Maslen on Marketing

How powerful language builds long-term sales

Selling subscriptions (or building any kind of relationship) is a long game. And to play the long game well, you need to use appropriate language for your title and brand, and use it consistently.

But that’s not an easy thing to achieve for publishers. One challenge is not seeing the wood for the trees. I heard this yesterday from a publisher about the magazine he has run, very successfully, for the last quarter century.

He was talking about the differing perspectives of in-house staff, and specifically publishers/editors, to external writers.

As with many industries, in publishing we frequently become engrossed in what our product IS, rather than what it DOES. And if you think this is just me finding another way to say benefits matter more than features, you’d be right.

Three tips for consistent language

So what are we to do about it? Let’s suppose, first, that we’ll stick with in-house copywriters.

Tip number one, get your in-house writer to pull your magazine apart and figure out what it really does for the reader.

In our household we currently subscribe to the following titles: The Economist, The New Yorker, Granta, Classic and Sportscar and She. The following table illustrates the difference between what they are and what they do for three of them:

The EconomistIS General news weeklyDOES Makes you feel you won’t get passed over for promotion through ignorance
Classic and SportscarIS Monthly classic car magazineDOES Makes you feel part of a group of enthusiasts
SheIS Women’s glossy monthlyDOES Helps you enjoy life and make the most of yourself as a woman.

Tip number two, establish some clear and simple brand guidelines. The best example I have come across recently was not from a publisher at all, but Hamleys, for whom I wrote a microsite.

It’s small. A six-page, concertina-fold, A6 leaflet. But it told me everything I needed to know about Hamleys’ tone of voice and brand values. Any writer picking up that guide (and it was part of a much deeper brief) would have an excellent idea of where to start in choosing the right language to promote Hamleys.

Tip number three, only approve copy that you feel sure will lead to more long-term subscribers.

It’s relatively easy to put bums on seats, as one publishing manager told me the other day. Short-term trials, excessively valuable freebies, walloping great introductory discounts: they’ll all do it.

But the serial triallists, discount hounds and gift-blaggers you attract soon disappear, leaving you out of pocket and with possible dents in your brand image. Appropriate language, therefore, will concentrate on the underlying value of the magazine to its target subscriber.

Brief, and to the point

If you are working with an external writer, the brief becomes critical. Here’s what I like to be told in a brief. What I am trying to achieve. Who I am selling to. What I am selling.

The last of these questions is the nitty gritty about the title. Its brand values, positioning, history and development, special features, editorial policy and values. You get the picture. The more facts I have at my fingertips, the more I can weave into a compelling story to sell subs.

And in terms of appropriate language as it applies specifically to subs copy, I’ve some crunchy, practical points for you. Next month.

And I’m telling you this because?

When you’re selling subscriptions, memberships or any other kind of relationship-based service, tone of voice is critical. And maintaining a consistent and appropriate tone of voice is essential.

Whether you write your copy yourself or outsource it, make sure you establish some simple but powerful rules – and stick to them.

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