Monday, July 30, 2018

The Most Important Question in Copywriting: "What's in It for Me?"

I don't have the world's longest attention span. When I receive a direct-mail piece or an email blast, however, I tend to skim over the veneer of cleverness and the endless lists of what a product does or how many years the company has served Satisfied Customers Just Like Me. I cut to the chase -- and as far as I'm concerned, the chase ends with the answer to one simple question: "What's in it for me?"

I've rewritten countless websites and print marketing campaigns for clients who simply took too long to get to that crucial question, or in some cases never got to it at all amidst the personal trumpet blowing and back patting. It's wonderful to take pride in your work, your track record in your industry or dominance of that industry. And yes, you do have to explain the features of your products or services sooner or later. But that's not what we, the prospective buyers, are looking for. We're interested in how you will improve your lives by solving a specific problem, and the longer you take to get around to that little detail, the less chance you have of avoiding a one-way trip to the circular file. 

You've heard it a million times: Push the benefits, not the features. While I wouldn't suggest dumping the features, I would recommend allowing the benefits to leap-frog over them to grab your audience's attention from the git-go. One simple way to do this is by playing the "What If" game right from the beginning -- an arresting opening statement that dares us to dream. "What if you could guarantee your family's financial security for life, starting today?" "Imagine getting the best night's sleep you ever had -- every night!" Determine what your ideal clients' ideal outcome would be, get them excited by making them envision that ideal outcome, and then offer it to them. Closed sale.

If you feel the need to paint even more of a picture for your prospects, or to remind them of the problem that needs solving, you can lead off with a pain statement. If you offer a more efficient lawn mower, for instance, make your reader picture another hot, horrible summer battling that broken-down behemoth in the garage, laying out money for frequent repairs, et cetera. THEN flip the emotional state with a "What If" that describes the fast, effortless mowing experience possible with your super-reliable new MegaCut 3000. Our hero!

Whatever approach you use, make those benefits leap off the page so your readers don't have to search for them. If you need a reminder, put a drawing or photo of a typical customer up on your wall with a caption underneath it reading, "WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?" If your answer to that question is compelling enough, we will keep reading -- and we will buy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Honest Copywriting: Accentuate the Positive -- but Don't Eliminate the Negative

Fans of Futurama will remember Professor Farnsworth hobbling into the room and proclaiming "Good news, everybody!" before informing the Planet Express team that were going to go deliver toxic waste or some other lovely task. To this day, I hear that voice in my head when I hear or read suspiciously optimistic announcements. For instance, my apartment management company recently posted a cheerful little note on my door, to the effect of, "Good news! [Can't you just hear him? Me too.] Our complex has arranged to install fiber-optic cable for all buildings. This will provide our tenants with faster online speeds than ever before!" The announcement then goes to make an oblique mention of certain construction activities that may require our patience and cooperation....

Yes, it's nice to be getting speedier Internet service. But us non-technical types are bound to wonder how much digging and installing will have to be performed, what sort of glitches may occur during installation, and whether this project will even be completed while many of the current tenants are still living here. These are all legitimate questions -- but hey, speedier Internet!

I applaud this example of putting one's best foot forward. Let's face it, there are upsides and downsides to just about any transition, venture, product, or service. In your marketing content, you obviously want to push the positive and downplay the negative. But it really is possible to offer too much of a good thing.

Your target audience may be understandably skeptical if you offer the greatest thing since sliced bread with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever. For instance, if you read an ad for a used car which includes nothing but positivity, your first question is likely to be "What's wrong with it?" What are you not being told? By contrast, a used-car ad that includes little qualifiers such as "Some minor hail damage but mechanically perfect" explains why the vehicle's price is so good, reassures you that it will get you from Point A to Point B, prepares you to encounter some imperfections, and adds a touch of transparency that encourages trust.

Providing a balanced, detailed, honest mix of content can actually help you nip specific objections in the bud. Let's say your prospective buyer reads about the efficiency of your new ultra-lightweight vacuum cleaner and is about to scoff, "I'll bet it can't handle ground-in dirt or deep pile." Fortunately, you've already added an FAQ section or a little disclaimer in your content saying, "This lightweight vacuum cleaner is specifically designed for light jobs, reducing the need to lug your heavy vacuum cleaner around." You've now clarified that your little cleaner isn't meant to be a full-time replacement for that 40-pound monster, just a welcome relief for casual cleaning applications.

A little self-effacement can work in your favor. "We may not be your ideal solution, but we'd happy to discuss your needs and tell you what we can do for you." "No weight loss plan is effort-free or equally effective for everybody, but if you're serious about shedding the pounds, this system could be just what you need." "Are we the right dental clinic for your needs? We can't answer that question for you. There's only one way to find out -- visit us." Tempering your promises and admitting your limitations doesn't just present an honest picture; it also presents you as an honest brand.

By all means, give your clients the good news first, wrap it up in a pretty bow, and let enthusiasm carry the day. Just remember that first-time buyers become repeat buyers only when their initial expectations are met. If you want to build customer relationships, make sure your marketing content sets a trustworthy tone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Selling Is Educating (and Vice Versa)

Are you a teacher? If you're in sales (and who isn't, really, when you think about it), then the answer is yes.

Think of it this way: Would you buy something -- anything -- when you didn't know what it was, what it was for, or how it could benefit you? If so, then you've probably purchased enough swamp land over the years to start your own mosquito ranch. Most of us would just stare blankly at the item in question, and then redirect our attention to something more recognizably useful. Your business has to educate its prospective customers on its products and services, and that's where skillful, focused, specific content marketing comes in.

Writers know that "doing" verbs (runs, creates, proves, energizes) make more of an impact than "being" verbs (am, are, is, has). Well, that goes for marketing content as well. Joe Client cares less about what a thing is than what that thing does. Specifically, he wants to know what it does for him. This is just another way of thinking about the tired old rule, "Push the benefits, not the features," but it works. When you shift your marketing focus from "What It Is" to "What It Does," the product's attractiveness suddenly leaps out at the average person who couldn't care less about its technical specifications. 

One of my favorite examples of this is the blogging I did for a company that specialized in metric screws, bolts and other fasteners. Fascinating stuff, right? But as I learned more about the various fasteners, I began to see that they each had different (and interesting) real-world applications:

  • Building a boat? You'll want zinc-tipped or silicon bronze screws for corrosion resistance. 
  • Preparing a commercial construction project? You need a ready source for sturdy bolts and rivets in a wide range of sizes. 
  • Assembling electronic components? Let's talk about non-conductive fasteners. 

Et cetera. So I created a series of blog articles along those lines, conjuring up images of construction crews enjoying greater productivity, manufacturing floors purring away productively, boat enthusiasts enjoying summer on the lake and so on. Now we had something exciting to talk about -- the bottom-line benefits of purchasing those metric fasteners.

As you can see, educating your customer involves more than just throwing a bunch of numbers at them. Unless that person understands how those numbers translate into benefits, you're wasting your time. Instead, focus on explaining how your product or service solves a specific need. That's educating to sell -- so make your curriculum compelling (with the aid of a professional copywriter), and aim for a graduating class of A-plus clients!