Copywriting: The Power of YOU
If you’d asked last year what I thought the strongest word in catalog and direct selling was, without hesitation I would have said, “FREE.”
“Free” always tests strong. Even in e-mail subject line scenarios where you’d expect spam filters to knock them out, response is so strong that it more than makes up for the ones filtered out.
But this year it appears that “YOU” has become more important. And while most catalogs and Web sites seem to pretend this word doesn’t even exist, they’re missing out on a personal powerhouse word that trumps all others when used properly.
I reached this conclusion because, like many customers, I’ve gotten tired of being treated like a number or a “catalog recipient” instead of a customer. We’re held at arm’s length in most of the copy we read, and it’s not unusual to feel spoken down to — even insulted!
Wouldn’t it be nice to be treated with a little more respect? Here are some examples to show how you can speak directly to your customers in a way that they can relate to you and at the same time feel respected.
Why does “you” work so well to fill that very human need? How can it be used to enroll a customer to consider and buy? And what are the alternatives?
Here are how two different catalogs sell a cashmere sweater.
A very pricey catalog sells its sweater this way:
Cashmere Sweater: Ash (gray) with light gray trim. Crew neckline. Long sleeves. Pure cashmere.
Do you feel enrolled in consideration of this sweater? I didn’t think so. At $500, you’d expect it would try just a little harder.
Another seller of a similar sweater writes:
Soft, luxurious Italian cashmere from a world-famous Italian mill in a fine 12-gauge knit. Tubular trim at neck. Long sleeves. Rolled edge at cuffs and hem. Hits at hip.
At least it’s building a story about quality — but I still don’t see myself wearing this sweater.
Now let’s see what L.L. Bean does with this same basic product:
L.L. Bean’s premium cashmere sweater is now available in a lighter weight you can wear in every season. Made of the softest two-ply cashmere, in a loose knit that’s ideal for warmer weather. Designed to take you from spring right through to fall; also nice to have on hand for cool evening breezes or chilly air conditioning. Roll-edge detail at neck, cuffs and hem.
Says It’s ‘Premium’
We’re much closer, simply because not only has this copy told me it’s premium, but it’s also told me the sweater will take me from spring through fall. I see myself wearing this a lot.
Lands’ End writes:
Add this single-layer Cashmere Tee sweater to your wardrobe because it’s unmistakably feminine, beautifully made and will never go out of style.
Lands’ End uses a call to action in the same phrase where it refers to me — that makes it strong, too.
Being a copy snob, I never expect discount Web sites to have good copy, so SmartBargains took me by surprise with a nice bit of writing:
Lightweight cashmere caresses your skin and flatters your shape. This crewneck sweater is slightly sheer, allowing a hint of the layers beneath to peek through. The effect is stylish, chic, and a little sexy.
I like the idea of something caressing my skin instead of just sitting there. And it’s pretty hard to resist if you’re hoping to have a sweater that flatters during a time of year when warm layers hide all that hard work you’ve put in at the gym! Some brief but fine salesmanship here.
Many writers and clients don’t believe “you” is appropriate in B-to-B catalogs, but I totally disagree: They’re missing out on the power of “you,” too!
Even With Parity Items
For example, when selling a parity product like a floor mat for the entrance of a building, there doesn’t seem to be many personal ways to talk about it … Then again, here’s some copy from one seller:
Scraper Mat is designed for outside light traffic entrance areas with up to 50,000 people per year. Backed vinyl loop matting. Soft open mesh surface traps, holds and hides dirt and water.
And here’s copy for a similar product from industrial safety products cataloger New Pig:
When you need a scraper mat that provides outstanding performance as well as a distinct, upscale design, install a Waterhog™ Grand Premier Mat. This attractive rectangular mat with a single half-oval end is ideal for offices, restaurants, banks, supermarkets, hospitals, retail stores or anywhere that demands functionality and beauty.
Clearly, the second block of copy is the stronger and the primary reason is the inclusion of “you.” New Pig uses the direct reference to the reader to get from “Which is the best scraper mat?” to “Which is the right mat for ME?”
That’s a huge leap in the consideration cycle! Of course, New Pig takes it a step further and tells the reader who this mat is good for, listing all the locations that can benefit from having such a mat. Extra words to write? Sure! But they pay for themselves.
Think about your introduction letter. So many intro letters kick off with catalogers saying how great they are and how lucky the reader is to have access to all these products. Yawn! It’s only relevant if you can turn the message around to be about your customer first.
Headlines throughout your catalog also benefit from “you” or the written emphasis being about the reader’s needs, not about your greatness.
When you use the word “you” in headlines or intro letters, it forces you to focus on the prospect or the customer — and not your product or company.
That’s when your customers warm up to you and consider what you have to tell them and sell them.
Carol Worthington-Levy is partner, creative services, for LENSER, a catalog consultancy. You can reach her at (408) 269-6871 or email@example.com.