Dead-Facts-to-Life

I am going to write this post with the view that you are an impatient reader. And that if there was a pill for fast acting knowledge and insight, you’d more than likely take it. Impatient readers love bullet points. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with a random shopping list of facts and features and expect the love to keep giving. At best, such an approach communicates a lack of writerly competence; at worst it communicates plain laziness. So use bullet points thoughtfully.

Now before we get into the fascination that makes for effective bullet points, with two case studies that demonstrate this, here are the 4 essentials of writing of bullet points:

  1. Call attention to something that benefits the reader (this will take us directly to the fascination side of this article)
  2. Keep them symmetrical – roughly the same number of lines on the screen or page.
  3. Keep them uncluttered — avoid subsections and sub-bullets.
  4. Keep them parallel – begin each bullet with the same part of speech, if one starts with a noun, don’t make the next one a verb.

Good bullets points (like headlines) aren’t always complete sentences, but do keep them consistent with one another. Notice that bullet points can be in a numbered list (as above), or they can be “unordered” bullets. If the introduction sentence of bullet points states a number (as above), then use numbers in the bullet points. If not, then you can opt for the dots.

Now for “fascinations”. It’s an old direct mail copywriting term, meaning the intriguing element or aspect of a subject matter’s feature that can be teased out and used to entice your audience. Fascinations are written to be so compelling and benefit-driven that the reader can’t help but want to discover the answer.

The formula goes like this:

FEATURE FACT + UNIQUE BENEFIT = RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

Here is a classic example from Bottom Line Secrets, a subscription periodical on how to make life easier:

  • Why some patients are given favoured status in hospitals … almost preferred treatment. This little known information could save your life.
  • How to learn about medical discoveries before your doctor.
  • How and when blood pressure can fool you … and drinking alcohol without hangovers.
  • The two famous cold remedies that, taken together, can give you ulcers.

While it may break the symmetry rule, you can’t deny the strong desire to find out the answer to each bullet point.

So how do you do fascinations?

  • Look at your product or service and figure out what benefits (ideally, unusual or unique ones) that you deliver to your customers.
  • Focus on the benefits that are most compelling for your individual audience.
  • Use numbers and statistics – “How to lower your blood pressure” is good, but “How to lower your blood pressure as much as 10 points without medication” is better.
  • Find an element of beneficial surprise as well. “Learn to improve your flexibility” is all right, but “Add 6 inches to your toe-touch in 10 minutes … even if you’ve never been able to touch the ground before” is so much better.
  • Be patient and put a little extra time and effort into making your bullet points fascinating (or at least crystal clear and beneficial).

Here are two case studies from my Copywriting classes to demonstrate fascinations. The red highlights the fascination of each feature fact.

CASE STUDY 1 | TARGET AUDIENCE – FRANCHISE BOTTLE SHOP OWNERS:

  • Cider sales have increased by 28.2% from March 2012 to March 2013 which means you will get a bigger bite of a very juicy apple.
  • Every year, cider sales continue to grow at roughly 42% so you can confidently plan your long term income stream and buy in the green.

(“Buy in the green” is trade talk referring to the buying season. An important point here is to write in language familiar to your target audience).

  • Cider options shot from 155 to over 700 in just 5 years,  just imagine how many customers will walk through your door, again and again.
  • More people these days desire natural ingredients and by catering to evolving tastes, you’ll become the go-to-and-come-back bottle shop.
  • These people also love grassroots products and are willing to pay a premium to enjoy and support the on-going production of niche brands.
  • The move from beer and wine to the relaxed alternative of cider by women means an increased customer base and even up-sales.

 

CASE STUDY 2 | TARGET AUDIENCE – VCE STUDENTS CONSIDERING INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT UNIVERSITY TO COMPLIMENT THEIR COMMERCE OR LAW/HUMANITIES DEGREE:

Whether your aim is to make the world a better place or create success in international business, this course is designed to open the gateway to your global career.

  • You will acquire specialist knowledge and skills to navigate your way through the ideas, beliefs and values of global neighbours, trading partners and allegiances.
  • You will be exposed to foreign cultures, languages, worldviews, and values that develops you into a world citizen in tune with a century transforming global behaviour.
  • You will learn to understand how economic trade and geopolitical lines affect our everyday lives, enabling you to become a decision-maker with considerable foresight.
  • You will develop understanding of the political, cultural, economic and social dimensions of challenges facing the world that makes for a highly valued global player.
  • You’ll gain an appreciation of cultural diversity and borderless societies that equips you well into a future determined by new paradigms of engagement now emerging.

CASE STUDY #3 | TARGET AUDIENCE – MILITARY DECISION-MAKERS LOOKING TO UP-GRADE THEIR MILITARY’S VIRTUAL BATTLESPACE (VBS) SIMULATED TRAINING PROGRAM.

Nothing can truly prepare your troops for the real battlefield, but VBS3 comes closer than ever before:

VBS3 uses highest end gaming visualization and immersion, heightening senses to the point where even taste and smell senses are alerted

VBS3 uses the leading-edge in state-of-the-art gaming intuitive interfacing, making your troops completely one with the virtual battle field

VBS3 adapts to cutting edge training and development, so you capitalize on years of ingenuity from developers who are on the bleeding edge

VBS3 crosses ever-new boundaries with Sim-expert customer feedback so you can easily customise it to meet ever-changing military needs

VBS3 enables joint training exercises across defense forces to more effectively accommodate,  prepare and coordinate a unified action plan

VBS3 generates terrain as far as the eye can see, opening your scope of vision to the bigger picture and a far greater capacity of foresight

 

The key to a fascination is dangling the benefit in a teasing manner, compelling the reader to either seek the answer or complete the story with their own hoped for, aspirational or desired outcome.

To conclude on the father of modern communications (and a mother of a communicator!), Bill Bernbach, “Our job is to bring the dead facts to life”.

 

15 Comments

  1. […] this one from Copywriting In Action is not called a formula, it’s still great to use as one. Make sure that your bullet lists […]

  2. […] this one from Copywriting In Action is not called a formula, it’s still great to use as one. Make sure that your bullet lists […]

  3. Sandra says:

    I’ll never write bullet points the same way again! This is a great way to please the impatient reader (and writer!) more completely

  4. […] You know what a bullet list is… but did you know that copywriters (especially in direct response) call bullets “fascinations”? True story. Where a bullet really just states a benefit or feature, a fascination is written to be so compelling (and curiosity-piquing) that desire is magnified. We talk about this in our courses, and you can learn more here […]

  5. Karl says:

    The fascination technique is new to me, I’ll be trying that one out

  6. Christopher says:

    I think I often resort to bullet points and trying to put a wow factor on everything.

    Can they and fascinations be used as substantiation, or are they just interest injectors?

  7. Mel says:

    I too often revert to bullet points automatically, but at least if I do it’s good to know how to make them worthwhile! When not executed correctly they really do look lazy, you’re right. I’d never thought of it that way before.

    These were great case studies and examples by the way!

  8. Simon Carr says:

    I have in the past use bullet point, well to be honest out of laziness. And I won’t lie, It will most probably still be the main motivator behind using them in future, but at least now I can fashion my lazy tendency into engaging, interesting and informative points.

  9. Rebecca L says:

    Great article that brings me back, yet again, to being other focused. Good to have these tips that remind me to consider what’s in it for the target audience, rather than just presenting bite size chunks of information. I think I’ll make this my motto! – “Bring dead facts to life”

  10. Simon Carr says:

    I have for a long time used billet points as a way of distilling larg ideas down to manigable sentences and then add a dash of creativity to join them together. I can see this information been very helpfull in applying bullet points in new and more refined ways.

  11. M. Soan says:

    I enjoyed Bill Bernbach’s quote about bringing dead facts to life! Great post again and a good refresher from last week. I am much the same as a previous commenter, that I try and arrange information into more manageable chunks or sentences as a way of structuring it rather than focusing on the benefits. And of course having a well thought out and planned communication brief will aid that process. So much to learn and improve but getting there!

  12. Julie Wood says:

    This is great. I’ve just be working on a proposal this morning that used bullet points. Now I’ve revised and made sure each bullet includes the fascination element. I have to say it already reads a lot better than my first draft. Now to do some more re-writing!

  13. Christie says:

    I think I tend to focus on simply breaking up the information into manageable chunks rather than ensuring each point is benefit based, so thank you for the tips.

    When I first learnt to write long copy marketing collateral, I was told that people are more likely to read copy when it is presented in shorter, odd-numbered bullet points/packages. The reason being, the human brain is better able to process and retain information when it is displayed in odd-numbered chunks, ideally groups of three, give or seven. I would be interested to know whether you believe the power of odd numbers theory is beneficial in this instance?

    • NICOLAS says:

      Hey this is fascinating stuff Christie. Would this be according to Abreena Tompkins’ brain-based online course design model? If so, the evidence is pretty solid considering her meta-analysis of more than 300 articles. My investigation suggests that while it is easier to create symmetry by balancing elements in twos, odd numbers force movement and visual interest toward harmony. MY conclusion is that odd numbers activate the reader into participating in the narrative with the aim of returning their cognitive dissonance (odd numbers) back to cognitive harmony (even numbers).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *