Posts Tagged ‘copy development


Why Put a Bullet Through Your Sales?

Somewhere toward the end of virtually every new branding project, a subtle shift occurs. The discussion that, until then, had been about lofty things like “branded messaging strategy,” “brand voice and tone” or “brand narrative,” becomes brutally blinkered.

Suddenly, everybody’s yammering about best practice and the need to be “short and sweet.” And within 36 hours, the only thing left of those heady theoretical sessions is a shiny logo, a stubby tagline and a list of “benny bullets” you’d better get in the right order (TBD) or no one will even think of opening their wallets.

The result? A category-level promotion that sells the brand as “one of those.” By launch time, the un-differentiation campaign has gone so far, your audience would be hard pressed to say whether the product is a toaster or a thermonuclear reactor.

That’s because, lacking expertise, many a brand manager quakes at taking anything but a “monkey-see” approach. Create a distinctive brand voice, look and feel, and you’re more likely to terrify your clients than satisfy them.

“No one else is using red highlights!” you’ll hear, or something equally inane.

And when it comes to copy, at this point all a copywriter can do is shrug, sigh, and import “the changes” which usually amount to a complete, top-to-bottom rewrite of every word, with no hit of an underlying rationale. Most often, this rewrite is an orgy of safe, cut-and-paste marketing speak that tries to say everything, but fails to communicate anything at all.

If I thought it would help, I’d stand on a mountain top with a bullhorn and say:

A block of bulletted copy can’t
sell matches to an arsonist.

At a minimum, you must address the psychological needs of your customers. Even if, excuse me, your product is as sexless as a locking mechanism for hospital doors, you have to appeal to more than the factoid center of the human brain.

Who talks like that?
Imagine if you will, a man asking a woman out on a date with the spoken equivalent of this drab, empty kind of communication:

“Tired of eating alone? Jimmy Jones Dinner Companions® has everything you need for the perfect restaurant experience:

• Fashionable attire
• Tasteful wristwear
• A full array of conversational options:

–Light banter
–Celebrity gossip
–Generic political ideology (New! Independent Option)

• Seductive cologne
• Your choice of Nikes, cowboy kicks or ‘Richy Rich’ wingtips”

Am I alone in thinking that, unless Jimmy is an utterly different kind of marketer, such an approach would leave its target audience speechless?

I think not. And yet, year in and out, marketers persist in thinking that real, live human beings make their purchasing decisions based on lists. Sadly, this mistaken approach is itself based on the one tiny kernel of insight from market research that most brand managers ever seem to retain:

“People are busy!”

Yeah, I get that. You don’t want to tie up your harried consumer’s time with too much content.

Stop marketing to abstractions.
But what if the issue were that people don’t want to tie up their time unnecessarily. In that scenario, all the best practice theory in the world is of no avail. Faced with an emotionless list, only slightly different from your competitor’s emotionless list—no matter how many times you say “Exclusive!”— the harried consumer will decide based on price.

In the absence of emotional and psychological appeal, even impulse buyers will turn away, at the sound of a foot-tapping spouse with an eye on the checkbook. Because if you think your only job is convincing your carefully mapped out target, think again. The more expensive your product and the less clear its actual usefulness, the more you also have to appeal to the non-target person your target has to face at the breakfast table.

All of this is evidence that the creative team’s original impulse—to sell a product or service from one person to another, instead of from Us to Them—was correct. Why is this impulse so often suppressed? Because the number one goal of all marketing theory is to protect marketing professionals from believing that they, too, are human beings with needs. “The Consumer” wants this, we hear, “The Consumer” doesn’t like that—with never a thought to the one person everyone knows best: themselves.

As I see it, it all comes down to a simple question: Would you buy a used car from yourself? If the answer is “no,” your theory of advertising is totally out of whack.


Bullets Under Branding

“Just the facts, ma’am…”

If you’re a fan of classic American TV, you recognize this quotation as one of a handful of signature catch phrases from Dragnet. Sgt. Friday’s no-nonsense attitude to crime investigation left no room for emotion, inference or induction. He was objective, y’all.

But if you’re not a fan of classic TV, you probably still recognize the quotation as something else: The subtext for a vast quantity of marketing/advertising speak. Surely, the fact that, in either scenario, a lot of your attention would be taken up with “bullets,” is just kismet. At least I hope so.

After all, I’d hate to think the real reason behind the ubiquitous use of bulleted copy in advertising is to beat the consumer into submission. I mean, it would be like saying:

“Get in line, I’ve got bullets here.”

If you think I’m over the top with this analogy, I’m willing to bet you will agree there’s something kind of controlling about a bulleted list. Such a list leaves consumers little room to do the one thing that might make them engage with your brand.  That is, come to their own conclusions about the benefits of your product or service.

Now, I get the bit about brevity. In fact,

  • I
  • understand
  • completely

It’s just that the other thing bullet points do is break up the natural flow human communication, by turning language into signage. Worse, their main purpose is to make a brand’s desperate recitation of product benefits more palatable to its customers.

As such, they’re a solution whose chief function is to mask a deeper problem. If you actually believe your value to consumers is a set of features, rather than a measurable uptick in quality of life, you’ve gone beyond selling the wrong way.

You’re selling the wrong thing.

What matters to Jill42.
At issue is not how to communicate more briefly but how to craft a global message succinct enough to be expressed in a few words. These days, especially, when consumer behavior is heavily influenced by online peer reviews, they’re more likely to see product features as a point of entry rather than a point of sale. Their inner dialogue runs:

“Hmm. 39-inch LED TV. Name brand. HDMI ports. What are my friends saying?”

Far better than chopping your prose into meaningless nuggets, is making an emotional connection—by telling your audience how your product will improve their lives, match their self-image and fit into their personal narrative. Not to mention crucial considerations like “Will my mom like it?”

Keep in mind, however: there are no shortcuts to making those emotional connections. Once you gain a useful consumer insight, it’s no good peppering your ad with bullets like:

“Great for moms!”


“Your mom will love it!”

That’s because, in 2013, when a typical American’s every nerve ending is already tingling with marketing messages, you have to communicate the old fashioned way, with believable anecdotal evidence. In this world, sticking to “the facts” won’t cut it.

Instead, you need a message so clear, so memorable and so tickly that consumers will wonder what Jack24 said to Jill42 about “what it is with your mom liking that TV or whatever on Facebook.”

Knowing the essence of essential.
How do you create such a message? Start by realizing what most people learn in middle school (or, in some cases, 40 years later). Want a response from someone whose attention you desire? Don’t be desperate, and let your innate good qualities speak for themselves. If you’ve no good qualities, you’re simply not ready for market—and should focus on “product development.”

On the other hand, the metaphor continues, maybe your problem is a failure to recognize where your true qualities lie. If anyone, at this point, thinks Apple could boost unit sales of iPad Air by listing more technical details, they’re mistaken. Visit and see for yourself: the message is “Lightness.” Even the site’s technical drilldown simply lists more reasons the product is light.

Every “bullet point” in other words, is a restatement of one bullet point, a message you can’t forget even if all you remember is the product name.

And lest anyone miss the obvious, there’s very little more essential to human life than “air.” With messaging like this—that radiates out from core product attributes—Apple’s product leaves the world of facts far behind and enters the consumer narrative whether we want it to or not.

That, amigo, is branding. Anything else is just words, pictures—and tears-on-the-pillow desperation.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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