The More You Tell, The More You Sell

By Michael

Most writers don’t need encouragement to write more words. After all, that’s how some of them get paid: by the word! Using the words you need and no more – writing concisely – is a skill that every writer spends a lifetime learning. Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

But the main problem of many writers, especially reluctant writers and business owners, is not that they say more than they need, but rather, that they say less than they need. Writers can be too lazy to edit and trim their work, but they can also be too lazy to think enough about their subject to cover it adequately.

The direct mail copywriters of old had a saying, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” It was a bold statement. Other copywriters argued that people don’t want to read long copy, would stop reading before they got to the end of the sales letter, the advertiser would lose sales. That’s a valid objection, to which the proper response is, “Then ask for the sale before they get to the end!” There’s nothing wrong with giving the customer more than one chance to buy.

Besides, none of us reads more than we want to, except for students and acquisitions editors. We all read until we lose interest, or we skip ahead, go back, or jump to the end. We keep reading as long as we feel there’s something in it for us.

And that’s where, as a copywriter, you win more when you tell more. The more reasons you give the customers to buy, the more likely they will buy. Once they’re convinced, they will stop reading anyway and start ordering. Or they might go back later and read the rest to reassure themselves they made the right choice. Reassurance is an important purpose of marketing communications too.

Start your writing process by listing all the reasons someone should buy your product or service. Get a friend – or a customer – to tell you if you don’t know. Don’t be lazy. If a reason is compelling, don’t leave it out if you have space. On your website, you have unlimited space to tell your story. List your most attractive benefits and let your readers decide which ones are most attractive to them.

True, you don’t want your marketing piece to appear too long to read. You have to format your writing so people can read only what they want. In sales literature, you might use bold text and headings so your readers know where to skip to. When writing for the Web, it’s especially easy – add links to other pages. Your benefits don’t all need to be on the same page, as long as customers can find them when they need them. Your potential customers will follow the links that interest them, and will ignore the ones that don’t. Certainly, start off short and sweet for those who don’t want to read much. But don’t stop until you’ve told the whole story to those who insist on hearing it all.

Comparison shoppers, such as myself, actually look for longer text. We tend to believe that the product that mentions the most benefits probably has the most benefits. If the copywriter neglected to mention that it has a five-year warranty, how are we supposed to know that it does?

Customers buy for many reasons. Some are convinced by one point, others are convinced by another. But if you leave out their favorite point, that’s one point that won’t help make the sale.

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5 Responses to “The More You Tell, The More You Sell”

  • Jani

    Wow, that Mark Twain quote is brilliant! I like it very much. I also read the writing concisely post, but I still find it very difficult to find where ends the “straight to the point” speaking and where starts the blah-blah. Hard to keep the writing clean…
    (sorry it’s not about this post, but that’s what got into my mind after reading 🙂 )

  • jennifer

    I think people don’t mind reading longer copy if the copy is value-added, meaning they’re getting something out of it, like learning something new or gaining advice on something, etc.

    I have three goals for all my copy–keep it compelling, add value and be inspirational.

  • Mari Adkins

    you don’t want your marketing piece to appear too long to read. You have to format your writing so people can read only what they want

    OT but –

    Precisely why novel synopsis and query letters of most stripes should be clear and concise. These things aren’t the place to “go all Faulkner”. 😉

  • Michael

    Not OT as far as I’m concerned. Novel synopses and query letters are marketing tools, just as much as a direct mail letters, aren’t they?

  • Mari Adkins

    True that. 🙂

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