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7 timeless copywriting tips from the Herschell Gordon Lewis collection

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Enjoy these timeless tips selected from the republished works of late copywriting great (and horror movie innovator) Herschell Gordon Lewis. If you enjoy these excerpts, don't forget to download the free eBook!
killer copywriting

The full collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis. Expect timeless advice sure to improve your marketing. But beware: it comes wrapped in barbs!

1. Keep the right score

Click-through rates are the appetiser, not the main course. Competition in any field we can think of is brutal; and branding, a safe haven for its advocates because comparatively they don’t measure response by actual and countable response, may look superb when comparing design and taglines… but not so superb when comparing bottom lines.

A ‘name’ brand has an implicit advantage going into the arena: People have heard of it.

For the brand to triumph in today’s battle for (to corrupt the famed A E Housman quote) crowns and pounds and guineas, the marketer should use its reputation as a competitive weapon against the inevitable intruders . . . not as a traditional crutch.

Want to sell something to today’s impatient, sceptical, internet-wise consumer or business target?

Your message should answer the inevitable final question: ‘What’s your deal?’

Read the full article: How are you keeping score?

2. Don’t blame Department X!

pointing fingerWe’re on a professional plateau, and part of professionalism – a big part of professionalism – is not only sharing responsibility but assuming responsibility.

The copywriter who doesn’t ask who the specific targets are, then aims the copy bullet-like at those targets, isn’t a professional copywriter.

The production artist or designer who pleases his or her mirror instead of designing for maximum appeal to specific targets isn’t a professional production artist or designer.

The list company that chooses lists because of fear they’ll lose a list owner if they don’t recommend this one, or because somebody in the office has a relationship with one of the companies whose list is available, isn’t a professional list company.

The printer who chooses a paper because he has a pallet of that paper stock on the floor, when a different stock might better enhance the offer, isn’t a professional printing source.

Read the full article: Don’t blame Department X!

3. Cut the waffle, explain the benefit

The late marketing great dissects some of the poorer examples of sales messaging and offers his thoughts on how to avoid the same mistakes.

Some of the worst advertising, email solicitations, and web offerings are for . . . yes, you’re right: advertising and marketing experts. A numbing number of our tribe, who ask clients to pay for marketing expertise, exhibit a total lack of that expertise in their own hoopla.

Here’s one for data entry. The heading is the company name, big and bold, dwarfing this single line of copy:
‘A full service data entry & processing company. We offer quality and efficiency for less.’ (Why the ampersand, a push-away? Plenty of room exists for the word ‘and’, as they proved in the second sentence.)

Am I breaking a butterfly on the rack when I ask this consultant: “If a prospect asks you why he or she should do business with you, would you answer, ‘We are a full service data entry and processing company. We offer quality and efficiency for less’? Or would you name a few competitive or comparative advantages?”

A bigger-than-most display classified has as its heading:

‘Everything you need to prepare your mailing lists.’

Oh? Such as? The text is inspirational but not specific:

‘Save postage and time with the #1 selling postal automation software.”

That would be a logical introduction for postal automation software, but because this company is a letter shop and does pre-sorting and duping and barcode printing, they’re software users, not software vendors.

Once again, why doesn’t one of the honchos at that company ask the rational question of whoever generates promotional messages: “If you were on the phone with a caller who wants us to explain why we should be his or her letter shop, use whatever you’d say as wording for our advert.”

Read the article in full: This is the wrong way to go about self-promotion

4. Grab your copy by the lion’s mane

lions maneHow do you sell a supplement called hericium erinaceus? You don’t. Herschell explains:

If you were interested in the potential onset of osteoporosis, would that description grab you?

The most common differential separating ‘suppliers’ from ‘marketers’ . . . and, dodgier for us, separating marketers from consumers . . . is the attitudinal gap. I’ve written about it in these pages before.

The vendor’s interest: What it is. The prospective buyer’s interest: What it will do for me. I flag you down, using any means of communication I can find, and say breathlessly: “Don’t you want some hericium erinaceus?”

Your logical reply: “Get lost.”

How easy – in fact, how primitive – it is to check Google or Wikipedia to get a sales worthy name. Hericium erinaceus is Lion’s Mane, a mushroom with a cascade of tiny tentacles that, with enough imagination, looks like a lion’s mane.

…Once we have a saleable name, we can scrap the tech-talk and centre on the seller/sellee difference.

Read the full article: From jargon-heavy to sales-worthy…

5. Be a genuine expert

Here are some of the ‘expert’ comments that have come my way (and possibly yours, since they appeared in print and online) over the past few weeks:

“To combat overstuffed email boxes and recipient fatigue, email frequency does not necessarily need to be reduced, but relevance must be increased.”

Now, that rates a solid, ‘Huh?’

How about this one:

“Email segmentation is very effective and can easily increase open rates, click through’s and conversion by ten to 20 per cent. But don’t let the thought of segmenting your email overwhelm you if you’re just starting out.”

Gee, thanks for the profound advice.

The most valuable advice is advice you don’t need because you already have it in your own brain: Test, then analyse test results.

A medium that matures with the rocket speed that typifies online marketing isn’t sitting unmoving on its haunches, and neither should you.

Read the full article (with more not-to-dos): Ask the expert, cue the clichés

6. Implement ‘The First Great Law’

Dusty bookReach and influence, at the lowest possible cost, the most people who should and can respond.

Glad you agree.

May all those whose marketing philosophy is the ancient notion of reaching ‘the most people’ whether qualified or not, and who think production out pulls message, re-think and join us in generating effective messages.

Note, please, that ‘lowest possible cost’ is a preventive against overproduction, not a plea for underproduction.

Read the full article: Want to make your marketing count? Then dust off “The 4 Great Laws”

7. Never mind the buzzwords

One reason I remember so well a keynote speaker’s key notes – used to start the speech and also to end it – was this deep, thoughtful superficiality: “The past is gone. The present is here. The future is yet to come.”

Now, who can quarrel with that load of fresh guano?

I thought of it again when I read these words by another by-lined expert: ‘A sound search engine strategy comes down to optimising your content, managing it and knowing where to send it.’

No wonder this chap is an expert! He’s reduced the obvious to the trivial, not an easy task especially when leaning on that ‘optimising’ crutch.

May we take a mutual pledge, one that will do much to optimise our own BSO (b.s. optimisation)?
For one whole day, just one, eschew any version of ‘optimise’ from both conversation and written communication.

If you’re feeling especially noble or courageous, add ‘utilise’. Don’t worry about ‘proactive’ because if that has settled into your lexicon like a chronic cough, you’re too far gone to hope for expiation.

Read the full article: What are they talking about?


Download our free eBook of Herschell’s marketing wisdom. Guaranteed to entertain and inspire any marketing professional this Christmas!



Herschell Gordon Lewis
Author: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis was an acclaimed direct marketer who published over thirty copywriting books including Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings, Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now. He also wrote and directed blood-thirsty 'splatter' movies which earned him a cult reputation around the world.

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