Do not assume knowledge in direct-response copywriting

February 14, 2013 | By | 4 Replies More

There’s nothing worse in direct-response copywriting than assuming too much knowledge…

Sure you need to target your copy. I mean, you can’t sell everything to everyone. But to assume that your potential customers know what you do and why they need you to do it for them…

Well, that’s just copywriting suicide.

I shed a tear for the sheer amount of money that has been wasted on copywriting and marketing that falls foul of assuming too much knowledge.

A perfect example of this error landed on my desk recently.

It’s so perfect that it assumes too much knowledge on TWO different levels…

Not only do you not immediately know what the product or service can do for you (i.e. its benefits)…

Chances are you don’t even know what the product or service actually is (i.e. its purpose).

A double whammy!

I can only assume the copywriter was badly restricted by the client or that the client was badly advised by some insane PR or ‘branding’ agency.

Either way, it’s bad. Capital B-A-D bad.

In fact, let me ask you: do you know what ‘colocation’ is?

No? I didn’t either.

You can guess, maybe. But chances are you’re a bit busy to be guessing – much like every potential customer out there in the real world. So, when this flyer lands on your desk, the next immediate port of call is the bin, right?

I mean look at it:

bad direct-response copy - colocation

A bad example of direct-response copy – it assumes knowledge and offers no benefits.

Now, this is a piece of direct-response copy – make no mistake.

Its single aim (whether it realises it or not) is to make you visit the website of the company it is advertising. That is the action (i.e. direct response) you should take after receiving this piece of mail.

It is NOT a branding exercise. If it is meant to be a branding exercise, it is an even greater waste of money.

So, being a piece of direct-response advertising, why the hell on earth does it not do anything remotely related to the concept of advertising?

Hmmmm.

To be fair, first let’s look at what it DOES do…

It states the word ‘colocation’ (assumes knowledge), lists four locations (assumes they are local to you), incorporates an image straight out of Google Maps (utterly redundant) and details what I assume is the company name (which is irrelevant at this point).

All that is very pointless.

You’re meant to want to find out more about colocation and what it is.

You’re meant to open this little flyer and read about the wonders of how it can help you and your business achieve things only kings and queens can dream of.

You’re meant to give a damn.

Yeah, er… I’m afraid copy doesn’t really work like that.

Sorry.

As I’ve said many times before, the person reading your copy is pushed for time and they don’t give a flying hoot about what you’ve got to tell them about.

(For the record I should also state that I did open the pamphlet to see if any benefit-driven copy was secreted inside or if there was anything that might intrigue me further. There was not.)

Of course, you know that a good piece of copy on the front of the pamphlet would have made far more people take a look than just the word ‘colocation’.

Even an absolute basic personalisation and a vaguely inherent benefit-based headline like “How colocation could transform your business…” would probably do a hundred times more for the effectiveness of this mailing than the abstract word ‘colocation’.

And all this because the copywriter assumed too much!

Even if the marketer tasked with circulating this trash did the best job he could of sending this to people interested in ‘colocation’, the copy still fails because it does nothing to entice colocation addicts to choose 4D Data Systems over the presumably stiff competition in the colocation marketplace.

It assumes (again) that those few who DO know what colocation actually is will ‘just know’ that 4D Data Systems do it better than anyone else.

All in all, it’s a total failure and though it might seem harsh to point it out here, I do so because I think it’s important we learn something from it…

That you should never assume too much knowledge in your potential customers.

Start by assuming they know nothing about who you are or what you do.

Then, by using the research you’ve gathered about the product or service you’re writing copy for and what research exists about the marketplace, put a picture together about what the potential customer will definitely know.

But as soon as you make an assumption, stop yourself.

Be clinical.

If in doubt, take a poll. Ask different people if they know what X means of if they would do Y if you told them to. Don’t just ask people who you think will know – ask people who you can’t second guess. You might be surprised.

Rest assured, though… if you avoid assumptions in your copy, it will be so much stronger and you’ll undoubtedly see better results.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Emotionals, Technicals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

Comments (4)

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  1. Too right. These kind of assumptions in copy drive me nuts.

    Looked up ‘colocation’ on Wiki – it has 9 different definitions (including some with one L and some with two)… so it’s not exactly a striking word on its own!

    And the ad doesn’t even cater for fans of abbreviated colonic irrigation, so they’ve missed a trick there too ; )

    Enjoy the ‘Dam,

    Pete

  2. I’ve written about data centres in the past (daily news updates etc) and I’d say I’ve got a fairly good middle-ground knowledge of the buzz terms you tend to hear in that industry.

    In this case, I’d have guessed from the layout of the flyer that ‘colocation’ would mean the chance to have your data backed up to several different sites, to protect against the physical damage to servers of natural disasters, flood etc.

    Actually though, having looked it up, it’s practically the exact opposite – it’s simply the ability to rent a bit of space in a big data centre that also hosts files for other companies. Kind of the data equivalent of hot-desking.

    You’re right – you’d have to be a colocation fiend to immediately know what this flyer is even about, and if you were, it wouldn’t (from what I can see above) offer anywhere near enough information to represent a persuasive sales/marketing argument.

  3. Glenn – A big double “ouch” to the writer (and editor) of this drivel. It certainly presumed way too much ‘knowledge’ therefore marking it; “dead in the water.”

    Straight into the; “circular bin” went it, no doubt. You have a great eye for spotting such trash. Do you edit your own copy? (For the blog)

    Best Regards.

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