Don’t forget the copywriting

Don’t forget the copywriting

The push towards video and image-led marketing ignores the fact that words can have the greatest power to influence.

“According to our records, 64.5% of Guatemalans declared their income tax for the year 2013 on time. You are part of the minority of Guatemalans who are yet to declare for this tax.”

This message, using the behavioural economics strategy known as ‘social proof’, was written onto tax bills in Guatemala to persuade firms to declare their tax.

It resulted in a tripling in the rate of declarations. The substantial income it brought to the Guatemalan government cost them approximately zero.

That’s really some return on your investment.

21 March is World Poetry Day. This seems a good time to remind ourselves that while online channels lead us towards an ever-more visually led world, marketers shouldn’t forget the power of keeping some poetry – and some clarity – in their campaign copywriting. Sure, pictures get ‘Likes’ but, as a brand new Harvard study discovered, ‘Likes’ are almost useless. The real news is that it’s the power of the word that drives conversion.

Calls to action

One of the biggest challenges faced by bill collection services is getting customers to open their mail. The most persuasive letter won’t make a difference if it’s never even opened.

In Lexington, Kentucky, the local government came up with a smart plan. On the outside of each envelope, they added a handwritten note addressing the customer: ‘John, you really need to read this,’ it said.

Taking the time to handwrite a note on the envelope of each bill seems like a technological step backwards, but reminding the reader that there is an actual person on the other end of the letter makes a difference – one study found that when a handwritten post-it note was added to a survey, response rates doubled.

For this trial, it took less than two hours for five people to write messages on the outside of about 1,500 envelopes. The courtesy letter increased the likelihood of a customer making a payment by 34.2%. After accounting for the costs of printing and mailing, the letters increased net revenue by $112,000.

Motivating messages

Demotivation can be a major problem in the teaching profession. Evidence suggests the average teacher finds it harder to remain positive as they progress through their career.

The Somerset Challenge sent emails to teachers in Somerset and measured the number of them that clicked on a link to access a professional resource.

Crucially, some of the emails also thanked teachers for their work this term. Those emails, the ones that said ‘thanks’, led to the greatest uptick in click-throughs. It was a more effective strategy than any other they tried.

This is one you can try at home – next time you ask someone to do something in an email, end it ‘thanking you in advance’. Your chances of getting a positive response are much, much higher.

Worthy words

An investment bank wanted to encourage their staff to donate to charity.

Instead of asking people to give directly, they found managers in the bank who had given in the past, and asked them to ask their colleagues to donate.

The email message read: “Please reach out and email your friends and colleagues and let them know about the huge contribution their donation can make. All they have to do is click this link – it’s as easy as that.”

This message – and the leveraging of social networks it proposed – increased the proportion of people donating from 6.1% to 38.8%. That’s an increase of over 500%.

Impressive stuff. But does it beat the awesome power of someone liking a photo you posted on Facebook?

That new Harvard study involved 23 experiments conducted on 18,000 people over the past four years. It discovered that ‘merely liking a brand on Facebook doesn’t change behaviour or increase purchasing’.

So getting ‘Likes’ might feel good but, scientifically speaking, you are wasting your time.

As this is World Poetry Day, paraphrasing a poetry metaphor from John Updike seems appropriate: using pictures is hugging the shore; use words and you are sailing in the open sea.

Bon voyage.

To learn more about writing effective headlines, and adapting content and style for your reader, sign up for our Principles of Great Copywriting course. 

Andy Pemberton Director Furthr Ltd
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