Critical Copywriting Strategies for Marketing a Small Business

By: Dan Kennedy on: October 23rd, 2009 4 Comments

Around here, on Planet Dan, we say “Copy Is King”…and we focus on the Message (and on Message To Market Match). But, as the highest paid professional, freelance direct-response copywriter working today, I can afford to tell you…and do tell you….things other copywriters will not. While it must be on target, copy gets credit for only 20% to 25% of a successful direct-mail piece/campaign, ad, web site, etc.

Another critical element is the ‘who’ reading the copy. In direct-mail, this makes careful, thorough, precision list selection and segmentation critical; in online marketing, it has to do with where traffic is being obtained from.

Then, another critical element is the presentation of the message. In face-to-face, person-to-person or person-to-group selling this may encompass the salesperson’s attire, personal appearance, body language and voice inflection; his props, visual aids, demonstrations; even the environment in which the selling is taking place. In media, there are seven major items on the Presentation of Message List.

1.) Format. Lots of choices: in direct-mail, letters in envelopes, many sizes of postcards, tear-sheets, traditional brochures, magalogs, and on and on. Online, many different ways to design landing pages and web sites. Different formats are best for different presentations to different (types of) prospects. Here’s what’s important: the format should be chosen because it best presents the copy in the way most likely to be read by the intended readers. So, things like the age of that reader enter into the decision. But to be VERY “101” for a minute, in most settings, if using direct-mail, the long “personal”, conversational letter sent in an envelope will, all other things being equal, out-perform all other formats.

2.) Cosmetics. This refers to typography, graphic elements and layout; to boldfacing, underlining, italics, indenting, centering, varying typefaces, varying type sizes; graphic elements like hand-scribbles, margin notes in handwriting, stars, boxes (which can be most easily done with VIP Coaching Luxury Member Mike Capuzzi’s invention, the easy to use piece of software called ‘Copy-Doodles’, visit; letter look, multi-column; etc. This is too important to be left to the graphic artists! “How it looks” is not servant to aesthetics but to effectiveness; the object here is to engage the reader and help the reader along, to build emotion and enthusiasm as you might do in person with voice inflection and body language.

3.) Photographs or Illustrations. I have often confessed to being negligent myself about this, my bias for words and wordsmithing in my own way. Abundant research evidences that the addition of a well-chosen, effective photograph to an ad (making no other changes) can boost its response from 10% to 200%. In most cases, the “head shot” should be avoided, in favor of an “action photo” that tells a story; a humorous photo that makes a selling point and makes people smile.

In most tests, photos outpull illustrations or line art in advertising, but there are instances of the “non-photo” illustration working. The famous J. Peterman catalog featured in my new No B.S. Marketing To The Affluent book (Chapter 32) has never had a product photo – instead romanticized drawings of its products.

4.) Structured Readership Path. Your copy must not ramble idly. You are trying to create the “greased chute” with side rails so they can’t get out (as described by Joe Sugarman, ‘Advertising Secrets Of The Written Word’ and ‘Triggers’) – and to adhere to a copy formula, such as AIDA (Attention, Desire, Interest, Action) or PAS, Problem, Agitate, Solve – and, with long copy, to provide a Double Readership Path.

5.) Aids For The Reader. These are extra devices or inserted items to help the reader grasp, accept key points. These may be strategically placed testimonials, challenging questions in boxes, even multi-question, self-scoring quizzes, etc.

6.) Involvement Devices. These include “grabbers” (i.e. items attached to letters or other mailing components) – from dollar bills to band-aids to bags of sand to smiley face decals to little toy American flags; the YES or NO stickers you move from one place to the other; “freemiums” people find humorous or like getting, that can obligate readership, such as the samples of imprinted pens you get with sales letters from the pen company. (“Well, that never works on ME” you say. But they mail over 20-million a year. It’s working on somebody. Get out of your own way!)

7.) Response Mechanisms. Order Form(s), reply cards, reply envelopes/pre-paid reply envelopes, clear directions to web sites, etc. – big thumb 101 rules: easier you make it to respond, more response; more ways to respond = more response.


Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to

4 Responses

  1. Rob Anspach says:

    the other day I received a packet of coffee in a sort of a nice mailer (I wouldn’t use it… but someone did take some time in selecting its color, shape and form) – the problem with receiving this piece was that I’m not a coffee drinker – and the smells of certain coffees are offensive to my nose… so was this piece effective…not on me.

    If they would have targeted a better demographic and then segmented their lists better they would have targeted only coffee drinkers, or those that like the smell of coffe… then they wouldn’t be wasting their time and money on wasted mailings and would have increase the ROI on the mailing.

  2. Charles says:

    Dan your postings have inmense value in my copywriting learning.
    this lines hit me.
    Another critical element is the ‘who’ reading the copy. In direct-mail, this makes careful, thorough, precision list selection and segmentation critical; in online marketing, it has to do with where traffic is being obtained from.

  3. Sean says:


    Your information has hyper-accelerated my learning and encouraged me to take action. I bought “No B.S. Time Managment for Entrepaneurs” and read it cover to cover on an uncomfortable flight. Thank you. I’m referencing it and putting the ideas into action. I love that your writing style is consistent with the audios I’ve heard. It helps me read your stuff because I can hear your voice. (Sometimes I can even see your mustache in my mind, and I can’t “thank you” for that.)

    I bookmarked this article for my ‘copy advice swipe favorites’, but I must admit, I’m not impressed to see that your website editors have allowed you to look sloppy by leaving the accidental transposition of [Desire and Interest] in your AIDA reference.

    I’ve learned AIDA from one of your audios–and I use it. For a guy or gal who’s never heard of it, that small error of reversing desire with interest could be a critical misunderstanding.



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