Now, here’s a claim that does for persuasive copy what Jonestown did for grape Kool-Aid: “We’re #1 in our industry.”
Not only will this particular (unsubstantiated) claim poison your copy, but the copywriter’s desire to use it stems from the same psychological principle that’s said to have caused so many Jonestown believers to have tragically drained their own deadly draught: Social Proof.
To paraphrase Robert Cialdini, we tend to view behavior as being correct to the degree that we see others performing it. (Salting tip jars works. Ask any bartender.) And though very few people willingly identify themselves as “followers,” marketers know that most of us are interested in or swayed by “best-selling” and “hot” items.
Sure, copywriters should want to leverage social proof — they just need to learn to do so effectively. Here are some things to keep in mind when tapping into this psychological principle:
a) The more people the reader observes performing the behavior, the more powerful the effect.
b) The more similar to your audience the observed people are – or the more admired they are – the more powerful the social proof.
Knowing this, I recommend you take a hard look at whether you have the chops to make this claim. And if you do…
How are you defining your terms? Are you “Number 1” because you have the largest market share; the most highly rated products/services; fastest growth rate; or because industry insiders consider you the front-runner in terms of innovation and leadership?
Frame your statement so readers can picture it in their minds without blinking. Then…
Example: “Xenoic Industries is the preferred widget vendor to 15 of the top 20 Fortune 100 companies, including So & So, Inc.” Although it may seem counter-intuitive, that’s usually better than claiming “70% of market share.” Regardless, be sure to include similar figures for mid- and small-sized businesses if that’s also part of your market; otherwise, your bragging will backfire as they’ll feel excluded.
Also, “…has been favorably reviewed by The New York Times, Newsweek, and The Economist, and was the subject of a feature story in The Wall Street Journal. Read the reviews here” is far more persuasive than claiming to have been “reviewed by hundreds of top newspapers and magazines.” As Seth Godin said in his recent interview with Bryan, who is more important than how many.
First printings of books can’t claim wide readership, so they rely on “dust cover” reviews by the most persuasive names they can find in their field. A few high-powered testimonials placed near your claim of market leadership can do wonders.
But what if you don’t have the hard numbers to substantiate your claim? Well then, forget the claim and just focus on providing Social Proof. Make sure you’re offering real examples — and in copywriting, examples come in the form of anecdotes, testimonials, and case studies that are “like” your audience.
Most importantly, make sure your proof also helps visitors reduce their uncertainty. Social Proof works best in situations where your audience is uncertain about the right — or appropriate — course of action. Social Proof provides a mental shortcut for relieving that uncertainty.
What does this mean for your anecdotes, testimonials, and case studies? They work best when they’re concrete, authoritative, and showcase people just like them.
Join me next time for “100% Risk-Free”! In the meantime, read more about the 7 Deadly Claims at your own risk.
[Editor's note: Does your Web copy taste like Kool-Aid? Sharpen up your virtual sales pitch at our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on March 28th in San Francisco. Jeff and Holly will be your instructors for this first-ever West Coast edition of our popular one-day copywriting crash course. Class size is limited so that attendees can get real advice and actually learn something. You'll even get $100 off if you register by 2/29.]