Does Long Copy Work Better Than Short Copy?

April 28th, 2005 by Bob Bly

In a ?Views? column in DM News (4/25/05. p. 32), George Le Pera makes the case that long sales letters are better than short sales letters.

Accoding to Le Pera, who is creative director at Chinnici Direct (New York, NY), long letters cement relationships, strengthen brands, stand out in the mailbox ? and get read.

Being a freelance copywriter who specializes in writing long sales letters, I want to agree with George.

But I don?t think that a long letter is always better than a short letter in every situation.

Your thoughts?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 28th, 2005 at 3:25 pm and is filed under Direct Marketing, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

155 responses about “Does Long Copy Work Better Than Short Copy?”

  1. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    In B2B copywriting, my answer used to be “short works best”. No more than a 1-2 page letter, for example. But these days I’m not so sure. My clients have tested longer versions of letters I’ve written (4 pages, sometimes 8), and these have worked very well. Sometimes, extremely well. (A caveat: these letters were written to sell something — a software product, a subscription — not just to generate a lead.)

  2. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Don’t know why a happy face appeared in the above post. The line should read: (4 pages, sometimes 8).

  3. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    EIGHT.

  4. Mike Smock said:

    Hi Bob, We use long copy direct mail formats. And will quite often serialize it via installments. With a very creative presentation. It’s all about how well the content is written. And how it is presented. Good long copy is hard to create. But can be devastatingly effective compared to mediocre short copy. Every client initially has a knee jerk negative reaction to long copy. All feed from the same trough of short copy good, long copy bad.

  5. Jim Murphy said:

    Bob, If you are selling something worth more than $20, I’ll put my money on longer copy every time. Because it gives me a chance to provide more facts, benefits, and credibility copy. And I’ll put my money on a DM kit over a self-mailer. Because with a kit, I have a chance to get your order with the letter, brochure or order form.

  6. Joel Heffner said:

    Perhaps the reason why longer letters work so well is because people like to read stories…as opposed to ads. The shorter the letter, the more it looks like an ad. Longer letters, when well written, tend to tell stories that get people interested…so they keep reading. And people tend to “trust” an article-ish letter more than an ad. Short letters probably work best when you present a product or service that the prospect needs and wants…and you hit ‘em at the right time.

    Joel
    http://www.ihelppresenters.com

  7. Bruce DeBoer said:

    I’m a little short on experience with this one but I’ll bet that great copy works well whether short or long. Long would have to be good for more pages to propel the reader forward page after page.

    If I was going to spend $20 on an item, I doubt I’d read an 8 page letter on it. However, if I was buying a BMW 5 series, I’d want more than a 2 pager.

    Does that make sense to you guys who know more than me?

  8. Jim Logan said:

    I’m not concerned with the length of a sales letter, just the content. I write an outline for the letter, starting with the action I want the recipient to take, and work my way back to a beginning. Whether I build to the desired action in 1 or 6 pages makes no difference to me. I focus on progression of the copy to a logical conclusion.

    I haven’t found length of the copy to hinder action. Short copy can be ineffective if it fails to build a sufficient case for the reader to take action. The same is true for long copy however, short copy is more prone to ineffectiveness due to brevity.

  9. Jonathan Kranz said:

    Yeah, many clients instinctively hate long copy: “People are too busy to read,” they say. But if your message doesn’t speak to a reader’s self-interest, it can never be short enough; if it does, it’s amazing how much they’ll (we’ll) read.

    Another general rule: The more weight the letter carries (as in, responsibility for the sale) the longer it should probably be. But if the letter is requesting an intermediary action, short of a sale (such as participation at a webinar or a white paper offer) a short, 1-page letter often does the trick.

  10. Bob McCarthy said:

    I love this topic. I have been having this discussion with clients and students for 20 years.

    The answer is simple and logical. It depends entirely on the application.

    Long letters work better in order generation where you actually have to close the sale. Short letters work better in lead generation where you are just teasing the prospect by offering more information.

    In order generation (meaning mail-order, subscription/membership selling and fund-raising), you need to give the reader all the information – answer all the questions – and spell out all the details of the offer. This takes space – a longer letter.

    In lead generation, you’re not asking the reader to make much of a commitment. Your offer is generally something free – a white paper, an information kit, a seminar – so you don’t need to provide nearly as much information. This takes less space – a short letter.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.

  11. Harry Joiner said:

    I’ve written a number of highly effective sales letters for clients in B2B (including Aflac and NCR). IMHO, they work best when: 1.) limited to two pages, 2.) have an “arc” with a beginning, middle, and end, like a movie script, 3.) are written in the B2C format of problem-agitate-solve, 4.) are HIGHLY personalized to the recipients name, position, and industry, and 5.) are FAXED, then followed-up on with a phone call to confirm receipt, then MAILED after receipt is confirmed, then followed-up on again in three business days to close the appointment.

    B2B lead generation is hand-to-hand combat. But I have made thousands of cold calls and sent thousands of sales letters. My approach is based on having my teeth kicked in in the marketplace.

    Harry

  12. BER! said:

    I made two sites designed to capture emails. One had long text and the other simply had 3 sentences. The short one pulled 10:1.

  13. Richard Leader said:

    My recent experience lies in email and web copy rather than direct mail – however, I feel there are a number of considerations we should make when thinking about copy length. Included – as some have commented on above – are considerations of order value. But I think we should also consider the complexity of the proposition; if the product represents a new concept or a new way of thinking, it may require more detail and thus greater lenght.
    We also need to consider the reader – what demographics are they? In my experience, many senior managers refuse to read anything more than a page from their staff – why should they read extra from you?
    And of course, if we’re talking about the online environment, we need to consider layout even more keenly than when we’re dealing with paper… but it’s layout rather than length that is important, IMHO!
    Often, students ask me what the perfect length is for an email. And my answer? As short as you can make it while retaining all the key information.

  14. Brian Crook said:

    (Aside to Steve Slaunwhite: the numeral eight followed by right paren is an HTML thing for the 8) emoticon you saw.)

    Long or short: it depends.

    An engineer colleague was struggling with a letter to his client about an important milestone in his project, describing the status and urging action. He’d got it down to 3 pages, but it was still too detailed and rambling. I re-wrote it as an introductory paragraph plus 7 bullet points. One page with lots of white space. Colleague was quite pleased.

    I’m sure someone has said this before: If you don’t get their attention on the first page, you’ll never get it on the second page.

    It depends. What does the reader need to know in order to be motivated to take the next step?

  15. David Stoddard said:

    As was stated earlier, I believe part of it depends on the price of the item or service being advertised. The higher the price, the more important more information is needed for the potential buyer.

    A second thought comes down to the target of the marketing. If it is just something listed for a general audience, then a short piece may be better to build interest in them learning more about it. But if it is truly targeted well, a longer piece would be a better touch so these folks won’t necessarily need to look elsewhere for more info.

    Just my 2 cents.

  16. Patty Montgomery said:

    In my daily work, I write many letters to a specific target audience. What I have found is that length depends on your target market and what you are trying to accomplish with the letter.

    Ask yourself the following questions:
    Who are you trying to target?
    What are their day-to-day activities? Are they to busy?
    Is this an audience that needs a lot of information to make a decision?
    Are they an audience that needs a “soft” sell or “hard” sell?
    Will there be follow-up letter? Is this just an enticer?

    Examine the true purpose of your letter and your market. That will help you decide what you need to include in the letter.

  17. Scott Sheldon said:

    I believe strongly that copy should not be limited by arbitrary boundries. Letters should be long enough. In the same way a sane business person would never shut their sales people down at three minutes because “people don’t listen longer than that” we shouldn’t limit the length of copy because “people don’t read long letters”. The problem is never the reader…it’s the writer.

    The writer problem is why we see a plague of overly long, bullet point burdened, P.S.’d to death sales letters on the Internet. Long for the sake as long is bad business and won’t work. Copy that does work is interesting, informative, engaging, fun to read and focused on having the reader move from one line to the next, from one paragraph to the next, to a desired action.

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