Freelance copywriters should ask their readers more direct questions throughout their advertisements, web copy and direct mail pieces. A question forces a reader to think, to ponder and to become engaged in the message being communicated.

About a decade ago, I was extremely ill with a life-threatening disease that had me out of commission for several months. During this time, I slept most of the day on our sofa in the living room while our small children played around me.

I could sleep through all sorts of clammer without waking up. But if my wife or one of the boys asked a direct question like, “Daddy can you help me with my homework?” or “Daddy, have you seen my (fill in the blank) toy?” I woke out of my slumber at least long enough to answer the question.

The point is, even in a deep sleep my mind recognized a question was being asked of me and pulled me back into the land of the living.

So why do you think questions have such power to engage the mind?

Before I answer that, did you notice what your brain just did? Even though you knew I was using the question to manipulate you subtly to pull you deeper into this article, you still most likely paused to contemplate the answer.

And in all likelihood, the answer you came up with was something along these lines: Questions focus the mind. They pull scattered pieces of information and experiences from different areas of the mind and attempt to assemble these pieces into a conceptual idea.

Think back to your education. Why did some teachers have a greater impact on you than others?

My guess (and possibly yours too, as you paused once again to consider another of my clever questions) is because the really good teachers asked thought-provoking questions throughout the class period. These questions helped you to assemble the information you were studying and formed a deeper layer of learning.

Contrast that to the teachers who just lectured. These teachers simply spewed out information and expected you to take copious notes and regurgitate those facts on an exam.

Lecturers, at best, merely convey raw facts and information, but fail to connect that information to the world around us. Questioners help students to conceptualize and organize information within our brains.

But how do questions help freelance copywriters? Simply this: the ultimate aim of marketing material is to influence people to act, whether that means to buy, request information or join a cause.

But people are not led to act on facts and data alone. They must be engaged. Questions help readers to internalize the message you are communicating and consider, “what will it cost me to go another day without this XYZ widget?” Or, “How can I make sure I have a secure retirement income?”

I like to think of the unengaged reader as not very different from the person who sits through a poignant sermon at church and leaves thinking, “I sure hope my wife was listening, because she really needed to hear that message.” The communication bounces right off that person because it was never internalized.

So how can a communicator (whether you are a freelance copywriter, a teacher or a preacher) make use of questions? First, the questions must provoke thought.

Questions that merely call for a one word, or a yes-no answer do not fit the bill. An engaging question demands that the person assemble various bits of information, and sometimes their own experiences, to come up with an answer.

In copywriting some of the best questions force a person to confront their own need for your product. It makes them realize that they need the benefits your product offers to solve a problem or to bring about a needed change.

So make use of this powerful tool in the freelance copywriter’s toolbox. Can you imagine how much better that will make your writing?

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

As a freelance copywriter, I am always reading books on marketing, writing and advertising in order to hone my skills. I was just rereading Jeffrey J. Fox’s marvelous book, How To Become A Marketing Superstar this week, and had to start jotting down some notes to pass along. Fox has a wonderful knack for distilling his hard-won wisdom into two or three page chapter nuggets that others would have to teach an entire college semester to get across.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • NEVER USE WE. Eliminate the personal pronouns "I," "me," "we," "us," or "our" in advertising, packaging, sales literature or anywhere else in marketing communications. "We" is about the marketer and its story. "We" is in the first person. "We" is a bad proxy for your brand name or company name.
    A freelance copywriter's job is to draw the customer into the conversation by focusing on her and her story, her concerns, her headaches, her wants. Your job is to build brand awareness, not "we’ awareness…Never use "we," "us," or "our" in the headline.
    The advertisement is not about you, it is not about your success or experience or hard work. It is about the customer and what the product will do for her or him. To confound this sin, these same advertisers often follow their "we" with trite clich├ęs like, "We put customers first," or, "We are committed to excellence."

  • SELL CONSEQUENCES. Always communicate the consequences to the customer of going without your product…It is always more effective to influence the customer by showing the cost, damage or loss they incurring right now by going without your product. Few customers knowingly ignore consequences and then deliberately buy an alternative product on the basis of a lower price alone.…What is it costing your prospect right now to not be doing business with you each month? What other consequences will occur if she delays taking action right now?

  • DIFFERENCES. If you flip through any small stack of magazines you will quickly find many examples of ads that inform of such things as "our people make the difference," or "little details make all the difference," "feel the difference," or even, "the right choice makes all the difference." These are all signs of lazy marketers who have not taken the effort to think through what makes their product "different." And yet it is these differences that are your selling points and even your competitive edges (or are they just "wishful differences" with your competitor having the real competitive edge.) If the marketer is too lazy to think through the differences and articulate them, how can he expect the customer to do it for him? If you can’t illustrate to the customer why your widget is different and better than the Brand X widget, he will either choose based upon price, or by what his cousin Ernie thinks he once heard someone say about your brand).

I recommend this book to any marketer or freelance copywriter who wants to compel more customers to buy your products or services. If you haven’t read How To Become A Marketing Superstar yet, go pick up a copy. I’d loan you mine, but I’m still rereading it.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

As a freelance copywriter, I love it when I get to use real customer testimonials in the copy I write for one of my clients.

No matter how much experience I may have as a freelance copywriter and no matter how much effort I put into honing my craft, a real customer’s words of praise will always out-sell anything I write.

When a freelance copywriter has a few really good testimonials to work with, the job is to write good copy which highlights these customer comments and uses them to support key selling points.

So how do you get customers to give you glowing testimonials?

Well you certainly can’t wait for the rare customer to pick up pen and paper and write out a thank you note. Yes, they will arrive in your mailbox every now and then, but there is a better way.

Here are a few tips on how to prime the pump so you never run out of good, strong customer compliments that you can use in your advertisements, direct mail and on your web site:

  1. Call your customers. Call them just after they have made a purchase, after they’ve been doing business with you for a while, after they needed service or after you haven’t heard from them in a while. On one hand, your call is a good will call or after the sale call to see how satisfied they are, how helpful your people were or if they have any suggestions for you to improve the way you do business.

  2. Listen to the customer feedback. While you are hoping to generate customer testimonials, keep your eye on the ball and use this opportunity to really listen to what your customers have to say. If they have complaints, treat them as opportunities to wow them with your extra-mile service. But if they have good things to say, jot down some notes while they talk. You may need to reword their comments slightly (people ramble, fail to talk in complete sentences or wander off the subject sometimes). But don’t reword their statements to the point that you put words in their mouths.

  3. Thank them for their kind words, and ask if you can quote them on some of your company literature. In most cases they will say yes.

  4. Read back their comments as you have reworded them (slightly) and ask, “does that sum up what you were saying?” If they agree, go with it; but if not, keep working with them until you have their own words in a form of a strong testimonial. But be very careful that you don’t go too far and try to make them say more than they actually intended.

  5. Send them a copy of the quote.To make sure they know you have quoted them correctly, mail or email thank you notes for their compliments and include a copy of the wording they agreed to.

  6. Make it easy for them to put the testimonial on letterhead.In some cases you might request that they copy the testimonial onto their letterhead for you to use in that form. In other cases you will simply quote them as part of your advertisement, direct mailer or a separate section on your web site called “Customer Feedback.”

There are more reasons to take these steps than just to enhance you advertising copy. After you have completed these six steps, you have done more than obtain testimonials. You will also have thanked the customer after the sale (an all too rare courtesy in business these days), you will have learned about any problems and given yourself a chance to fix them, and you will have obtained real feedback that can’t help but improve the way you do business.

As I said before, the words of actual, satisfied customers are far more compelling than anything I, or any other freelance copywriter, could ever write, so get your customers' praise in writing and watch your marketing materials take you to the next level.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

The Before and After Scenario is one of the oldest, and best, methods used by freelance copywriters. And why not? It works because it paints a vivid portrait for your prospect of how he can realize a major change in his life.

A “Before-Scenario” depicts a person whose circumstances are much like that of your targeted prospect: overweight, broke, stuck in a dead-end job, bald or what have you. This is a person your targeted prospect can identify with because he or she languishes under the very same circumstances.

Then you present an “After-Scenario” depicting one of your satisfied customers who is delighted with the changes your product or service has brought about. She is now fit and trim (and has the requisite bathing suit pictures to prove it), they now have enough money to live the life they have always dreamed about, or he now has a full head of hair and is irresistible to the opposite sex.

The simple truth is that now matter how familiar we are with this kind of advertising, it still works because the targeted prospect identifies with your Before-Scenario and strongly wants to escape from those circumstances. And the After-Scenario offers the prospect the very life he or she wants to escape to.

But at times the very familiarity of this formula may simply get old in your market. Nevertheless, there are a few ways to get even more mileage out of this old advertising workhorse by adding a few twists:

  1. Create A “Virtual” After-Scenario Sometimes you may not want to use a real person’s situation, but want your reader to visualize his or her own Before and After Scenario.

    You do this by injecting a lot of emotion into the problem your product or service is designed to solve.

    Suppose your company provides auto financing for people with poor credit. You could create a Before-Scenario by vividly describing the embarrassment of driving an old, dilapidated car. Remind the prospect of the constant fear of driving a car that could break down on a remote highway late at night or on a busy highway in the middle of rush hour traffic. You could also, stir up the humiliation of being turned down for financing from traditional lenders.

    Then you paint a second, emotional-filled scene of your prospect driving an attractive, dependable car, after being treated with dignity and respect by your finance officers. Paint an emotional picture of your prospect being seen by friends and neighbors driving this nice looking, late model car and having the peace of mind that the monthly payments are reasonable and that the car is in very good working order.

  2. Depict a Negative After Scenario. Sometimes you have to educate your prospect about why buying your competitors’ cheaper product is more costly in the long run. Here is an example, written by Dan Kennedy, to sell an ordinary product like shoes:

    …but if you insist on just wearing any old pair of ordinary shoes, here’s what you have to look forward to in your so-called golden years; fallen arches…intense lower back pain…even pain from just walking around a shopping mall! You’ll be asking your friends to slow down so you can keep up. You’ll be futilely soaking your feet at night like some old fuddy-duddy. You may even need pain pills just to get to sleep.

    With a Negative After-Scenario, you are projecting an undesirable future resulting from your prospect’s shortsighted attempt to save a little money now by buying an inferior product, or by not spending any money at all to solve a known problem while there is still time.

  3. A Back-Story Scenario. This Before and After formula is not seen by your reader, but is sketched out for you the writer and marketer. Even if I am writing copy that follows a different format, I will often write out a before and after comparison for my own use when I begin my work. This enables me to clearly see the benefits the prospects are seeking in the form of specific changes they want to experience in their lives.

    I want to know what the prospect is dissatisfied with now, and how intensely that dissatisfaction feels. I also want to know how the prospect wants to feel in the future and what changes must take place in order to achieve that desired state and the emotions that will come with it.

    Let’s face it, I don’t want to overlook a single benefit that my readers might be seeking. And without my own draft version of a before-after sketch, I might miss the very benefit that will trigger the most response.

Every worthwhile product or service helps to bring about a desired change. And let’s face it, all of us, regardless of what we sell, are really in the business of selling change. A person who is satisfied with the status quo is not a prospect, and will never be a customer.

But when that person is ready for a change, and has become dissatisfied with the way things are right now, a strong Before and After Scenario can show them the way to find that change.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Every freelance copywriter should own a copy of “Tested Advertising Methods,” written by the legendary copywriter, John Caples.

In the mid roaring twenties, 25 year old Caples made advertising history when he wrote the most famous ad of all time. It began with the words:

They laughed when I sat down at the piano.
But when I started to play---

That extraordinary ad for, of all things, mail order piano lessons, became the most successful, and most imitated ad of all time.

But apart from his remarkable writing talent, Caples changed advertising history in an even more profound way. Throughout his career, he pioneered the idea of rigorous, scientific testing for every element of ads and direct mail.

Every ad, every mailer was designated as either a test sample or a control sample. The control sample was usually the best performer from the previous test and not a single aspect of it was changed.

But the test sample was changed in one single way. It might have had a different headline, a different coupon, a different first paragraph, etc.

Then by comparing the results of the control and test samples, the ad or mailer could constantly be improved. In the next test run, the best performer of the two samples became the control for the next comparison.

Caples was such a strong advocate of testing because he saw how a campaign’s results could be dramatically improved. One time he tested to ads for the same product. Both ads were well written, both seemed to appeal to the target audience and both could have been chosen by many ad agencies as the final version.

But when the two ads were run side by side, one version pulled in 19 ½ more sales than the other.

Had this test never been run, the agency might have been pleased with the lesser ad’s results and run it for years.

So what things can be improved by testing? Here are a few:

  1. The headline. This is the most important element of any ad, mail piece or web page. Without testing, you are leaving it to chance.

  2. What picture or graphic produces the best results? Or would no image at all be best?

  3. Which publication(s) produce the most sales when the same ad is run side by side in competing magazines or newspapers?

  4. What appeal pulls in the most sales? The appeal is what hot button are you trying to push in the customer. Are you appealing to his need for security or his need for financial gain? Are you appealing to her need for sexual satisfaction or desire for adventure?

But how can the results of all this testing be compared? First, retail sales can provide the information needed. Laser-scanned bar codes at the checkout counter reports sales information instantly and in real time.

Another way that many consumer goods and fast food restaurants are tested is through test cities. I remember when McDonalds first introduced the breakfast burrito, I was in Indianapolis visiting my wife’s relatives. I tried the breakfast burrito and liked it. But when I got back home, I tried to order one from one of the local McDonalds and they looked at me as though I had green skin. The breakfast burritos were being tested in Indianapolis and no where else.

Finally there are key codes. If you look at a coupon for a typical direct mail ad, you will probably see something like, “Dept. XYZ.” I guarantee there is no department named XYZ at that company, but XYZ represents the key code for a particular version of the ad.

Despite the many decades of research demonstrating how testing improves the profitability of advertising, there are still many companies that spend mountains of money without testing. I hope they are winning industry awards for their creativity and the entertainment value of their ads, because their competitors will be making all the sales.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Of all the neat tricks I’ve learned as a freelance copywriter, nothing grabs and holds onto a reader’s attention faster than the technique I am about to show you. I know of no more powerful way to get a reader to hang onto every word you say or write.

In fact this one technique can help you write incredibly persuasive ad copy, speeches, presentations and any other type of communication in which your job is to influence people to buy or take action. I firmly believe this one formula can make you rich.

Before I explain what this “magic bullet for powerful copywriting” is, let me first tell you about the person I learned it from. Steven K. Scott is the author of the book, “Mentored By A Millionaire.” He made his fortune in one of the most competitive businesses I can imagine, writing infomercials.

If you have ever watched the Total Gym infomercials, starring Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris, you have seen his work - and you have witnessed this formula - in action. You have also seen his work, and this technique, if you have watched the infomercials on Hooked on Phonics or Victoria Jackson Cosmetics.

Want to see how Steven Scott uses this formula? At the very beginning of the Total Gym infomercial, Christie Brinkley looks at the viewers and says,

“According to recent medical studies at Tufts University, there is now proof that there is one simple thing you can do for a few minutes a day that will absolutely reverse the 10 major signs of aging.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I am hooked from those words on. But for those readers who are not totally pulled into the infomercial yet, Christie goes on to say,

“This one thing can increase your energy level by more than 100%, increase your strength by more than 200%, greatly enhance your sex life, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, raise your metabolism, lower your risk for cancer and heart disease, add years to your life, and make the years ahead a lot more enjoyable.”

Steven Scott’s formula, the method I call the magic copywriting bullet, is simply this: make some very strong benefit statements before you tell the reader or audience what it is that will do all this for them. (In fact, I have been using it on you throughout this article.)

Now what if Christie had simply answered the what question first, by saying,

“I’m talking about strength training, and the Tufts studies revealed you only need to engage in it for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, three to four days a week, in order to increase your energy level by more than 100%, …”

That statement would have certainly been a powerful benefit statement, but it would not have grabbed and held onto your attention as it did when she put the benefits before the revelation.

Curiosity is the most misused technique in copywriting. All by itself it accomplishes nothing. It comes across as cute or tricky, but it does not activate the reader’s “what’s in it for me” hot button. But the marriage of curiosity with a powerful benefit statement can cut right through a reader’s natural tendency to filter out messages your mind deems irrelevant or uninteresting.

Like I said in the beginning, of all the techniques I’ve learned as a freelance copywriter, I know of no more powerful way to get a reader to hang onto every word you say or write. Look what it did to you.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

A constant challenge freelance copywriters like myself have to face is how to make our copy more credible and more believable.

Readers have good reasons for their inherent skepticism when it comes to reading advertisements, direct mail pieces and web content. Every marketer claims their widget is the greatest thing on the planet, but too often they merely want to take the customer’s money and run.

Here are a few ideas that might make your marketing materials more credible to the buyers you want to reach. Obviously, not all these types of information will be available in every case, but be sure to take advantage of them when they are.

  1. Show third party reviews from the media, comparing your product or company to the also-rans who make up your competition. Clearly this will be a rare opportunity, but make sure your PR people respond to inquiries by the media (especially trade publications that cater to your customers if you are marketing toward businesses). In some instances, the PR staff might even suggest such a review.

  2. Use research evidence consisting of scientific data and published information regarding the problems your product is designed to solve. For example, if you make a product that prevents bone deterioration, cite data showing the causes of bone diseases, how common they are and who is most likely to suffer from it.

  3. Use logical arguments to convince readers of your key points. For example, show how valuable a long-term, repeat customer is worth to you to explain why it is in your own best interest to deal fairly with first time customers.

  4. Referrals. Nothing carries more credibility than statements by satisfied customers. Survey your previous customers to get their feedback. Don’t use multiple choice questions, instead ask for brief answers to specific questions. You can use the most positive answers as customer referrals after you obtain their permission.

  5. Your customer list. If you have served an impressive list of corporate clients, indulge in some serious name dropping. The reader will naturally assume, “if IBM, Microsoft and Coca Cola are doing business with these guys, the must be good.”

  6. Specialization. When you focus your practice on one type of customer or one specific field, it stands to reason you are an expert in that area. Readers trust specialists and understand that they are more qualified than someone who covers too much territory.

  7. Credentials. If your company has received awards and recognition, point them out to your readers. If you are an individual sole proprietorship, and you went to an Ivy League school or have a PhD, flaunt it.

  8. Track Record. If you have been in business since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, let people know about it. The mere fact that you are a long-established firm shows stability and is very reassuring to prospective customers.

  9. Free Information. Publish a booklet, a white paper, an ebook or some other material that you can give out to people who inquire about your product. Create materials that educate people on how to choose the right widget to suit their needs, or show them how to avoid being ripped off. You can also publish a booklet on frequently asked questions. In any case, your credibility will go way up just because of your printed material.

  10. Membership. Join every professional society and organization that promotes excellence in your industry. While you are at it, join the Better Business Bureau, AAA or the SPCA for that matter.

  11. Take away the buyer’s risk. I’ve saved the best for last. Whenever you can offer an ironclad guarantee, a trial period, or reduce the up front cost to a pittance, you make the perceived risk of doing business with you so small the customer has no reason not to act.

Credibility is a constant battle if you are to get buyers to act on your offer. But if you put yourself in the minds of your readers and look at your offer through their eyes, you know what they fear and where to strengthen your credibility.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

One of the biggest problems any business has is how to make potential clients aware your company even exists and has the capabilities to solve their problems. These potential customers have problems they want to solve, but have no knowledge about your firm and your skill at solving those exact problems.

An incredibly easy solution is the case study.

A case study is a short article detailing how your company solved a problem for one of your existing clients. When a potential client, with a similar problem, reads your case study, your company is instantly on that potential client's radar as a solver of that problem.

As a freelance copywriter, I follow a very easy formula when writing case studies for my own clients. In fact, my formula is so easy it's almost embarassing to write it down for you.

If you've ever read a book on how to write a resume, you have seen the formula called PAR, which stands for PROBLEM, ACTION, RESULTS. All I have done is adopt this formula for writing case studies.

  1. The first step is the Problem. What was the problem you solved for your previous client? As you write out this step, make sure you are both specific enough to clearly describe the situation your client was facing and how it was hindering their business.

    An easy way to think of this is to describe the pain your client felt before you arrived on the scene. But your description of the problem must also be general enough for your potential client to identify their own need with the problem you are capable of solving.

  2. The second step is Action. How did you solve the problem? What steps did you take and what skills did you utilize on behalf of your client? This is no time to be modest. Demonstrate that your company didn't just fall off the turnip truck when it comes to the kind of work you do. Make this second step a showcase for your capabilities so the potential client will want to pick up the phone and call you right now.

  3. The last step is Results. All selling is a presentation of before and after stories. Your potential clients want to see the happy ending your previous client experienced. Ask yourself what changes a potential customer wants. If you were able to deliver these changes to your previous client, make sure you show these changes as the happy ending for your story. If your previous clients have given you testimonials, this is the place to use them to add even more credibility to your case history.

Showing up on potential customers' radar is simply a matter of making them aware you are a solver of their problems and that you have done so for others.

Over time, your goal should be to compile a portfolio of case studies applicable for all the different types of problems you solve. You should also create case studies of different types of clients so a wide range of potential customers can identify your services with their own problems.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Just like you, I saw or heard approximately 15,000 advertising messages today. And even though I am a freelance copywriter who takes a professional interest in noticing ads more than the average person, barely the tiniest fraction of them made any impact on my consciousness at all.

We are all so bombarded with advertising that only a few very good or very bad ads penetrate our awareness. Most advertisers merely waste their money with ineffective messages that may be cute, or creative or even funny; but do little to improve the bottom line.

So here are a few of my suggestions for those advertisers who actually want to pull in more business with their ads.

  1. Promote Free Offers. Get readers to respond to clearly promoted toll free telephone numbers or web sites to get free booklets, CDs, information kits or other free information products. Not only will this help you get a second chance to create a sale, it will also generate a list of interested potential buyers.
  2. Focus on annoying problems your product solves and clearly show how it can take the pain away. It is a psychological truth that avoidance or escape from pain is a much more powerful motivator than promise of gain.
  3. Make a clear and definite promise in every ad, that your product or service will bring about a desired change for your reader. Think about it, other than necessities, the only reason anyone buys anything is to experience a change. So make sure every ad promises a change.
  4. Humor, creativity and curiosity are wonderful things that can enhance your ad as long as its message delivers a clear promise or focuses on relieving pain. But if you make them the focus of your ad, readers may remember it for the entertainment value you delivered, but may not be able to recall the name of your product or company.
  5. Don’t be afraid to educate consumers. Show them how to be informed buyers of your type of product, how to choose the right product for their needs and how to avoid being ripped off. You can educate buyers with the free offer mentioned in step one and in so doing, you will heighten your professionalism and integrity in their eyes.
  6. Don’t try to sell refrigerators to Eskimos. Yes, there is that one legendary salesman out there who can make such a sale, but you are much better off selling your products to people who want, need and can afford what you have to offer. Study your market, advertise in a media that reaches that market and carve out your niche.
  7. Tell a dramatic story. I mean a story with before and after scenes. The “before scene” should depict someone who was in dire straits before you or your product; and the “after scene” should show that person living happily ever after. Use actual customer examples or create semi-fictional accounts of what you do for your customers.

Slicing through all the advertising clutter and "white noise" that bombard people on a daily basis is not easy, but it only takes a little effort, a little thought about what your potential buyers want and need, and you can easily see your advertising dollars reap dividends.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Charles Brown is a former attorney, who is now a freelance copywriter living in Dallas, Texas. Prior to attending law school, Mr. Brown was a stockbroker with Dean, Witter, Reynolds (now Morgan Stanley).

He specializes in, "writing the words on websites and advertisements that turn casual visitors into buyers."

Because of his legal and financial backgrounds, Mr. Brown is especially valuable to law firms, financial services companies and other organizations who need a writer who can understand law or finance and knows how to write persuasive marketing materials that demand action from readers.

If you would like to contact Mr. Brown, he can be reached at either ****** or by telephone at 817.715.3852.

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