MGI Tipster – Volume 10, Issue 10

October 13, 2011   |   Vol. 10   |   Issue 10
Copy Tips and Tricks for the Direct Marketer

Great copy makes writing seem so easy. It flows. It’s conversational. It’s even captivating. But most of all, it engages and it sells.

Copywriting is both art and science, method and creative. In this month’s MGI Tipster, we examine some of the basics that are so important to direct marketing copy creation and provide some tips on how to make your copywriting even better.

It all starts with “Dear”

You are set and ready to write your direct marketing letter, email, postcard, advertisement, webpage, or products description. You have prepared the ground work…you have your sales points sharpened and have developed a solid offer. And you start to type:


But who are you contacting? How much do you know about the person on the receiving end of your communication? And how does that influence what you say?

Before you write your very first sentence, take time to understand to whom you are writing. What are the interests…hopes…fears…and goals of your reader? Your message to a small business CEO will probably be different from the CEO of a multinational company, and equally different for a student, middle manager, or administrative assistant.

Tempting as it might be to send a one-size-fits-all message, your job as a marketer is to convey how your product or service fits the reader’s best interest – not yours.

Think of this: is it easier to have a conversation with an old friend or a new one? You are likely to be a lot more comfortable talking to someone you know than someone you don’t. So be sure you know your reader. And…

Be yourself

A direct mail letter is a discussion and a dialog with a customer and a friend where you actually participate in both sides of the communication. Good copy builds a relationship and engages your readers as though you were in the room talking with (not to) them. You must be familiar, respectful, understanding, friendly, and professional all at the same time. Your conversation is your opportunity to share good news about the advantages your product will bring to the needs of your good friend, the reader.

Ask questions. They enhance the conversational feel of your letter and further engage your reader. A question begs an answer, and as you ask, you are satisfying curiosity while you share the benefits of your product or service.

Features tell…Benefits sell

Membership appeals are notorious for presenting laundry lists of supposed member “benefits” such as award-winning magazines, education programs, conferences, e-newsletters, webinars, and insurance programs. Yes, the list goes on. And while we tell an awful lot about what members get, we say very little about what they get out of it.

These so-called member “benefits” are actually “features.” You want to make them relevant to prospective members, have them come alive, and be not only useful but also necessary solvers of problems your prospect may not have known she or he had. You need to turn that list of “things” into opportunities.

Try this exercise:

  1. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper from top to bottom.
  2. On the left side, list features of membership, i.e., the monthly magazine, industry email, lobbying, certification, career center, professional development, and so on.
  3. On the right side, write a corresponding benefit, i.e., advance your skills by…prove your value by…save time by…save money by…use research to support programs…protect your interests…etc.

See what is happening here? You are taking inanimate objects or services and giving them life by showing what they do for people and how they help them. Then, when you write your letter, use the right side of the list to develop copy points that address the needs, wants, and desires of your prospective members. That is relevant writing that speaks to your reader.

Say what you mean

Remember that you are writing to real people about real solutions to real problems. You are not writing an epic filled with fancy words to impress your readers. You are having a conversation. Write as you speak in plain language. Use short, active sentences that will work to move your reader through your message to real understanding. You want your reader to be energized and excited by the story you tell. And keep a close eye out for the passive voice, which generates overlong, mealy-mouth, timid prose. Use the active voice with punchy, active verbs.

It’s really important that you be genuine, honest, and authoritative. Leave the techno-speak for the brochure, avoid uncommon acronyms, and don’t use long words when short ones will do. You don’t want to talk down to your audience, you want to communicate with them. You are delivering a message of hope and opportunity, and that should be exciting. Testimonials offer real support and credibility to your message, so use them if you can. Your current, satisfied customers are your best advocates.

The key is to “act”

Every word, every sentence, every paragraph needs to drive your reader to respond to your offer. If you can’t get a sale, get a lead. Structure your offer to make it easy and safe for your reader to place an order, get more information, or request a sample or trial.

Guarantees offer a safety net and instill confidence in the uncertain prospect. Premiums offer incentive, perhaps that extra nudge that moves your reader from consideration to participation. And deadlines spur quicker and better response, which is what you are trying to do in the first place.

And most of all—always ask for the order! Then ask again. Call toll free. Go to the website. Return the order form in the postage-paid envelope. Make ordering easy, natural, and the logical next step.

In a nutshell

  • Be conversational and speak to a person, not an audience.
  • Peppering copy with the pronoun “you” is not a personalized message.
  • Talk to your readers…not at them.
  • Be genuine, honest, and authoritative.
  • Write about benefits, not features.
  • Ask for the order.
  • Ask for the order again.

If you would like to know more about copywriting and how it works as a component in direct marketing and membership recruitment, contact MGI President Rick Whelan at 703.706.0350, or email him at

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