Check your copy for impact

A checklist for writing promotional material

  1. The average reader will give you 5-10 seconds to get their attention. Make sure your main message can be understood in that amount of time.
  2. Use good photography. It's impossible to overestimate its value.
  3. If you have to make the type smaller in order to fit the space - EDIT! Work on the assumption that every unnecessary word will personally cost you £5.
  4. Display the headline prominently. Never write an ad without a headline!
  5. Don't overuse italics. They're tiring for the eye in large doses. No more than 10 words is a good rule of thumb.
  6. Use subheads to help your reader navigate through your copy.
  7. Establish the target readership. If the reader gets to the second paragraph before they figure out you're only talking to left-handed Norwegians, they'll be cross. (Unless, of course, they're a left-handed Norwegian.)
  8. Can you tell your audience something new? New information? New results? If so, do.
  9. Use numbers in copy when you can, especially in headlines and subheads. '6 Ways to Make Sure You Get A Promotion.' '5 Reasons to Look for a New Job.'
  10. Use 'odd' numbers in a long list.'17 Ways to Tell if Your Cat has a High IQ' has more credibility than 20 ways. With rounded numbers people assume you've padded the list to get the right number.
  11. Headlines that quote somebody get high readership.
  12. Consider the age of your audience in choosing type size. If you have age-targeted products, use larger type size for the older sectors and not smaller than 12pt for anything that carries your sales message.
  13. When selling something, remember the 'do-get' principle. What does the reader have to 'do' in return for what they will 'get'. In general they must be convinced the 'get' has 2-3 times more value than the 'do'. So, if your product costs £20, write copy that will convince the buyer it's worth at least £40.
  14. Choose a maximum of three typestyles per piece. Preferably two. This will help avoid the 'ransom note' effect.
  15. In retail advertising, headlines of 10 words or more consistently sell more than short headlines.
  16. Use words that paint pictures. Practise by describing a spiral staircase with your hands behind your back.
  17. If you're writing a sales letter, use a p.s., preferably one that re-states your main message. P.s.'s always get read (an average of 7 times more than body copy).
  18. If your piece includes a reply card, make sure it's big enough to complete easily. Small reply cards discourage action, and are the source of much inaccurate data on mailing lists.
  19. Use testimonials. Readers are quicker to believe an employee or fellow consumer than they are a copywriter.
  20. Don't be afraid of long copy if it's necessary to sell your product, especially intangibles. Assume it's the only chance you'll have to convince that reader.
  21. Test everything. Test your headlines, your ad size, your offer, your response device. Preferably test on a small scale before splashing out on a large scale.
  22. Use CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis only, as it takes readers longer to read all caps than caps and lower case. Why? Because the shape of the words is all the same.
  23. Use a heavy dashed border around an ad that's one-half page or less. It makes the ad look like a coupon and will increase response.
  24. Avoid reverse type (usually white on black), except in large point sizes. Like italics, it can be tiring and difficult to read, especially if the printing is not absolutely first rate.
  25. Use 'script' typography carefully. It can be difficult to read and most readers will give up.
  26. Don't put your headline and copy above your illustration. The eye will go to the illustration first and then have to fight gravity to climb to the top of the page to read the copy.
  27. When designing a poster, use a headline large enough to be seen from a distance of 10 to 15 times the width of the poster. Example: if your poster is 2-foot-wide, the reader should be able to read it from 20 to 30 feet away.
  28. To increase reader contact by 20 percent, use an 0800 or 0845 number.
  29. To increase reader contact by 16 percent, include a price. (If you don't include a price in retail advertising, the reader will assume it's more expensive than it probably is.)
  30. To increase reader contact by 13 percent, include a coupon.
  31. If you're designing a trade show booth, you have between 3 and 6 seconds to grab the customer's attention. Consider it somewhere between a billboard and a magazine advert.
  32. Black & white advertising can be as powerful as full-colour, especially when: people are pictured in dramatic situations (a woman stranded on the motorway) or you need to get a serious message across (tax-free mutual bonds).
  33. To make sure your copy is 'user-friendly', read it out loud. If it sounds stilted, re-write.
  34. Some tips on line length: studies have found lines between 40 and 60 characters long are best for readability and comprehension.
  35. Not sure whether your prospect is male or female? Ms, Miss or Mrs? Address your sales letter with their full name, i.e. 'Dear Chris Hughes'. It's perfectly acceptable and increasingly common.
  36. When using numbers, try to give them meaning. Instead of saying '£500 million', say '£10 for every man, woman and child in Britain'. Instead of saying your home insurance sells for £375 per year, say it costs £1.03 per day.
  37. When writing a sales letter over one page in length, write 'please continue' instead of just 'continue'. Sixteen percent more people will turn the page.
  38. When you're done writing, count the number of 'you's compared to the number of 'I's and 'We's. If the 'you's are outnumbered, re-write.

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