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Copyrighting 101 for Content Writers You don't have to have an English degree to be a good marketing writer. But you do need to follow a few rules that will help you create interesting and effective content marketing materials.

By Robert W. Bly

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The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's The Content Marketing Handbook. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Virtually all multichannel marketing campaigns today combine content marketing with copywriting, so a content marketer or writer should at least learn the fundamentals of copywriting. Below are a few tips to get you started.

Write a killer headline

The headline is the first thing your reader sees and the most important part of the promotion. The headline's main job is to get the prospect's attention in a way that makes them want to know more about what you're selling. The more specific your headline, the stronger it will be. Ford had little success with its "Quality Is Job One" campaign — because quality is about as general a word as you can get. By comparison, David Ogilvy's classic ad for Rolls-Royce, created in the late 1950s, worked because it was specific; many consider it one of the greatest car ads ever written. The headline: "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock." (When an engineer at Rolls- Royce saw the ad, he commented, "It's about time we did something about that damn clock!")

Put the prospect first

Don't start with the product — its features, quality, craftsmanship and design. Start with the prospect — their needs, desires, fears, concerns, problems, headaches and dreams. People care much more about themselves than about you, your company or your product. They're only interested in what your product can do for them.

Related: The 5 Cs of Content Marketing Copy

Stress the Benefits

A feature is something the product is or has; a benefit is what that feature does to help the user. For instance, a watering can has a spout; that's a feature. The spout allows you to direct water to the houseplant so you don't spill it all over the windowsill or table — that's a benefit. Buyers need to know both features and benefits, but benefits are usually more important. Car manufacturers used to advertise "rack-and-pinion steering" in automobile brochures, but no one understood what it was or what it did — so it had no impact on sales. By comparison, Michelin tire TV spots showed a cute baby sitting inside a Michelin tire. The message was clear: The technology in our tires can keep your family safe when you drive.

Find the Product's USP

Even if your product offers great benefits, so do your competitors' products. You need to tell consumers why your product is different and better than the competition. This is called the unique selling proposition, or USP. For instance, holding a piece of chocolate for any length of time will cause it to melt. M&M's solved this problem by placing a hard candy coating around the chocolate. Its USP is now famous: "M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your hand."

Most people know that when you get to the bottom of a pot of coffee, the dregs are bitter, and you should make a fresh pot. Maxwell House claimed it had developed a coffee that stayed fresh-tasting from the first cup in the pot to the last. Its USP: "Good to the last drop."

Related: The 10-Step Effective Content Marketing Campaign

Give proof

When you make a claim in advertising, the more proof you back up that claim with, the more believable and effective your advertising will be. For instance, years ago, Krazy Glue claimed its glue was far stronger than other glues. To prove it, a man wearing a hard hat put a drop of glue on top of the hat and pressed it against a T-shaped platform above him. The glue held the hat firm while the man dangled in midair below. Another example of proof can be seen in commercials for paper towels. In the ad, the advertised towel absorbs more fluid, while the competing product can't handle the spill and falls apart.

Establish value

Even if you convince consumers that a product delivers benefits they desire, is superior to other brands, and does what you say it will do, one problem remains: persuading them they need the product badly enough to part with their hard-earned cash. In essence, you need to demonstrate that the price you're charging is a pittance compared to the incredible value the product delivers. Here's an example: Your client sells a thermostat that can cut energy bills by 10 percent. Your prospect's monthly gas and electric bill is $300, so a 10 percent reduction is a $30 savings. If the device costs $30, it will pay back its own cost in just a month.

Ask for action

After reading the copy, what do we want the prospect to do next? The next step may be to request a free estimate, visit the dealer's showroom or apply for a mortgage over the phone. Identify the next step, and, in your copy, tell the prospect to take it. If you don't tell people what to do next, they'll do nothing.

Related: How Problem-Solving Case Studies Help You Market Your Business

Give a gift

Free is the most powerful word in the English language. People love free stuff. Giving a gift with an order is a proven response booster. For example, if you're selling subscriptions to a magazine on personal finance, you'll get more orders by offering a bonus gift such as a free special report about the best mutual funds to buy now.

Create a sense of urgency

Successful salespeople know it's important to close the sale now, not later. Why? Because a decision deferred is a decision not made. It seems sensible, even kind, to let the prospect walk out of your showroom, go shop aroundf and come back later. But if you do that, your competitors will say anything to get the sale. So you must give the prospect a reason to act now. There are many ways to create a sense of urgency in your copy, but the easiest is to add a deadline to your offer. If you're having a sale on patio furniture, say in your ad that the sale ends Saturday at midnight. And when midnight arrives, remove the sale tags and lock the showroom door.

Robert W. Bly

Author, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Robert W. Bly has been an independent copywriter and marketing consultant for more than a quarter of a century. He has worked with more than 100 clients including Boardroom, Phillips, IBM, Nortel, Agora, Prentice Hall and Grumman. He is the author of more than 75 books. His most recent book,  The Marketing Plan Handbook , from Entrepreneur Press , is available at all major bookstores.

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