E-Mail Copy Clinic: The Power of Words

By Paul Soltoff | Posted October 01, 2003

What's the single most important asset in a successful e-mail advertising arsenal? For a moment, forget money, bandwidth and conversion percentages. Concentrate on selecting and linking powerful words together to change emotions and create strong reactions — words that impel the recipient to respond and to buy.

Powerful words create emotions: humor, anger, sympathy, trust, and many others. Used wisely, they can actually make people to throw money at you. Notice I said "throw money at you," not "buy from you." That's a hint of things to come!

Well-chosen words paint incredible pictures that drive home what you're selling, whether a vehicle: "like buying a Rolls Royce for the cost of a Volkswagen"; or a business opportunity: "You'll double your income working half the time."

Most copy in e-mails I get is boring, one-dimensional and probably ineffective. So I figured it was time for a column on the power of words and phrases that can transform an ineffective e-mail into a powerhouse of response.

When you spend as much time writing copy as I do, you develop a library of words and phrases that create images in readers' minds. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, well-chosen words create imagery. As I don't see many powerhouse words and phrases in e-mail I get, I figured I'd share them with you.

Everyone gravitates to e-mail with short copy. So learning how to quickly get a powerful message across is critical. Therefore, your choice of words is critical.

With almost every descriptor, there's a hierarchy of words you can use. Take how you might describe a steak.

At the bottom of the barrel of descriptors is: tastes good.

Big deal. "Tastes good" isn't going to excite anyone.

How about "tastes great?"' That's only a minimal improvement.

What about: "tastes fabulous"? Not good. People look fabulous. Steaks don't taste fabulous.

What about "delicious"? "Succulent"? Better, but not nearly as good as we can do.

Okay, here's, my number one word for describing a steak: mouthwatering. But "mouthwatering" by itself, when not linked in a phrase, is still insufficient. It doesn't create an emotional picture. Here's how to complete the image: "Steaks so mouthwatering we serve them without knives."

Quick, what picture does that word create in your mind?

When I read this, I can see the most tender, delicious steak. It makes me salivate. I can picture cutting it with a fork. That says "tenderness" to me! None of those other words comes close to creating this picture.

That's what the art of selecting words to paint a picture is about. Find the best words and phrases to describe your product or service.

It doesn't stop at finding good words and sticking them into a phrase. Spot a pattern in these three examples:

  • It's like buying a Rolls Royce for the cost of a Volkswagen.

  • You'll double your income by working half the time.

  • Steaks so mouthwatering we serve them without knives.

Each phrase has two parts that work hand-in-hand to complete the picture. You need both. Either by itself does nothing.

The picture is a result combining the two parts. Everyone says steaks are mouthwatering, but very few add, "We serve them without knives." See what's happening here?

Another example: you sell a computer that's very fast. In fact, it's the fastest computer on the market, running on the fastest chip ever made. Your job is to write an e-mail that sells it. You can probably think of many words that say "fast": speedy, accelerated, express, prompt, etc. But by simply substituting "screaming" or "speedy" for fast doesn't buy us a thing.

Look what happens when we use two-part phrase building:

  • Blazing speed leaves others in the dust! or,

  • Breakneck speed, like the world's fastest thoroughbred.

  • Quick, what images do these two phrases bring to mind?

For me, the first is the fastest car racing through the desert, kicking up a cloud of dust, leaving others way behind. The second is Secretariat winning the Kentucky Derby by a huge margin.

Get it? Here's a few more:

  • Instead of "excellent service" how about: "Service so outstanding you'll wonder how you got along without us."

  • Instead of "full of features" how about: "As jam-packed with features as an overstuffed sandwich." Or, "jam-packed with features like a gift-box bursting at the seams."

  • Instead of "a great bargain" how about: "A deal so good, you'll feel like you committed a burglary."

  • Instead of "heavy discount" how about: "A price so low it must be a mistake."

  • Instead of "better than the competition" how about: "So superior, they've lost the game before it starts."

  • Instead of "protect your children" for an insurance policy, how about: "Give your children peace of mind so they can live life to the fullest."

To sum up:

  1. Find words that aren't overused, that elevate meaning to a higher level. Use "extraordinary" instead of "great" or "superior workmanship" instead of "good quality."

  2. Create a two-part phrase where each half works with the other to form a picture that's stronger than the sum of its parts.

  3. Don't be afraid to use phrases people recognize, like "jam-packed." These have established meaning you can capitalize on.

Get the picture? I'm sure you do.

Adapted from ClickZ.com.

Paul Soltoff is the chief executive officer of SendTec, the parent company of DirectNet Advertising (DNA) and iFactz, and has more than 20 years of direct marketing experience on both the client and agency side. SendTec provides results-oriented direct marketing solutions for acquiring, retaining and communicating to customers through digital advertising; direct response television; patent-pending e-mail/Web convergence technologies; performance media, and media buying services. SendTec represents clients and advertising agencies such as AARP, National Geographic, Grey Worldwide, Cosmetique, DDB Needham, Shell Oil, IBM and Euro-Pro.

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