Copy - Content - Marketing Communications Planning

Thursday, 29 January 2015

What's in it for me?

This is one of the key questions that rattles round the heads of those who engage with your business or organisation.

Not just for the first time but every time.

And how individuals answer the question is important, because in many cases their not thinking of the benefit to the business or organisation they work in - they are thinking of protecting their position, status, existing suppliers, friendships, etc.

In many cases the biggest problem is how we protect the status quo

There's an old adage - "nobody got fired for hiring IBM".

If they did a great or crap job it was fine because they were perceived as the best of the best.

So when your're putting a set of messages together to position your business, organisation or even an idea, you need to consider the weird way we are wired.

Copywriting services are not well understood outside of large organisations and creative agencies. Prospects and existing clients get very protective of what they have approved and paid for in the past. Everyday I see appalling full page ads in local and national publications. I recognise that I could easily improve them. I could make them work harder and produce significantly better results.

But if I contacted the perpetrator of the ad and told them it was poor - it would be a short conversation, because there was nothing in it for them but humiliation. Even though the next ad would be so much better.

As a starting point, take your latest brochure or ad or landing page and ask yourself - Whats in it for them? What is the standout benefit?

Sometimes it's best to focus on them and not on what you are promoting.

The headline on the Simply Great Copy site is "Thanks for popping by - how can I help you today? Since I changed to this headline the time spent on the site has increased, with more page views and interestingly significantly more returns.

There must be something in it for them!

Image courtesy of scottchan at

Monday, 26 January 2015

Why invest in good commercial copywriting?

A prospect asked me last week - " why should I pay for you to write about my business?"

Here's my reply, just in case you have ever wanted to know why you should consider paying my or any other copywriters invoice.

One of the most important reasons is that I'm not writing about your business. I'm writing to every decision maker who could influence the success of your business explaining to them the benefits of what you do. It's not about you, it's about creating and managing the perceptions of what you do.

Next before I put "pen to paper" I ask lots of questions based on nearly 30 years of business communications experience across most market sectors. I'll ask what you need to happen and why, I'll help you create a bridging strategy from where you are now to where you want to get to. And I'm confident that most other copywriters would do as well.

Next I'll review what's gone before and how you currently promote your business. It's no good suddenly changing your marcomms approach, it will create questions, when want you need is clear messages that support your past and promote your future.

Then most copywriters will write for the media you need, but also make sure those messages can be used in various ways across online and offline channels.

Then a great copywriter will learn what makes your business and organisation special and build that into the copy so you can differentiate your business in a crowded marketplace and your existing clients can recognise you.

Then the work starts.

You should feel you are investing in a lot more than words. You should feel that your time is better spent doing what you do well, rather than doing what you think you can do as a compromise.

Love your copywriters, we are a nice bunch of creatives who can give you an edge - remember the word is mightier than the sword.

Friday, 23 January 2015

How to create a great headline - part 2

Here are 5 types of headline to get you thinking  - once you start to think of the media and the target audience you're half way there. I still see hundreds of ads which have the company name as the headline.

Who gives a monkeys that the headline says Blogs and Sons. Much better to have 50% Discount of all Double Glazing - Offer ends on the 31st Jan. And then put Blogs and Sons next to the phone number where is does some good. But the ego's of petty business people sometimes get in the way!

Dinky says " I like ads about food"

Here are 5 of my favourite headline styles or types:

Numbered reasons - 7 Reasons Why Your Ads always Under Perform, or 5 Simple Steps you can do Today to Save £300 on your Heating Bills

Being Provocative - Your Ads are Probably Wasting you Thousands or  Can you Really Trust your Business Partner?

Making a promise which has a big benefit - Invest in Bespoke Training and see 30% Improvement or Your Money Back - 40% Better Ink Usage Guaranteed

Information that helps -  Master Google+ in 10 days, or Secrets Advertising Sales People Don't Want you To Know

Ask a question - Do you want to be your own boss? or How much weight did you really want to lose?

Here's something to think about.

If you spend two hours thinking about the headline for your next bit of marketing collateral, it's probably 1 hour 50 mins more than most of your competitors!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

How to create a great headline part 1

Headlines appear everywhere.

Not just in ads - you can find headlines used across all media.

We expect to see a headline, we all want to know what is it we are going to invest our time in for the next few moments as we continue to engage with what has taken gained our valuable attention.

The headline has to work incredibly hard and often supports or is supported by an image and then the headline and image combination has to work with the copy and also be appropriate to enhance the Call to Action.

So I have a mindset that is based on the notion of "creating" a headline rather than just writing one.

It helps me to take into consideration everything the headline has to deliver.

So here are some of the questions I need to have answers to  before I start working on a headline:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What do you want them to do or change what they currently do?
  • What media are you using?
  • What headlines have you used before?
  • How much space have you bought?
  • Are there any character limits?
  • What images are you intending to use?
  • What logo's and strap-lines have to be included?
  • What copy has to be included?
  • What is the copy deadline?
  • How long will the media be in circulation?
  • Do you need the headline and copy translated for different markets?
  • What brand guidelines do I need to consider?
  • What is the sign off process?
  • Is there any A/B split testing data available?
  • Is this an individual activity or part of a cross media campaign?
And then there are all the questions which are specific to the market and competitor activity.

So it's not just about writing a few headlines and offering them up for approval.

You have to create headlines in the context of many variables.

That's why they are so much FUN.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

I've got a new writing partner

Meet Dinky

My near lady wife and I have always had a soft spot for Rescue Dogs, and over the years we've said a warm hello and a sad goodbye to 3 - Bella, Molly and Daisy

Dinky is our latest member of the team.

So you can expect the odd pic or story as time goes on. Apart from the fun of having a dog around, it puts so many things in perspective.

My 1st writing partner was a Blind Dog called Bella - even though she left us years ago the blog I wrote using her "voice" as inspiration is still pretty active.


So it's a day off from a business blog and a big HI from my new little friend.

Monday, 19 January 2015

How to get more of your emails open

Email is one of the most effective ways of generating demand for your products or services.

Spam is a problem, but many decision makers have now learnt how to deal with it, and are able to delete emails they don't want to see and make sure they get filtered out in future.

So what is it that gets attention in a positive way?

Three things are critical

  1. Where is the email coming from
  2. What is the subject line
  3. When you send it
Now there's not a whole lot you can do about your email address - but make it clear who you are and who you represent. Just another reason to choose your URL carefully and I'll muse more about when to send emails tomorrow.

Now the fun part - the subject line. Here are 5 types of subject lines that consistently get high open rates 
  1. Using words such as  Quick, Free, Limited 
  2. Asking a question 
  3. Including the name of the recipient
  4. Indicating that the email includes valuable information
  5. Offering a high perceived offer without falling foul of spam filters
And here are 5 types of subject line that should be avoided
  1. Intriguing or off the wall statements which don't support your proposition
  2. Any form of bad language or innuendo
  3. Specific pricing or discount offers
  4. Requesting the email be forwarded on to a different department or different person
  5. Capatalising on a something or someone in the news on that day
The other area which always needs to be considered is making sure you review the results of your email activity. Sometimes the slightest amendment can have a dramatic impact on results

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Big Issue seller reminded me of a powerful sales device

I was out and about doing some stuff in town yesterday

Shops are open A boards are inviting attention, the market traders are shouting  - you know how it is.

My focus was on some new batteries and weaving in and out of "slow moving traffic" in the form of dear old ladies with shopping trolleys!

I didn't see the Big Issue seller, but I heard him and my reaction was uncontrolled and came without thought or consideration.

His message was simple

" Big Issue - Only One Left - Get it now before it goes"

Now I do pick up the Big Issue every now and then, so I do know what it is. But frankly 9 times out 19 I scan read over a coffee and re-cycle it.

But the prospect of it being the last one and it might go before I could have it, stopped me thinking about what I needed to do and focus on why I might miss out on.

We are hardwired to make sure that things that might be scarce or running out are forced from the oldest part of our minds to be considered - because it used to be the difference between life and death.

When you are putting an ad headline or email subject line together, consider adding a timescale or numerical limit to your offer.


Candles for Sale £3.00 for a box of 10


Only 10 boxes left  - Candles £3 a box of ten - Make sure you're prepared for winter power cuts

Scarcity and particularly the prospect of missing out are powerful motivators, when used carefully are a sure way of selling almost anything.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

How to say sorry in writing

It's not everyday as a writer, I get asked to write a letter of apology for a client, but yesterday I did and so while the structure is still clear in my mind I thought it might be useful to others.

Sometimes is easier to pick up the phone or make a visit when you know you're in the wrong and you know you have to deal with the problem sooner rather than later.

There are many other times when you can't or it would be inappropriate, or there needs to be a record of your apology. This is where the letter or email comes in - email has the advantage of leaving an audit trail, but a letter is more personal.

Before you write it you need to have 6 things in mind:

  1. Why are you writing this apology? If there is any possibility of litigation, then stop and get some sound advice from your lawyer. If you are happy nothing can come back and bite you on the arse at a later date then move to stage 2
  2. Keep it short enough to be genuine, but not long enough to give any possibility of misinterpretation
  3. Use your regular salutation - so if you always say Dear Bob then do so, don't change to Dear Mr Jones
  4. In the first para - refer to the incident and apologise unconditionally. Don't dwell on any reference to their hurt feelings. Just identify the problem and say sorry
  5. Next para, include any extenuating circumstances, if relevant, but keep it very, very short and also explain if you intend to change a procedure, but again very short and sharp
  6. Closing para is a combination of hoping the matter is now resolved and that in the future you can continue to do business or maintain the relationship

Keep a copy on file - sign it and send it.

I recommend you don't send it recorded or special delivery - just send it first class.

If you are concerned about it being on record that you  have aplogised then consider email.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Use different media to match the key stages of the sale cycle

In simple terms we buy products or services for ourselves or our businesses because we have come to a point where we need to make a purchase.

Some buying cycles are really short - water is coming through the roof so you need a roofer NOW

Some are a lot longer - Your laptop is working fine but it's 5 years old and you think you should replace it within 6 months.

Regardless of what business or organisation you're in,  your customers will have their own buying cycle and you need to have a range of media that engages with them in the context of where they are in the cycle.

Yes,  it's possible to move them along to the point of purchase with offers etc, but generally there are 3 stages of the buying cycle that you need to aware of:

  1. Becoming aware of a need or aware of a new solution
  2. Research and qualification
  3. Decision time
Examples of awareness media include:
  • Trade or consumer ads across all media
  • Blogs
  • PR articles and editorial
  • Sales letters - Direct Mail
  • Banners
  • Newsletters
Examples of research media include:
  • White papers
  • Comparison sites and articles
  • How to guides
  • End user reviews and feedback
  • You Tube guides
Examples of decision time media:
  • Brochures, leaflets and flyers
  • Vouchers and discount offers
  • Case studies
  • Invitations to special sales events
  • Requests for specific information downloads
It's clear that different media have a role in the whole sales and buying cycle - the secret is to have something from each of the 3 sections available at all times.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Naming products and services is key to improved profitability and marketshare

Giving something a name doesn't sound that important but it can be the difference between failure and success.

Here's a classic example.

A company invented a spray that displaced water and coated what was sprayed with a film that gave some protection against damp. It also penetrated rusted components and freed them up.  It was extremely effective and ideal if you owned any UK built car in the 1970's!

Now how would you name it?

The market was primarily male.The product offered immediate benefits to amateur and professional mechanically minded people. Some challenge. You could have named it after the inventor, or perhaps related to it's primary function - so Damp Away Spray.

But no  - it was called WD40 and became instantly a product associated with many solutions.

Another example was a soap called Life Buoy. Washing with any soap eliminates the smell associated with stale sweat. But the manufacturers named the problem for the first time in a way which enabled it to be identified. So for the first time you could say that someone had BO. Which they created from body odour. They  named the problem and their soap was touted as the answer - when in reality any soap would have solved the problem.

Services need names as well as problems and products. The classic Bronze, Silver and Gold for car services is well understood. Another similar set which can be used to name professional services is Essential, Intermediate and Professional.

If you are developing a new product or service you are in a perfect position to create a name that helps you rather than hinders. I'm still amused by the number of incorporated businesses that have the owners name as the primary brand. So much easier if the name you bless your business or organisation with has something to do with what you do or make.

If you have an existing set of products or services that are struggling for an identity in a crowded marketplace than why not rethink their names. Group them together under the umbrella of a new brand perhaps, or better still create a value added identity that gives you scope for easier positioning.

Monday, 12 January 2015

How's your CTA's today?

A CTA or  Call to Action is an ingredient that is left out of many marketing communications.

CTA's are not the same as headlines, but they can be very useful in reinforcing the proposition in your headline, and they are usually positioned close to the contact details - so in many cases you will find CTA's at the base of an ad, or on the reverse of a sales leaflet.

CTA's are used to guide the reader to take an action.

It could be a simple as

Contact SGC On
07828 019308

Or more offer focused

Don't miss out on your FREE review
Call 07828 019308 

Or focused and friendly

Contact SGC and ask for  Chris before the end of Jan 2015 
for your FREE LinkedIn Summary
Tel 07828 019308 or email

CTA's ideally should give the reader a reason to get in contact. If they have a name and reason even better. 

Take a look at the CTA's you use and see if with a slight amendment you can more of them. When using Direct Mail the CTA will often be in the copy in several places. One of the most effective places is as a PS or even a PPS.

Friday, 9 January 2015

How you can cut your advertising costs without risking your or your company's image.

With a bit of knowledge you can make considerable savings when place advertisements - and you don't have to be difficult and make yourself and your company look cheap.

Before we get into some of the basics - like all good scouts the secret is being prepared.

Buying ad-hoc ad space because someone has contacted you with a special deal is usually a total waste of money. In fact paying for any ad space without a plan is usually a total waste of money.

So the first way of saving on advertising costs is to only buy ad space when you have a reason and it's part of an overall marcomms plan.

Next part of being prepared is make sure you have an ad or at least the basic elements to make an ad which has been well designed and professionally put together. If you rely on the publication to create you an ad, it's usually a total waste of money. Ads for your business or organisation need thinking about and must be put together by someone who knows what they are doing and knows what type of publication you intend to use. It's well worth having a basic ad layout created that you can adapt as the need arises. The response rate will be far superior than an ad which looks poor.

So you can save on your advertising costs by investing in great design and copy.

Let's assume you have your ad and you know which publications would be the best place to create demand for your products or services. If you phone and ask for a media pack you will be sent or be able to download all the information you will need to adjust your ad to fit and find out what the rate card price is. This is the maximum price and you should be looking for a 15% discount for a single ad and if you are placing a series - discounts start at about 30%.

So you can save money by always requesting a discount of the rate card price - and if they won't give you a discount do this.

Say to the publication that you have available ads ready to go in half and full page sizes. These are the most difficult to sell and when the publication is close to print deadlines you will get calls from frantic sales staff if they know you have an ad ready to go. Discount off the rate card should be about 60% but can be more.

Be prepared - have a professional layout which can be quickly adapted. Don't buy ad-hoc spaces, don't ever pay the rate card price, and always have an ad ready to go for the publications you want to be in.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Why magazine advertising will always be important

Before focusing on magazine advertising please consider three things advertising can do, that other marcomms activity cannot do so well:

  1. Ads can change perceptions -  advertisements are brilliant at changing the way your existing audience thinks about you. A new logo, new colourways, the promotion of new products or services are all supported by good trade and consumer ads.
  2.  Ads can educate - it's true you really don't know what you don't know. Ignorance is great. But once you know something and it's a game changer,  then you now know what you need to find out more about, and then you can start to research and inform yourself.
  3. Ads build and maintain brand identity - there are numerous case studies of leading brands at the top of their game who decided to stop advertising. They all lost market share. Recently Pepsi cancelled most of its trade and consumer ads and moved marketing activity to social media. Yes they got a whole load more likes, but they moved from No2 in the the market to No3 and lost 5% of revenue. Ouch!

There are other reasons to reflect on but just sticking with these 3 should be enough to convince you that advertising has a place in your marketing tool box.

And specifically magazine advertising, because magazines have a number of qualities that are very useful, these include:
  • Magazines usually have a well defined readership. It's easy to work out the best "persona profile" for your ideal client and then find the type of publications they read
  • Magazines are usually paid for, so the reader is investing in something- it's an active relationship not a passive one and this makes what's in the magazine valuable, interesting and credible
  • Within a magazine there are opportunities to sponsor pages, and include articles the month before the ad comes out or immediately afterwards. Subtle editorial items all help. Linking the ad with a code that drives traffic to your website for product sales or special information documents is another possibility -  the list is endless
  • Magazines have a very long shelf life, so your ad can have an impact over many weeks
  • Magazines are usually printed on high quality paper - so whatever your promoting looks great
  • Within a sector magazine there will be a theme or set of themes for each issue - you can find out in advance what these are and participate if it fits into your marketing plan
  • Magazines are not a one time read - on average they are looked at 2.5 times by each reader
These are just a fraction of good solid reasons to get a suite of great ads ready. 

Tomorrow I'll give you an insight into how you can cut your advertising costs without risking your or your company's image.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Why should you advertise in newspapers and magazines and love direct mail?

The demise of traditional paid for advertising and direct mail has long been predicted and there has in recent years been a reduction in marketing spend on these stalwarts of marketing communications.

But things are changing because the rampant love affair with all that is online is cooling.

There are very sound reasons to participate in the online world. For example personalised email marketing activity is extremely effective if a little time consuming in the set up stage.The jury is yet to be convinced about non directional tweets and posts, and the use of paid for ads across all digital platforms offers some return - but difficult to know how many non human clicks are used as part of the sales stats.

The basic issue and one which I intend to expand on over the next few days is that traditional paid for trade and consumer advertising and direct mail are designed to create demand. Websites,Blogs, Forums, Wikis, etc are best at capturing demand and delivering it to companies and organisations.

You can't develop a business without doing both and many only rely on a well optimised website to deliver new business.

Traditional paid for advertising and direct mail are brilliant at changing perceptions and informing existing and potential customers of important benefits associated with your products and services - not just scarcity and price offers, but also complex benefits that can be obtained if the customer adopts a new way of thinking.

This blog is not in anyway knocking digital marketing activity - far from it - all I want readers to consider is what marketing activity is used to create demand and what marketing activity is available to respond to that demand,within their own business or organisation.

Next up - why magazine advertising will always be important and simple tips to getting more from the space you're paying for.

Friday, 2 January 2015

How to convert customers and prospects to engage and purchase - part 5

Why should you care about what other's think and why is it important when looking to increase sales and engagement from your customers and prospects?

Not so many years ago you could short change a customer or let down a prospect and apart from the odd angry call, or letter of disappointment, not a lot happened. So if you kept most people sweet all was well. Add to this most people didn't have the time or skills to find another supplier, so they put up with what they got.
Well that's not the case now. The way you as a business owner and the business you own are perceived is critical to your success.

Here are 5 things you can do in January, which if you can achieve, will have a positive impact on your bottom line by this time next year:

  1. Appreciate you have 5 audiences you need on your side at all times - your staff, your active clients, your sleepy clients, prospects that have just found you, and your suppliers, Do you know how they perceive you and your business? If you don't then how can you mange their perceptions?
  2. Make a concerted effort to improve the speed you pay your bills. Nothing makes a positive impression to your suppliers than prompt payment. Your suppliers are normal folk who have contacts who will use your products or services - they don't live in a bubble!
  3. If you run your business with a management style based on fear, lies, and misinformation then take a few courses in leadership or be content with paying monthly salaries to people who will actively do everything they can to see you underachieve - even if it eventually brings down the company they work for. Staff who love to come to work and feel valued are one of your biggest assets in generating business. Ask yourself would you work for a boss like you?
  4. Work out who are the most profitable clients. Not just the biggest turnover, but the ones which generate the most profit. Then work out why they make the biggest contribution. Spend time with these customers and find out what their perceptions are of our business. It's usually got something to do with the way the customer is handled. Make sure you have a well documented and trained customer service ethos throughout the whole business - including you as the owner.
  5. Work out who your top 5 competitors are. Then spend time reviewing the way they manage the expectations of visitors to their website, or answer the phone. Take a look at their written and email communications. You can do this if you have time, or get a professional agency to help you. How does your company compare?
Why do these things - well as I keep on mentioning - most business don't appreciate that nowadays they don't get an opportunity to lose business because customers and prospects have all the power they need to go elsewhere, so don't give the opportunity to even quote.

Coming up in January a series of articles on why offline direct and indirect advertising is coming back BIG TIME.