In my New York University copywriting workshop, I teach students to avoid “manufacturer’s copy”—copy that is vendor-oriented, that stresses who we are, what we do, our corporate philosophy and history, and the objectives of our firm.
You and your products are not important to the prospect. The reader opening your sales letter only wants to know, “What’s in it for me? How will I come out ahead by doing business with you vs. someone else?”
Successful direct mail focuses on the prospect, not the product. The most useful background research you can do is to ask your typical prospect, “What’s the biggest problem you have right now?” The sales letter should talk about that problem, then promise a solution.
Do not guess what is going on in industries about which you have limited knowledge. Instead, talk to customers and prospects to find out their needs. Read the same publications and attend the same seminars they do. Try to learn their problems and concerns.
Too many companies and ad agencies don’t do that. Too many copywriters operate in a black box, and doom themselves merely to recycling data already found in existing brochures.
For example, let’s say you have the assignment of writing a direct-mail package selling weed control chemicals to farmers. Do you know what farmers look for in weed control, or why they choose one supplier over another? Unless you are a farmer, you probably don’t. Wouldn’t it help to speak to some farmers and learn more about their situation?
Read, talk, and listen to find out what’s going on with your customers.
In his book “Or Your Money Back,” Alvin Eicoff, one of the deans of latenight television commercials, tells the story of a radio commercial he wrote selling rat poison. It worked well in the consumer market. But when it was aimed at the farm market, sales turned up zero.
Mr. Eicoff drove out to the country to talk with farmers. His finding? Farmers didn’t order because they were embarrassed about having a rat problem, and feared their neighbors would learn about it when the poison was delivered by mail.
He added a single sentence to the radio script, which said that the rat poison was mailed in a plain brown wrapper. After that, sales soared.
Talk to your customers. Good direct mail—or any ad copy—should tell them what they want to hear. Not what you think is important.