Did you know that men think about sex every six seconds? That means if you write a letter that takes four minutes to read, your carefully crafted sales pitch gets interrupted 40 times. I have no idea (a) where that statistic came from and (b) whether it’s true (I suspect it’s a teeny weeny bit of an exaggeration). However
The depressing truth—for us as copywriters, anyway—is that on any given day, at any given moment, our reader is far likelier to be focusing on something they care about than our sales message. Here’s my point. Being a good copywriter means knowing your product inside out and being able to write convincingly about it. Being a great copywriter means knowing your reader the same way—their foibles, their motivations, their innermost fears, and desires.
Before we put a finger to keyboard, we need to build a psychological profile of our reader. Here’s a list of questions I like to ask about the typical reader when I’m writing some copy:
- What sex are they?
- How old are they?
- What do they want more of (and less of) in their lives?
- Where would they rather be right now?
- What do they want more than anything else out of life?
- What are their values?
- How do they see themselves?
- How do others see them?
- Are they head or heart people?
- Are they more likely to be tempted by the promise of riches or the removal of worry?
Why ask these questions? Because I am always aware of this section’s opening point: my reader would rather be thinking about something else. The more insights I can gain into the reader’s preferences, state of mind and general outlook on life, the easier I’ll find it to write copy that speaks directly to them in a way they’ll find hard to ignore.
Not everyone shares my view, of course. Here are three things that many copywriters imagine their prospective customers find interesting. I assume they do because so many sales letters, ads and emails begin like this. (I’m going to follow this list with some things that customers DO find interesting.)
What people are REALLY interested in
Things that many copywriters think their customers are interested in:
- The copywriter’s state of mind. Eg “I am delighted to tell you …” or “We are pleased to announce …”
- Statements about the customer’s job, industry or hobby. Eg “As a busy finance director, you need to know about …” or “Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in building cathedrals out of used matchsticks.”
- Narratives explaining the copywriter’s company’s development (usually from humble roots) eg “We began publishing Practical Composting in 1979. Since then …” or (and very common nowadays) “We have totally redesigned our website …”
Now for that list of things people like reading about:
- That’s it.
Now of course I don’t mean that you, as a copywriter, should tell people about themselves. Apart from anything else, when you display the fruits of your list research or database analysis, you’ll come across as a stalker. You know the kind of thing:
“Dear Mr Sample,
With your preference for red satin boxer shorts, you’ll be dying to get your hands on Sexy Beast, our new catalogue featuring exotic underclothing for today’s go-getting gentleman.”
No, I mean, write about your product or service from your reader’s perspective. Don’t tell them what it is: tell them what it does for them. In fact, I’ll be more specific. Tell them how your product will make their life easier, better or more rewarding. If you don’t know, find out, work it out or make something up. In other words, talk benefits (more about these in Chapter 5).
Love the sinner, then sell to them
If you don’t feel like wearing your psychologist’s hat, how about dusting down your theologian’s gown?
Peel away the business suits, the carefully constructed personae, the intellectual body armour with which most people protect themselves from the truth, and you’re left with humanity in the raw. And it turns out we’re all sinners. So why not exploit the worst in human nature to achieve your goals?
Let’s remind ourselves of the seven deadly sins and then look at how we might use them in our copy:
- PRIDE (also known as vanity)—A simple way to make your reader believe you is to flatter them. Tell them how important they are. Acknowledge their huge knowledge and experience. They won’t gainsay any of it. Then suggest that someone with their obvious talent for making the right decision really ought to be subscribing/buying/going along with your suggestion.
- ENVY—Make them aware that other people already have the thing you’re selling and are benefiting hugely as a result. Nobody likes to miss out and if they feel that the people with whom they identify are all having a great time enjoying product X, they’ll want to join the party.
- GLUTTONY—Why do people eat more than they need? Maybe they like the taste. Or the sensation. Maybe they’re in need of comfort. Or solace. Unless you’re selling food or promoting a restaurant, this sin won’t have much relevance for you. BUT … if your product makes people feel happy and contented when they ‘consume’ it, you have a real selling point.
- LUST—A little harder, this one. But if you can suggest that becoming a customer of yours will satisfy this particular little craving, you’re on to a winner. (I’d also suggest that you’re wasted in your current job and should be on talk shows.)
- ANGER—People get angry about all sorts of things. I had a problem with my ISP a couple of years ago that made my teeth grind like a pepper mill. Give people an exit route from this unpleasant emotion and they will thank you. If you know that your main competitor is making their customers angry (through failings such as poor service or product quality and excessive price rises), you have some great leverage to capture market share.
- GREED—A major motivator for sales people through the ages. People sometimes want stuff they don’t need. People often want more of what they’ve already got. Especially profits, pay, respect, office space, bottles of wine, pens, calculators, holidays, cars and clothes. Promise your customers MORE and you’ll have their ear.
- SLOTH—People are lazy. So show them how your product or service can save them energy. Perhaps they can sit at their desk and have stuff emailed straight to their desktop. Maybe you’ll deliver something direct to their door instead of their having to walk to the shops. Help them avoid work and they’ll open their wallets.
So remember …
Whether you are selling to consumers or people at work, ignore the baser human emotions at your peril. Yes, people will want to RATIONALIZE their decisions, so make sure you provide plenty of objective reasons why buying your products is a sensible thing to do. But people BUY on emotional grounds first. So make sure you hit at least one of the deadly sin buttons in your sales pitch. (By the way, only a beginner would tell their reader that they were lazy, lustful or greedy: BE SUBTLE.)