not-great-copywriting

Empathy is all in this job. And relationship is the love. As we all know, quality relationships are made of mutual respect, rapport and trust to keep it tight and true. In most circumstances, it usually starts with small talk.

“Hi, I see you’re reading Murakami, he’s one of my favourite writers.”

“Yeah me too, I love how he mingles the waking world with the dream world.”

To quote SEO Samurai, Seamus Anthony¹, “you don’t go asking for a shag right up front”. There’s a relationship to nurture and grow first. Yet, the impulse to go straight to the sell persists like a lingering flu, with no regard for our increasing immunity to pushy and salesy talk.

It’s been 5 years since the introduction of AVID in Australia, and principals whose schools signed up to the program have reaped the rewards.

But if you know your audience like their sitting across the table from you, you will be able to hear what their thinking, then write something like this:

It’s been 5 years since the introduction of AVID in Australia, long enough to pass or fail the principal’s test. Of the 40 principals whose schools signed up to the program, 39 continue to reap the rewards. The one school that dropped out found the AVID program far more rigorous than expected. But AVID’s high academic benchmarks are the reasons why every other principal remains committed and convinced of its value.

More words, yes. This is not about number crunching, it’s about building their trust in you. And in the introduction, great copywriting begins with your reader going from disinterested and disengaged to interested and engaged. That takes carefully selected words in carefully constructed sentences carrying carefully articulated propositions to gain permission from them for you to keep talking (i.e.: for them to keep reading or listening).

 

NOT GREAT # 1: NO CONVERSATION FOR RELATEDNESS

 

You walk into a cocktail party. You don’t know anybody except the host who is too busy mingling with big notes to notice you. Then you see a person across the room standing alone, sipping a cocktail and you bee-line to her. Then the first words that come out of your mouth are:

Hi, I am a very talented, committed, passionate and successful professional, and all my clients think I’m awesome, you can read their testimonials on my website, here is the url. Check it out now! You’re going to love me too and let’s go to bed together because I’m really hot.

It will come as no surprise that she’ll be gone before you’re even a quarter-of-the-way through your narcissuspeil. Such copywriting does not create trust, let alone rapport. There are three ways to overcome the “Narcissuspeil Syndrome”. The first and most highly recommended way is to prepare a communication brief with a thorough profiling of your target audience — demographic, psychographic and Hugh Mackay’s Ten Desires² — and do it in that order! Never ever shortcut to the Ten Desires or you will guarantee stereotyping.

The second way is to visualize your target audience as a particular person sitting across the table in conversation with you. That’s going to be a whole lot easier to do if you have done the psychographics and Ten Desires. Understanding and appreciating you’re target audience is the only way to have a proper dialogue with them. Don’t get sucked into that crusty old ’50s cliche that “copywriting is selling with words”. That’s only half the story. And besides, we’re far more sophisticated than that these days. Copywriting is having a dialogue with your target audience. Period.

The third way to reach out to your audience is the Sean Cummins’ Letter³; this is where you actually write the copy as a letter to a dear friend. You will automatically start talking in a more human and sincere way because it’s only natural. And your friend would expect that of you anyway.

In short, your target audience is a one-of-a-kind human being and the golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do to you is a good copywriting policy. This alone will open up the conversation toward increasing the probability of buying into your story and ultimately, conversion.

After that, it’s all about the quality of the content in the conversation.

 

NOT GREAT #2: NO COMPELLING BENEFIT TO BEGIN WITH

 

 In a communication brief, it’s called the “key proposition” or “main message”. In the audience’s mind, it called “what’s in it for me?”

Too often, I see copywriting that bogs their readers down in features, features, fabulous features. Like that guy at the cocktail party, banging on about how smart you are, how strong you are and how important you must be. Stop! In the name of Diana Ross & The Supremes! Change your point-of-view from the inside out to the outside in — ask yourself how the subject matter you’re writing about can benefit the reader/listener.

So instead of:

We offer an extensive range of public courses. [feature]

It becomes:

We offer an extensive range of public courses, allowing you to take control of your professional development. [feature + benefit]

Sometimes the benefit is obvious, sometimes it’s invisible. Great copywriting makes the invisible visible. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the reader will translate the feature into a benefit. If they actually bother to do this (highly unlikely), they will be using extra cognition power and precious time translating features into benefits. It’s the copywriter’s job to save them that extra few milliseconds so that meaningfulness, usefulness and/or value is instant. You put little bit more deep thinking on the subject and what the target audience will get out of it (this could take seconds, minutes or hours, it doesn’t matter) and they’ll stay in your story, and ipso facto you in their’s.

Here’s some fun to be had: next time you review your copy, highlight the features in one colour, and the benefits in another colour, and see if you’ve got the balance right.  Of course you need to talk about the tech stuff like what it does, how it does it and the specifications. But when you put meaning into them with benefits, you direct their line of thinking to where you want them to go (like a film director). You also breathe life into the dead facts.

 

NOT GREAT #3: YOUR AUDIENCE IS CONFUSED

 

This can happen in a couple of ways.

Firstly, you may not have explained enough what your solution offers. The most likely cause is not describing the how and the why clearly, or at all. How do you know if this is the cause? There’s the Copywriting in Action School adage: “it’s not just what you put into the writing, but also what the reader takes out that completes the communication”. If you know your audience well, you can second guess any question, issue or confusion they will have with the text. This is where the procatalepsis comes into play (a rhetorical strategy by which a speaker or writer anticipates and responds to an audience’s objections or unanswered questions). Write enough so you can hear your audience say, “I get it, now I can check that off my list.”

The other source of confusion is too many options. It’s called the paradox of choice — too many choices lead to no choice at all. Too many choices, too many possibilities, too many things to pick from, too many channels to choose from and we start to get confused and it’s all over before anything can begin.

The number three tends to be the magic number (also one of the most popular rhetorical devices, known as the tricolon); but Sean D’Souza at Psychotactics believes in two. He only offers two options — a basic and a premium. Others will offer the silver, gold, platinum. I’ll leave it to you to choose between these two options.

Meanwhile, when you’ve got like 100 pages of copy and you haven’t structured it with feature and benefit sub-heads to orient your audience, and help them remember where they are on the page, and the benefit-focused copy itself is not structured into narrative logic, they’re will be confusion. And, as the old copywriting maxim goes, a confused mind does not buy. A confused person has to sort through their confusion and therefore can’t go for what you’ve got.

So make sure you’re explaining things clearly, explaining the benefits, second-guessing their takeaways and addressing any blocks, then letting them know what to do next.

 

NOT GREAT #4: NO CALL TO ACTION

 

In copywriting jargon, the call to action (CTA) means you tell your audience what to do next: “Click here to sign up for the newsletter” or “Click here to register for the course.”

There are two schools of CTA about this. Usability experts often say, “Don’t say click because an underlined word in web copy is clearly a link, and it’s obvious that you click it”. Then there are copywriters like fellow scribes at copyblogger.com who say, “That’s just lame, people click more on links that say, Click Here.” As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Of course, you don’t use CTAs for everything, only when you need them to do something like sign up for your newsletter or register for your webinar. Chances are, inviting them to commit to the buy-in will only be said once in an entire piece of copy, and most likely at the end (after you’ve corrected #1 #2 and #3 above).

The act of clicking is the moment of conversion. The word “conversion” has a lot of religious connotations, but in this context, it’s just getting your target audience to take some action you have defined in advance. A call to action gets them to do that. You might think, “Well, it’s obvious what to do,” and yes, for some readers it is; but not for most. Of course you don’t want to sound too pushy or salesy either. You just want your words to pass the BS detector test.

A polite, direct C.T.A. with a touch of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is all it takes to sound like a real person with something useful, valuable or meaningful to offer.  So go ahead and and tell them respectfully, but clearly, “If this is for you, please click here to order the product now.”

 

NOT GREAT #5: GLOSSING OVER CRITICAL OBJECTIONS

 

In 1935, comedian Jimmy Durante starred in the Billy Rose Broadway musical Jumbo, in which a police officer stops him while leading a live elephant and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?” Durante’s reply, “What elephant?” It was a regular show-stopper.

That elephant in the room is still alive and ignored to this day. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling or telling, this persistent habit of glossing over objections is based on an inability or reluctance to listen. One of the rules of properly practiced copywriting is that, “it’s no just what you put into the writing but also what the reader takes out that communicates” and perhaps what your reader is taking out is an objection. Copywriting is a dialogue between you and your target audience, and the listening part of writing is asking yourself, “What is my reader taking out of this sentence?” The better you know your reader, the more accurate will be your answer. The biggest objections are the following:

I can’t afford it.

I don’t trust you.

I don’t believe you.

I don’t think I can do that. I think everybody else in the world could have success with that, but I can’t. I’m not smart enough to make that work.

And here are examples of other common objections that come to your reader’s mind as they read your copy, and probably stop reading there and then and exit your story because your copy didn’t acknowledge it in some skillful way:

I think this material is going to be too advanced for me.

I think this material is going to be too basic for me.

I think this product is not worth the money that you’re asking me.

I reckon this product is just a scam.

I’m worried the product is going to break and I’m not going to know how to get it fixed.

I’m worried that I’m going to have a lot of hassles trying to get it ordered or shipped.

I’m afraid to order things on the internet because I’m afraid my credit card is going to get stolen.

An objection is a reason somebody is not doing business with you yet. By thinking that, “If I don’t bring it up maybe it will never occur to them,” you’re doing a Jimmy Durante gag that’s a show-stopper of the literal kind.

One of the most powerful rhetorical strategies in effective communications is one in which a speaker or writer anticipates and responds to an opponent’s objections. This is called the procatalepsis (remember I mentioned it in #3?). Look it up, put it into practice and you’re writing will turn that elephant in the room into a lion’s roar, leaving your audience without any doubts about your reliability, integrity and authority.

See you in a fortnight for Part 2: The Next Five Reasons.

 

¹Seamus Anthony: Way of the SEO Samurai

² The Ten Desires

³ Truth of a Story: An Interview with Sean Cummins

 

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