Copywriting--The Red-Headed Stepchild in Your E-mail Budget

E-mail is for readers. That's why I'm always amazed that developing great copy receives so little attention and so little budget.

I've worked with clients who devoted millions of dollars to developing a database and an e-mail program, but stopped short when it came to investing time or money in great copywriting. To me it was like buying a Ferrari and using cheap gas. Sure it will run, but will it give you optimal performance?

An accepted principle of direct marketing is that improving copy will have the biggest impact on response after list and offer. Here are a few things to consider that can improve your copy.

Background. More is more when it comes to background material for your writer. Provide everything you can get your hands on: information on brand positioning, marketing materials, press releases, research reports, examples of competitors' web sites, industry publications, etc. Don't filter what you think will be relevant to the task, thinking you'll save the writer's time. You never know what might spur an idea; writers like to steep in information while working on a project.



Interviews. Provide opportunities for your writer to speak to people who are involved in your product or service. Yes, you hate to bother the CEO, but your readers may want to hear his or her childhood anecdote. Who designed and developed the product you're selling? What was their vision and what decisions/problems/successes happened along the way? Or how about a satisfied customer? An interesting story is well worth the investment in in-person research.

Poetry. What is the difference between a catalog marketer and a retail marketer's online store? The catalog marketer has learned that what I call "poetic copy" works. Read the description of a pedestrian item like a wool sweater at Then look at a comparable product at a retailer that started out with bricks and mortar and has never mailed a catalog. At Lands' End, you'll see a description that tells a beautiful story about the product and makes you feel it will improve your quality of life. At the traditional retail site you'll get the vital statistics: size, fabric, color, etc. Which one makes you want to buy?

Originality. Much of what your readers want to know may not be readily available. This is when you need to invest in the creation of original content. Your writer will do all the hard work--you just have to choose the direction and provide the access. Don't repurpose your marketing materials or rely on your Web site. Give the people what they want: the inside scoop, the backstory, the view from the top.

Great copy not only makes for better reading, it can differentiate your e-mail program from the competition's. Make an investment in high performance fuel to power your e-mail machine.

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