Are these emails the ravings of an old fella now way past his sell-by date or helpful hints from someone who knows?

Many years ago a competitor in the field of direct marketing services launched an attack on me personally in an article which criticised my approach to writing advertising copy.

I hadn’t written or said anything at all about my rival, so I’d not started a row between us, but I took the attack as a personal triumph. He was much, much better known than either me or my company, and if he thought I was worth the trouble of attacking, then clearly I was causing him some worry.

After all, if I really had been spouting rubbish, surely he’d have just let me get on with it.  Any customers coaxed over to my firm would quickly find they were getting poorer results than with his company, and so would have run back to him with their tails between their legs.

(Metaphorical tails of course, I am not suggesting his clients were animals.)

Of course I never responded and after several more volleys my competitor shut up.  But I continued to read his advice on how to write advertising, because it has always struck me that one should always keep an eye on the competition.

Their approach generally was called a “common sense” approach – based on the notion that you can tell what will work through using everyday knowledge that everyone has.  Such as that writing a headline in red is a good idea because red always attracts attention.

My approach was more scientific, and based on lots of experiments (not conducted by me but by professional psychologists working in the field of the psychology of perception). That approach reveals in tests that red is the worst colour you can use in direct marketing.

Overall, the point is that most people look at advertising for such a short amount of time that we have to understand the way the brain works in order to be able to write advertising that takes account of this skimming approach.

We have to make the reader feel that she or he is in control, while intriguing the reader enough to keep him or her reading.

Thus a headline that announces a discount may itself not be that interesting if the reader has seen this sort of offer many times before.  A text that starts, “I know you are busy so I’ll get to the point” generally doesn’t work because it sounds patronising and has been used too often.

A headline that asks the question, “What is the most effective way of raising the response rates in direct marketing?” is, however, more interesting if one is interested in direct marketing, because it suggests that within the piece there is something worth reading.

But it is an approach that many people who commission adverts turn away from, because their “common sense” view suggests such an advert won’t work. The copy is too long. No one will read all this.

And this is the big problem – what on the surface might seem like an obvious common sense way to advertise can often turn out to be anything but that. I know people don’t read all my prose, wonderful though it is, but when I get it right, many recipients skim it because of the way I write the opening of each paragraph. Then they pick up the phone.

The fact is that the science of the psychology of perception exists because it is often impossible to understand human behaviour just by applying common sense.

People don’t always behave in a common sense way.  They are swayed by emotions and make emotional decisions, even though almost everyone denies this much of the time.  That applies as much to teachers as it does to anyone else.

If you would like to read a little more you might find the article The five key elements of a successful advertisement of interest.

Advertisements written in a way that build on the findings of the psychology of perception invariably achieve much more than those written from a common sense point of view. If you would like to know more, do get in touch on 01604 880 927 or email a copy of a recent advert you have written to Stephen@schools.co.uk and we’ll come back with some positive suggestions about how it might be changed to get a higher response rate.

Then you can try your version and our version. And here’s the bonus – if you do that, we’ll only charge you for one of the two transmissions of the email.

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