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The Challenge of the Blank Page: What to Write

Flickr Photo by alexkerhead

One of the single hardest tasks a business owner will face is sitting down to create that first ad or brochure copy. A blank page staring silently back at you saying, “Well? — Let’s go — while we’re young!”

Suddenly your mind is as blank as the paper. How do you start? Where do you start?

Know Your Target Market

When I write copy for a brochure or direct mail letter for a client I start by jotting down ideas about the customer. Before I can create a positive message I have to understand whom I’m talking to. What would I want that customer to know if they were sitting across the table from me? What need does this customer have that I can fill? How can my product or service solve his or her problem? And what does this customer have in common with other similar customers?

Benefits vs. Facts

What do I want to say to this customer? What points do I want to make sure they understand?

Facts are great, but benefits are better. What are the benefits of my product or service and how do these benefits match up with the needs of my ideal customer?

I can’t tell you how many ads I see that must have been written by a Ph.D.; nothing wrong with being a Ph.D. — as long as you are writing your ad to appeal to other Ph.D.’s. There’s a difference between a good vocabulary and clarity. Simple words can often tell the story just as effectively as a long dissertation full of multi-syllable words. The rule here is be simple but also be clear.

Specifics vs. Generalities

In my seminars I often talk about golf. How I never get to play and how I think I could be good if I could just play more. I talk about how great it is be outdoors and the thrill of sinking those long putts.

Then I ask if anyone in the group has the key for getting my ball through the windmill blades. They usually break out in laughter while I explain that by leaving out just one word, “miniature” we are talking about two entirely different games.

So, while I was being specific about my description of the game I was playing, the audience was somewhere totally different, using different equipment and even in totally different surroundings. Sometimes a single word can have your customer visually using your product in the wrong way, expecting benefits the product doesn’t provide.

Negative vs. Positive

Negative ads work in some instances like political races but rarely do they work well in business. Most people contact your business because they are looking for a positive outcome to their problem. They already know the negative.

In addition, don’t bad-mouth the competitive product to make your own look good. If you have a good product, it should stand on its own merits.

In fact, it’s best not to mention the competition at all unless there is come kind of study or report that shows a comparison in your favor.

Keep It Simple

We all know the KISS method of product demonstration; Keep It Simple Stupid. Customers are impressed by your problem-solving ability, not your eloquence. Explain your benefits and ask open ended questions in your ad to elicit an action on the part of the customer: a call, return a coupon, a free offer, or some kind of “call to action” that makes customers act.

Some Final Thoughts

Writing and ad or brochure isn’t really a hard as it may seem. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Just keep these thoughts in mind.

Talk to your idea customer. Keep your message clear, specific, simple and positive. Your brochures and ads are always going to be a work in progress; so don’t worry if your first few efforts don’t win any advertising awards.

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