Marketing Copywriting, Maslen on Marketing

Which profit-boosting DM secret is routinely ignored by many marketeers?

I’ve just got off the phone with a client. We were discussing testing subject lines for an email campaign I’m writing.

The conversation turned to body copy and she said, “we’ve tested it and long copy works better for us. It’s a fact.”

There are four phrases in that sentence that bear some analysis.

First, “we’ve tested it”. It is astonishing to report this to you, but even in 2010, after more than 100 years of direct marketing, there are still people, teams, marketing departments and companies who do not test.

Second, “long copy works better”. This is not much of a surprise, but it’s worth finding out.

Third, “for us”. Yes, there are reams of case studies that point out the truth of point 2, but you have to be sure what works for you. You can’t do that unless you test.

Fourth, “It’s a fact”. Yes, it is a fact. As opposed to an opinion, which, in direct marketing terms, online or offline, is worth a great deal less.

Facts trump opinions

I have spoken to many direct marketeers who express puzzlement, disbelief or even outright hostility to the idea that long copy pulls more sales. This is despite the plentiful information in the public domain documenting precisely that outcome.

Please note I am talking about direct marketeers here, not their ad agency-briefing peers in above-the-line marketing. They are the people who can measure everything, but prefer instead to rely on their own intuition.

Yes, long copy generally works better

Here are four client stories, names changed to protect the successful.

Annie at conference company W tested one-page sales letters against two- and four-page letters. Four-page letters brought in more registrations than two, which brought in more than one. It is now marketing department policy to write 4our-page sales letters.

Sarah at publisher X emailed me, “you personally brainwashed me into testing long copy and I have never found it outpulled by short, even for emails”.

Kate at business information company Y tested two ad versions. The version with 800 words brought in 50% more sales than the version with 100 words (which her designers had lobbied for).

Terry at newsletter publisher Z has tested copy relentlessly over the last five years. His current letters are 12 pages long.

Big v little things

If you are going to test, make sure you start with the big things. Price, offer, copy length, subject lines, flashy design versus plain text lookalike.

After you’ve identified what works best, then go on to tiddle around with images, colours and typefaces.

Keep your eye on the ball

Another client – a very senior global marketeer – found a team in one of her outposts had mailed 10 million emails for a total haul of precisely…

Seven sales.

That’s a response rate of 0.00007 percent. Which is not great. At all.

Mind you, they did know a lot about the open and click-through rates for each segment of their list.

And I’m telling you this because

There’s an old management adage, “spend the company’s money like it was your own”. If you run your own business, it is. Either way, you should be doing what direct marketeers have been doing since the 1900s and testing.

What you think is true – nobody reads long copy, for example – could form the hypothesis you are testing, but test it you should.

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