The Anatomy of a Great Offer

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m launching a new website (I’m a fellow copywriter), and I wanted to know if you had any ideas for great offers. I can come up with this stuff for clients, but it’s hard to do it for myself.

—Steve T., Santa Monica, CA

ANSWER: Congrats, Steve! But before I answer, I must address that pesky pachyderm in the room. I know some people are wondering why I’d give advice to a copywriter, i.e. a competitor. Simple. I believe there’s enough room for all of us. Competition is good because it ensures we writers (lawyers, marketers, politicians) do as good of a job as we possibly can. I also believe in the concept of paying it forward. Many people have helped me along the way after all.

Okay, enough of the philosophizing. Let’s talk about the anatomy of a great offer. Here are some traits that I think all great offers have:

  1. It will provide me with something that I consider valuable.
  2. It’s easy to access.
  3. It’s easy to understand and/or use.

1. Make Valuable Offers

So how do you figure out what people will consider valuable?

Ask current customers. Shoot them a quick email or make a quick call and ask them what they would get excited about seeing available on your website.

Ask potential customers.
Think of the type of business owners you want to do business with, and ask them what they would consider valuable. Chances are if you don’t directly know some of these people, you know someone who does.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Picture yourself as a business owner who lands on your website. What sort of information would be valuable? Tips on how to proofread more effectively? A 21-point guide on creating blog posts that get people talking? A step-by-step tutorial on writing an effective web page?

Worried that these types of offers give away too many trade secrets? Don’t. Educating your clients or prospective clients on certain writing tasks won’t put you out of a job. (Empowering people is never a bad thing. Well, at least in this case.) What it will likely do is 1) make them appreciate what you do even more and/or 2) make them advocate for you (especially if they’re reporting to people further up the food chain).

Something else to keep in mind: I believe in crafting multiple offers. Make them page specific. So if you have a service page on website copywriting, craft your offer around that. For example, a document called “What’s a title tag and why should I care?” might work well on this page.

2. Make Your Offers Easy to Access

Don’t make people email or call you. Make the offers free and downloadable off your site. Use simple forms (i.e. make the forms short). Get only enough info so that you can continue to stay in front of people, but don’t ask people to surrender every last shred of information about themselves. Don’t  use automatic opt-ins. If you have a question like “Do you want to subscribe to my newsletter,” make sure the “yes” box isn’t automatically checked. After someone hits “submit,” make sure whatever it is that people just signed up for—a document, a coupon, a webinar, access to a private area of your site—is obvious. Include easy-to-read directions if your offer involves anything that involves more than one step. A nice touch? Automated emails that include information around your offer.

3. Make Offers Easy to Understand

In your case, you’ll probably be providing tip sheets, white papers, and tutorials. Remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). These items are not the place to show off jargon or impress people with your literary prowess. Instead, provide readable, practical information that a 10-year-old can follow, digest, and start using today.

The same holds true no matter what the offer is. If I run an online store, and I offer a coupon code, it should be clear as to what the code is and how and where I’m supposed to use it.

The best way to make sure you’ve taken care of items #2 and #3 is to test it yourself and then have some other folks go through the process.

Hope this helps!

Honest Marketing Copy: Ready for “Risky” Conversations?

Note from The Copy Bitch: I wrote this post in 2010, meaning SEVEN years ago (as I sit here reviewing it on 7/9/17). I was talking about “authentic copy” and “honest marketing copy” seven years ago, and now I’m screaming it at the top of my lungs. Be real, people.

The other day, I had a frank conversation with a client. I said, “Is your product really all that different from your competitors?” The reason I was asking was simple: it was a standard product. I’d gleaned that much from our conversations and competitor research.

He was honest. He said, “When comparing this product across similar tiers/companies, no–we’re NOT different.”

So the challenge I posed to him was this: “So WHY should people work with/buy from you instead of your competitors?”

He didn’t have a ready answer.

But I probed further.

Turns out that many of his competitors are newer companies. There’s no telling how long they’ll last or if they’ll last (although they might). My client’s company, however, has been around for 20+ years (although dealing with a sister product–not the newer product he was trying to sell, but still). The product he was selling requires ongoing tech support. It’s not a “one and done” type of sale. In addition, my client had plenty of experience working with the target audience he was going after (restaurant owners and small retailer owners)–he’d been doing that for years with his main business/other product.

OK.

So I recommended an honest message. I recommended truth. “Hey, our products aren’t much different from our competitors’. The software is pretty standard across the board in regards to the technology. Pricing is similar, too. Sure, you might get a discount here, a free trial there, but at the end of the day, the products are pretty much the same. So why should you buy from us then? Well, what you WILL get from us is security–we’ve been around for 20+ years. Many of our competitors are newer companies. We’re not suggesting they’re going to go under. But what we ARE saying is that you can count on us being here for ongoing tech support. We’re not going anywhere. Plus, we’ve worked with people in your industry. We already get what your challenges are, so we’ll set up the system to work with your business.”

See that? An honest message. A REAL message. Not sexy. Although in some ways (perhaps the same way I found James Comey very sexy during his testimony) it IS sexy.

Because the truth is sexy.

Authenticity is sexy.

Or refreshing, at the very least.

#gettingoffmysoapboxnow

Check out the original post from 2010 below.

Last month, HubSpot released some great news for me: a blog post titled “Calling All Content Creators: Marketers Spending More on Content in 2010.”

But the Great Content Proliferation of 2010 could prove problematic for businesses, and here’s why: now more than ever, what you say and how you say it matters. Yes, those two things have always mattered, but considering how fast The People can rebroadcast your messages via Twitter, Facebook, texts, and other social media, there’s A LOT of pressure on your words.

From my perspective, this means that “corporate speak” is a dying strategy when it comes to creating content, even in notoriously corporate industries. Stuffy, aloof, third-person, passive “Mistakes were made” ways of talking to customers won’t work when there are too many other CEOs who blog, tweet, text, and post status updates on fan pages in a conversational and familiar tone.

In other words: only real, authentic copy and messaging will rise above the endless chatter, not the platypus copy that results from well-meaning, but out-of-touch folks who red-line every natural phrase, who remove every bit of Chunky Monkey personality from the copy, who turn the copy into safe vanilla because it’s well, safe, even though it just won’t work in such a competitive vanilla-filled landscape.

You need to take risks with your copy, with your conversations, if you want your business to stand out in 2010.

But let me be clear about one other important point: the only thing risky about these conversations is the fear I guarantee 80 percent of my readers are experiencing right now. What I’d really like to call this newsletter is “Ready for REAL Conversation?” But we’re not there. Yet.

So let’s forget the adjectives and focus on the word conversation. The following addresses many of the questions I get from clients and onlookers alike regarding this pesky word.

1. What is conversation?
If you look it up, the keyword phrase you’ll see in most definitions is this: “informal discussion.” The very definition of the word gives you permission to have an informal tone.

2. Why should my tone with customers be informal?
Conversational, how I love thee! Let me count the ways! Informal methods (active voice, contractions, shorter words, shorter sentences) make your message easier to understand and retain. The formal method (no contractions, passive voice, $5 vocabulary words, longer complex sentences) involves more time and thinking. Need another reason? How ’bout this: because The People are accustomed to it now more than ever, thanks to 140-character texts and tweets. More? Okay, I saved the best for last: because it works.

3. So you’re advocating the dumbing down of society?
Not at all. I advocate that people read widely (fiction and nonfiction) and that they read balanced arguments about issues. But b2b and b2c copywriting should not sound like Proust. Why? Because reading Proust takes time. Ask yourself this: how much time does your audience have to read, understand, and remember your message? Not much, since they’re busy working, going to meetings, cooking, shuttling kids to soccer practice, working a second job, paying bills, shopping, sporting, and reading Proust. (Okay, I doubt most of your customers are reading Proust. Which should tell you something. But they’re likely doing those other things.)

4. I don’t believe you.
That’s okay. The proof is in the conversions. The best thing you could do is a split test (also known as A/B testing). Sending out a sales letter? Have two versions–a “professional” version and a “completely conversational” version. See which one converts better. My money is on the conversational one. You can do the same testing with email newsletters (start by testing subject lines) and website landing pages.

5. But conversational isn’t my style!
So what is your style? Pedantic? I doubt it. Listen, there are different levels of conversational (and the level you opt for will depend more on who your audience is rather than who YOU are). You don’t need to go the full monty the first time out of the gate. I understand–and accept–that not everyone, nor every business, can get away with using a well-placed “horse shit” in their copy. But a bunch of businesses can. And the ones who can’t could still have clean fun with “horse manure.” (Face it: “manure” is a funny and memorable word, especially when used in business writing.)

6. Okay, I’m not pedantic. But how can I do this conversation thing in my copy?
Listen to me: you already do. You just don’t know it. The absolute best thing you can do is this: record yourself having a conversation with someone about your business. Do not secretly record the conversation a la Linda Tripp, since this would be illegal. Ask permission and then record yourself talking to your marketing person, business advisor, co-worker, spouse, dog, whomever. (The dog is the last on the list because you really do need someone who can respond to you in order for this to qualify as a conversation. And if your dog talks back to you, there are other things we need to discuss first.)

Record yourself long enough so that you forget you’re recording. Just talk. Relax. Enjoy the conversation. Listen to what the other person is saying. Then respond. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Here’s what I’m betting you’ll notice when you listen back: how natural you sound. How authentic. How–holy crap!–conversational. You’ll be using contractions, colloquialisms, and short sentences. You might even start sentences with “and” or “but,” no doubt causing your poor sixth-grade English teacher to roll over in her grave. And guess what? The stuff you’re talking about will probably be interesting, specific, and concrete as opposed to the vanilla “expected” copy so many business websites succumb to. Your conversation will have personality.

Now do this: transcribe the conversation. YOU do it–don’t hire someone. I want you to feel the words as you type them out on your keyboard. I want you to see how they look on the page. I want you to envision how certain phrases and paragraphs would look and sound in your sales letter, on your web page, and in a marketing brochure.

Then ask yourself this: what risk is there in that?

(Note: I suggest doing the above exercise even if you use a conversational copywriter like me.)

7. But there IS risk! What if someone reading it thinks I’m an unprofessional moron?
Contractions won’t make you look like a moron. Neither will starting an occasional sentence with “but.” What will make you and your company look like an unprofessional moron? Misspellings and typos. Amateurish design. Unsubstantiated claims. Navigation that leads to the tenth circle of hell. Generalizations that waste my time. Hiding your contact info. Forms that don’t work. Sites that are blander than the vanilla ice cream that’s been sitting in my mom’s freezer since the Bush administration. The first one.

8. You say all this, but show me copy that works.
Okay. Check out these sites.

Taking a Writing Hiatus (i.e. Back Away from the Computer, Ma’am)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re kindred spirits: I’m a copywriter by day, and at night (for the last three years anyway) I’ve been working on a memoir. Lately, I just can’t seem to do either well, even though I try forcing myself to write through it. I’ll admit that sometimes I work seven days a week, but I’ve always seen this as dedication to my craft. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just blocked. Would love to get your take. Thanks. Love the blog!

—Miami Memoirist

Answer: Sometimes the most important thing you can do when the writing isn’t clicking–be it client copy or creative writing–is to step away from the computer. Or throw down your legal pad. Or cast aside your journal.

Listen, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and I’m the biggest proponent of “Ass in Chair” and banging it out and working through it because I know that nine times out of ten, you can. But then there’s that stinky tenth time. You know, the one that causes neck and back spasms that leave you drooling on the carpet. The moment when you just. Can’t. Write. Another. Word. (Again, I don’t think this is a block; it’s your mind’s way of telling you it needs a rest–there’s a big difference.)

So step away. From the whole gosh-darn thing: from the room in which your computer purrs, from the house in which your writing festers, and get thee somewhere else. Anywhere. The park, the movies, the bookstore, your best friend’s house. Just get out. Leave it alone. For as long as you can manage (ideally 24 hours, but I realize this isn’t always feasible–even a morning or afternoon can do wonders). Try not to think about it (ha!). Seriously, though, give yourself permission to breathe and to take a break and to allow your mind and body a Take Five.

Go back to it the next day and see what happens.

Then, start carving time like this into your schedule. If you draw peace and inspiration from spending one morning a week with the dogs at the dog park, then book it. If you love film and feel that a Wednesday matinee is one of the best things since George Clooney’s birth, then block out that time (and don’t feel guilty, either. This is one of freelancing’s perks. Take advantage of it). If you need yoga three times a week to keep the mental muscles happy, okay. Dedication to craft is commendable. But so is dedication to your own sanity.

(On a completely unrelated note, I wish I could go back and mark the moment–the precise moment–when I went from a “miss” to a “ma’am.” Seems to me there should have been a helluva lot more hoopla involved.)

Don’t Write Like This (even if you’re a lawyer)

Dear Copy Bitch: Aren’t long, complex sentences with big words more impressive, professional, and “important” sounding than the short sentences you seem to advocate?

—The Curious Cursory Blog Reader

Answer: Here’s a story for you: A few years back, I taught a first semester writing course to law students. The reason why this brave little law school hired me, The Copy Bitch, is because it wanted someone to teach these folks how to write clearly instead of like the stereotypical lawyer.

One of my former students, now an attorney, sent me an email the other day that said, “I just had to read a clause in a legal contract. Guess how many words it had it in it? I’ll give you a hint: slightly more than twenty.” (I used to tell ’em to keep sentences as short as possible to make for easier reading. No, this rule doesn’t apply for everything. But it’s not a bad rule to guide you, at least in professional writing, which is what lawyers do.)

I asked him to remove any identifying info and send me the clause, which he did. It’s below.

Company and Mr. Smith Release.  For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Company and Mr. Smith (the “Company Releasors”) do hereby remise, release and forever discharge and by these presents do for themselves and their successors, assigns, subsidiaries, parent corporation, affiliates, insurers, and past, present and future members, managers, employees, agents, and representatives remise, release and forever discharge Ms. Jones and her successors, legal representatives and assigns (the “Jones Releasees”) from, against and with respect to any and all actions, accounts, agreements, causes of action, complaints, charges, claims, covenants, contracts, costs, damages, demands, debts, defenses, duties, expenses, executions, fees, injuries, interest, judgments, liabilities, losses, obligations, penalties, promises, reimbursements, remedies, suits, sums of money, and torts of any kind and nature whatsoever, whether in law, equity or otherwise, direct or indirect, fixed or contingent, foreseeable or unforeseeable, liquidated or unliquidated, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, absolute or contingent, determined or determinable but excepting and excluding the Promissory Note (collectively, a “Claim”) which the Company Releasors ever had, now have, or which the Company Releasors hereafter can, shall or may have against the Buyer Releasees, related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of time to the date hereof related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever; provided, however, that this Release shall not affect, waive, extinguish or otherwise release the Jones Releasees from any and all future claims which the Company may have related to the Promissory Note.

This doesn’t sound impressive, professional, or important. Do not write like this, ever. Even if you’re a lawyer.

(Note: I’m not an attorney, but you don’t need to write like this simply because you are one. To wit: my former student, the one who’s now a lawyer, was pulling his hair out over this piece of crap writing.)

Do You Write Peek-a-Boo Headlines?

You should.

What’s a peek-a-boo headline? Let’s brush up on what peek-a-boo is, first. You, no doubt, know the game of entertaining a baby by covering your face and (in a really high-pitched, silly voice) saying “Peek…peek…peek-a-boo!” and then revealing your face on the word “boo.”

Think about what happens next: What baby doesn’t stop what he or she is doing (yes, including the one wailing in the seat in front of you on the plane), stare, laugh, giggle, and then–this is important–looks for more.

That’s what a peek-a-boo headline does to a reader. The headline stops the reader in his or her tracks. It startles the reader, in a good way. The reader then looks for “more” by reading what follows next (e.g. the blog post, the ad, the email, etc.).

My post from the other day–Apples, Peaches & George Clooney Naked–is one example. And every time I work on copy, that’s my goal: to create a peek-a-boo headline.

Of course, what follows AFTER the headline is almost as important. I say “almost,” only because you could have the most brilliant body copy on the planet, but if that headline doesn’t get the reader craving what comes next, then it won’t matter.

Blog Content Question

Dear Copy Bitch: I met a chiropractor in my local BNI chapter who is looking to possibly launch a blog. I took a look at his website today, and it seems that he has used this special web provider for chiropractors: [name redacted]. This provider provides all sorts of content with automatic content updates and a full newsletter library. The trick is, you have to be a “member” to log in and see this content.

Do you have any ideas about what benefits this doctor will get by having a personal blog that he won’t get by simply having the mass-produced content available? The one thing that I can think of is that potential customers who are just browsing for information may not want to become a member just yet, and that this requirement may send them away never to return. But I thought you might have some additional ideas.

–Addie Z.

A: Okay, if I’m reading this right, it sounds like he has a blog with automatically generated content, but people need to login to view the blog posts. If that’s the case, here’s my take: I can’t think of any business blogs where people have to register to see the content. The whole point of the blogosphere is to have immediate, relevant content at your fingertips when you need it. Many blogs require people to register in order to post comments, but I can’t think of any business blogs where you have to register just to SEE the blog (personal blogs are different; many people lock those, and for good reason). He’ll lose a lot of people right there who don’t want to bother with registration or who don’t want to surrender their info. And he’ll also lose those valuable inbound links. One reason businesses have blogs is so that people will link to their blog posts. Those links can help rankings (if the blog is integrated correctly with the website) and help drive traffic to the business site.

As for the auto-generated content, there are two issues. First, Google doesn’t like duplicate content. So if a blog post is being published on his blog and 20 others, Google doesn’t like that. No one (except the folks inside Google) can say what sort of “penalty,” if any, exists, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid duplicate content. Which brings me to the second issue. One of the other reasons to have a blog is so that you can create a community, engage with your customers or potential customers, position yourself as an expert, and give something back for free: your expertise. The best blogs do all these things.

I imagine he’s doing the auto content thing because he feels he doesn’t have enough time to devote to a blog or that he doesn’t have enough ideas. I do believe that the key to blogging is consistency; I always encourage my clients to blog at least three times a week. Blog posts needn’t be long or Pulitzer-prize worthy. They need to be real, relevant, and conversational. As a chiropractor, I bet he has a ton of topics to blog about. If he doesn’t have the time to do it, he could hire someone (like you) to ghostwrite his posts (option #1) or be his blog writer (#2). If he gave you 30 minutes of his time per week, he probably could give you enough copy points for at least three blog posts (and they don’t all need to be text heavy; you could link to interesting articles related to chiro or other forms of complementary medicine, you could have a poll or survey, you could post a relevant cartoon, you could do “video cam” posts [e.g. maybe of an exercise demonstration that helps with lower back pain]).

Encourage him to make his blog public and to create fresh, customized content.