You know what I’m tired of?
Bullshit claims to greatness spewed by brands across the globe. Brands who take the easy way out and use generic, vague claims because they have no idea what it is they do well or what it is their customers want.
What am I signing up for? How is it going to help me become a millionaire?
Even worse are the brands who, not understanding the overlap between target market needs and their product, resort to terrible clickbait headlines.
And the worst of the worst. Lazy direct response copywriters who create crappy, generic mass emails with no hint of personalisation.
It’s lazy and it’s insulting.
These lazy, generic approaches offer zero value to readers. Most readers will have more questions than answers after reading these examples.
Sure, you could argue the clickbait piece will elicit a ton of clicks. But the effectiveness of such tactics is forever decreasing. How many similar pieces have you seen? And how many of those do you ignore because you immediately recognise them as bullshit?
You’d have to find someone who’d never seen such hyperbole to get them to convert. Elf accurately highlighted how ridiculous claims like the above are.
World’s best cup of coffee? I’m a tea man myself.
You can immediately tell the above copywriters took zero measures to understand their audience. They don’t know who they’re talking to or what they need. The only way to salvage conversions with such a lack of information is by resorting to the crappy over the top, hyped up copy.
The vague messaging so many brands employ doesn’t convince any consumer you’re the right product for them. It achieves the opposite.
According to Deloitte’s consumer review, consumers are increasingly sceptical of the promises made to them through advertisements. The hyperbole and exaggeration that once grabbed attention now dissuades consumers from trusting your brand.
To make it worse, these hyperbolic statements can be spotted at a thousand paces. With declining attention spans you can’t afford to create copy that users immediately discount as untrustworthy bullshit.
Generalist claims are, to put it bluntly, shit.
If you can’t be bothered to spend the time to research your audience and understand what it is they want from you, why should they bother giving any time or attention to your brand?
They shouldn’t, and they won’t.
Vague, hyped up claims don’t resonate with anyone. They’re easily ignored and marked as spam.
Effective copy speaks to your user’s needs. Even at a glance, your copy should tell your ideal prospect that you understand their primary pain point and know how to help.
You’ve got to stop trying to write for everyone. Effective copy targets an incredibly small sub section of people and delivers the right message at the right time for them.
If you can do this, you’ll find your copy converting at a far higher rate and driving much better levels of engagement. Here’s how to achieve just that.
Know Who You Are and Who You’re Targeting
Poor copy results from a lack of data. When businesses don’t know what their consumers want to hear, they adopt that generic over the top tone we’re all so fond of ignoring.
There’s no concrete number, but marketing experts estimate the average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements per day. Trying to take in that much information is impossible, so we all just cut out what we immediately assume is trash.
You’ve got to provide an incredibly targeted message to escape the cacophony of crap copy. Focusing your message isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it’s better to appeal to a smaller number of people with a relevant message than to take a generic stand that appeals to no one.
Your message needs to focus on what your service or product will do to help your ideal prospect.
You’ve got to find the overlap between your audience’s pain points and the solution you offer. It’s that overlap that will define your message.
But message is only half the equation.
You also need to know how best to deliver that message.
Knowing a health brand’s ideal message is to help users lose weight isn’t going to help you stand out. For example.
We will help you lose weight.
The above is a good, specific message, but it’s hardly eye-catching. It’s the same USP offered by pretty much every fitness brand out there.
And you, well, you’re better than the average run of the mill “marketing copywriter” filling the web with generic crap. You know you need to do something to stand apart.
To do that you’ve got to once again look for the overlap between your brand identity and your user’s preferences.
Remember, you’re not trying to appeal to everyone.
You’ve got to focus on a specific segment of your target audience and create a message that appeals to them.
Its a difficult concept to grasp, so let’s put it into context.
The two below sites demonstrate how to offer a similar product in a unique way.
Each brand, despite having near identical products, adopts a unique focus to stand apart from the crowd and attract a specific section of the fitness audience.
British Military Fitness (BMF) have focused on copy and images that express the inclusivity of the brand. They immediately state that they have lessons for people of all fitness abilities.
All images on page are of attendees working together. We’ve got big smiles, high-fives, and copy that highlights the benefits outside of increased fitness such as:
More than just outdoor fitness classes
Inspiring stories about people who have changed their lives
Sunfit fitness holidays
Now check out Crossfit’s page. Crossfit has one of the most loyal tribes around. They’ve built their empire by taking a competitive angle and focusing heavily on high-level fitness and becoming a Crossfit athlete.
It’s a completely different message. We’re greeted with the image of a woman who’s clearly pushing the boundaries placed over the text:
Forging Elite Fitness
Directly below we have the workout of the day which, if you’re able to beat the advertised time, earns you a trip to Beijing.
We’ve then got the advertisement for Crossfit courses and some insight from the CEO about “world-class fitness”.
Where BMF has focused on the ancillary benefits of group fitness training, Crossfit is more direct and highlights the competitive edge and athletic goals of its users.
Both are operating in the same industry, but both have their own approach which will attract a very specific segment of their shared audience.
BMF will appeal more to lower fitness individuals who are just looking to stay in shape.
Crossfit for those who are looking to get athlete level fit.
Effective copywriting is about more than writing sales messages. It’s about delivering the right message at the right time to the right people. And the only way to do that is to focus on the overlaps to find your message and tone.
Once you’ve nailed these overlaps and understand what copy will resonate with users, you should follow the below guidelines and start creating some killer copy.
Keep it Conversational
Every good digital copywriter knows this to be true.
Conversational writing is simply easier to digest. No one wants a landing page to read like War and Peace, to have to struggle through useless industry jargon or feel like they’re talking to some pretentious dick who uses complicated language unnecessarily.
You’re trying to make your copy easy to understand. The best way to do that is to write in the same way you converse.
But this seems to trip a lot of writers up. I mean, what is conversational tone? Is it the tone you adopt when speaking to your boss, your mother or when telling your best friend about that time you got blind drunk in Mexico?
It’s all and none of the above.
Conversational tone depends heavily on who you’re addressing. You need to use the tone you would if talking to your ideal prospect over a coffee.
That means your tone will change with each project. Sounds complicated I know, but to make your conversational copywriting a little easier, I recommend following the below four steps.
- Set up a detailed customer person – Use that customer personae as your imagined conversational partner.
- Speak, don’t write – We’re all guilty of churning out stiff, uninspired text when stuck in our heads. The easy way to get round being stuck in your head? Speak. Talk through what you’re writing. If you want to, record your thoughts and transcribe them later.
- Edit by reading out loud – When it comes time to edit, read it out loud. It’s a simple step which will help identify awkward phrases or overly complicated segments.
- Steal – Sometimes the creative juices just aren’t flowing. No matter what you try, everything you write seems awful. In these cases, there’s only one thing for it. Steal some inspiration from well-established brands who have great messaging. Take MailChimp as an example. Despite lacking the complex features of their competitors, they’re more successful than many thanks to a great marketing strategy which simply explains how their features align with their perfect user’s needs.
Avoid Absolutist Claims
Exaggeration and hyperbole are parts of conversational speech.
In the last few days I’ve sat on the worst flight of my life, had the most painful heartburn in the history of man, and cooked a meal Gordon Ramsay would be proud of.
Sadly none of these statements are true. Like most people, I’ve added a little exaggeration to make a point and make the statement more interesting.
Unfortunately, that same exaggeration can kill your conversion rates. The written word doesn’t have the flexibility of the spoken word.
Sarcasm can be misconstrued as sincerity, playful exaggeration for stone-faced honesty and honest explanation for ego boosting bragging.
Few brands can get away with absolutist claims. Even Carlsberg, one of the UK’s biggest beer brands, make certain to not go over the top. They’ve inserted the word “probably” to take the edge of their claim.
The temperate angle could be to placate the advertising authority agency, but it’s not stopped other brands like Dollar Shave Club from telling you that their blades are fucking great.
Unfortunately very few brands can pull off these kinds of absolutist claims. They don’t take the humorous approach of Dollar Shave Club or temper their claim like Carlsberg. And all that does is raise questions like:
- We’re the best service provider for… “According to who?”
- The number one agency in… “Really?”
- We give you the greatest value for money… “How?”
The problem many marketers make is believing bombastic claims are what’s needed to stand out in modern marketing. Not true.
Instead of taking the generic absolutist claim, try focusing on a differentiating element of your brand. You might not be the best, but there will be something about you or your business which stands out from the crowd.
Instead of making shitty generic claims that will place you in the exact same column as your competitors, try focusing on something that’s completely different.
Forgive me for making the obvious reference a copywriter would here, but there’s a great example from Mad Men which sums up exactly what you should be doing with your messages instead of using generic absolutist claims.
If every other brand in your industry claims to be the best, focus on a differentiating factor of your brand. Bingo-bango, you now stand out from the crowd.
Benefits and Features
Benefits over features is the oft-quoted advice for effective copywriting. And with good reason, it works.
- Golf clubs aren’t sold based on the materials, they’re sold on increasing your drive distance.
Perfect example from Callaway
- Cars aren’t sold on getting you from A-B, they’re sold on the image they create and how they make you feel.
Aston Martin’s DB11 isn’t a conveyor of people, it’s an exhilarating, powerful machine
- Books don’t sell the number of pages or words, they sell an entertaining story, an increase of knowledge or a unique insight
Great series for fantasy fans. The description focuses on drawing you into the story, they want to hook you with the benefit of the tale of Kvothe.
But focusing solely on the benefits is only half the equation.
The features of the product are what lend credibility to the benefit. After all, any greasy salesman can promise a better career, more comfortable seat or healthier lifestyle. But if they don’t have the features to back up the benefit, the grand claims have no real substance.
Let’s return again to Crossfit and BMF and look at gyms.
You could stumble across the copy for a gym which promises a thinner, more healthy you in three months. That copy could focus on how they’ve helped dozens of people complete their first 10K or half marathon.
But these claims still lack clarity. They’re nothing but empty promises.
Instead of just saying “I will help you to be fit” you’ve got to also focus on how you’ll help them become fit. For example:
Run like Mo Farah – With our Olympic level instructors and full 400-metre track
Build Brawn Like Arny – In our Olympic standard weight training room
Dance Your Way to a Fitter You – With 2X world dance champ Pete Boyle
Take another look at the screenshots above and you’ll notice that both the Golf Club and Aston Martin pages list the benefits and back it up with features.
Benefits and features are two sides of the same coin.
Alone, none are truly compelling. But together they help highlight why your users should take the chance and what it is that enables you to make such grand promises.
Forget About the Sale
If I had a penny for every time a brand has questioned why I’m not pushing their product in every piece of content I’d never need to write again.
If your copy only aims to make a sale it’s, unsurprisingly, going to come across as salesy. And people don’t like to have products pushed on them. They prefer to make their own informed opinion.
Instead of always focusing on the sale, look at forming a trusting relationship with your readers. If you can establish yourself as a trusted advisor who has the user’s best interest in mind, they’ll be more likely to buy from you when you do push for the sale.
As the copywriting king David Ogilvy said:
The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.
Would you lie to your wife or husband? Feel free to not answer that. Regardless of your marital morals, you shouldn’t lie to your consumers. Yes, you want the sale, but you’ll make more money by treating your audience fairly and continually providing high value, no hype information for them.
Build their trust and when it is time to ask for their custom, they’ll be far more receptive.
If you want to see exactly how to craft a killer landing page that your users can’t wait to opt-in to, check out this case study. In it, we detail how we crafted a landing page which generated over 9000 leads in just three short months!
Also published on Medium.