Copywriting: Perform Brain Surgery
One of the most powerful connectors between a seller and a prospect is language, or voice. Of course, it’s the writer’s job to get that communication across in words and ensure that it’s culturally accurate. To speak (write) to your customers and prospects the way they wish to be spoken to can be daunting when you’re not exactly like them — but it’s far from impossible. It just takes a little research.
Most of us can tell if someone’s not “speaking our language.” We hate to be spoken down to. This is true both face-to-face and in your catalog. Yet, I constantly see curt and uninviting language. Or it’s so sweet that it’s clear I’m being pandered to. Multichannel marketers essentially are uninvited guests into the homes of prospects. If prospects don’t trust you, they won’t buy.
So, how do you make yourselves, and esp. your catalogs, welcome guests?
1. Love your customers — or, at least, like them a lot. The fastest way to alienate customers is to act like you like them when you don’t. They can tell. Here’s how:
• If you understood their priorities, they would be communicated in the copy (and they’re not).
• Your language isn’t the same as theirs, e.g., you use the wrong vernacular, or use it incorrectly.
• Your copy assumes they understand what a product does, when they don’t.
• You talk down and try to teach them something about a product that’s abundantly clear.
Writers who don’t care about their readers are “outed” by the ignorance or benign nature of their copy. So, writers must have integrity.
If technical products and gadgetry bore you, for example, and you can’t stand spending time around folks you perceive as geeks, then writing to sell technically oriented products is bad for business — yours and your client’s. And if you have no interest in kids, the last thing you want to do is write for a kids’ toy catalog. That’s where integrity comes in. And writers must be prepared to turn down work if it turns them off.
2. Get to know your customers really well. Go where they go, listen to what they listen to, read a few of their magazines and watch a few of their TV shows. Have conversations with them. Listen in on customer service lines and read notes they’ve sent to the company.
Doing so can make a huge difference in how a catalog works. For example, a few years ago when we began working on the Highlander catalog, we realized that when the copy touched on the customers, it ridiculed the over-the-top passion fans had for the “Highlander” TV show, films and stories. When we began working on it, both my writing partner, Otis Maxwell, and I got the first four seasons of the TV show on video, and over the next three to four weeks, we watched the shows and got into the culture. And as we watched, we opened up our imaginations and became fans.
The investment in time gave us amazing insight. We found that the additional value was in the writing material; in the catalog, we were able to match up photos and write captions about a particular scene in the show, and we could refer to a time when one of the characters owned the item that was fashioned into a gift or collectible for the catalog.
The payoff was huge. Not only did we quadruple response to the catalog, but we increased order sizes, esp. with the “Highlander Clan” — its frequent buyers.
3. Don’t try to fake their language. If your niche market speaks with a special language, don’t try to “wing it.” When you make your inevitable misstep with its vernacular, it makes the catalog look shallow, and the book gets tossed at the first sight of a bogus communication. In fact, it’s better to not try than to do it wrong.
To “bone up” on your customers’ language, make a point of going where they go, perhaps even taking a short course in the topic they’re most interested in.
When I started to write the Crazy Shirts catalog, my research for this copy had me happily speaking with my young niece who’s becoming a good Crazy Shirts’ prospect based on her age, her love of the beach and her friends. I surfed Web sites and looked around for blogs that discussed their concerns. And I checked out competing product in stores while listening to customers’ conversations around me.
Still, I know that if I went overboard with slang, I’d screw it up and the catalogs would head for the trash. So instead, I show enthusiasm and an understanding of the priorities these customers have. I also keep attuned to the benefit and make sure there’s one in every copy block. Secondarily, I try to cover key features that matter to prospects.
4. “High style” is nobody’s style. Some people say “high style” is appreciated by discriminating customers. That simply isn’t so! When writing about a product, connect customers to it, and the catalog, as quickly as possible.
Another form of this is copy written from an educational standpoint, but that doesn’t invite customers in “to play” by using the language of inclusion.
Also, there’s the copy usually found in tech or tool catalogs that have the product name as the copy header, then immediately go into bullet points. This is like forcing readers to dig into a conversation without any introduction or setup; it comes across as thoughtless. It’s also likely you’ll have few or no benefits in those bullet points.
Most of these kinds of copy do all they can to avoid referring to the reader as “you,” which sets up a barrier between you and customers. It’s one of the fastest ways to get them to lose interest. Great copy reads like a conversation between you and your prospects and customers.
In an art supply catalog, for example, you might see: “Oil painting has a long history of innovation with constant introduction of new materials and processes that broaden expressive possibilities. Change the basic properties of the paint and mediums and make the colors behave in new and interesting ways …” This kind of copy is sure to put most artists to sleep in no time.
Instead, try a more personal approach to reel in the reader:
Oil paints are one of the civilized world’s oldest painting mediums. And because of this, these paints have been changed through the years to suit the needs of artists like you, and they often have improvements that make their properties and colors even more wonderful. You’ll be pleased to know that these exciting innovations now make it possible for you to enjoy the rich experience of oil painting, but with great reduction in some of the environmental and convenience issues that may have kept you from trying or returning to them. We invite you to discover today’s oil painting experience.
Copy that embraces customers and encourages them in a friendly way only can be written with a full understanding of who they are, what their tolerance levels are for technical or other information, and knowing their all-important question, “What’s in it for me?”
As you work with staff writers, make sure they have the time to get to know your customers on more than a superficial level. And if you hire out, look for writers with insatiable curiosity and the willingness to dig in and get to know — and like — your customers.
Carol Worthington-Levy is partner, creative services, for Lenser, a catalog consultancy. You can reach her at (408) 269-6871 or email@example.com.