Why long business writing outperforms short business writing

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always provide us with sage advice. For example, conventional wisdom tells us that it’s always better to write short rather than long. There’s just one problem with this piece of advice, it’s patently false. In many instances it’s clearly more effective to write long copy rather than short, such as for direct-response promotional pieces, sales letters, website pages, or copy for many other marketing purposes. The argument over whether long or short copy sells better was settled long ago, though this piece of unconventional wisdom hasn’t filtered to most business people. Decades of testing have shown again and again that long copy outsells short copy. The reason is very simple. When we’re interested in a product or service we want more information, not less. If we’re not interested in the product or service, we’re not going to become interested because the writer used very few words. Copywriting legend Joe Sugarman made a career out of writing full-page text ads and placing them in magazines to sell products such as the world’s first pocket calculator and the fabulously successful BluBlocker sunglasses, which are still on the market today. Sugarman emphasized the use of storytelling as an “emotional trigger” when selling these and many other products. We still see the widespread use of full-page text ads in publications like the New York Times Book Review promoting items such as the Bose Wave Music System or DVD sets of college lectures from The Teaching Company. The supremacy of long copy is also why we’ve seen a proliferation in the number of TV infomercials running 30 minutes or longer. As obnoxious as many infomercials are, the fact is they sell tons of product when done right. Viewers interested in rock-hard abdominal muscles or cosmetic treatments that knock 10 years off their appearance will sit and listen to long explanations about how these products work, and to glowing testimonials from previous buyers. A good example of where we repeatedly find copy too short to be useful is on company websites. We go there seeking to learn more about a company, only to find a paucity of information. Most companies – assenting to the belief that short copy is always better than long – give so little information about themselves that visitors leave the site with an incomplete picture of what the company does. This is certainly not the way to attract and influence customers. Well written long-form copy is front-loaded. It foreshadows what is yet to come. It gives readers vital information early and builds upon that with more detail as the copy moves along. Ideally, it leads readers through the stages of the sales process and ends with a phone call, e-mail message or financial transaction. We’re averse to writing long copy because we figure, Who is really going to read this much type? The answer is obvious: People interested in the subject matter. Those who aren’t interested can stop reading at any point. Let the reader decide when they’ve had enough.
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