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Crafting Words that Get Results.

Your Profit-Boosting web copywriting specialist for the fitness, lifestyle and travel industries.



Web Marketing Revisited, 10 Years Later

Web marketing revisited, 10 years later

Web marketing got turned on its head, spun around, and slapped a few times for good measure when The Cluetrain Manifesto (http://www.Cluetrain.com) was published in December 1999.

The Cluetrain Manifesto posited 95 theses about the way your prospects and customers think.  A change from “corporate speak” to authentic conversations.

By the way, don’t buy the book!  (Unless you’re like me and can’t read a book without highlighting all over it and taking notes in the book itself.)  You can read the entire book online at no cost at http://www.Cluetrain.com/book/index.html

Web marketing forecasted

Some companies got it, a lot didn’t.

Marketing executives scoffed at its claims.  Ad agency types laughed at it.  And a majority of big businesses ignored its predictions (small businesses were more likely to jump on board.) 

Could that have been the beginning of the demise of big business as we knew it at the end of the century?

Ten years later, no one is laughing anymore.

Many, if not most, of the marketing ideas forecasted by The Cluetrain Manifesto have come to fruition.

One was completely off the mark.

Some of the book gets a bit deep and existential, but the overriding idea is that markets are conversations.

In other words, your ads should be a conversation with your customer, not a pompous lecture.

Web copywriting requires conversational writing

With the idea of “ads being a conversation with your customer” as a starting point, here are 5 of the 95 points that nailed it:

# 3   Conversations among human beings sound human.  They are conducted in a human voice.

Are your ads written the way people talk, or the way ads talk?

continuing in this vein…

# 4   Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

Would your prospects describe your ads as “open, natural, uncontrived”?

# 15   In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business – the sound of mission statements and brochures – will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

I’m all for mission statements and visions and purpose statements and so on.   But have you noticed?   They’re not quite as prominent as they were 10 years ago.  As a copywriter, I’ve only been asked to craft a mission statement once.  That’s all.

# 16   Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

Folks can recognize a pitch coming from a mile away.  Tom Hopkins-style selling had its place, especially in the 80’s and 90’s.  But these days, a different approach is needed.

It’s the reason my copywriting business is flourshing (even in this recession.)  And,

# 24   Bombastic boasts – “We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of xyz” – do not constitute a position.

Advertisers often claim to have what the customer wants, such as “highest quality at the lowest prices”, but fail to offer any evidence.

Direct response copywriters (successful ones, at least) avoid these kinds of unsubstantiated claims like the plague.

Kill the clichés!  Please.

Conversational writing hits the mark

These 5 theses (and a number of others from the 95 in the book) are fundamental to my style of copywriting I call conversational writing.

It’s a style of copywriting I’ve been developing over a 24-year career in direct sales and marketing.  Today, I use it to inject life (and serious results) into the marketing efforts of my small business clients.

Advertising dead?

Oh, and which of the 95 theses was completely wrong?

# 74   We are immune to advertising.  Just forget it.

What?!?  Advertising is alive and well.  Conversational writing especially hits the mark.  And web marketing that uses conversational writing and direct response techniques kicks some serious butt.



Super Bowl Marketing Goes Direct Response

Super Bowl marketing goes direct response

As a big football fan and passionate copywriter and marketer, I always have a conflict on Super Bowl Sunday.  When do I get up for a beer or something to eat?  Do I miss a couple downs or miss a commercial?

My professional side won out this year, and I watched all the commercials.  Even took notes (yes, I’m an advertising geek.)

Direct response copywriter

I’m a direct response copywriter, so I watch the ads with a different eye than the typical viewer.

[quick aside: Direct response advertising is the kind of advertising that makes people whip out their credit cards and buy.  Not next week.  Not tomorrow.  But right now. ]

“Image” ads vs. direct response ads

Most TV ads, and especially Super Bowl ads, are written by “agency” copywriters.  The copy is short, clever – even humorous.  But typically, those ads have no “call to action”.  Big difference.

I figure, if a company is going to spend $2.5-2.8 million for a 30-second spot, they better ask the viewer to do something, right?

A number of ads at least gave out their website address, which is a good start.  I’m always amazed when a company doesn’t give out their website.  Hello?!  It’s 2010! 

The direct response winners

But beyond that, I saw four clear winners:

  1. Papa John’s – the first commercial with a real call to action!  “Go to PapaJohns.com for a special offer.”  I like it, and I will.
  2. GoDaddy.com – I won’t get into the blatant use of sex to sell (that’s a whole series of blog posts), but there’s a reason GoDaddy.com has become the largest domain registrar.  I use them myself for about 17 domain names I own, and no, I’m not an affiliate.  They’re getting people to their website, which is 1/3 of the battle.
  3. Denny’s – Can you argue with a free Grand Slam breakfast?!  A TV ad doesn’t get more direct response than “Come to Denny’s for a free Grand Slam breakfast this Tuesday.”  Brillliant.  And finally…
  4. HomeAway.com – The sleeper hit ad of Super Bowl XLIV.  Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reviving their Vacation roles.  A great tagline: “Rent a home for half the price of a hotel.”  And an easy-to-remember website that they tell you to go to: HomeAway.com.  Winning combination all around.

I may have missed another direct response ad (and GoDaddy and HomeAway weren’t pure direct response anyway), but those are all I found.

Anti-direct response

The others?  Those companies will have a hard time measuring response from their multi-million dollar ads.

That’s the beauty of direct response in any form – you can measure results.

And the “What Were They Thinking?” award goes to (a tie for first place)…

DoveCareForMen.com and Audi.  Seriously.  What were they thinking?  These might even see a decrease in sales.  Terrible ads, for different reasons.

Bring on the marketing!

My prediction for Super Bowl XLV?

More direct response ads as companies start demanding results from their ad agencies.

We’ll talk TV ads again on February 7, 2011, after Brett Favre is crowned Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLV.



A Copywriting Lesson from Eulogies

A copywriting lesson from eulogies

“He’s either kidding or lost it all together, or this is going to be a serious stretch!”

I can hear what you’re thinking.  Stay with me for 63 seconds.  This will be a quick one.

I’ve been a copywriter for about 5 years, crafting strong, compelling messages that strike an emotional chord.  Two years ago, I had to craft words of an entirely different kind.

On a warm summer night at St. Mary’s in Port Washington, Wisconsin, I gave the eulogy at my grandma’s funeral. 

No, I didn’t draw from my experience as a copywriter.  It came naturally and effortlessly.  And it resonated with my audience because I followed five principles that apply equally as well to copywriting.

I didn’t have help when I wrote my grandma’s eulogy, but I recently came across a book by Cyrus M. Copeland, “Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of our Time”.

5 simple copywriting tips for all marketers

Mr. Copeland’s tips:

  1. Start strong.  Great eulogies don’t begin with “We are gathered here today to remember so-and-so…” (except in the movies).  By the same token, don’t start your web or print copy with clichés. 
  2. Personable is preferable.  Great copy, like great eulogies, tells stories, often in the first person, and often irreverent.  Readers and web visitors (and mourners) want something real.  If you can elicit a genuine laugh, all the better (yes, even at a funeral.)
  3. Tell the truth.  ‘Nuf said.
  4. Be specific.  This is a tried and true copywriting tip, but apparently it applies to eulogies, too.  If you could just as easily be talking about Aunt Mary as Aunt Bertha, you haven’t acccomplished anything.
  5. Finish memorably.  End on a powerful updraft.  True for web copywriting and print copy, and true for eulogies.  James Woods’ eulogy on Bette Davis contained these last words: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy eternity.”  Memorable finish indeed.

Check your web copy and print marketing materials

See if your web copy or print copy passes the “eulogy test”.  And if you ever have the honor of giving a eulogy for a loved one, check out Cyrus’s book.



Standout Web Copy and Web Design

Standout web copy and web design

Strong web copywriting breaks through the marketing noise.  Consumers are bombarded with marketing every day, and you need to stand out.  The best way to do that is with strong web copy.

The same principle applies to web design.

A web design marketing tip

You need to have strong web design for your site to stand out for web users.  But instead of breaking through the noise, you need to keep the noise down!

Let me explain.

I’m not a web designer or web developer.  I’m a web copywriter.  But the copywriting principle of “keep it simple” applies to design, too.  Stated differently, keep the noise down.

Eliminate these on your website

Good copywriting plus easy-to-grasp pages equals more customers.  Two enemies of easy-to-grasp pages:

  1. Shouting!  Some web pages feel like you’re in the midst of a Ginsu knife infomercial.  Too many calls to action!  Lots of exclamation points and bright colors!  A lot of shouting going on!  and…
  2. Background noise.  Some web pages feel like you’re at a dinner party.  No one is shouting, but lots of smaller bits of noise all over.  For example, a major local news site here in Madison has an extremely busy site.  Way too much going on.  22 tabs across the top, plus weather forecast, videos, ads galore, 15 pictures…and that’s all just on the home page.  Net effect: distracted customers who may find it easier to leave your site.

Web page quick fix

Again, I’m a copywriter, not a web designer.  These two types of “noise” may not apply exactly to your site, but if you can,

  1. Make things more clear and more conversational, without shouting, and
  2. Simplify your pages so there isn’t too much information on any one page.

So, keep the noise down on your site, and break through the noise with strong, powerful copywriting.  Your site will get better results.



A Web Copywriting Rule from an Old Classic

A web copywriting rule from an old classic

I just realized that a web copywriting technique I apply to web content comes from an old classic.

Strunk and White to the rescue

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White has been a must-have for any self-respecting writer since it was first published, way back in the middle of the 20th century.

I would maintain that The Elements of Style should be required reading for any web copywriter making a living today in the 21st century.  It’s that relevant.

Rule # 13 simply states: Omit Needless Words.

Web content clean-up

I clean-up two areas of web content more than any other:

  1. “Chit-chat” – what we web copywriters also refer to as “warm-up copy”.  It’s the opening “fluff” talk you often see on home pages or “about us” pages.  It’s introductory text that’s supposed to welcome us to the site and tell us how great it is.  Sometimes it just tells us what we’re about to see in the section we’ve just entered.  When web visitors see “chit chat”, they hear a tiny (or sometimes really loud!) voice in their head saying, “blah blah blah…”
  2. Instructions are the other major source of needless words.  If you go back to yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned the #1 overriding principle of website usability: Make your website self-evident.  If you do that, instructions usually aren’t necessary.  If they are, keep them extremely short and simple.  No one likes reading instructions.

Web copywriting copies real life

My ability as a web copywriter to omit needless words comes in large part from my personality.  I only like spending time with people I really like.  And when I’m with people I really like, I like to get to the point.  I don’t like small talk or mindless “chit-chat”.

Small talk is content-free.  It doesn’t really say anything.  And a lot of people, especially in our fast-paced, over-scheduled world, don’t have time for it.

Your website visitors don’t have time for small talk either.  This one web copywriting rule from an old classic will make your website more effective and profitable.

Omit needless words.  And if you don’t have a copy, buy The Elements of Style.

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About Steve Roller

Steve Roller started Web Content Copywriting to help you maximize your web content and get more customers.

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"Steve Roller came through for me with solid research, sound insights and valuable input for a major copywriting project of mine, involving direct-response advertising encompassing every medium: print, direct-mail, internet, and broadcast."

- Dan S. Kennedy, Consultant/Copywriter, Author, NO BS series - www.NoBSBooks.com

"Steve Roller is a ‘go-to’ copywriter. When you need copy that connects with your prospect … that persuades him to take action … Steve’s the copywriter to turn to."

- Katie Yeakle, Executive Director, AWAI, www.awaionline.com