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Ad and marketing creatives

How Long Should Your Marketing Copy Be?

You have an e-mail, direct mail letter, web page, or other promotional piece to write. How much copy is required to do the job? One paragraph? Five? Twenty?

Most marketing writers struggle with this question. And for good reason. There's a lot of misinformation out there. One so-called expert claims that all marketing and PR copy should be long and involved. Another insists that short and concise works best these days.

What's the answer?

That depends on a number of specific factors. Here are eight questions to ask that will help you determine how long your copy should be, whether you're writing for print or online.

  1. Is it a standard format?

    The marketing or PR piece may have a standard format that influences how much copy you have to work with. For example, a press release is often no more than a page or two. So the word count would fall somewhere between 400 and 1000.

  2. Is the size and/or layout carved in stone?

    Sometimes you don't have much of a choice. The size, shape, and even the basic layout of the piece may already be completed. Your job is to write copy that fits. This isn't ideal. But it happens.

  3. What action are you asking the reader to take?

    If the purpose of the promotional piece is to generate a lead -- by persuading the prospect to request a free information kit, for example -- then you may not need much copy. However, if you're asking for an order, it's going to take a lot more words to convince the reader to pull out his credit card!

  4. How emotionally involving is the buying decision?

    How much of the buying decision is emotional rather than practical? Purchasing a lawn mower is a practical decision for most people, usually requiring just a persuasive explanation of the features and benefits. An exotic vacation, however, may be highly emotional, with dreams of fun and family and adventure, and would require longer, more descriptive copy.

  5. How dependent is the prospect on the copy?

    How much is the prospect dependent on your copy to get all the facts and information he needs to make a purchasing decision? If you want to motivate someone to order a $950 software program with your direct mail letter, you may need several pages to make a convincing argument. However, if the prospect is buying a new fridge, he'll get a lot of the information at the store by talking with the salesperson.

  6. How expensive is the product or service?

    The rule of thumb is: The bigger the price tag, the longer the copy. If you are promoting a one-day seminar for $99, you may be able to get away with a four-panel brochure. But you'll need a lot more copy to convince someone to invest in a $3,500 weekend boot camp.

  7. What's the brand power?

    How well-known is the product or service you're promoting? If you're writing a direct-mail letter to sell subscriptions for Forbes magazine, you may not need too many pages. People are already familiar with and trust that publication. However, if the company or product is unfamiliar to the reader, you will have some credibility building to do. And that will take more copy.

  8. Is the product part of a high-interest topic?

    If the audience is highly interested or enthusiastic about the topic your product or service represents, then they will read a lot of copy. For example, people who love to cook will be willing to read several pages describing a new "Professionals Series" frying pan with technologically advanced nonstick coating.

Determining copy length is not a perfect science. But the above questions will help. If all else fails, follow this well-known tip: "Write until your copy does the job. Then stop typing."


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Steve Slaunwhite is a marketing consultant, award-winning copywriter, and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. He works with professionals who need better results from their websites, e-mails, sales letters, ads, and other marketing communications. He is also the editor of www.ForCopywritersOnly.com. His professional home on the Web is www.SteveSlaunwhite.com. Click here to read more articles by Steve Slaunwhite.

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