As a writer, one of the most common questions I get from clients when I create a direct-mail campaign, PR press release, a brochure, a web page or a print ad is, “Will people read all that text? Shouldn’t it be shorter?”
Writing is like a bridge over a river — it should be as long as it needs to be. If it is too short by even the smallest margin, it’s no good at all. It goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. A letter or ad that leaves out any important details in the interest of brevity leaves the reader short of his purchasing decision, stranded at the end of a too-short bridge to nowhere.
And yet many times clients will glance at a proof of an ad or a fundraising letter and reflexively say, “That’s too long.”
Too long for what? Mere brevity does not make an advertisement interesting — any more than mere length makes an advertisement dull.
— On a Web page, for example, visitors find the page by searching. They go to some trouble to seek out the very information on that page. These visitors are keenly interested in the topic. Of all the vast information on the Internet, they’ve selected this single page because of its apparent relevance to them. The Web site owner (that’s you) has gone through a lot of trouble to build and host the site for this very moment. Why shortchange the visitor in an arbitrary desire to be brief? Why not give the visitor all the information you can? Isn’t that in the visitor’s best interest — and yours?
— Similarly, in a print ad, people need enough information to decide whether to take action. Why would you leave out important features or benefits that might persuade a buyer? Let’s say you are trying to sell a home pregnancy test kit. Post-menopausal women may not read the ad; but young women in the target market — women who are trying to get pregnant (or those trying not to!) may read every word; they want to know how accurate the test is, how reliable, how fast it provides results, how soon it can be used after pregnancy occurs, how easy it is to use, how much it costs, etc. To them, at this time, this is the most interesting topic in the world. Will the rest of us read all that detail? No, but who cares! We’re not in the market. Research and testing has shown that ads with longer copy sell more effectively.
— Direct-mail solicitations generally are three or more pages, plus a brochure, and often a “lift letter” or other device, as well as a reply card and envelope. Lots of stuff! Why is this format preferred over a short, concise letter? Because it has been tested countless times in real-world campaigns, and longer-text letters sell more effectively. The same is true for fundraising letters – just take a look at some of the solicitations you receive.
Sometimes clients will say to me, “I would never read all that stuff — I just throw it away.” Perhaps the client is not in the market for the product. Everybody will not read it. But the fact is that the very people you are most interested in will read your ad. These are the prospects who will buy your product or service if you tell them sufficient reasons for doing so.
Let’s say you love golf. You play golf every chance you get. You can never get in enough time on the golf course. You think about golf at work, and your screen-saver on your computer has a golf photo. You arrive home one night and start sorting through your mail. Bills. A sweepstakes. More bills. And a letter that has a golf ball on the envelope and the words “Just for Golfers.” I bet you’ll open it and read it, and if it’s well-written, you’ll read all of it, because you love golf. This illustration means your marketing material must be well-written and strategically targeted. These two criteria — the quality of the writing and the quality of your strategic targeting — are far more important than brevity for its own sake.
Would you send a salesman out on an important sales call and say, “When you get there, talk fast and keep it under 30 seconds, then shut up so they don’t get impatient.” That wouldn’t work. So why send a letter that is trivial in its brevity? Why write an ad that leaves key questions unanswered? Don’t make that mistake. For most products and services, a picture and a few words are highly unlikely to attain the desired response. Your ad needs to do what a salesman would do when face to face with a prospect and provide a complete presentation of the product or service benefits.