The perils of “canned” copy

Insurance_MailingsEarlier this month, I received a familiar-looking letter in the mail. No slick sales message—just my name and address printed in understated, professional grey designed to entice me to open the envelope.

“Dear Thomas,” the letter inside began with formal pomp, going on to tell me how I could “bring home $825* in savings” (note the trust-building asterisk, which lead to fine print that essentially said: “well, maybe not, but that’s our best guess”) just by switching all my insurance business over to a Ms. J_________ whom I’ve never met or talked to.

The pitch was lackluster on its own, but two more things made it an even bigger loser—the two other envelopes that arrived the same day from Mr. M_________ and Miss R_________, representatives of the same company who had clearly bought the same package from their corporate masters, complete with the same Mad Libs copy and the same mailing list, helpfully mailed for them on the same day.

These unlucky three are just a few of the latest victims of “canned” copy. As the name implies, it’s kind of like prepackaged food…and about as appetizing. Imagine reading the print equivalent of Muzak from the 1970s and you’ll have a pretty good idea.

Worst of all, they’re not alone. I also get duplicate promotions from printing companies, accountants, realtors, and more. Each has a different rep’s name and address, but they land in my mailbox or inbox at the same time on the same day with surprising regularity.

But sending the same love letter your competitors are sending isn’t the biggest risk you face when you use canned copy. Here are 5 more reasons to shy away from it:

  1. You’ll be boring. Even if your prospects don’t see it anywhere else, the one-size-fits-all approach used by canned copywriters is designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. This “lowest common denominator” approach will make your company sound lackluster and generic.
  2. You’ll sacrifice control. With canned copy, you often don’t get to choose the content. That can lead to problems if your mailing suggests an expertise you don’t have or fails to pick up on hot opportunities you’ve identified in your field.
  3. You can’t react quickly to market trends. Companies that control their own marketing copy can react swiftly to consumer trends. If a particular topic attracts interest and sparks sales, they can shift focus quickly to take advantage of it. With canned copy, you can’t just pick up the phone and ask for a quick change in strategy. Even if your copy provider is responsive to your insights, it could be months before they catch up with your market, costing you valuable time.
  4. You won’t sound like you. Successful brands have a unique “voice” that distinguishes them from competitors. When you publish copy that’s written for multiple users, you don’t stand out—you become part of the background.
  5. Customers can smell it. Copy isn’t just the padding you put between pretty pictures. If it’s not relevant or valuable to your audience, you run the risk of having your entire message ignored no matter how amazing the design looks. Since canned copy is typically designed to appeal to a wider (and vaguer) audience, its chance of being on target for your readers is usually far less likely than if you address what you know your customers are thinking, asking, and worrying about.



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