Lately, I’ve come across some direct marketing pieces that are trying to be literary masterpieces instead of compelling, effective marketing copy. Some may argue that good writing is good writing, and that’s true—but good writing is not always effective writing. Take, for instance, Shakespeare. I like Shakespeare. I took a course on him in college, own a collection of his works, and have started a mini collection of Shakespearean style writings like “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope” by Ian Doescher. But there’s a place for the Bard, and direct marketing is not it. Just look at this poem drafted by grammarly.com that’s been written in a Shakespearean-style:
“O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin;
Command sinstral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke.
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swiel.
To spin! A wilde release from heaven’s yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surley canst go, girl.
The hoke, the poke—banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, ‘tis what it is all about.”
Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? It’s the Hokey Pokey. It reads well, sure, but it doesn’t have the brevity, language or form that makes it appropriate to get your groove on. The same goes for direct marketing copy. In order for it to be successful, it must fit the needs of the audience, use appropriate language and be brief.
Dwell your thoughts upon thy most revered lords and ladies. aka—think about your audience
Between emails, texts, TV, web, billboards and mail, your audience is exhausted. They don’t have the energy to try and decipher what it is you’re trying to say. Putting it bluntly, if they have to think about what you’re writing, they aren’t going to read it.
The product or service you’re marketing also plays a part in how you sell it. A product like life insurance may require more text space to set up the emotionally-inducing scene you need to connect with the audience. However, a product people deal with on a regular basis, like going to a restaurant, doesn’t require that build up.
Your words, be they simple, aim towards the purpose. aka—use appropriate language
It’s important to keep direct marketing easy to read. Flowery language and complex words found using a thesaurus do not add much of anything to direct marketing. Even if you’re marketing to a highly academic audience, it’s best to go for more simple words. It keeps things clean and ensures readability. I promise you that no one will think less of your product or service for using “now” instead of “forthwith.” Remember, language in direct marketing is meant to convey something quickly, don’t complicate things.
God’s teeth! Be brief if you be man! aka—be brief… regardless of gender
This is not to say that your copy should be short. It just means to say what you need to say and no more. There are no prizes for cramming every single benefit you can into a letter. Instead, use your space wisely to highlight the biggest selling features and entice your reader to want to know more.
It’s also important to not cram your space with unnecessary words. “Take the included card to one of the locations near where you live” and “take this card to your nearest location” say the same thing, but one is far more direct and easy to understand.
The pen spins truth if the heart be noble. aka—write with purpose and your writing will benefit
The key to writing is to be adaptable. You need to know your audience and what they expect from you and how they expect to receive it. For Shakespeare, that was iambic pentameter and poetic language, for direct marketing, it’s simple language and clean copy. Don’t substitute good writing for effective writing. As we saw with the Shakespearean Hokey Pokey, the two don’t always align.
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