Simple Guidelines For Great Promotional Messaging

Ed BurghardThe single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever tried to write killer copy for your promotional tactics? If so, you’ll know that it’s difficult because communicating messages succinctly and effectively isn’t as easy as most people think. It takes creativity and persistence to find the right combination of words that capture attention and deliver your message in a compelling way.  So what can you do to make the challenge easier? You may find success by following these five guidelines. This post will tell you what you need to know to how to ensure your copy hits the mark.

Five Simple Guidelines For Great Communication

If you’re looking to create effective copy try following these Guidelines:

  • Highlight your benefit statement with supporting visuals and headlines.  Your visuals should directly reinforce the benefit you promise.  Extraneous visuals confuse readers. A classic supporting visual shows your target experiencing the promised benefit.  The classic side-by-side comparison is a great example.  But, it isn’t the only way to illustrate your benefit statement.  However, this is an area where a good creative Agency can make all the difference. An easier task is to recognize when the visual does not support your benefit statement. Hold your visuals to a high standard.  Strongly resist releasing promotion that has an obvious disconnect between your copy and visual.
  • Make your copy more relevant to the reader by using target specific insights.  Relevant copy creates interest in your message.  In fact, the difference between good copy and junk mail is relevance. Take the time to understand how your promised benefit is perceived by your target and the language used by them to describe it.  Talk to your reader in language he/she speaks and you will create more interest in what you have to say. Talk over the reader, under the reader or use terms the reader doesn’t understand and your copy will be ignored.
  • Involve your reader. Use interesting headlines, provocative copy that makes your reader think, questions, testimonials, quizzes, demonstrations or anything that engages the reader.  Find ways to get your reader to want to learn more.
  • Anticipate and handle objections. When you are aware many readers have a common objection to believing your benefit is achievable, address it head-on by providing proof (reasons to believe).  If you do not handle the objection immediately by challenging the pre-held belief, the reader will ignore your message.
  • Deliver your copy with a consistent design theme.  Messages from your brand should look like they came from your brand.  This is where consistency in brand visualization is important.  Consistent color pallet, consistent type font, consistent brand character (tonality) all contribute to increasing the reader’s confidence that what you are saying is true.

Now that you know the guidelines, you’re ready to evaluate your existing promotional (communication) program against them.  This is a great approach to understanding where your copy is falling short of being outstanding. Learn from this exercise and use those observations to help you write even better copy for your next communication effort.

Counsel

In my experience, the two greatest challenges presented by the guidelines are 1) articulating your brand promise using benefit language in a heart and mind opening way and 2) creating a visual that supports the message.  Often, Agencies will present concepts with copy that requires readers to think too hard and/or visuals that focus more on attention getting than supporting your message.  It is a phenomenon I call “fishing with a shiny thing”.   Bass tend to instinctively get aggressive when presented with a shiny lure and as a result get hooked.  Agencies often count on their clients acting like bass and biting on clever copy and/or interesting visuals.  Hold your standards high and firm.  If the copy does not clearly communicate your brand promise or the visual does not directly support the benefit, refrain from investing your limited promotional dollars.  If the ad fails to meet the guidelines, there is a good chance it will fail to communicate your message and deliver a positive ROI on your promotional dollars.  In my opinion, “fishing with a shiny thing” is a driving reason for the plethora of ineffective promotion you get exposed to on a daily basis.

Discussion

Guidelines can be helpful, but should not be considered rules.  Do you have any additional guidelines that have served you well in managing the creation of great communication?  In my experience, Management (e.g. members of your Board) often fall prey to the “fishing with a shiny thing” approach.  What tips do you have on how to avoid this from happening?

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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4 Comments so far

  1. […]   […]

  2. Tom Buncle

    January 8, 2014

    Sound advice, simply articulated, and sheer common sense…..which is all too often ignored in favour of the “go-faster stripe” / “shiny lure” peddled by agencies who don’t dig deep enough to see the brand beneath the wrapping…….Shaw and Burghard….what a team!

  3. Mike Philippson

    January 8, 2014

    Who’s at fault when the Agency presents you with a shiny thing? I usually find it is the Client. Agencies really want to please the Client, so you tend to get what you deserve. The shiny thing is usually an outward symptom of the poor Brief disease. Is the Benefit in the Brief really a Benefit or just a Feature? Is the Target a person the Creatives can connect with or just a demographic? Is the Insight just a fact or a true connection between the Benefit and the Target? Have you too many ideas in the Brief? Any one of these is enough to get you a shiny thing. I find most Briefs I see have at least 2 of these issues. So if you are getting shiny things from your Agency, I think the best place to look for the cause is in the mirror.

  4. Ed Burghard

    January 8, 2014

    Mike – You are absolutely right about the power of an effective creative brief. In fact, I actually authored a post titled “You Get What You Deserve” that supports your point (http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2013/02/working-with-an-agency-creative-brief/). But, it is also important to call out that more often than not the creative brief is actually authored by the Agency as an internal document to guide the creative process. As the hired expert in communication, Agencies have a shared (if not lead) responsibility to ensure the creative brief is well written. The analogy I’d make is the market research firm that defaults to the client for questionnaire design.

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