Last week, Mike Dietz gave an overview of the creative process we follow at IWCO Direct when working on new campaigns. He broke down the process into three distinct parts: the kickoff, brainstorming and review. Some steps are more emotion/reaction based, while others revolve around an analysis of data and research. Where would you guess the development of marketing copy lands?
Although many would assume that the emotion/reaction based steps make up the bulk of the creative process, in terms of marketing copy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For the average new client, I’d estimate I spend a minimum of three solid hours on research before writing anything. It requires a lot of focus (and highlighters), but it’s crucial to the success of any type of writing, especially marketing.
Research lays the foundation
Einstein is credited with saying, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Step one in copywriting is to learn everything you can about the product, the company, the audience, the legal requirements, the brand guidelines―everything. My goal is to get to the point where my knowledge begins to get a little unsettling. (There was a certain life insurance phase that got pretty morbid…) Because if you don’t understand something thoroughly, you have no chance of explaining it to someone else.
Understand the product
Truly knowing the product goes way beyond listing its benefits and features. Look for flaws and find ways to address them upfront. Understand exactly what the consumer gets, how they get it, how they use it and anything else you can learn. In the end, my goal is to know enough to be a salesperson—a really good one.
Learn about the company
A brand can lend a lot of credibility to an offer. It can also provide a lot of interesting tidbits. With a little digging, I’ve learned of clients whose companies were the first to offer their service, or who offer significant contributions to charities. Even though most of this information doesn’t make it into the mailpiece, it provides me with context and informs me about the brand’s principles and vision.
Channel the audience
Digging through online message boards is probably my least favorite step. It’s not so much the people who hold nasty grudges or over-react to bad customer service, but that many of the reviewers have horrible grammar. It makes me squirm, but it’s unavoidable—you have to know what consumers like, what they don’t, and everything in between, to truly comprehend the benefits of a product.
Vet the competitors
Making a top-level comparison chart of top competitors helps quickly identify what makes the product we’re marketing stand out. I’ve often found that a feature I thought would be unique is actually commonplace among competing products. Understanding the competition helps me get a better feel for the industry as a whole and prioritize the product’s benefits in the marketing copy.
Review the marketing
I look at past campaigns to see what’s been tried and how the product has been marketed in the past. But perhaps the most important part of this process is researching current marketing campaigns on a variety of media channels. If the mailpiece is meant to complement these efforts, I take special care to highlight common phrases or descriptions and make sure I incorporate them in my own writing. I’ll also re-read these pieces a few times before I get started, so I have the tone and syntax in mind as I craft the letter. It’s important to know what’s out there so you can play off of the existing ads and ensure everything is cohesive without being repetitive.
Tackle the legal requirements
Sure, there may be legal copy that applies to the product (like terms and conditions), but there are also industry regulations and other disclaimers that need to be taken into account. Fine print isn’t the most exciting thing to read, but I take pride that at least the grammar is correct. Plus, it serves an important purpose. Not only does it help us make sure we are positioning the product as accurately as possible in the copy, but it also protects against multiple rounds of revisions and legal department reviews, which could potentially delay timelines.
All this research is pivotal in creating a well-rounded marketing piece. The knowledge you gain might not be conducive to small talk (it turns out people aren’t nearly as interested in the Federal Trade Commission as they ought to be), or it could lead to some data-mined online ads that you’d rather not see (looking at you, ads for coffins), but it’s necessary. It might seem like a lot of research for a four-paragraph letter, but the time spent and knowledge obtained are small prices to pay for a mailpiece that is effective, efficient and leaves the recipient ready to buy.
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