Tips for writing effective marketing publications

When you want to develop your business, how do you get your message across?

Awash in information, few people have the time to find, read, ponder, and respond to the many messages that inundate them. How do you connect with potential customers?

The short answer: Send your message to the people whom it is likely to interest, strive to develop a personal connection, and get to the point quickly, clearly, and compellingly.

Marketing writing that is effective is not flashy. It communicates, and it elicits a response. Use these tips to write effective marketing materials, and then learn more about how you can target your message delivery for the best results.

In this article


How to write effectively

Successful writers take a variety of approaches to the task of writing. The following steps outline an approach that you can adapt to suit you:

  1. Prepare to write
  2. Draft your copy
  3. Edit the draft
  4. Polish your message

 Note   Why not copy and paste? For efficiency, most businesses frequently reuse copy, such as descriptions of the company, products, or key personnel. This boilerplate text is usually general and supplemental. If you start with it, customers probably won't read past the boilerplate text before they stop. Boilerplate text is often efficient but not always effective. Use it wisely.

Prepare to write

Preparation is the partner of clear thinking, and that is the foundation for clear writing. The better you prepare, the easier the task of writing becomes.

  1. Do your homework and gather your research    Learn as much as you can about your customers, your market, and your competition. You will lean on this knowledge to build your credibility with your potential customers. The resources for gathering this information may include the following:
    • Industry data
    • Performance statistics
    • Customer metrics
    • Sales data
    • Testimonials and endorsements of your products and services
  2. Listen to your customers    You will develop empathy for their issues. Then, when you remember and use their language, you will convey that you understand their concerns. To learn the terms that your customers use, try the following:
    • Visit online newsgroups and discussion groups daily.
    • Listen in on sales and support calls weekly.
    • Meet with key customers as part of a quarterly advisory council.
  3. Identify the action that you want readers to take    What do you want customers to do when they are finished reading?
    • Click a link?
    • Make a phone call?
    • Send a response card?
    • Think more highly of your business?

Determine carefully how much information you need to provide to get customers to act. Be realistic — you are unlikely to close a sale. And test your response system so that you can follow through effectively when many of your readers do act.

  1. Define your goals    What will success look like? Do you want a specific number of new prospects, or new or returning customers? Do you want to meet a specific sales volume, or increase the number of visitors to your business? Knowing what and how much you want to achieve helps you to stay focused when you develop your content.
  2. Take stock of your resources    Work within your budget and other limitations. It is better to work with what you have than to get halfway through your project and realize you can't possibly meet your goal within your resource constraints.

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Draft your copy

Know the difference between writing and editing. When you are writing, editing hinders you. Save the honing for later.

  1. Write anything at all    Don't expect to get it right at first. Turn off the inner critic as you write about:
    • Your overall message
    • Your key points
    • What you want to tell your readers
    • What you want them to do
    • How your product or service will benefit them

Keep writing until you think you have covered all the points that you need to make. Make it as long as you need. You will return to it later to organize, edit, and hone it.

  1. Expect and address skepticism and objections    Answer the biggest objection first: Why should I bother reading this? Give details, reassure, persuade — whatever is most appropriate for your audience. If you hook them, they want answers to their questions:
    • What is it?
    • What will it do for me?
    • Who else (like me) has used it and what did they get out of it? (Here is a place to incorporate testimonials and endorsements.)
    • How much will it cost?
    • When and where can I get it?
  2. Focus on the benefit to your customers    Instead of focusing on the features of the product or what you do, tell your customers about what they will get. When you do write about a product feature, tell customers what it will do for them — why it will make their lives better. Create a desire.

It may be useful to pose a question to the customer, show them the benefit, and tell them the action to take to get it. Consider providing information that is useful in its own right, such as a helpful tip or resource. This adds a benefit to the publication, and it demonstrates your intentions and expertise.

  1. Use testimonials    Unless you are writing to leaders and executives, who are less likely to be impressed by others' opinions, let testimonials describe the problem that your business solves and the benefit. Use testimonials that don't sound as though you wrote them. But don't let testimonials drown out your voice and message. You want to develop a personal connection with your audience.
  2. Make it authentic, personal, fresh, and direct    Suggestions for how to do this include:
    • Write the way you talk — casually, informally. Don't get caught up in being grammatically correct.
    • Talk directly to the reader ("you").
    • Write as though you are addressing someone you know. The more you have identified a specific segment of your audience, the easier this is to do.
    • Avoid hype and overstatement. If you need to convey excitement, can you do it without saying that it is "exciting!"?
    • Don't risk disappointing your readers by misleading them or promising things that you can't deliver.

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Edit the draft

It is time to edit. When you edit, work from general to specific — and from key messages to details. Focus on organization first, language later.

  1. Group it    Look at what you wrote and start to group the sections that make sense together. Be flexible. Try different arrangements. Remove redundancies.
  2. Grab them    Start with an intriguing anecdote, a provocative question, or an unusual perspective. Don't cause customers to respond, "So what?" Inspire them to continue reading. You likely have fewer than 10 seconds to engage them.
  3. Concentrate on a single message    If readers give your message only a few seconds, will they absorb it? Cut content that doesn't serve your message or goals.
  4. Help your readers scan    Organize your message in containers (a heading and a paragraph or two, maybe with an associated graphic and caption). Convey your important points in the elements that customers read first (and often last):
    • Headings    They are the most important part of your content because readers are likely to skim only them when deciding to read more or move on to something else. Take special care in crafting them.
    • Captions    Use them to make a point, not just to describe the image. After headings, readers are most likely to skim captions.
    • Subheadings and bullet lists    These devices help readers to skim the publication quickly and give them additional entry points into it.
  5. Hone your message to the essence of each idea    Use short sentences (10 to 20 words) and paragraphs (2 or 3 sentences). This is also a good time to check for grammar and edit out anything unnecessary: modifiers, complex clauses, awkward phrases. Use an active voice, and avoid business jargon, obscure words, stale phrases, and any abstract or confusing ideas. Make it concrete and straightforward.

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Polish your message

As you fine-tune the publication, make sure that you also step back regularly to make sure that it still fits into your overall marketing plan. It is not hard for writing to take off in an unintended direction. Now is when others can most help you by bringing a fresh eye to help you find what you may have overlooked.

  1. Keep it simple    The fewer words you use, the more likely your audience will read them. Use a clean design. A clutter of fonts, colors, and pictures can confuse a clear, straightforward message. Just as you have worked hard to achieve a simple message, strive for a simple design that supports your goals.
  2. Focus on the medium    What and how much you write differs depending on whether you are writing content for a postcard, a brochure, a newsletter, an e-mail message, or a Web site.

For example, a postcard message must focus much more on enticing than informing the reader, and a newsletter's overt purpose is to inform. The content principles outlined in this article don't vary much for each medium, but the final form and format do.

  1. Double-check that you cover what is important    People want shortcuts, and the most convenient shortcut is often the wastebasket. Make sure that the customer can discern in 10 seconds what your publication is about, who it is from, what they need to do next and when they need to do it, and how they can contact you.
  2. Make sure that someone else checks for errors    Consider asking several people to look over the publication. You need impartial help of two kinds. First, ask someone who is similar to your target audience to review your work and tell you whether the message is coming across clearly. Are they hooked? Does it leave them with unanswered questions? Second, ask someone to proofread for you. Misspellings, typos, and poor grammar reflect poorly on your business. If you are sloppy with your message and image, customers can bet that you will be sloppy in your service to them.

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How to get a response

To reach a potential customer and get a response, deliver a personal message that is tailored to the individual. Because that is seldom feasible on a large scale, the next best approach is to organize your prospective customers into distinct categories that you can address individually. Your customer database and mailing lists can help you filter for common characteristics that you can use as the focus of your marketing efforts.

For example, a business in musical instruments might segment prospective customers by the specific instruments that they play. The same business could use of the purchase date of customers' instruments to send reminders such as: "You've been blowing your horn for a year. It's time to bring it in for cleaning and tuning."

The more you know your audience, the more confident you will be that they are ready to read what you want to tell them and that you understand their concerns (in their terms, not yours), and the more specific to their interests your message will be. For more information about categorizing your customer database, see Tips for personalizing your publication. For more information about preparing a mailing list, see Tips for mailing lists.

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Applies to:
Publisher 2013, Publisher 2010, Publisher 2007