DM copywriters are no longer crafting prose for just direct mail and print ads. Today, their words help shape a multitude of new media campaigns as well. But does that change how direct marketing copywriters approach their craft? Chief Marketer recently talked with Bruce Henderson, group creative director/senior partner creative with Ogilvy&Mather Worldwide, New York, to get his thoughts on the current state of DM wordsmithing and why keeping search in mind should be job one for all copywriters.
CHIEF MARKETER: Do you think the old rules still apply in DM copywriting when it comes to social and other new media?
HENDERSON: In many respects it is a brave new world, but you need grounding in the old rules. In direct marketing, you need to know the product well, you need to know the audience, as well as what you're selling, why you're selling it and who you want to sell it to. And, you need to be explicit about the next action you want people to take.
Those things remain constant. Sure, media changes, and there’s a lot of love for the new. But while things continue to get added nothing goes completely away—we're still doing mail, TV and radio, while we think about multiple screens, mobile and social.
CHIEF MARKETER: What has changed about the way DM copywriters do their job today?
HENDERSON: Much of this relates to search, and having a holistic view about your campaigns. Today, even if you’re writing a brand TV spot, if you’re not thinking about search, you’re not doing your job right. It's exciting to think about search intent modeling, and the real phrases people search when they're looking for something. Brands have their own nomenclature, but that's not the way people think. People want to solve a problem, and they have a definition of that in their mind. So you need to think about metatags and key phrases, and incorporate that language into your web pages, letters and all your marketing communications.
CHIEF MARKETER: Are copywriters just out of school today well versed in DM basics?
HENDERSON: The majority of candidates we see coming out of ad schools are well prepared to lead a new brand campaign for Doritos or Nike, but aren't as well versed to move though all phases and touchpoints for consumers. It’s sort of like running a teaching hospital—we need to teach them the theory of direct marketing, which just isn't on their radar.
I would offer that all marketing and advertising is direct now—if a piece of communication has a response mechanism, if a brand ad has a URL, that’s direct response. People tend to think DM isn’t as sexy. And yes, new kids might not know what a “Johnson Box” is, but they know the basics of call to action techniques, so the walls are coming down.
CHIEF MARKETER: Has the current state of the economy changed DM copywriting?
HENDERSON: Well, it depends on what you’re trying to sell. If you have a client discounting something, that becomes the news. I don’t necessarily think that “the more you tell, the more you sell” is dead. But in general people are more reluctant to read a lot of copy. You need to think of information density in your copy. You might only be able to say 50 to 100 words in a spot, but then you can send them to a Website for more information.
CHIEF MARKETER: Are there any common problems you see in DM copywriting?
HENDERSON: Not being focused enough when it comes to Web copy. One of my pet peeves online is when companies make it hard for people to spend their money. It's crazy, little things like forgetting to let people know if they should put spaces between series of numbers when they enter their credit card information. This is very often a copywriting issue. Unlike 10 years ago, people are no longer afraid to give their credit card number online. Today, people comparison shop online and buy quickly, so the process has to be clear and simple or you lose the sale. And if you can convert at 1% or 2% greater, that can make a huge difference in your margins.