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Take the Test: Does Your Marketing Copy Sell?

by Nancy J. Wagner

Your marketing materials must grab your prospect’s attention long enough to convince them to investigate further.  Assuming you get past this hurdle, your piece’s message must next convince the reader to call or buy.  

To make the copy in your marketing materials pull its weight…and then some, take this simple test:  pretend you’re a potential buyer who knows nothing about your product or service, then answer the following questions: 

1.  Do your headlines entice you to read the fine print?  In other words, do your headlines use problem or benefit-oriented headlines?  If your headlines don’t grab your attention, they won’t grab a prospect’s attention.  In today’s fast-paced world, headlines make all the difference.  Think about how you read a newspaper.  Many readers first search the major headlines, then decide where to start reading the fine print. 

The same thing applies to your marketing materials; some readers peruse only the headlines to understand the message and rarely read the rest of the copy.  Others read the headlines mainly to decide whether or not they even want to read the rest of the piece.  To entice your prospects to keep reading, make sure your headlines state a problem or a benefit that clearly speaks to that particular audience. 

2.  Do you immediately explain your headlines in the copy that follows? Once the reader is willing to read the finer print below the headline, make sure you provide the solution or an enticing explanation of that headline immediately in the copy that follows.  Readers will quit reading after less than a paragraph if they feel the headline just set them up and didn’t explain itself promptly. 

3.  Does the copy clearly speak to your potential buyer?   First, you need to know everything about your reader.  What are their demographics or characteristics?  If you sell to consumers, keep in mind their age, level of education, interests, etc.  For instance, copy about music that appeals to teenagers should read completely different than copy used to sell retirement homes to an age 55+ audience. 

If you sell to businesses, determine the role your prospect plays in his company, identify his education and experience, and find out what matters most to him in using your services and products.  Then, make sure your copy speaks loud and clear to that reader. 

4.  Is your audience knowledgeable about what you offer?  Do you need to educate them about your products and services?  Your materials need to make the reader feel smart by using language that clearly speaks to them.  In other words, don’t use jargon, slang or highly technical language (unless your audience truly knows the meaning of those technical terms).  Examine every word in your marketing materials, and create explanations for terms that require advanced knowledge.  Better yet, try your copy on someone who is not familiar with your product, and see what words and phrases they stumble over.  Then find ways to make that language more understandable. 

5.  Does your copy use action verbs instead of “to be” verbs?  One of the simplest, yet most powerful ways to liven up your marketing copy is to change “to be” verbs into action verbs.  Replace verbs such as is, are, was, were, has, and have with in-the-present action words.   Besides making your copy more colorful and interesting, action verbs get your reader excited about what you offer.  A great book that covers this topic is “Business Writing That Counts!” by Dr. Julie Miller (available at 

6. Is it clear your company has the expertise and qualifications?  Unless you have top market share, great visibility, and name awareness in your industry, you still need to convince prospects your company is trustworthy and experienced.  Achieve this with relevant information on your company’s background, testimonials from satisfied clients, certifications, important awards, and even awards you were nominated for, but didn’t win. Also mention any professional organizations you belong to, continuing education seminars and training you and your staff take, and any boards or non-profit organizations you participate in. 

7.  Where’s your contact info?  Your company’s contact information needs to be on every side of your marketing materials and easily found.  If you can’t find your company’s contact information within 2-3 seconds of looking, it needs to be better positioned. 

8.  What step do you want the reader to take BEFORE they walk away from your marketing materials? Whether you want the prospect to immediately make a purchase, call, send an email, fill out a form and mail it in, call for a free consultation, or join your newsletter list, use language that clearly tells the reader the next step they need to take.  Consider offering a freebie or an incentive to make that next step more enticing.  

One last thought:  once you’ve tested your marketing materials, make adjustments to the copy.  But, don’t stop there – instead, test that piece on people you trust to give you honest feedback.  Tighten up the piece some more, then get ready to watch your marketing materials convince prospects you really do have the solution to their problem!