Welcome to Episode 39 of Write with Influence. In today’s episode I want to talk to you about how to write copy so that you can avoid being seen as a commodity, I call it Process Over Product.
Product copy is about what the product is or does – the facts and figures. Process copy is different, it’s about the way you work and the background to your product or service which makes it unique.
If your copy only tells people what your product/service is or does, you’ll often be seen as interchangeable with other providers, and it is very likely that you’ll be compared based on price alone.
If you want to show your prospects that you can’t just be substituted for someone else, you need to use process copywriting.
Listen to discover:
- How to transform your copy with my process copywriting techniques.
- Simple steps to help you build credibility and differentiate yourself from the competition.
- Real life examples of successful process copywriting.
This week’s sketches include:
- A lesson on the importance of sticking to the original details and NEVER deviating from the supermarket shopping list, even if you can save a few pence.
- A holistic insight into middle management – deep diving into out of the box thinking, shooting crocs closest to the boat and raising ideas at the flagpole that never fly!
I hope that this week’s tips and frameworks will help you to write from a new perspective so that customers will choose you over your competition. Remember, if you can demonstrate that you have a system or approach when everyone else in your industry is just writing copy at the product level and saying what they do, you will be seen as more valuable as less as a commodity.
EP 39: PROCESS COPYWRITING OVER PRODUCT COPYWRITING – HOW TO STOP BEING SEEN AS A COMMODITY
Hello, and welcome to another episode, episode 39 of Write with Influence. If you’re new, this is a short copywriting podcast to give you practical writing tips to try and also frameworks and angles to think about when generating those great copy ideas.
In today’s episode I want to talk to you about something that I call process over product, and it’s a way to write copy so that you can avoid being seen as a commodity. Before I get into the episode, I need to cover one quick thing. I realized that the word process may be a bit of a challenge because of my accent, which tends to extend the urh sound. Instead of saying, o, I say, urh! So, you might say process or process, I’m going to say process. And I just wanted to address that in case you haven’t got a clue what I’m saying!
Process over product, as I said, is a way to write copy so that you can avoid being seen as a commodity. What do I mean by being seen as a commodity? Well, a common objective for the clients that I work with is a desire to stand out, to be seen as different, to get picked from the crowd. Basically, when people see you as a commodity, you’re seen as interchangeable, for example, paperclips, right? Chances are when you run out of paperclips, you don’t have a boutique store that you go to for replacements. Most people will probably be happy to buy paperclips from anywhere that sells them. “But Amy,” you say, “I’m not a paperclip and I don’t sell paperclips.” That’s fine, bear with me, I’m going to continue with my theme. Let’s move on to printer paper, please bear with me. Now, you might be a bit more discerning about your supplier if you’re looking for particular quality or style of printer paper, so you may spend a few more moments considering where to get this. Not all suppliers would be seen as equal in your eyes, some will be seen as better than others. Now, if we go up the scale of expense and then think about your computer or your laptop, you’re probably even more discerning still about your supplier. You probably did research, read reviews, and went with a reputable brand supplier rather than a guy on a market stall flogging laptops.
Some products are more likely to be seen as a commodity than others, but it can also happen to businesses and service professionals as well. The thing is, when you’re seen as a commodity, quite often people make a decision based only on price. If we think about paperclips, I’m just looking for a cheap paper clip so I’m going to buy the basic one. When I start looking at computers, it’s going to vary depending on what I’m looking for and what I need, and the more things that match my need and the more things that I value, the more money I’m going to spend.
So how does it work for businesses or service professionals? Well, you don’t want to be seen as interchangeable with another supplier. The reason for that is, if your prospects see you/your business as interchangeable, if they believe that anyone with your title or business description can do what you do then, as I mentioned with the paperclips, the only difference tends to be price, so the person with the lowest price tends to win. However, usually most people don’t want to be the cheapest in the industry and get business based on that.
Occasionally I will get inquiries from large marketing or advertising agencies that are looking for copywriters, but they’re just looking for any copywriter – usually you can tell from the email that there’s no personalization. It’s not, “Hey, Amy, we want to work with you …” It’s just, “Hey, we’re looking for copywriters, we need a bunch of them…” And I know straight away that that’s not going to be a good fit for me because they’re just looking for any old copywriter, they’re not looking for me. So, they’re probably going to not pay as well, it’s more a case of them needing a bunch of copywriters at the cheapest rate. The flip side of that is, when I get a client who comes to me because they’ve taken a course of mine or they’re familiar with the podcast or content that I’ve published online, or they’ve seen me speak at a conference, and they just tend to be a better quality of client because they’re not looking to work with anyone, they want to work with me. This is partly down to what I call process over product, and I want to talk to you about how to apply this approach to your copywriting.
Product copywriting tells you what something is. If you’re a plumber, it would include the areas you cover, whether you do central heating, boiler, fitting, et cetera. Now, product copywriting is important, we do need those details, but if you only have product style copywriting, you risk becoming a commodity. If I’m shopping around for a plumber and I see two people with the same product, how do I choose? Probably price, and probably checking out reviews. The problem with product copywriting is that it doesn’t show why you’re different and it can also cause some problems in your copywriting as well. If you remember back in Episode 33, “Marketers Cannot Live by Copywriting Phrases Alone”, we looked at how people who lean too heavily on generic copywriting tricks and techniques rather than digging into what makes them unique tend to write copy that is fluffy and vague. Let me give you an example, I saw a landing page recently that was aimed at attorneys wanting to scale their practice and work more productively in doing so. The offer was a free download of a productivity roadmap and the copy to encourage people to sign up was pretty generic. For example, it included phrases like “get everything done without working long hours,” “work smarter, not longer,” “work less, make more money…” And it sounded like every other productivity promise out there and as such, it was pretty easy to ignore. It also used a lot of common copywriting phrases, for example, using numbers, “Five success hacks.” Hack is a very common copywriting buzzword these days because it suggests an unorthodox way of getting results faster with minimal effort. What this landing page lacked was any specific details. There was no reason as to why this productivity roadmap was different to any other productivity advice freely available on the internet, and that’s because the copy focused on the product, which was a productivity tool – it just talked about the tool and what it does, “You can do more and less time.” There was nothing really special or different, so why would I invest my time in it? Product copywriting tells you what it is and what it does. Process copywriting is a little different. It’s about the way you work and the background to your product or service which makes it different. You need to imagine that product copywriting is the tip of the iceberg, it’s the thing that people see and the thing that people recognize. Process copywriting is more about your journey, your background, your development, your education, your qualifications, it’s about your unique approach to the work that you do and it’s also about why all of those things make you different. And most importantly, it’s about why all of that makes you valuable. Think of it as the difference between a real band and attribute band. You might pay hundreds of pounds to be on the front row at an Abba reunion concert but you’re probably only going to pay a fraction of that cost to see a tribute Abba band. Even if the tribute band looked and sounded the same, even if you closed your eyes and you couldn’t tell the difference, they still don’t have the same value because with the original band comes the story of their journey. You might remember the night they won the Eurovision Song Contest at the Brighton Dome, maybe you were there, and seeing them in the flesh evokes that nostalgia for you. They’re just not the same thing. One is a copy; the other is the original. We just don’t value them in the same way, even if, and this is the important thing, even if the output is technically the same, let’s say the tribute act was a precise mimic, we still wouldn’t value both experiences as being the same thing.
Now, I know that you probably are not Abba, but you probably do have a journey that has added value to the service or product that you offer, and I call that your process. As I mentioned with Abba, people aren’t just paying for a ticket to listen to music, they’re paying to see the original. It’s a little bit like sending someone to the supermarket and they go off list. For example, my mum will send my dad to the supermarket with a list and in her mind, she has very specific things, whereas my dad feels like the list is more open to interpretation, especially if he thinks he can make a substitution that saves a few pence. Now, it never works, it’s a terrible idea. Never go off list. My mum ends up inevitably annoyed because she didn’t want the substitute, she wanted the original. There’s just always a risk when you go off list.
[New Scene – Husband returning from supermarket]
Wife: Did you get everything?
Husband: Most things.
Wife: Did you go off list?
Husband: Just a couple of things I couldn’t find.
Wife: Did you ask? I bet you didn’t ask anyone did you? What’s this?
Husband: Hot dog rolls.
Wife: I wanted sponge fingers. What’s this?
Husband: Cheese whiz.
Wife: I needed mascarpone.
Husband: I’m sure it’ll work.
Wife: You didn’t get any other substitutes, did you, like spam instead of pork chops?
Wife: Who’s that?
Husband: That’s my dad.
Wife: That’s not your dad.
Husband: My dad’s busy tonight, but you see, I met Kevin in the world food aisle, and he said he’d stand in for him.
Wife: You’ve gone off list with the guest list? This is insane.
Kevin: I’m a great dad.
Wife: But you’re not his dad!
Kevin: No big deal. I’ll be polite, compliment your cooking, and I’ll tell him how proud I am of my son.
Husband: Thanks dad.
Kevin: Oooo is that cheese Whiz?
So, you want to show prospects that you can’t just be substituted for someone else. One way to do that is through process copywriting and I want to give you a couple of ways that you can apply this when writing your copy. The first one is your background. One way to differentiate yourself from the competition is the investment that you’ve made in your training or experience. If you are looking for a designer, for example, you may be more inclined to pay more for someone with 10 years’ experience and hundreds of different clients than someone who’s just qualified.
So here are some things I want you to think about including in your copy when you’re talking about what makes you different.
- The qualifications that you have or the training that you’ve taken.
- Investments that you’ve made in your learning.
- The number of years, but also variety of experience – have you got experience working in different situations or disciplines? If you’re a hairdresser, do you have experience of coloring as well as cutting, et cetera?
- The number of customers that you’ve worked with is also relevant and valuable and your real-life experience in trial and error. Whilst I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to talk about your mistakes, people will pay more to learn from someone who has discovered what to do if and when things go wrong, rather than someone that just knows the theory.
- Any awards that you’ve won, or any media mentions or public spotlight that’s been shone on you or your business. That’s all valuable and all adds credibility in the eyes of your prospect.
- If you’re in manufacturing, then perhaps previous development or previous models – can you show that you’re constantly building, testing and improving the product that you have?
All of this comes together to build a picture of credibility and it also starts to show that you specifically have a background that makes you well positioned to do a valuable job. So, if we look back at the download that I mentioned, that productivity tool that was aimed specifically at attorneys, but lacked any specific language, I would want more detail around who was giving this productivity advice or hints of what they have seen by working specifically for attorneys. That’s going to be much more engaging and sound different and more valuable to that specific target market than simply saying, “Work smarter, not longer hours,” which is something we’ve heard time and time again.
In addition to talking about your background and the experience that you have, the other thing that you can do is to think about whether you have a unique way of working or a system or a specific process that you have developed for your clients. Smart marketers and businesses often use this to their advantage. One business I worked with that managed properties didn’t just say that they did extensive background checks for tenants, instead, they would talk about the “21 point checklist for finding better tenants”. This sounds like a really small and simple thing but sometimes just packaging up the way you work and describing it as a process can make you seem more valuable to prospects. For example, at the moment, I’m looking to get a rescue dog, and there’s a number of different centers that have dogs that need rehoming, but the ones that appeal to me are the ones that are very clear and communicate their process. One organization has it neatly laid out on their website:
- Step one, fill in an application.
- Step two, assessment to match with a dog.
- Step three, trial run.
- Step four, check in after 24 hours, one week, one month, et cetera.
Now, all of this tells me that they’ve done what they’ve done so many times before that they’ve developed a good way of working and we feel good when there’s a company that doesn’t look like it’s flying by the seat of its pants. If you went to a beauty salon and they were scrambling around to find the nail polish or your booking, you’d be unimpressed. And also, don’t underestimate the value of outlining your process, even if you think, this is what all businesses in my industry do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is clearly understood by your prospect – it might be the first time that they are working with a designer or a copywriter or an advertising firm. You can even take this a step further and in addition to describing the way that you work or the rules that you follow, you can think about naming that as something specific to your company or organization. For example, the other day, I was listening to an interview with Eric Bork. He’s a screenwriter who wrote for Band of Brothers and he’s won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for the work that he’s done. He’s also a script coach and he’s written a book called The Idea, which talks about how, as a screenwriter, the idea is more important than the words on the page. And he has a rule that he has established himself called “The 60, 30, 10 rule”. He says that 60% of the value is in the idea, 30% is in the plotting, and 10% is in the actual words on the page. Now this rule is part of his process, but by naming it, it draws your attention to the fact that he has spent years refining his craft and he has also spent time thinking about why his approach works and developed rules and frameworks around this. As a result of his background and his systems, he’s going to be seen as a much more valuable screenwriting coach than someone else. And I know he has great credentials, but even without those, if you can demonstrate that you have a system or approach when everyone else in your industry is just writing copy at the product level and saying what they do, you will be seen as more valuable as less as a commodity.
Okay, just to recap, product copy is about what the product is or does, it’s the facts and figures, and while important, if your copy only deals with this, you’ll often be seen as interchangeable and more likely to be compared to other providers based on price alone. Process copy demonstrates that you’ve been on a unique journey, a journey that means you have more value compared to the competition. Process copy can also be used to show that you have refined and developed efficient systems of working that are unique to you, and that can also help people to differentiate you from the competition.
That’s all for this episode, I will catch up with you next time, and remember, if you do want to use your previous experience to differentiate you from the competition, always make sure that you’re specific about what you did, what you learned and why that makes you valuable. Process copy doesn’t work if it’s fluffy and vague.
[New Scene – Interview for middle management position]
Boss: Okay, so you’re applying for this role in middle management. I see you spent a number of years at a Next Level Potential. Can you tell me a little bit about the experience you gained from working in that company?
Interviewee: That is a great question. Let me take a step back in order to answer it from a holistic perspective. My early years at Next Level Potential were really focused on dotting I’s and crossing T’s, but I’m not so much of a perfectionist to say that I won’t admit that on a few occasions, there was an uncrossed T. But I learned from that, it’s part of my in the trenches, real life experience of middle management. After the initial phase, I moved to a new department where we were all about taking a 30,000-foot view. And it was a beautiful view. There, we had the bandwidth to do a deep dive into some out of the box thinking and, on many occasions, we were able to give people time back at the end of a meeting – this was where I really learned about shooting the crocs closest to the boat. Did I always get the closest crocs? No. And there were some days I raised an idea at the flagpole and you know what? It didn’t fly, but this was valuable insight, and that’s where I learned that the key to data-driven action is not rocket science. It’s about breaking down silos, creating synergy and above all else, it’s about your output, high quality deliverables and a strong value proposition.
Boss: When can you start?