineerspeak’ every time. That’s because your customers are human, not machines.
4. Bullet points are easy – but in fact copy leading to the bullet points gives a reader a reason to dig in and spend more time with your product.

 

On this 4 gifts under $50 group, it's from a direct mail self mailer, and it's a great example of how a lead in paragraph will make the bulletpointed copy more meaningful.

On this 4 gifts under $50 group, it’s from a direct mail self mailer, and it’s a great example of how a lead in paragraph will make the bulletpointed copy more meaningful

5. Tell a story instead of telling facts. How did you discover this product? When did you realize this was something you, yourself could use? How did you work with the manufacturer to make it even better than ever? First person is a great way to sell if your writer is seasoned enough to write a good story.

In all of these cases, the one taking the lead is the copywriter, and that lead will alter the design of the spread, in some cases, substantially.

In a website, you can set this copy up to drill down easily to more and more facts. ON a printed catalog, you may lose a little selling space by making the copy less rudimentary.

But here is the other bonus with a seasoned copywriter taking the lead: the better the writer, the more likely they are to be able to reduce the amount of copy by writing it more efficiently! So what space is lost by copy changes may come back to you in brisker, more to-the-point (but not cold and fact-only) copy.

Keep in mind, shorter copy takes more time to write. Yes, you read that correctly. Even Mark Twain wrote to a friend (paraphrased) “I’m writing you a long letter today because I haven’t the time to write a short one.” If a master of words like Twain found short copy daunting, you can imagine it’s going to be a challenge for any writer. IN fact, the less seasoned the copywriter, the more naïve they’ll be about the work it takes to produce a good short copy block.

In the long run, all the suggestions I’ve made here amount to the same thing: selling harder by using one of the most powerful tools in your reach – smart copy!

So instead of making the copy an afterthought, team up your creatives earlier in the process and challenge them to, with both copy and design, make your catalog and ecommerce site really become selling powerhouses.

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AAA boosts travel to Hawaii with nostalgic effort for Pleasant Holidays.

Using an illustration filled with nostalgia, the prospective customer is reminded of the old days when Hawaii was the ultimate getaway. This makes them want to go all the more.

Using an illustration filled with nostalgia, the prospective customer is reminded of the old days when Hawaii was the ultimate getaway. This makes them want to go all the more.

Hawaii never looked fresher or more nostalgic than it did in this postcard promotion for Pleasant Holidays, done by my studio for AAA Travel, Northern California.

This is a client with great ideas and interest in breaking out of the box, but also dedicated to solid direct marketing principles so that they have measurable success when they mail a promotion.

The picture side of the card was adorned with an image that bespoke the old days of Hawaii when the idea of going there was like a seductive siren’s call to Haoles on the mainland.

A highly personalized message/mail side boosted the effectiveness of this oversized card, with a casual attitude that reminded the reader of the fun they could have once they traded in their dress shoes for flip-flops.

The production and personalization was done by Brian Schott’s company, AdMail, in Hayward CA, who posesses remarkable capability.

We were delighted to see how well this card performed, and had even more of a surprise when a friend of mine told me she’d recieved a beautiful card for Hawaii in the mail — and it turned out that it was this one. She had posted it on her bulletin board!

AAA Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays postcard message side

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June 6, 2014 · 4:47 pm

10 tips for creating a better social media campaign

Social Media is a mixed bag, because many clients and agencies will waste inordinate amounts of time (time = money) on campaigns that don’t pay off. Agencies talk clients into some crazy and useless stuff that enables the agency to show off some new skill… clients jump in too quickly because their boss told them they must be into the social media scene.

Stop the madness!  Here are 10 tips based on research and work we’ve done with clients to date:

  1. Choose your platform based on where your people are going, not on where you just assume they go. LinkedIn groups may be better for B2B, Twitter and Facebook are considerations for niche market consumer products. For scientists and engineers there may be completely different blogs and platforms. Do research to find out WHERE YOUR customers are networking before you start.
  2. Choose a limited number of platforms. There are hundreds out there, but only one or two are right for you, and you can only maintain a few if you’re as short on time as most of us are. Don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s worse to stop one of them once you’ve started, than to never start it at all.
  3. Hire someone who’s a good writer to do the work. Just because it isn’t directly connected to profits (yet) doesn’t mean you can hire someone who is not an experienced writer to do the work. I have seen clients hire newbies right out of college because ‘they know more about social media’ but the problem is, they don’t know enough about human behavior (or your product line or service) to create content that’s really engaging. Businesses that hire ghost writers from foreign countries with extremely cheap labor think they’re going to get something worth reading, but this is rarely the case — the cheapest writing is cheap because the writers find something online and plagiarize it. Or sometimes they just write in circles to fill in word counts but provide no real beneficial copy. The ones who do the best job are folks who know you best. And it’s worth it to hire them instead of putting up with the cheapest.
  4. Limit how much time is spent – that means time budgeting and sticking with it. Social media can be huge sink hole of time.
  5. Keep it interesting. If adding video really adds value – products in use or an expansion of culture, think about it. If you can share and access goodies that are out there already to support your brand and your culture, do it. And never, ever let the same thing show up again and again, or you’re bound to bore your customers and they’ll opt out.
  6. Make it useful.  If you know your customer well, you can guess what kinds of apps they might find helpful. You can create lists of things that people wish they had a list for, from anniversary gifts to never-fail treatments for dry skin.
  7. Make it viral. If you do a great job with your content, you’ll notice that you’re getting more traffic from outside your current universe. That’s because the content was so great, people passed it along to others whom they thought would enjoy it, too. That is the ultimate compliment… when your content is forwarded to others.
  8. Measure as much and as often as you can. There are measuring tools and you can set up your own tests with specific product to create opportunities to measure.
  9. Write thoughtfully and efficiently. One of our clients writes most of a week’s facebook entries and tweets over the course of about 2 to 3 hours on a Saturday morning. This is not rocket science folks – it’s sharing news and cultural goodies that your market wants to see and will share with others. And it’s certainly not going to keep their attention if you discuss inane stuff that doesn’t move them.
  10. Don’t be seduced by all the “pundits” who are telling you it’s the road to riches. Companies like Dell poured millions into this before it started giving them a payoff. The pundits are building their businesses on your back. Watch YOUR back!

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5 creative ways to get a new job as a writer or designer

I was recently in a discussion online with a group of creatives, where the topic of interviews came up. The basis of the question was, is it ever OK to ‘cheat’ a little bit in order to get an interview or be hired. By this they meant, exaggerate accomplishments, etc.  As you might imagine, the discussion was quite lively, but the consensus among professionals was that you never exaggerate — you tell the truth and hope you’ll stand out among the fakers who are also interviewing.

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Carol Worthington-Levy c. 1984 – during my first year as a direct marketing creative.

There is a shortage of integrity when it comes to interviewing for jobs, and creatives are not alone in this, but we’re claiming to be creative — so we should be able to develop a more creative strategy to get a job!

I can’t say I’m a bona fide authority on this, but I HAVE gotten my foot in the door a few different ways that I’ve been told were worth sharing in this forum.

Now, I am not an ivy league graduate or even a grad of a private university. I went to a state university of 12,000 out in western Pennsylvania and my final degree was not in copywriting or design or art direction — it was in fine arts and teaching. There were times when I wondered how in hell I’d get into advertising. Here are some of the things I did that proved helpful for me to get not only my full time jobs, but also, eventually, a vibrant freelance career.

For stark beginners or those ‘starting over’…

1. Learn specific skills outside of your scholastic environment.

Beginners need examples of their work. But work done in a classroom has limited appeal, often being irrelevant. We rarely graduate with a skillset that makes us ready to walk into an agency unless we happen to be a grad of a place like Art Center or RISD.

So after my first 2 or 3 unsuccessful interviews, I realized that I was missing some essential skills to work professionally in the field of design.

A conversation with a friend opened a door — his stepfather was representing a company that had a four-book-course on doing layout for advertising. He GAVE me a set — I will always appreciate his generosity, and I still have the books as a memento of an important step in my career!

Much of this was very new for me. So I paged through the lessons in the books and learned how to hand-letter and lay out ads the way an agency would. This did not actually take much time to learn! I really worked at it, with the goal of filling a portfolio with quality examples – just enough to show a potential employer that I knew how to do it, and was willing to work hard.

From there, I looked in magazines for ads that I thought were missing the mark. And starting from scratch, I redid about 10 of them, writing my own headlines, drawing marker comps and using techniques i had learned from the books.

When I next interviewed, I was very clear with my interviewer that I had not been trained in this specific field, so I self-trained using a great course, and then I developed these concepts as new options. I even showed the original ads so they could see I hadn’t copied anything from the ad.

By building my own portfolio as I did,  potential employers could see that I wasn’t a whiner and I wasn’t afraid to work hard. And they could also see how I liked doing this work. They were impressed, and I got a job quickly after that, as a junior… just starting and a crap salary … but so grateful to finally have my foot in the door!

For any interview at any level:

2. Listen, ask questions, and accept constructive critique.

In addition to showing the examples (now, my portfolio) to new interviews, I called one of the folks who had interviewed me before, who had very kindly told me that I was missing these skills, and he allowed me to show him what I’d done. While he’d already hired someone, he assured me that I was ready and was proud that I’d used his critique wisely.

I had asked this potential employer specific questions about why he didn’t feel I was ready (when I was in the interview) —  and he provided it! So while he did, I listened and came back later to show I’d listened.

He was impressed enough that he referred me to another art director for an interview!

3. Don’t dwell on your old examples.

If you were lucky enough to be trained in your creative field, It’s worth it to keep and show some assignments you had for your first interviews, but after your first job, put it away! Interviewers want to see real work.

If you have work that’s over ten years old in your portfolio, you probably should remove it before going out again. It looks odd to employers to see old stuff, and it requires too much explaining. Often it just looks old, and employers don’t like that.

4. A foot in the door is great — but will a toe do the job?

Connect with a company like Aquent or CreativeGroup, who specialize in employment of part time or freelance creatives. If you believe your days are numbered at your current job, it’s worth it to go through the process of qualifying before you’re without a job, because you’re more confident and more attractive as someone who is working. Accept assignments that are short term or freelance, then perform your stuff. Often they continue your assignments until it makes sense for them to just hire you on full time.

Why is this a popular resource for agencies? It’s an easy way for agencies and businesses to ‘test drive’, hire and try talent to see who fits into their organization best. Now that our nationalized healthcare situation is happening, you can work like this and still have health insurance.

5. Join and participate.
All over the country there are professional organizations that meet monthly or quarterly, and sometimes even weekly, Local branches of the DMA and the Advertising club are typical. Despite the cost of the meetings, plan to go to meetings, get there early, put on a smile and work the room. Ask questions of other people – find out what kind of biz they have etc.  Make friends, and you’ll meet potential clients.

If there is a BMA – business marketers association – those meetings can be fun and it’s rare to find a creative coming to the meetings. But these people need love (and great creative) too!

The organization you’re going to for the meetings is undoubtedly a volunteer organization. Offer to help the organization with promotions and so on. This is a good place to meet people for potential business or a job, too. As you have gotten to know them better put it out there that you are looking. (But wait til you know them a little bit so you don’t look like you’re only there to find a job.)

The bottom line is, keep your integrity, don’t feel desperate enough to show work you didn’t do or exaggerate. Instead, show them what a go-getter you are through some of these suggestions. Persevere, keep an open mind, and eventually you will find work you really enjoy.  You might end up moving from job to job more than you may like…. but remember, it’s all part of the adventure of developing a career! And wherever you go, there is something you can learn from someone there.

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Schola Cantorum season brochure 50th anniversary season

Roll folded self mailer utilized in-concert photography of the choir in action, to convey the excitement of performance

Roll folded self mailer utilized in-concert photography of the choir in action, to convey the excitement of performance

One of the most important pieces of branding and promotional work for a musical arts organization is its season brochure. The Schola Cantorum season brochure must be hard working, visionary and exciting enough to keep a reader’s interest long enough to get them to pick up the phone or go online and order season tickets.

This piece also is an essential piece when going for grants — the more confident, professional and powerfully a group is portrayed, the more likely they will earn funding for their future endeavors.

Schola Cantorum has a history of artistry and over 50 years has presented over 100 world premieres of commissioned works. This history and integrity of musicianship is what we have portrayed in this season brochure.

 

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Generate content for your site… and rake in qualified new prospects!

Everyone’s talking about web content these days. It’s said to be a necessity to get web visitors both the first time, through search, and then in follow up, as customers research products and services from many different angles.  The world is hungry for interesting, helpful, informative and quality-dense content. Yet you’ve probably noticed, there’s really not out there. Much of what we find online is rehashed, regurgitated and not worth our time.

Websites with good content get high rankings by visitors, who tell their friends and colleagues. Websites with no content, or dreck for content, don’t get the attention or the appreciation that results in higher rankings. Great web content generates customers through organic search — people search specific topics and they find you.

Great content generates credibility – your customers and prospects like you more, believe you know more than the competition and want to see more about you.

“Nearly half (46 percent) of CMOs at Fortune 1,000 companies attribute engaging content that generates comments as the leading factor to blog success.” — eMarketer

Why is it so hard to find worthwhile content? Well, for one thing, it takes time and effort, and brains to create decent web content. That means that, if you want to improve your site, either you have all the time in the world and are a great writer, or you need to fill your world with sources to generate these interesting articles and other such content.  Image

What makes for good web content? It’s all about introducing some different value-added pieces to your customers and followers!  If you were your customer, what would be interesting, useful, something you’d go back to see again and again? What would you pass along to your colleagues or friends?

• Intriguing news or information
Original reporting.
Research on something that is of interest to someone in your market.
Analysis of news or research, as long as it’s insightful and leads to conclusions that jive with the beliefs of your web audience.
Apps that are fun, interesting or useful — the key word here being useful. There are tons of great game apps out there already, so if you are thinking of a game, it has to be over-the-top great.  Think of which apps you use the most often – things that give you shortcuts to figure things out are probably highest on the list. Consider something like that.
Recipes – even if you’re not a cooking site, there may be a good reason for one. Think of what your prospect likes the most.
Music or pictures that relate to your audience’s interests in some way.
Contests or quizzes with fun prizes – which by the way will not need be super-high value, as long as it’s something your audience likes. A contest might be as simple as ‘sign up for our informative emails and you’ll have a chance to win in our monthly drawing for an XYZ.’  Or it could be something more creative such as ‘Design your perfect jacket and you could win a backstage slot on Project Runway.’ In Business to business, it might be a ‘Spot the hazard’ in a photo if you’re selling safety fixes for industrial plants.
• Guides such as ‘How to start a business in the XYZ industry’ or ‘What credentials do you need to be a public school teacher (name your state and we’ll give you the answer).
• Videos. Your videos should be bright and useful, but don’t think you must hire a videographer to do it! Here is a great video that’s web/email content for Wine of the Month Club that is obviously homegrown but took on a life of its own… and sold a hell of a lot of wine!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brdZNeFwd3U
• Big ideas! That is, whatever you have as content should have one singular idea as the driver for that particular piece of content. Don’t try to do too much in one shot — people get lost and they turn away.

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Many of these ideas can be included in a blog, which should be somehow attached to your website… but often you can and should develop this kind of content in your website, your emails and more.

As you can see, there are so many ways to add content – many I have not thought of here. So, what’s defined as BAD content — what should you avoid?

• Old articles or white papers that everyone’s seen already.
• Benign articles that have been hacked apart by your legal department so the content has no value. (My old friend Howard used to refer to the legal department as the ‘Sales Prevention Department’.)
• Poorly written articles with bad punctuation, run-on sentences, sloppy grammar. In advertising and marketing, grammar need not be ‘King’s English’ but it should be exciting, interesting and easy to understand at a glance. Paragraphs should be short and sweet, vocabulary should be easy, although definitely not geared as stupid (Read some of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ books for ideas).
• Bad headlines – one of the fatal flaws if you don’t have a Big idea is that you can’t determine a good headline or title or name for the piece. An hilarious article about bad headlines (touching often on bad grammar) can be found here: http://contentmarketingtoday.com/2012/07/24/how-to-keep-bad-headlines-from-burying-your-content/

Writing your content – There are entire books about web content writing, but here are a few highlights that should get you going.

• Allow time to figure out a list of content options, and then develop a schedule to develop them all in a timely manner.  For ideas, see this article: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2011/01/marketing-priorities-spreadshee/
• Set some budget aside
to give you room to hire some content developers.
• Develop a mission statement
for the addition of your content – why you’re including it, what you hope to achieve, etc.
• Ask your followers what they think would be good content
.
• Load the copy with keywords
— yet make it still something you would enjoy reading. Sometimes there’s so much emphasis on keywords that the copy reads like a chart instead of a warm and engaging article.• Keep the subject hot, relevant and current.
• Update your content regularly so you reward people for returning to your site.
• Make it fun to read, to use, to pass along. Remember that if you want your visitors to pass your site/content link along to others, it must be something that makes the recipient think well of the sender. If your web content is lame, your follower will face embarrassment when they pass it along.

Content isn’t just some band-aid you plug into your site to tell people you have it. It’s a sales tool that can help you generate better quality followers and prospects, and even help you close on sales. You have so much to gain! Start putting your plan together now, and if you need some ideas or a brainstorm, don’t hesitate to contact me to chat.

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e-Testing for your e-Success

offer test three way isuzu gps web

When Isuzu tested three offers, they learned that it’s possible to offer TOO much for a test drive. they offered a backpack, a $50 value gasoline card, and a GPS! The GPS they offered brought in a lot of bad leads for test drive, just to get the gift. Yes, it’s true, if you offer enough incentive, people will even spend time with an Isuzu salesman!

Regardless of the channels in which you sell, testing is invaluable to your business. And offer testing, in particular is misunderstood in both practice and power. Yet testing seems complicated and time consuming! Is it worth it?

The answer is: you can’t afford NOT to test. Here’s why: each program you’re running has many elements that could be doing their job well … or they could be failing! The ONLY way you will ever know what works best to help you win customers, is to test as many of these elements as you can, in a disciplined environment.

Offer testing: increase order sizes, get orders in faster

The offer is something you “dangle” in front of your prospect or customer in order to change their behavior. If you want your average order size to be higher, make them an offer that slightly raises the bar for how much they’d normally spend. So in prospecting, if your average first order comes in at $55, then you might develop an offer for new customers to get that first order $10 or $20 higher.

Your offer can and should speed up their response, too. An offer in direct mail shouldn’t give the customer more than 15 days from the day the piece lands in their mailbox. In email, we’re seeing offers that are 5 days or less, since it’s a more immediate media; in fact I’ve seen some amazing promotions that were “this day only” or even “within 3 hours!”

The fact is, if a prospect has too much time to think about it, they’ll put it aside and forget about it, even if they were motivated to act at the time they saw the promotion. You want to make sure they really act, when the offer is top of mind.

What makes a great offer?

So often I hear people say, “We don’t have an offer because we don’t want to discount.” The irony is this: a discount is usually the last thing I’d suggest as a really great offer… although it still must be tested.  The offers I’ve seen to work best have been relevant and interesting or different ‘gifts’, ranging from online-fulfilled gift cards for sister companies, to signed, framed limited edition photographs.

A winning offer has something that reminds people of you when they use or enjoy the offer. It also has good perceived value, but not so high that someone will order, and then return, just to get the offer.

B2B should have offers just as consumer products and services do – but their offers may be different in scope or purpose. White papers are common but only effective if they are current and a truly intriguing topic. So a white paper that just tells them about your company is not a good offer.

Sweeps and drawings can be a good offer for some efforts; getting people to sign up for email, for example. But a sweeps will typically win in the “front end”, but lose in the “back end”. This is not always the case though; if your list is really exemplary, then your leads may all be strong despite the lure of the sweeps. This is why we test!

Another side of B2B offers is concern regarding value. Often, companies won’t let employees accept something more valuable than, say, $10. When New Pig developed offers that included kooky toys and t-shirts, they fit the bill for value — plus, they’re collectible and fun. Even in B2B, human behavior plays a huge role.

We developed a pizza giveaway for HP, generating high quality relationships and sales. Pizza was universal and fun in appeal – and it got attention because of how unusual an offer it was.

A powerful lever for response

I’ve seen one offer double or even quadruple response from another in an A-B test. I’ve seen other offers flat line! But the bottom line is, if you believe that offers don’t work for you, then you just haven’t tested enough.  Be sure to measure test results carefully in both the front, and the back end. Tenacity is a key to successful testing.

Learn and grow with strong testing programs. You may become addicted to the excitement of more rewarding efforts and stronger sales!

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