Local advertisers: stop writing we-wee and start getting a decent ROI

Just over three years ago we published about the we-weeing problem in marketing material, and much as most pro writers like me bang on about it, it’s still raging away.

Local advertisers we-weeing on their customers HTWB

This historic little guy, Manneken Pis, has been we-weeing on people in Brussels, Belgium for 400 years. Fortunately this is good, for his business.

The reason why I am throwing the toys out of my pram this time is because I feel sorry for the ever-constant stream of local magazines that set up in all good faith, sell advertising space to local businesses, and go out of business themselves within a couple of years.

Why? Here’s my theory and it’s not their fault … it’s the fault of the we-wee local advertisers who, because they we-wee, don’t get the results they should from their advertising and so eventually abandon the local magazines as not cost-effective. Naughty, naughty and frankly, bloody ignorant.

Local advertisers: stop writing about how wonderful you are

(NB: After my rant, you’ll find 10 Tips on how to do it right, below!) [Read more…]

Help! How can I write good real estate ads that will work for my new business?

real estate ads,property,advertising,writing,estate agents,Suzan St Maur,HowToWriteBetter.net, How To Write Better

Dear HTWB Agony Columns

I run an independent estate agency in the UK (North Americans would call it a real estate brokerage, I think?) and much as I’m no writer, I’m appalled at the awful way British property sales people write their ad copy which is full of grammatical and other mistakes. [Read more…]

How to use classified ads to sell your stuff – emotively

Despite our ever-increasing dependence on the internet, classified ads in newspapers are still a popular place for buying and selling anything from garden manure to entire homes. And even online, the style of classified ad text that works in print can be transposed very effectively to eBay, its clones and numerous other sales sites.

So how can we make our product – whatever it is – stand out from the crowd? Here are some emotive thoughts you might find helpful.

I know, I have castigated British estate agents (real estate brokers) before about their terrible ad copy and this article isn’t going to make things any better. Sorry guys, but most of you just don’t get it.

As you know, property ads are probably amongst the most badly written examples of advertising copy in the world, and therefore – once again – are the best example we can choose to illustrate a more effective way of writing words that actually sell.

Most estate agents / real estate brokers write their own descriptive copy and in North America at least, it does tend to be accurate without the awful grammatical goofs you see in British ad text (oh, yes, that old “comprises of” banana skin again…)

However, in the interests of cramming as many properties into the allocated space as possible whether in a printed publication or online, even the North American real estate wallahs tend to suffer from a bad case of abbreviationitis and choke descriptive sections of their ad copy to within an inch of their lives.

So how do we get around these issues?

For starters, if you are a private individual rather than a business, you are not restricted to cramming an entire house’s inventory into 50 words, or a car’s vital statistics into a couple of lines. Provided you are willing to pay for the space you’re free to use some creativity, provided, of course, that your factual information is accurate.

And although the space involved will cost you whether online or offline, the benefits it affords you are probably worth it. Anyway, you’re only selling your own item – not those of umpty-dump others. So let’s get a bit creative…

A real-life example of how that works

A while back a friend of mine wanted to sell his old cottage in a lovely location some 30 miles outside London, England, and because a) he wanted to sell it direct and b) he trusted me to write his sales copy for him, he booked an ad in the key quality UK Sunday newspaper. Here’s how an estate (real estate) agent had suggested writing the text…

“Three bedroomed Georgian cottage located at XXX Green. Accommodation comprised of two reception rooms, modern bathroom, fitted kitchen. Oil-fired central heating. Covered car parking. Established garden. London 30 miles. £XXX,000 freehold.”

Boring! And about as emotive as a dead fish.

Anyway, although that ad copy tells you all the necessary features, (as well as including the inevitable “comprised of” banana skin) it doesn’t give you a hint – not even one word – that suggests the character of the place. If it were an old three-bedroomed house in a row with 50 others that look identical, there wouldn’t be much personality to pull out of it. But in this case, the cottage was unique.

Here’s what I wrote (and it was all true)…

“An original rose-covered cottage overlooking XXX Green where (well-known Victorian novelist) lived, just 30 miles from London via the (XX) motorway. Warm, rich Georgian brickwork encloses exposed oak beams … sitting and dining rooms … three bedrooms … bathroom … big, country kitchen … carport. Large cottage garden with roses, orchard and lawns. Oil-fired central heating plus two open fireplaces. Offers over £XXX,000 – phone 01234 567 890.”

Ah, you can see yourself there now, can’t you? Curled up by a crackling fireplace with a cup of cocoa and a muddy, smelly spaniel at your feet?

And the phone never stopped ringing all day. By dinner time on the Sunday more than a dozen house hunters had viewed the cottage; the owner had had four offers all well over the asking price and had accepted the best one.

The moral of this story is that although a classified ad needs to be factual i.e. full of boring features, you can throw in the odd benefit even if the space is very limited. An emotive adjective here and there will do, and won’t interfere with the ad’s accuracy – especially important because in some cases the ad copy can be considered as part of the legal specification.

You CAN think benefits into property and other classified ads

Let’s take another example, this time for a used car:

VW GOLF 1.9 GLS FOR SALE:  20XX, 80,000 miles. Red. Bodywork in need of some attention. Engine and other mechanics in good running order. Five new tyres. Offers over £XXXX.”

GOOD HOME WANTED FOR LOVABLE BRIGHT RED VW GOLF 1.9 GLS:  20XX, old family friend for 80,000 miles sadly must be sold. Bodywork needs some attention, but she runs really well and all tyres are new. Offers over £XXXX.

Which car would intrigue you more?

How to sell more of your stuff – and you, too:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

Whatever happened to the YOU angle?

why you are the most important person in advertising on HTWB

What ever happened to the “you” angle?

Recently a discussion on another online platform reminded me of this sad fact: far too many businesses still are trying to sell themselves in writing with the cart pulling the horse. In other words? They write about “we.” Wrong: all that counts in marcoms, is the YOU angle.

Going back to this discussion on another platform, members of the group were asked to comment on the overall impression given by two websites, both in the same industry sector.

What surprised me even more than the awful text in itself, was the fact that many people commenting on the sites didn’t pick up on the fact that that text was awful … until I, and the original poster, pointed it out. In all but one or two places on both sites the text glorified what “we” do and what experience “we” have without relating any of it to what “we” can do for “you.”

Get real, business world

If you expect people to buy into your service, idea, concept or whatever else, you can’t expect them to do it without giving them a damned good reason. Why should they do anything to please you? Why should they be impressed by all that stuff you’ve done for other clients, when there is nothing in the text to suggest why that experience can be used to add value to “our” needs and goals?

It’s weird; from my earliest days working as a humble ad copywriter, I was taught to focus on what my delightful old boss used to call the “YOU angle.” He was absolutely right; that’s all that counts when you’ve got something to sell.

So how do we get the YOU angle to work for us?

This is a partner phrase to “what’s in it for them,” or rather, “what’s in it for you.” Whatever you write in business communication is in some way trying to bring about change – to sell something to someone, even if it is just a change in attitude or a fresh perspective or a new way of regarding you, the writer.

For more articles on business writing techniques, styles and approaches, click right here on HTWB

That being so, the faster you stop talking about “me” and “us” and start talking about “you,” the more successful you are likely to be.  You probably know about the whole features vs benefits issue … benefits sell, features smell! The YOU angle follows on. Features don’t do anything for you; benefits do. And you must be there right up front contemplating those benefits, otherwise you get bored and lose interest.

Which of the following first paragraphs in a business letter – sent to you in your role as a veterinary surgeon – would interest you more?

1.As one of the leading suppliers of veterinary consumables in Europe we are pleased to announce our new range of self-adhesive bandages which have been proven to improve on sticking efficiency by more than 50% beyond that of any competitors, yet are offered at the same price as our previous product range.

2.As a busy veterinary surgeon, you may well be pleased to know that our new range of self-adhesive bandages stick and stay on 50% better than any others – yet they won’t cost you any more than before. 

Okay, that’s pretty hard sales stuff. Let’s try a softer route and see if the same principle applies. In fact let’s get right out of the business arena altogether. Here are two versions of an e-mail to an acquaintance…

why the you angle is important in ad writing

Why ad copy should speak directly to “you”

1.Brigitte has a very pleasing personality and loves children, especially in the under-5 age group. She is also very agreeable and willing to help with most household chores, including cleaning, which not all nannies are prepared to do, as has been experienced. I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Brigitte as a nanny to any family.

2.I think you would like Brigitte and she loves children, especially in the age group your two are. You’ll also find it useful that she’s willing to help with most of your household chores, even cleaning – that’s something not all nannies are prepared to do, as you will remember! All in all I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Brigitte to you as your next nanny.

It’s not exactly rocket science, is it? Applying the YOU angle simply means involving the reader or listener or viewer from the beginning – calling their attention right away and then keeping it by maintaining their involvement with what you’re saying. It’s how humans talk to each other. And we all know how fed up we get when someone talks at length about themselves without involving anyone else in the monologue, don’t we.

It’s like the joke about the actor who had been boring a young lady for some hours about his career, his looks, his clothes, his acting ability and everything else. Finally he turned to her, smiled sweetly and said, “well, that’s enough about me.  Now, what do YOU think of me?”

Let’s get YOU writing superbly:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English