When Should You Go Long?

By: Dan Kennedy on: January 16th, 2016 12 Comments

Over the years many of my clients have asked me about long copy.

They wonder if it makes sense, will it increase readership and will it boost their response rates. They’re thinking about testing a long-copy format across various media channels (direct mail, website, an email campaign) to market their products or services – but they have reservations.

They understand and appreciate the importance of brevity, of being able to grab attention immediately and getting right to the point. They realize that the average person out there has a very limited attention span and will literally only give you a few seconds of their time before tuning you out and moving on.

Before making a commitment to long copy, consider the following criteria:

Identify your target audience. Seniors or well-educated prospects want all the facts and are more receptive to long copy. If initially interested, they will make time to take a long, hard look at what you have to say. Products or services that would normally require long copy include in-home healthcare service, a four-year college education, a motorized wheelchair or a hearing aid.

Long-form copy usually makes sense when you are trying to educate your target market. If it’s a new market, prospects are probably unfamiliar with what you offer, how it works and most importantly why they need it. So go ahead and walk them through the sales process. If interested, they will read what you have to say several times.

If you’re selling something exotic or complex that requires lots of description, try a long copy approach. Don’t just gloss over the features and benefits. Spell it all out. Examples of exotic or complex include a once-in-a-lifetime vacation like an African safari, a luxury automobile, solar heating panels or a limited edition coin collection.

If you have a big or unusual offer, long copy will increase your chances for a strong response rate. This might include a private pre-sale of collector stamps, an initial offering of vacation homes with no down payment or an ironclad money-back guarantee that the competition can’t beat.

Why test a long copy approach?

  • Generally speaking length is not as important as content. If you have a big story to tell, tell it in a dramatic, compelling manner.
  • It’s a new market – prospects are unfamiliar with your product/service and want to know how it works and more importantly why they need it.
  • Long-form copy makes sense when you are trying to educate your target market.
  • When it comes to business decisions, business people need all the facts.
  • Under normal circumstances, it’s better to give more information versus less. If prospects have questions that are unanswered, they are more likely to hold off making a purchase. Long copy normally answers many of their questions and overcomes doubts or hesitation on the part of the prospect.

There are many examples of long-form copy pulling an impressive response rate, including:

  • A popular credit card company relied on a direct mail package with a three-page letter that remained the control for many years and became a recognized standard within the credit card industry.
  • A travel and resort company successfully markets an exotic getaway adventure on the Amazon River with a four-page letter. Space for the trip is limited and many respondents are turned away on a regular basis.
  • A well-known home correspondence school normally includes a four-page letter and copy heavy brochure in their fulfillment kit. The strategy behind their success is to give a prospect as many good reasons as possible to sign up for a home study course.
  • The U.S. Mint regularly issues a limited number of rare coins and uses a long form letter in its direct mail along with a copy heavy print ad. Collectors can’t get enough facts or information concerning the latest series, and quantities of the product (usually a one-time limited run) traditionally sell out within a few weeks of introduction.
  • One of the largest worldwide marketers of collectibles normally relies on long form copy to sell plates, music boxes, figurines and other collectible products. Their mailings give a detailed background about the history of the particular product, its creation, facts about the artist, and more – probably more than most of us would ever want to know. This approach transformed a cottage industry into a multi-million dollar operation.

When it comes to direct response techniques that work, there continues to be a time and a place for long copy. Be sure to take into account your target audience, your product or service and your offer when trying to decide if long copy makes sense. And above all else, be sure to test it. Anyone can make predictions. Test results should always dictate where you’re at and more importantly, where you should be going with your copy content.

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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 www.GKIC.com

12 Responses

  1. David Hunter says:

    If something interests someone, they’re going to look further into it.

    Everyone always told me know one would read that, it’s too long! People only glance… they’ll never read it! Blah blah blah.

    But, when something interests that same person, you better believe they’re reading to see what it’s about.

  2. Marie Jones says:

    Great tips!

    I think one should consider this criteria before making commitment to long copy; first and foremost thing about small business marketing is to pay attention on “Identifying target audience”.

  3. Scott Martin says:

    I’m biased, perhaps, as a direct response copywriter but I agree with the post.

    One additional factor … a potential client or customer may not read all the copy. However, the fact there’s plenty of copy gives the reader a sense the product or service is serious … as are the people behind the product.

    Longer copy gives you an opportunity to include a TON of proof elements.

  4. I believe in long copy myself, having had several successes. But I have found that during the last year or two, the long video with a spectacular offer at the end, teased throughout the voice recording, get me to stay with it to the end a lot better than reading. Reading has become a lost art, unless you are reading a book for pleasure. The optimum length of my recorded video (with just words to read along) is 22 minutes. How do the rest of you feel about this?

  5. Simon Dadia says:

    I have to say I have been testing videos, long-forms, short forms, pages with just testimonials specifically for a new social media and SEO product – the results have actually been all over the place and cant seem to find a pattern since the product can be used for so many segments of internet marketing.. The best response I had was def from a long form but the problem is that the audience was EXTREMELY pre-sold and had something insane like 140% conversion rate!

  6. J A Tosti says:

    It seems to me there might be a distinction between use of long form copy for direct mail vs. long form copy for email. You mention examples of successful direct mail long form copy but none for email. What I wonder is whether you can make the assumption that since long form has worked for direct mail, then long form should also work for email. And, while we’re at it, what constitutes “long form” for email, compared with direct mail? I usually consider a 4-8 page sales letter to be long form copy for direct mail. However, given the sheer volume of information daily coming our way via the Internet, I’m wondering if “long form” for email might be something much less? As for myself, I’m finding a lot less tolerance for reading long copy via email. Would appreciate your comments…

  7. How long should the copy be? Long enough to do the job! I totally agree it’s important to know your target audience and to consider the product/service and the offer.

    The most important part of this post for me is… test, test, test. Then once you have a control… test some more.

  8. Alexey says:

    I have tried long copy in some cases, but I don’t remember the response on that. So, probably I should try it.

    Actually, when I receive emails from Dan – it is usually long copy and I read to the end.

    That is because of the authority and interesting content.

    So, I think the target audience will read to the end.

    If we tap into there “pain” – they will be looking forward to receive the salvation remedy.

  9. John Paul says:

    Long copy will produce “long results” meaning greater profitability across all mediums. I received an educational email on January 27th, 2016 from a well respected acquaintance from across the “great pond” who shared the results of a recent test using different lengths of copy. Quoting the figures in the email:
    Copy length (words) Response rates
    1064 – 17.08%
    1999 – 19.09%
    2763 – 24.24%
    His next comment on the issue was “if an extra profit of 41.9% doesn’t interest you stop reading now. You are making far too much money.” I too believe long copy is the ultimate salesman in any niche.

  10. Scott Martin says:

    Some more thoughts after reading this excellent post again.

    When I’m about to buy something expensive, I tend to read the headline and deck — then look at the price. If it’s affordable then I’ll read all the copy before making a decision.

    Recently, I was thinking about buying access to a conference — on a live feed. It was $697. I was on the fence but there wasn’t much copy — or not enough to get me to pull my credit card out of my wallet.

    Long copy is fine but it must take into consideration the scanner. This means paying close attention to subheads, bullets, photos, and captions. Many people include sidebars, as well.

    Videos embedded in the copy can help to improve conversion but make sure you tell the reader to watch the video!

    If you’re afraid of long-form copy, then you can break it up in to digestible “blocks” that tend to be heavy with graphics. This can work really well in the supplements space. But it’s still long-form copy, in essence.

    Something else to consider … many times, the sheer weight of the copy sends the message “there’s something serious going on here.”

    I base all of this on my experience.

  11. Long copy can work better than short copy, but there are so many other variables when it comes to response.

    One time I ran several tests for a company that showed long copy performing better than the shorter versions. Excited, I shared these results with the managers/execs and long copy started getting used by other copywriters for additional sales emails.

    These other copywriters, however, wrote long copy in a cluttered, bulky manner that lacked flow, pacing, and impact. Results ended up suffering as a result.

    Long copy does work, it just takes a great deal more skill to execute.

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