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.