By Kevin Gault
If you have a question about copywriting, chances are Bob Bly has the answer. A freelance writer since 1982, Bob has earned many writing awards, including a Gold Echo from the Direct Marketing Association and the Standard of Excellence award from the Web Marketing Association.
He is also the author of more than 70 books on writing and marketing, including The Copywriter’s Handbook, Secrets of a Freelance Writer and The White Paper Marketing Handbook.
Bob found a few minutes in his busy schedule to answer some of my questions on persuasive copywriting.
WhitePaperSource: If you could give our readers one tip on how to improve their writing, what would it be?
Bly: The best tip is knowing where the prospect is right now concerning your product or offer.
Here’s an example: When firewalls were first invented, you could have written a white paper entitled, “Building a moat around your network - a new concept in computer security.” But today, everybody knows what a firewall is, so that approach won’t work.
Today, a person is thinking, “My firewall isn’t working. What else do I need?” To address the current situation, your white paper should focus on why most firewalls don’t work and what people need to shore up their network protection.
WhitePaperSource: Are there any recent trends in copywriting that have caught your attention?
Bly: I see a trend today with writers - especially white paper writers - to include too much unnecessary information. Respect the reader’s time by selectively using only those facts that truly cement your case.
Before the Internet, the biggest problem in writing a white paper was getting enough information. Now you can Google your topic and get all the information you need, and then some.
But having an abundance of information doesn’t mean you should try to include all of it in your white paper. The more you fill your paper with extraneous junk that the reader can easily get on the Internet, the more you’re wasting their time and the less likely they are to read your paper.
WhitePaperSource: When you read white papers, do you notice writers’ mistakes that reduce the effectiveness of the papers?
Bly: Most often, writers don’t write white papers strategically; they view them as just a way of providing information. People don’t need information solely for the sake of having it - your white paper must have a strategic purpose.
Your paper must support your brand or selling proposition, but if it tells me how XYZ Software’s content-management system is better than the competition, it’s clearly a sales pitch and I don’t want that.
But if the paper gives me information that directly connects to my situation, it works well. For example, if I’m looking to buy a content-management system and the paper tells me how to measure the ROI of content-management systems, the information is valuable to me so I’ll read it. That’s how a white paper persuades without taking a direct sales approach.