Time Warner Cable has just given me an incredible example of how to waste your advertising money, and I'd like to pass this lesson on to you.

Time Warner just recently bought out Comcast here in the Dallas, Texas area. My parents, who are both in there 70s, have been Comcast cable customers for years, and now they find themselves customers of Time Warner.

Naturally, Time Warner has spent massive amounts of advertising money to tell all of the former Comcast customers how great things will be for them now that they are with Time Warner.

Recently my parents asked me to help them set up a high-speed internet connection and I advised them to stick with the same company that provides their cable service. Big mistake.

It is now 8:46 pm and I have been trying to install a high-speed internet connection for my parents for more than 12 hours.

Actually, installing the connection and loading the software has been no problem. What has been a problem, and what has used 172 minutes on my cell phone and 43 attempts (all documented on my cell phone's call log for today) to contact Time Warner's "Customer service department" (boy is that a misnomer) has been my repeated attempts to get the password and log on ID that should have been given to me when I picked up the self installation kit.

Had I been given this information with the kit, I would have had my parents connected at 9am today.

So if you are listening Time Warner, what good does it do you to spend millions on advertising when your actual service contradicts what you say in your ads? Why not spend a portion of that money on hiring additional customer service employees?

To the rest of you, here is the message: Advertising, marketing and PR are wonderful things that can produce wonderful results for promoting your business. But if your callers cannot get through, or when they finally do get through have to wait on hold for 172 minutes before they are cut off, or if they finally reach an employee who is untrained or incompetant (that hasn't happened to me yet today, but I am expecting it), what good has all that advertising done for you?

Now if you will excuse me, I plan to call another internet provider.

(By the way, if someone would like to forward this post to some top executive at Time Warner, maybe they will get the message).

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Since posting last week's statement about how badly I wanted your comments, I have received feedback from two of you that your comments have not shown up on this blog (thanks Mark and Whitney).

So I have removed the Blogger moderator tool so your comments will now go live right away. I'll just have to be diligent to remove the Viagra and "natural male enhancement" spam comments manually.

The lack of comments and feedback I had been seeing had been my biggest disappointment with writing this blog. I was wondering if I was connecting with anyone out there, and if anyone was finding value to the stuff I was writing.

But now I find that a technical glitch was at least part of the problem. I'm still puzzled by the fact that some comments came through, but hopefully the problem has now been solved.

Thank you again Mark and Whitney. I would not have known there was a problem if you hadn't let me know.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

A lot of big ads are bloated and ineffective. My theory is that the copywriter wants to say so much that he/she loses focus on how to say it.

Here’s a solution: Stick to writing offers by first writing your ad as if it were a small or classified ad. Then expand later.

My definition of an offer is that it must contain two parts:

  1. It must contain a clear action you want your potential customer to take. This action can be: to pick up the telephone and call you, to come into your place of business, to opt into an email subscription list, to visit your website, to clip out a coupon and send it in, or to request a free information product, etc.

  2. The offer must also contain a clear and compelling REASON for the potential customer to take the above action. You do this, of course, with a strong benefit that answers the “what’s in it for me?” question.
The beauty of writing out a small ad, even if you eventually want to write a large ad, is that small ads force you to stick to the basics of your offer. You simply have no room in a small ad to waste words or deviate from the straight line between the benefit and the responsive action.

If I ran a big ad agency, I would start all the new copywriters off by writing nothing but small ads over and over again until they could write them in their sleep. Too often copywriters develop excellent creative skills and learn to balance form with function, but they never really learn to write an offer.

When you write a small ad, start with the action you want your reader to take. If you ever lose sight of what you want the person to do, you ad will wander off course and get lost amidst all your creativity.

Next, write a headline that contains both a strong benefit and a powerful, compelling REASON for someone to take the action you just described.

If you are writing a big ad, start with this small ad format as a way to clarify both your offer and the headline you want to use. Then, as you expand the ad, you can include more benefits that give readers even more of a reason to act. You can also clarify the action you wish them to take.

By writing your big ad as a small ad first, you are literally writing your ad from the inside out. But, if you write it this way, your ad will never lose sight of the offer that lies at the heart of your message.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Up until now, I have not made my “policy” about posting comments to my blog, http://dynamiccopywriting.blogspot.com, clear.

It’s time to correct this oversight.

I welcome, encourage and cherish your reader comments to any post I put on my blog. Although I have turned on Blogger's tool to filter comments, I only filter out those rare unprofessional and inappropriate comments. (So if you are trying to use my site to sell some “natural male enhancement” product, keep moving).

Feel free to disagree with me. Feel free to point out my glaring mistakes, and by all means fell free to mention your own site, as long as it adds real value to the readers and is appropriate to the discussion at hand.

I think the scarcity of reader feedback has been this blog’s biggest weakness. Hopefully letting you know that I encourage your comments will improve this situation.

So, you now have the official green light to leave your comments and give us your feedback. Let’s hear from all of you.

Michael Seitzer, an authority on marketing with white papers (and a fellow Dilbert fan) put up an interesting post on his blog last week. The post, Inventing Facts To Fit Your Purposes, begins with a quote from a recent Dilbert cartoon strip.

If you follow Dilbert (and why wouldn't you?) his dog, named Dogbert, is an evil genius whose life mission is to exploit everyone around him. In this recent strip, Dogbert brags about making up facts to support his marketing claims. Michael brings up this cartoon as a starting point for a discussion on ethics in marketing with white papers.

Marketing and selling have well-deserved bad reputations. If you read, watch or listen to many ads, you can't help but wonder how all these competitors can be, "the best," "the leading," "recommended by more doctors," etc.

We read ads and other marketing materials like white papers with honed skepticism. We assume the facts, statistics and claims are at best, strategically selected, or at worst, made up.

Contrast this with openly admitting flaws and negatives up front.

Dan Kennedy is one of my freelance copywriter heroes. In his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter, he shows several examples of how admitting these weaknesses up front helps to create a more powerful sales message.

Open admissions does several wonderful things for your marketing materials:

  1. First, admissions enhance your credibility. It immediately causes your readers to crack open their protective shields just a little bit. You will still have to earn their trust with the benefits you introduce, but at least they will give you a chance.

  2. Admissions set up your benefits. No one expects you to pay for expensive advertising just to bad mouth your product or service. They know that if you are willing to admit some flaws, you will soon have some positives you will be mentioning. This builds up anticipation and gives them a reason to pay attention.

  3. Admissions help you to position your product, service or company against your competition. You can't be all things to all people, and you lose credibility when you try. Instead, by openly acknowledging your weaknesses, you put the spotlight on your strengths.

Dan Kennedy finds making admissions up front so powerful and so compelling to the reader, that he claims to look for flaws, just so he can admit them.

Possibly that's going too far (although who am I to argue with Dan Kennedy?) but honest and open admissions can go a long way to gaining credibility every one of your competitors lack.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

I could call this article, “More Great Moments in Wasteful Advertising,” but I’m saving that one for the future. I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity to use it soon.

On the back cover of the latest Fast Company magazine (the January 2007 issue), is a big, expensive ad from the software company, SAP. They have a picture of an average-looking guy with a headline that says,

“SAP Has Affordable Solutions For Midsize Companies?
This Better Not Be Another Prank By The Guys in Procurement.”

Yes, it is an amusing ad, but it communicates nothing other than the fact that SAP does something or other for midsize companies as well as the big boys.

Well whoopee! If you look really close, there is a quasi benefit that sort of limps onto the ad down at the bottom where the copy reads, “..modular solutions that let you buy only the software you need now…” And then this poor little benefit wannabe limps back off stage never to be seen again.

I’m all for offering solutions, except when you just offer “solutions.” In other words, go ahead and solve actual problems, but don’t throw the word “solutions” around as if it is code for all kinds of wonderful things you can do for me.

“Solutions” (the word) is bandied about in all kinds of ads these days, without specific examples of problems being solved. “Solutions” has become a buzzword meant to replace the hard work of showing problems getting taken care of.

To quote from the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is failure to communicate.”

Copywriters use the word “solutions” because it sounds nice and because it is a lot less work than narrowing the scope of an ad by specifying certain needs.

But, my offended copywriting colleagues say, “if you narrow the scope of the ad to only those readers who are affected by this particular problem, you exclude all those readers who are not affected by it.

Yep, that’s right. That is the beauty of targeting a niche. Now SAP could solve this problem of excluding some readers (did you notice I just tied the word “solve” to a specific problem?) in one of two ways.

First, they could run a series of ads, each targeting certain audiences by focusing on certain problems and solutions. Chances are these targeted ads will grab those targeted readers much more than the bland generality they are running now.

Second, they could run a single ad with a menu of problems and offer a free booklet to IT managers, CFOs or other managers who identify with one or more of those problems. Now to be fair, the Fast Company ad does mention their website at the very bottom of the ad. It is a lame mention that says, “learn more at sap.com/midsize.”

Directing a reader to your website, before you have aroused her interest, is expecting the customer to do all your work for you. For every one person this ad gets to check out the website, 10,000 will yawn and forget it.

But, by offering a free booklet or guide, and promising tons of benefits which will be contained within its pages, SAP could not only attract much more interest, they could also generate a lot of leads to be followed up on later.

To sum all this up, when you see the word “solutions” used as a buzzword, you are seeing the work of a lazy copywriter or marketer. Benefits are solutions, but always use it as a specific cure for a specific problem.

For all the money SAP surely spent on this ad, they really should be able to do better.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

I have now spent several days helping my retired parents, who are both in their seventies, work their way through the maze of medicare confusion.

For those of you who have not yet experienced this pleasure, U.S. medicare recipients must either renew their medicare plans before December or their previous plan is automatically renewed. Since rates are going up and what is and what is not covered is changing, just letting it renew without study is not an option.

I should also point out that I hold a law degree, and I still find this stuff confusing.

So across the U.S.A., there are puzzled and troubled seniors who need to make an important financial decision within the next month.

Enter the value of free information. Several of the insurance companies that provide supplemental coverage have put out some excellent free information pieces that answer a whole host of questions about the new coverage.

Not only that, one company has also offered a free consultation and is running a spreadsheet comparison of the plans to give my parents a side-by-side comparison of what is covered and for how much.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am an advocate of marketing by giving away free information in the form of guides, booklets, ebooks, white papers, seminars, etc.

The marketer who can simplify a complex decision will come out the winner. This is true regardless of whether you sell supplemental medicare coverage or baby formula. Free information makes difficult things more understandable, and therefore removes barriers to buying decisions.

I am looking for examples any of you might have for this. Have you - either as a buyer or a seller - experienced the selling power of free information products? If so, let me know.

freelance copywriter, ghost writer, writing web content, white papers

As a general rule, you just can’t go wrong making your customer the “star” of your advertisement, web content or sales letter. Another way to put this is to focus on solving your customers’ problems (and I include needs, wants, fears, ambitions, desires, frustrations etc. under the umbrella of “problems”).

But there is an exception to this rule. Many successful ads have told stories in which someone else appears to be the “star.”

These people all had a problem, and all found a solution to that problem. Look back at some of the very powerful ads you’ve read, seen or heard that were first person stories about someone who found relief from a difficult situation.

Or look at those stories that were not in the first person, but had the feel of a case history. Again, the formula is the same. A person, family or business faced a serious problem, which are leading to very painful consequences. But fortunately (just in time) a solution arrived on the scene in the form of a product, company or service, leading to a “happily ever after resolution.”

Now, I would like to suggest that these story-like ads were not exceptions to the rule after all. If these ads are well written, the customer identifies with the person being talked about. His problems are your customer’s problems. His pain is felt by your customer. The serious consequences he faced are consequences you customer might face.

In all these cases, your customer is still the star, albeit by identification. This is why stories are so powerful. If your customer identifies with the person facing this problem, or if your customer has also faced this same problem, the customer sees himself in your ad.

This opens up a lot of ways to approach your ad. If you can present your ad as a story or a case history that your customers can identify with, they will form a connection with the person you portray.

Stories are incredibly powerful selling tools. As long as your customers are the “starts,” even if by identification.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Today’s post is about great moments in expensive, wasteful advertising.

I am looking through the November 6-12, 2006 issue of the Fort Worth Business Press for ads that actually give readers reasons to act. As you can imagine, these ads are hard to find.

American Express has a full page ad that does pretty well. It has three benefit statements that say:

“I get a cash rebate of up to 4% on American Express Travel.” I earn company-level award points on all our purchases.” And, “I save automatically with cash rebates from leading suppliers.”

Following these benefits is the headline which reads, “My company is mid-size, but I save big.”

And that’s all. The main feature of the ad is acres and acres of white space with a small blurb at the bottom a picture of the American Express ExtrAA Corporate Card and a Picture of a paper airplane made out of a $100 bill.

I give them credit for actually stating benefits. What a novel idea in big corporate advertising! But the white space? White space never sold anything. Never.

The next wasteful ad is for the law firm of Blaies & Hightower, L.L.P. The only positive thing I can say about this ad is that they only spent money on a half page.

Other than that, it shows three very serious-looking lawyers in expensive suits and six lines of copy that says nothing:
“When the stakes are high, you need more than legal knowledge. … You need the strongest commercial litigation and personal injury trial lawyers on your side. .. Attorneys who lead the courtroom with integrity and honor.”

The sad thing is, someone actually thought these were benefit statements.

Neither ad called for action on the part of a potential customer/client. They gave contact information and that’s all. But that is futile without giving the prospect a REASON to contact them.

Neither ad made a concrete offer. There were no promises of a benefit in exchange for an action from the prospect. The Blaies Camp; Hightower ad was exactly the same as every other law firm ad we’ve ever seen. For all I know, the same serious-looking lawyers appear on all of them. And you just have to love the line, “Attorneys who lead the courtroom with integrity and honor” as a masterpiece of copy that says nothing.

What both these ads need is an injection of direct response techniques. American Express can offer a free guide to corporate financial strategies that would show a corporate officer how to save money on all company expenditures, how to manage day-to-day cash flow and maximize the rebates they offer.

Blaies & Hightower could offer a report, a case study or a white paper on any one of the areas of law the practice. These could contain tips on how to avoid litigation, what new government regulations effect businesses or how to profit from recent trends in the law.

By offering free information products, neither firm would diminish the brand image they are striving for (and actually in my mind, they would stand out in a positive way). But not only that, these white papers, guides or booklets could generate leads and build a list of potential customers/clients for these firms.

The sad truth is both these ads were incredibly wasteful. White space sells nothing and copy that says nothing, sells nothing. Better luck next time guys.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Most businesses that use Yellow Page advertising fail to understand that these ads reach a very different audience than ads you see in newspapers or other media.

Other ads must first convince readers that they need a particular product or service before it can convince them to do business with a certain company.

In contrast, Yellow Page readers are already planning to buy. They only need a reason to buy from your business rather than the other guys. But you wouldn’t know this is a different audience by looking at most Yellow Page ads.

Look at the headlines you see splashed all over the books. Let’s say you are looking for an accounting firm to help you plan for and prepare your company’s taxes. The first ad you see says, “Smith and Johnson, Certified Public Accountants. We’ve been in business for 25 years.”

The next ad says, “Williams and Jones, Certified Public Accountants. We all went to Harvard,”

OK, it’s good to have 25 years experience and, all other things being equal, I’m fairly impressed that these guys went to a top university.

But suppose the third headline you read says, “7 Ways to Cut Your Payroll Taxes By 35%.”

Which of these three ads will you read and most likely call on?

Notice that the first two headlines were about the company, not the customer. The third headline gave the reader reasons (benefits) to do business with that firm. This ad focused on the customer’s concerns and questions.

You will never go wrong making the customer the “star” of your ad. Focus on what questions that person is asking when they read through your section of the Yellow Pages (and by the way, any other place you put your ad).

Here are some other headlines that give readers reasons to call you instead of the other guys:

”Important Information For Anyone Who Needs A New C.P.A. Firm”

”Warning! Read This Before You Hire Anyone Else To Prepare Your Taxes”

”10 Things You Must Know When Choosing An Accounting Firm”

The idea behind all these headlines is to stand out from the crowd by giving readers reasons (again, "reasons" is code for "benefits") to choose you. Think like your customers before you place your next ad. Imagine the confusion anyone feels when faced with many choices that all make the same claims.

If you give people reasons to choose you, they very often will.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know how much I admire Dan Kennedy. He is a legend among freelance copywriters, and his books are snapped up as soon as they hit the bookstores.

He has recently written, No B.S. Direct Marketing: The Ultimate No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Direct Marketing For Non-Direct Marketing Businesses. As the long subtitle suggests, this book is about how businesses that are not in traditional mail order or direct marketing businesses can still use direct marketing methods successfully.

What makes this book unique is that Dan has invited several of his clients from non-direct marketing businesses to write chapters in this book. There are chapters by owners of a tax preparation business, a chain of men’s clothing stores, a chiropractic practice, a restaurant and a dental practice.

Each of these professionals have incorporated Dan’s 10 “No B.S. Rules” very successfully. The 10 Rules are:

  1. There Will Always Be an Offer or Offers

  2. There Will Be A Reason To Respond Right Now

  3. There Will Be Clear Instructions On How To Respond

  4. There Will Be Tracking and Measurement

  5. Whatever Brand Building Occurs Will Be a Happy By-Product, Not Bought

  6. There Will Be Follow-Up

  7. There Will Be Strong Sales Copy, Not Vague Hyperbole

  8. In General, It Will Look Like “Mail-Order Advertising”

  9. Results Rule, Period

  10. You Will Be a Tough-Minded Disciplinarian and Keep Your Business on a Strict DIRECT Marketing Diet for at Least Six Months

I heartily recommend Dan’s latest book. Regardless of what business you are in, this is one book that WILL bring you outstanding results.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

They are fast and easy to write and readers love them. Tip sheets may just be the easiest method for promoting your business you've ever tried. And once written, you can find many ways to put these tip sheets into the hands of your potential clients.

I was looking through my files recently and suddenly noticed how many tip sheets I have saved over the years. It occurred to me that they were examples of very smart marketing because most of the authors had provided information about their services and their contact information at the bottom of the sheets. This made it easy for someone like me to contact them years later, if the need arose for their services.

I am supposing here that I am fairly typical and I would presume there are many other people out there who save and file worthwhile information. This makes the humble little tip sheet one of the most versatile marketing tools around.

So without further ado (and because I would really like to see you print a copy of this article for your files) here are eight tips that you can use to promote your business with tip sheets:

  1. Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise when you write tip sheets. Tip sheets are promotional tools that prove that you are an expert in your field. When you condense your knowledge on a given topic, you create something that is far more convincing than any form of paid advertising.

  2. Offer your tip sheets as “freebies” to arouse the interest of potential clients. You can offer free tip sheets on your website, Yellow Page ad, or on your email signature file. Use tip sheets as “bait” to lure potential clients inro opting onto mailing (or emailing) list.

  3. Tip sheets make great inserts to go in your publicity kit. A busy journalist may just glance over your information, but there is something about the numbered list or bullet point format of a tip sheet that grabs the eye. It may be the only thing in your kit that gets read, but it may convince a reporter or editor that your pitch is newsworthy.

  4. Publish your shorter tip sheets as online or offline articles. You can submit them to sites like ezinearticles.com, idea marketers, Go Articles or Article City, or you can submit them to trade magazines your clients are likely to read.

  5. Publish your longer tip sheets as booklets or ebooks. You can give these booklets and ebooks to your potential clients, or you can follow Robert Bly's advice and create a seperate profit center by putting a price on the cover and charging people who are not potential clients. Bly's advice is to put a price on the cover of a booklet even if you only plan to give it away. The price increases the booklet's perceived value to the person who received it free.

  6. Use your tip sheets as free handouts at workshops or speaking engagements. Never do any public speaking without some sort of free handout. Quality tip sheets will insure that you audience remembers you for afterwards and have a way to get back in contact with you if they need your services. Remember the tip sheets I have saved for many years. Those authors who had the foresight to put their contact information on them can reap the benefits of these sheets years later.

  7. Put tip sheet on your website. The more you post useful information on your site, the more people will come to regard it as an information resource. When they view your site in this way, they are likely to bookmark it and become repeat visitors.

  8. Print your tip sheet as a panel on your brochure. Brochures are often thrown away shortly after they come into a potential client's possession. But if you include useful information, people are much more likely to keep and file your marketing materials. Even if they have no need for your services today, their circumstances could change months or even years later. If your tip sheet/brochure is in their files, they can get back with you years after they got your materials.

Not only are tip sheets, written with bullets or numbered list formats, appealing to your readers, writing in these formats helps you to organize your own thoughts and ideas.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Every business should occasionally spend time rethinking what business we are in. my own freelance copywriter business is no exception.

Lately I’ve come to realize that my core competencies are:

  1. Helping clients build a marketing strategy based upon giving out free information to their potential clients in the forms of white papers, booklets, ebooks, tip sheets, audio products and writing articles.

  2. Leverage these free information products to generate leads, build a list of subscribers and compile a database, through direct response advertising, sales letters and web content.

  3. Incorporate the incredible power of blogging and article writing (including both online and offline articles) to help clients position themselves as experts in their fields.

  4. Develop multiple ways to distribute the free information products to attract web traffic, email subscribers and inquiries.

  5. Offer ghost writing services to clients who cannot write their own articles, , booklets, ebooks, tip sheets, white papers, audio products and full-length books.

  6. Provide coaching services for those clients who want to write their own articles, blogs and books. Allow them to work on these projects with the support and assistance of a professional writer.

Not only are these the things I do very well, but I also believe they are the most valuable things I can do to produce results for my clients.

I am very interested in your comments and feedback on this redirection of my business model. Blogger has been having trouble accepting comments lately, so if you can’t post a comment, please email me at ***charbrow@gmail.com*** or you can even call me at 817.715.3852.

Any feedback you can give me will be very appreciated.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

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