“Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story’s
Too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that ev’rybody’s on the stage, and it seems like
You’re the only person sitting in the audience?”
- Jethro Tull, “Skating Away”
Those four lines perfectly sum up the dynamics involved with Copy Perspective #’s 2 & 3*, “Then vs. Now” and “Me, Them, or You”.
• Want to intensify your mental image for the reader? Make her a participant; use “you” to place them on the scene and set things in the present tense.
• Want to tone down the intensity? Talk about someone else and/or set things in the past. Make the reader less of a participant and more of an audience.
It’s really that simple. And it’s a perfect solution for ensuring that your negative image never overpowers your positive promise of a solution. Here’s an example from Sean D’Sousa’s PsychoTactics newsletter:
When I first started in business, I’d spend hours in meetings.
I’d be driving to meetings. I’d be sitting in meetings. And
then I’d get back to my home-office (I no longer work from
home). And then have to do the job that the client and I agreed
upon. And I’d do this six-sometimes seven days a week.
Fifty-two weeks a year.
I was too afraid to go on vacation
I was afraid that a really big job would come along, just
as I was getting on the plane. I’d have nightmares about how
the client would call; find me away; give the job to my
competition, and then continue to work with the competition.
I was living in a bit of a trap
And I couldn’t get out. And then I discovered the power
of copywriting. That copywriting was more than just copy.
It was control…
Sean creates a negative mental image right away. He highlights the problem by shining a flashlight directly on the dissatisfaction it evokes. But notice that Sean’s talking about his problems — not the reader’s — and that he’s talking about problems from the past. This allows the reader to see as little or as much of herself in the story as she wants, drawing her in rather than offending.
It works like a charm. In fact, I was forwarded this newsletter by Jeffrey Eisenberg as an example of writing that immediately drew him in (not that I’m commenting on how much Jeff saw of himself in that opening story).
As an exercise, mentally rewrite the opening of Sean’s story from above, using the present tense and a “You” perspective. How close do you think that would that come to offending certain business owners (especially those tired of being pitched)?
But look at what Sean does when writing about his solution to the reader’s problem:
“[...] You too need to:
- Learn the secrets of strategy and how it beats the heck
out of just words on paper.
- Stop depending on an outside copywriter. You can write
compelling copy on demand. If you choose to use a copywriter,
you can audit their work to make sure it has all the
- Urgency is everything. Learn how to get clients to act n’ow!
- The greed factor. What causes clients to buy at higher prices.
How can you get the greed factor to kick in every single time.
- How can you make clients want your services and wait for
you to return from your vacation
- One factor that will increase your sales by 25% to as much as 65%
- How to create analogies and stories with incredible precision.
- Why signature stories matter and how to create intensely powerful
You too can take control of your life with the understanding
of how your customers think. What makes them do what they
do. And how you can make them understand why they should
work with you and you alone…”
He switches perspectives to present tense and “you.” In general, this is good advice:
• Put the negative image in the past and the positive image in the present, and/or;
• Make the negative image about someone else and the positive image about the reader (or at least more directly transfer the positive image onto the reader)
Finally, when you aren’t using negative images, stick with the present tense and “You.” Talk to the customer about what matters to them (i.e. them). Doing the opposite — “WeWe”-ing on yourself in your copy — kills persuasion.
[*Editor's note: Fans of Copy Perspective Monday may also notice that #6 came before #'s 2 and 3. In case you missed Copy Perspective #1, you can read it here along with its addendum. To understand the madness to his method -- or is that the other way around? -- stay tuned as Jeff Sexton, Future Now copywriting instructor and Persuasion Architect, guides you through an in-depth tutorial of six essential copy perspectives. You can also read more posts from jeff at his personal blog jeffsextonwrites.com]