The Job of the First Sentence

If the job of the headline is to get readers to read the copy, then you might say the job of the first sentence is to get readers to read the second sentence.

That may seem obvious, but it can easily be overlooked — whether a journalist sweating his lead (or lede, if you prefer), or a copywriter overreaching with the opening sentence of body copy. Sometimes we writers try too hard, as if we want to be Shakespeare or Hemingway.

Larry McMurtry offered some good first-sentence advice in one of his novels. (I think it was in Some Can Whistle.)

“You expect far too much from a first sentence,” McMurtry wrote.

“Think of it as analogous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.”

Something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. I like that. That will surely keep readers reading.


It’s the Offer, Stupid

Sell the offer. Sell the offer. Sell the offer.

I am reminded of this on direct mail and other projects. If the list is solid, then the offer (and how it’s presented) will determine the level of success.

An example from the B2C world is Geico, which is constantly on TV, in print publications and elsewhere.

What’s their offer?

“Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance.”

In other words, they’re offering a free estimate. But it’s presented in a clear, consistent and cut-to-the-quick way.

A West Coast direct-marketing agency says that direct-response pieces can easily turn into “product sheets in drag,” attempting to cover way too much. Don’t let this happen to you. Make it all about the offer.

Talk to Sales, Write Winning Copy

I once read that famed direct marketer Dan Kennedy used a simple strategy for writing a new sales letter. Kennedy talked to the company’s top salesperson. Then he turned the salesperson’s proven sales pitch into a control-shattering letter.

I was reminded of Kennedy when I talked with a vice president of sales for a software company. He told me the company’s marketing materials focused too much on features and used jargon that average business people didn’t understand. Then he gave me the 10-minute sales pitch: what the product does, the business benefits, and a few examples.

I turned his briefing (including his terminology) into copy for trade show messaging and data sheets.

Continue reading “Talk to Sales, Write Winning Copy”

‘Talk Human’

About two years ago B2B ad agency Eric Mower and Associates (EMA) launched a smart trade ad campaign.

One ad showed a guy who is out cold during a business presentation. The headline read, “Is it really necessary to sit through 220 PowerPoint slides?”

The body copy said, “There’s a difference between talking to people and talking at them.” And: “Real communication doesn’t ‘leverage information against a target demographic.’ It speaks to real people about real problems ….”

EMA dramatized what seems obvious but is often absent in business communications: Simple beats convoluted. Conversational language beats jargon. And, even in B2B, emotion often beats (or at least equals) logic.

EMA’s tagline was “talk human.” It’s advice worth leveraging, er, following.

3 Rules for Great Writing

My friend Aly sent me this quote:

“There are three rules for great writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

The above quote, he noted, is an adaptation of the following Maugham quote:

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
−W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

Do you have any favorite rules for great writing? The comments section is open.

‘Use Their Language’

“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language in which they think.”
−David Ogilvy

My daughter is taking French 1 in junior high. Last night I helped her study for a quiz. And I don’t know a lick of French.

“That’s OK, Dad,” she said. “Just say the words the best you can and I’ll spell them. It’s a spelling test.”

Imagine you were marketing something to Americans — in French. That would be absurd. Most would immediately tune it out because they wouldn’t understand a word of it.

Unfortunately, the language disconnect happens in many arenas. It’s not as obvious as my French to Americans example. Rather, it’s when communicators fail to learn the language nuances of their audiences, whether gender, educational, professional, cultural or other differences.

Simple Words

In my free report, 66 Proven Tips for Writing Copy That Sells, this tip is among my favorites:

28. Use simple words.

I believe this is one of the all-time best copywriting tips. Simple words make copy clear and lean. Simple words communicate quickly.

Unfortunately, people often ignore this tip, which is why business communications say …

Continue reading “Simple Words”