Choosing Your Words Wisely: “Why Choose Two When One Will Do?”


Choosing-your-words-wisely-who-choose-two-when-one-will-doAs long as I can remember, there has been a debate in direct mail circles about whether “short” copy or “long” copy is more effective in getting your message across—and in getting potential clients to respond. There’s plenty of evidence on both sides that both short and long copy can be effective. But it’s not always a matter of length when it comes to good copy. It’s more a matter of choosing your words wisely.

When a friend of mine went to work for a magazine some years ago, his editor came to him with an assignment. “I want you to write a piece that’s exactly 60 words long,” said the editor. “Not 59. Not 61. 60!” Then the editor went on to explain that nobody else would ever know about this restriction. The whole idea had nothing to do with word count. The goal was to distill the content down to the absolute essentials. It was about concentrating on what was really important.

Some businesses talk about their “elevator pitch.” The idea is that employees (especially marketing and sales people) should be able to clearly communicate the company’s value proposition in the time it takes to ride from the lobby to the top floor of a building in an elevator. I’ve never really liked that example, because if you’re in a really tall building, you can talk for a long time.

Perhaps a better illustration is the burning match. You light a match and then you have to explain your main value proposition before the flame burns your fingers. That’s about how much attention people will give you today. If you can’t get the essentials out in that time, you probably don’t have a good grip on what your company has to offer.

Take a look at the messaging in your direct marketing efforts. Is it clear what you have to offer? Do readers know how to respond? Or are your fingers burning?

Your job (and your copy’s job) is not to convince people how wonderful your company or your product or service is. Your job is to convince people that you understand their situation and that you have a solution that can help them solve a problem. You don’t have a lot of time to do that so you need to be sure that you choose your words wisely.

You can come back with illustrations and stories and examples. Those are all good things. But you need to be sure that your main message is clear, pertinent, and valuable to those who hear it.

Direct Mail Best Practices