YOU KNOW SELLING IS HARD. And icky. Which is a combination sure to demoralize you in a short space of time.
I mean, have you tried cold calling?
The same is true on the web and in email. Although we know we have to convince customers to buy what we’re offering—or we’ll go under—we dread having to write sales copy of any kind.
We loathe getting up in print and schmoozing, conniving, greasing, bamboozling, and doing everything in our power to persuade prospects to click on our call to action buttons. And you know what?
Prospects hate it too
In fact, although there’s nothing they love more than to buy shiny new things, there’s nothing they hate more than to be sold at.
Which is why all those persuasion methods, mental tricks, “hypnotic” techniques, shouting caps, yellow highlighters and other million-dollar secrets you see other marketers using…they don’t really work. Certainly not on savvy prospects looking for high-value products, and with the budgets to buy them.
Here’s a dose of common sense: if you feel icky writing it, your prospects will feel icky reading it. So this kind of approach is out.
Most companies then turn to…
Your classic business-to-business corporate garbage. Did you doze off halfway through the second sentence? I did.
This sort of puffy, built-up copy is maybe even worse than hyped-up sales copy. Because at least with sales copy people can understand it. But with corporate B2B copy it’s like the intention is to cow the reader into submission. The less they understand the better. “With all those big words and phrases I can’t even choke down, it must be awesome!”
But actually, readers either get bored and quickly hit the back button…or they really need to find a solution and have to read the copy—in which case they slog doggedly through, trying to understand what it’s saying, growing more and more aggravated with each passing second.
Neither situation is likely to result in a sale, is it?
Getting corporate marketing departments to change this sort of copy is like convincing a goat to stop eating the laundry—but some more progressive companies, and especially startups, are seeing the light. Which leads to…
What you might call “Web 2.0” copy. Many more modern companies—particularly those online—want to avoid the mistakes of the past, and understand the importance of speaking human. But although their copy is engaging (if overly chatty), it tends to be very abbreviated.
You’ve just started to get excited, you’re just wanting to know more…when it stops and asks for an action. (In fairness, it’t not usualy as extreme as the above example.)
Although you’re interested, you haven’t made up your mind yet. The call to action is premature.
Notice that in each of these examples the problem is a dearth of information
In highlighter copy, you can’t trust the information. In corporate copy, you can’t understand the information. And in Web 2.0 copy, there just isn’t enough information.
But the truth is, writing is not intrinsically different to speaking.
And in real life, someone who speaks in “corporatese” is generally known as a “pompous ass”. Someone who speaks with such breathless hype you can see the yellow highlighter on their tongue is generally known as a “used car salesman”. And someone who talks normally but doesn’t tell you enough…is just a “bad salesman”!
But imagine if we wrote like we talked…
You know, in plain English, saying as much as we needed to. How might that look? For the first example, perhaps something like this:
For the second example, don’t you think this is much easier to read and understand?
I’d create a revised version of the Web 2.0 copy as well, but it didn’t give me enough to go on! So instead, here’s an excerpt from BasecampHQ, a site that does Web 2.0 copy really well:
So what exactly is the difference between these…and the originals?
One word: clarity.
You see, when people are thinking of buying things, they want to know as much as possible about them. This is doubly so for big purchases—and triply so if it’s a business expense that must be justified with a return on investment.
If you’ve ever spent time considering plonking down a lot of cash for some new widget, you know what I mean.
You probably spent a lot of time researching. Comparing what was available. Looking at features, figuring out benefits, and comparing these to your needs. Reading reviews, examining proofs, and checking guarantees. Making lists of pros and cons so you could weigh up your options objectively.
Believe it or not, you aren’t unusual. Pretty much everyone buys non-commodity items like this.
And here’s the really interesting thing. If you enjoy your work, or if your widget was something you really wanted—a treat or a reward or something you’d been saving for—you actually enjoyed deciding what to buy.
But without clarity, that enjoyment turns to frustration
Did you get really frustrated when you couldn’t find the information you wanted? When for some reason the company selling your widget saw fit to offer only a brief description, or some corporatese fluff, or if there was so much hype you couldn’t tell fantasy from reality? You wanted facts, figures and features—and not being able to find (or trust) them kinda pissed you off.
Similarly, if your widget was a physical product, I’ll bet you got really annoyed when there was only a thumbnail-sized image of it. You wanted the highest-resolution photo possible. If you’re anything like me, you actually went to Google Image Search to see if a better quality photo existed.
And if you’re anything like me, you used Google for finding lots of other information as well. Information that wasn’t—for some reason—available on the seller’s website. Lists of features. What the product was like to use. What possible problems you might run into with it.
And if you couldn’t find the information you wanted…lemme guess, you didn’t buy that particular widget, did you?
In other words, the deciding factor in your purchase was not how persuasive the copy was, but how much information you could find.
As my personal hero Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of Marketing Experiments likes to say…
“Clarity trumps persuasion”
Or, in direct response lingo, “the more you tell, the more you sell.”
No one ever failed to buy a product that was right for them because they knew too much—but many people haven’t bought products because they didn’t have enough information to make a good choice, or they couldn’t wade through verbose copy, or they were turned off by pushy prose.
Plus, many products have been returned by people who bought blind for lack of information.
And you can bet your proverbial that if your own copy doesn’t tell people what they want to know, a lot of them aren’t going to have the time or savvy to troll through search engine results, doing your work for you. Which means they either don’t buy, or they buy sight unseen, and then ask for a refund.
Clarity, not persuasive techniques or marketing jargon, is the key to making sales
Remember, writing is not fundamentally different from speaking. The point in both cases is to establish a personal connection and convey useful information.
So engage your prospects in “conversation” about the thing they’re thinking of buying…and keep the conversation going until they buy.
Virtually no one does this. Why do video camera manufacturers, for example, write a two-paragraph brochure-style blurb in a faux academic voice—which customers know is just ponce and puffery—for a high-end camera worth $4000? Why do they place this paragraph beneath a 200×200 pixel thumbnail that you can’t click on for a larger image or multiple angles?
Why don’t they write as one videographer to another about what the camera is like to use? About professionals who have recommended it? About amateur movies that have been shot on it? About what conditions it is best suited to, and why?
Why don’t they allow customer reviews directly on the sales page—not hard, since that’s basically just a blog format? Why don’t they show high-resolution photos—or even better, actual footage shot with the camera? And allow customers to link to their own on YouTube?
Why don’t they talk about possible problems with the camera, or conditions where it won’t work well—thus immediately gaining prospects’ trust, since no one believes a camera is perfect for everyone? And so on.
Examples can be found for any kind of product or service.
The answer is that marketing writers copy what they see others doing. It is the blind leading the the blind into a pit of darkness, where sales are hard and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If only they knew the Four Keys to selling without having to sell
There are four principal elements you need to master to pull off “selling by telling”. They are very simple—and once you’ve mastered them selling becomes easy, even enjoyable.
You don’t feel like a phony, forcing yourself to use all kinds of persuasion techniques to manipulate your prospect into buying, or writing grandiose descriptions you know damn well are embellished, to say the least.
Instead, you feel like a normal person, telling another person about something you both find interesting.
It would be unfair to tell you about these four keys here. I have already demanded enough of your attention. So look out for my second article next week, when I’ll reveal these four keys to you.
In the meantime, I welcome hearing your thoughts in the comments below.
Update: Here’s the second article: The 4 Keys to Writing Persuasive Copy Without Hype, BS, or Other Icky Gimmicks
About the Author: Bnonn is the author of a free video course on the secrets of creating websites that capture readers and turn them into customers. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he helps small businesses sell more online by improving their marketing copy, design, and strategies. When he’s not knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, he is teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit. (Also you can follow him on Twitter.)