Welcome to Episode 33 of Write with Influence. This week is all about the importance of getting specific.
Are your readers doing what you want them to do? Are they signing up for your email newsletter, registering for your membership site, or downloading your eBook? If not, it might be because you’re stuck in what I like to refer to as the phrase book phase – relying too heavily on commonly used phrases to do your persuasive work for you.
You’ve got to get specific ya hear me?
Listen to discover:
- Common persuasive tactics in copywriting and how to make them work for you.
- How to connect with your ideal target audience by getting specific.
- Recent examples of sales writing that relies too heavily on copywriting phrases.
- The Headline Shaker Maker – your ultimate guide to coming up with a unique angle for your product or service.
You’re in for a treat with this week’s sketches:
- Bland Date – who will win the heart of Jessica? Henry the Marketing Executive, Alex the Sales Executive, or Steve the Concrete Executive?
- The Marketing Psychic – what kind of premonition can the psychic see if you purchase that mainframe?
Copywriting is a language and phrases alone won’t tell your prospect enough about what you have to make them want to sign up for it. Don’t sell yourself short – listen to this week’s episode and dig into that detail to find a specific edge, interest or pain point that you can apply to persuasive phrases so that you can truly master the language of persuasion and make more sales.
MARKETERS CANNOT LIVE BY COPYWRITING PHRASES ALONE
Hello and welcome to the Write with Influence podcast. How the heck are you doing? I’m doing really well thank you very much, and today I want to share with you some copywriting and mistakes that I think tend to crop up on opt-in pages quite a bit. An opt-in page is where you want someone to sign up for something. Usually, it’s something free so that you can then convert that person from a visitor into a lead, so you can get them on a list, and you can nurture that relationship and eventually send marketing emails to them. Often, as I say, this page is offering something for free so it might be a guide, a PDF, a checklist, a webinar, some video training, et cetera, et cetera. The idea is to make the opt-in page compelling and also easy for people to sign up. And I know that a lot of people really struggle with what to write, especially when explaining the benefits of why someone should sign up. So, I had a look at a lot of opt-in pages and opt-in copy whilst I was doing this podcast and picked out a few mistakes that I thought we could look at and then look at how we can fix them. So, to me, copywriting is a language and I think it’s very easy to get stuck in what I’d call the phrase book phase. You know, back in the day, when you were allowed to go abroad, maybe even before Google Translate or whatever, you buy a phrasebook and you hop over to France, pop to the boulangerie and try to order a croque monsieur. And anyone who’s done this understands the sheer terror and panic that ensues when the shop owner begins to babble with extra questions in their language that you hadn’t anticipated and weren’t featured in your phrasebook, this might be, would you like that to go? Do you want it toasted? What type of bread would you like? And eventually you’re defeated, you sigh and resign yourself to uttering your linguistic safe word, “English?” At which point, the shop owner usually bursts into fluent English, mildly annoyed that you’ve wasted his time with your pathetic French. “Very, very, sorry.” I’m only slightly joking. Phrases are a great way to start learning a language. Being able to recognize and understand snippets is an essential first step, but phrases alone don’t make you fluent. We understand that. The challenge in copywriting is when people learn some commonly used phrases, but then they rely on them heavily to do the persuasive work. For example, there are certain phrases that are very common in persuasive writing. I’ll give you a few quick ones. Using numbers can be eye-catching and persuasive e.g. “Top Three”, Top Five”, “Top 10”, and list posts are always popular as blog posts. Numbers can intrigue by making you think, what are the seven habits of highly effective people? Do I have them? Can I develop them? And it gives you a sense of scale or scope if it’s 101 ways to do something versus the top three ways of doing things. Numbers can help us visualize what the solution is going to be in a sense, because it really depends on what the number of things is and what the things are that are associated to that number. We’ll have a little look at that in a minute. Another popular copywriting technique is reinforcing simplicity. That’s another persuasive tactic that is very common – promising simple steps or using the word just. For example, “Just complete this short form”, “Just pop your details into the registration form”, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not a surprise that simplicity is a persuasive tactic because it suggests ease. It’s used to reduce friction and we as humans don’t tend to like to change too much unless we’re forced to, or we have a great desire. We kind of tend to inertia so saying that something is easy to do is often very appealing. Another common copywriting technique is to promise a transformation. Probably one of the biggest pieces of advice you’ll see in any marketing forums is, what’s your transformation? What’s your big promise? Identify that, make the promise, and then you’ll be good. And yes, we have to have a before and after picture, that is a key part of making something compelling and interesting and making someone want what you have. And that’s all good and well, but sometimes people get stuck in the language that sounds like they’re describing a transformation without really identifying a transformation that their customers care about.
There’s nothing wrong with these techniques – using numbers, simplicity, or making a big promise – but the phrases, the language, the tactics themselves, aren’t enough to be persuasive if you use them on their own without making them specific to your audience’s interests, fears, and desires. So, a number on its own doesn’t make something persuasive, promising that something is simple doesn’t make it persuasive and promising a transformation doesn’t even make it persuasive. Copywriting phrases on their own won’t make you persuasive and they won’t tell your prospect enough about what you have to make them want to sign up for it. And what can be really challenging is that you can sit down, write some copy and think, well, it looks like I’m saying the right things, I’m saying all the phrases that I’m recognizing on other people’s landing pages, why isn’t it working? And it’s usually because you’re relying too much on those phrases instead of making them specific to your audience as a result, you can be sort of saying something that sounds like you’re writing the right things but has very little impact when it comes to connecting with your ideal target.
[New Scene – Bland Date]
Host: Welcome to another episode of Bland Date. Each suitor will be making a pitch to take the lovely Jessica on a night to remember. Ready to meet the contestants, Jessica?
Host: Contestant number one is Henry. He’s a marketing director for a global SAS ERP solution. Yes, Henry enjoys skiing, compelling content and a well-refined nurture sequence. Henry, why should Jessica click your call to action?
Henry: What you get with me, Jessica, is a one-stop shop. An end-to-end dating solutions provider. And when you put all of your relationship eggs in my intimacy basket, you’ll leverage over 15 years dating experience. The result is a best-in-class interpersonal connection that will unlock your dating potential.
Jessica: What? I don’t . . . what does that mean?
Host: Strong start there. Now, contestant number two is Alex. Alex is a sales executive for a research and advisory firm. His favorite things are fitness, speeding tickets and the challenger of sales framework.
Alex: Alright Jessica? Thank you for your time. I want to start by showing you this slide. These are the logos of over 50 girls I’ve dated before. I’ve dated girls from Google, I’ve dated girls from LinkedIn, from Adobe, even one girl from Snowflake back when it was a startup.
Jessica: That is a lot of girls.
Alex: These are girls just like you, and they chose me to date over other competitors. Now you might be wondering, why is that?
Jessica: I was wondering, yes.
Alex: It’s partly down to the USP innit – my unique, sexy personality.
Jessica: Oh, dear God.
Alex: What most women of settling down age don’t realize is that you just don’t have the luxury of time to waste it on costly trial and error dating willy nilly. You need to make the right choice first time. Henry was right about one thing. You do have to look at your eggs, Jessica.
Jessica: Oh …
Alex: With me, you’re not just getting a date, you’re getting a trusted partner to work with you on your relationship journey. Look, do you want to be driving a BMW or a Kia? Sure, they both get you around, but only one is going to take you there with heated leather interior, an extra cup holder and an extended warranty that never runs at.
Host: I do believe you have set the piano on fire. How will our final contestant follow that? Well, Steve is the owner of a concrete and piling manufacturing firm. He enjoys walking in North Yorkshire, classic cinema and a good pub lunch. It seems kind of pedestrian to me, but let’s see, Steve, how would you woo Jessica?
Steve: Well, there’s a few different things we could do.
Alex: That is an amateur mistake. Customers, I mean girls, don’t want options. They want insight. I know. because I read it on HubSpot.
Steve: Well, look, if the weather’s nice, there’s some stunning walks along the coast, nothing strenuous, it’s just a really nice way to get to know each other and just take in the views. Or we could go for something to eat. My local pub might sound daft, but it’s full of character, cozy, low beams, open fires, one of the oldest shuffleboards in the country, and if you beat the landlord your drinks are on the house all night. Or we could just check out one of the drive-in cinema events in the area. Next week they are showing Kind Hearts and Coronets, classic Ealing studios. I mean, if you don’t like walking, pubs or the cinema, this will be a bit of a nightmare, but well, that’s what I do. So, if it sounds like you’d like that, I think we’d get on really well.
Host: So, Jessica, a difficult choice, who’s it going to be, Henry or Alex?
Jessica: Contestant number three, Steve.
To make something persuasive you’ve got to find that specific edge or interest or pain point to apply the persuasive phrases to, and that is what takes a bit of time and effort, and it’s worth that time and effort. If you believe that you have something of value, I think it’s your responsibility to stand up for what you have and work hard to persuade others that it can help them. This always makes me think about a time when I was probably about seven and the teachers at my school were really big advocates of personal responsibility. I remember we were doing a group task where we were making a model buggy or something, you know, the kind of thing where they just chuck in a load of pipe cleaners, lollipop sticks and a ton of Copydex glue and you’ve got to make something?! We were all split into groups and we were all competing with the different groups and I can’t remember what the task was, but whatever my rabble of friends and I built was rubbish – no Dyson Engineering Award, it just collapsed, which we weren’t that phased about because break time was coming up and we’d be able to just go out and stare at some bugs. But one girl who was in our group, who was always getting top marks, always super diligent, would be the first to let the teachers know if she saw someone breaking the rules, she just burst into tears at our pathetic attempt. And she was on our team, and the teacher asked her what was wrong. And from there, in sobs and floods of tears she just starts railing on us, you know, tears our design apart, tells us how terrible our build was, which we knew – we’d all just collectively watched it collapse! But she tells the teacher that she had a much better way of building it, that she told us her idea and that told us that it was better and would work, and we hadn’t gone with it. We’d just ignored it and gone with our own. And she said it wasn’t fair that she was a losing team because if we’d gone with her idea, it would have worked, and she was absolutely right. We probably did ignore her because we were seven and we thought our cardboard rocket boosters were more exciting to build than a sturdy manufacturing approach. We were all expecting the teacher to give us a bit of a rolloking for not going with her idea and so we were getting ready to be shouted at, and I just remember the teacher saying really calmly to this girl, “If you really believed in your idea, then you should have worked harder to persuade the rest of the group.” And she was not expecting that, and we weren’t, to be honest. And I really felt for it because I could understand her upset and I could understand how betrayed she must’ve felt because the teacher didn’t see it from her point of view, but what absolutely stayed with me was that if you believe in something it’s not good enough to simply tell someone what it is that you have, you have to dig in to all of your persuasive techniques in order to be heard. So, if you have conviction that what you have is valuable and that it is a good idea for people to do, you’ve got to work harder to persuade people of that fact.
So, let’s talk about some examples of opt-in pages that I’ve seen where I think the writer is relying too much on a copywriting phrase rather than really working to make it specific and persuasive to their audience. I saw a style of headline/opt-in page for a very, very well-known marketer and then I saw it on a couple of other opt-in pages. Now this is very common. People tend to copy the phrases that they have seen. The headline for the well-known marketer was:
“The five behind-the-scenes secrets to generate revenue all year round.”
And I’ve seen other versions based on this style of headline:
“The five behind-the-scenes secrets to landing page success in 2020.”
Another one I saw was for recruiting:
“The five behind-the-scenes secrets for ending the frustration of hiring new people.”
Now, here’s something that you need to consider when using a headline like this, there’s nothing wrong with number five, five is a nice number, but no one comes to you just because you’ve got five things to share. And that’s why we see two other common copywriting phrases here, “behind-the-scenes” and “secrets.” Now, here’s why I think this type of thing headline probably did work in the first example of a well-known marketer, but not necessarily in the other two. The reason is the fact that this marketer was very well known, had high credibility, a super podcast, been around for years and aligned with lots of other well-known people in the industry. When you have a high level of credibility, that makes your behind-the-scenes secrets something that someone wants to know. The other two people, in my opinion, didn’t have anywhere near that level of credibility or social following, they were basically unknown, but they were trying to use a copywriting phrase to jumpstart their persuasion. I just don’t think it’s going to work. If you’re promising behind-the-scenes secrets, make sure you have a good enough standing to make people want to peek behind the scenes. For example, I would love to know the behind-the-scenes secrets of Meryl Streep’s skincare routine, but I’m less interested in peaking behind the scenes into the skincare secrets of Keith Richards.
Let’s look at another example. I saw a Facebook ad recently for a business coach and on his opt-in page he recommended to sign up for a coaching call with him. This coaching call was to, “Identify the specific challenges holding you back and create simple steps to overcome the challenges.” So, we can see that we’re leaning into a bit of transformation by talking about specific challenges and then overcoming those challenges, and then we’ve got this idea of simplicity thrown in as well – simple steps. Now, thinking about the simplicity, simplicity can be effective. Showing that something is just a couple of steps, easy to use and uncomplicated are all great phrases to use in your copy, but phrases like this are there to multiply the power of your promise. If you think about it this way, let’s get a bit mathematical, if the power of your promises zero – if your promise or your transformation is bland, confusing, and unappealing, then the power of it is zero – if you multiply anything by zero it’s still zero. What I’m saying is that these techniques and copy phrases that you see all over opt-in pages are only effective if the promise has some power. So, let’s look at some of the other promises that were made by this particular business coach. He was saying that he could turn relentless overwhelm into focused high impact action that gets results and drives your business forward faster. Now, I can imagine a coach like this sitting down and thinking about the transformation. What do I do for my clients? Well, I eliminate overwhelm help them take action. But it’s just not enough to say this. And this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff when it comes to writing copy. This is the difference between ordering a Croque Monsieur or having a 10-minute conversation in French, because it’s where you need to put in the work.
So, how could we improve this type of copy? What I’m looking for is something that sounds different. I’m looking for a unique way that this person works. For example, does he have a specific coaching technique? Does he have a unique background? For example, if he’s coached more than 3000 business owners, that’s something that might catch my eye, it would also be a great use of numbers. Or perhaps there is a common thread between the people that he works with. I work with a coach who works specifically with creative professionals, and he’s been doing that since 1996. That’s why I went with him. Or does this coach get specific results? For example, is he focused on helping you expand? For example, by licensing products or partnering with other professionals. This is the level of detail you need to be digging into. Remember my school friend who couldn’t convince us? She needed to be finding different angles to show that her idea was better. She should have been explaining how the sturdiness of her design would help hold the pipe cleaners to the lollipop sticks. In fairness, she was only seven. She probably just said, “Do it this way …” and we said, “No.” And then she said, “Go on.” And then we said, “No” and started building our cardboard rocket boosters. Now, if you’re looking for help coming up with the unique angle for your product, your service, your opt-in, or whatever it is, I’m going to link to something that I created years ago called The Headline Shaker Maker. It’s part of the Write with Influence course, but I was reminded of it this week because someone shared it on LinkedIn, and he’d used it when taking the course a few years ago and said that he still uses it today to give him ideas for headlines and to come up with that unique and different angle. He said, which I thought was really lovely of him, “I’ve been loving it since I first took your course years ago. I often use it when I get stuck. It’s simple, it gives you a bunch of elements to play around with, and it’s always on the money. Thank you for making it.” And that was shared by Nenad, who is a copywriter for hire at The Word ltd. The Headline Shaker Maker works by giving you prompts to identify key elements of your offer, and then you put all these elements into a table, so you can see them at a glance, and from there, you start to pick and prioritize the ones that you feel are the most important, because once you’ve got a subset of those elements, you can zero in on how to turn them into a headline or a subheading or bullet points. I think one reason people enjoy using it is because rather than just face a blank page or try to pluck the perfect copy out of your head, it helps you whittle down those key elements that are important to your customer and, hopefully, unique to the way that you work. As I say, I’ll link to the original blog post version in the show notes if you’re interested. That’s everything for this episode. Don’t sell yourself short by relying only on copywriting phrases to make you persuasive, dig into that detail and really, really master the language of persuasion because if you don’t, your copy is probably as valuable as a phony psychic.
[New Scene – Marketing Psychic]
Psychic: Welcome. I am your marketing psychic. I will take you on a vision quest to unite your spiritual energy with the perfect consumer or business product. How may I help?
Customer: We’re upgrading our mainframe and we’ve got some tenders out. Here’s one company we’re looking at. Can you give me a premonition of what it’s going to be like if we purchase this product?
Psychic: Of course, let me just adjust the ambiance to ethereal. Ah yes, now that’s what I call Whale Song 82. Let me gather my runes and finally sprinkle some vision oil.
Customer: Is that Amaretto?
Psychic: No, it’s vision oil. It enhances my extra sensory perception.
Customer: I think it’s just stained my shirt.
Psychic: Accept it as a gift from me. Now, let’s see what the runes say. Let the marketing spirits speak through me. I’m getting a transformation in your life. If you choose this product, I’m seeing less overwhelm, higher quality, simplification of chaos …
Customer: I didn’t say anything.
Ghost: Not him. Over here.
Psychic: Who are you?
Ghost: I’m the ghost that built that bloody main frame
Customer: Are you Okay?
Psychic: I think the psychic oil is kicking in. What do you want?
Ghost: I want you to stop talking rubbish and tell him what this product is really going to do. For one thing, tell him about the open-source tools and containerization that’s going to massively speed up the application build. He is going to be able to build once, deploy everywhere. And the automation capabilities mean he’s not going to spend his time knee deep in reporting or babysitting routine tasks. He is going to finish work on time, delivering the output of three people. He is going to be able to finish work and actually relax, knowing that everything’s taken care of, which means he’s not going to be staring at his phone all the time when he’s out to dinner with his Mrs.
Ghost: Although, you might want to let him know she is cheating on him.
Customer: What can you see? You said something about transformation.
Psychic: I’ve had an interesting and unusually specific premonition, which, I’ll be honest, is a first. By the way, are you dating anyone?
Customer: Yeah. She’s a real beauty. Do you think she’s the one? Are you getting a vision about her?
Psychic: We might want to talk about that. Here, have a few shots of psychic oil.