When you write an e-newsletter like this one, it's easy to become an unrelenting critic of others.
For example, if you've been a regular reader of mine you've heard me say things like this a hundred times: "This ad is boring." "That letter is pompous." And so on.
So in this issue, I'm going to turn the tables on myself and confess to three mistakes I have made . . . three times when I was oh-so-sure-of-myself and got things wrong.
By the way, the first mistake has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with copywriting, so if all you're after is copywriting writing advice, skip the following item . . .
Mistake #1: Ivan goes to the eye doctor.
My name is Ivan Levison but lots of people don't hear it that way. Instead, they call me Ira Levinson, Isaac Livingston, Ivan Longston, you name it. (If you have a name other than Smith or Jones, you've been there.)
So when the nurse came out to get me from the ophthalmologist's crowded waiting room and said, "Miss Iverson please," I was a bit ticked. I got up, walked over to him, and replied with uncharacteristic superiority, "It's MISTER and it's LEVISON."
He looked at me calmly and said with a slight superior smile of his own, "No. It's MISS, and it's IVERSON." He then turned to a woman who was seated next to me and said, "Miss Iverson, this way please." Miss Iverson got up and followed him into the office while I looked for a hole to crawl into.
O.K. Enough. Let's get down to business . . .
Here are two mistakes I made that emphasize the need for constantly testing your assumptions and relying on facts, not instinct.
Mistake #2: Being committed to an old idea
Years ago, I think it was in the Pleistocene age, I wrote a letter for a client, Kristi Skiba at Inset Systems, then the publishers of HiJaak for Windows.
I suggested that the letter be printed in a Courier typeface so that it would look like it was typed on a typewriter.
Kristi suggested we use a Times Roman, or some other attractive serif typeface, and give the letter a more finished, "professional" look. I really thought this was a mistake. For me the answer was always clear . . . make your letter look as if it were typed. Why? Because all the copytesting results I had come across over the years had always been clear and persuasive. The "typed look" consistently outpulled the "typeset look." However these tests were not that recent and I should have been alert to that.
Anyway, my client decided that the typeface question was important enough to test so she split her list and dropped 25,000 pieces with my letter typeset in Courier (for the typewriter look) and 25,000 pieces with my letter typeset in Times Roman. That was the only variable. Everything else in the package, including the copywriting, was exactly the same!
The results? The Times Roman typeset look did a lot better than the Courier typewriter version. What this taught me, of course, was that you should never be wedded to old facts, but constantly let the marketplace tell you what works. In retail they say "location, location, location." In direct marketing we should remember to "test, test, test."
Mistake #3: Depending on my "gut feel."
I was working for a company called DocuMagix that was selling a shrink-wrapped product through the mail.
(Remember those days?) Anyway, my client said "Let's sweeten the pot and offer the prospect free shipping and handling if they order right away."
I argued that the software had so much appeal that the company would be leaving money on the table if they gave up the shipping and handling fee. They said, "Let's test it." I said, "Great," but made a gentleman's bet that their offer would not ultimately be profitable.
WRONG! The free S&H offer was a tremendous winner, they made a lot of money, and I ate a large slice of humble pie.
The moral of this story is, yet again, "test, test, test." Next time you think YOUR instincts are right, let your prospects decide. Their votes, after all, are the only ones that count.