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Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Saying Something Powerful with Signaling Theory

By Jeff Sexton
January 8th, 2009

A couple of thoughts came to mind after reading Seth Godin’s brilliant post on “The power of smart copywriting.

1) The best way to reveal the real substance (or lack thereof) of your message is to strip it down.  Remove all the wordsmithing, jargon, self-applied labels, ad-speak, etc and you’ll get down to the core message.

The process of stripping “Unlike any coffee you’ve ever had before” down to “The Best Coffee” reveals the rather empty content of a slogan that, at first blush, doesn’t sound too bad.

2) If you get down to the core message and it turns out that you’re not saying anything compelling and/or you’re making the same claim everyone else is, you will NOT be able to fix this with copywriting alone.

“Better than Starbucks” is a more powerfully worded claim than “The Best Coffee” because it evokes a definite standard and a concrete mental image.  But it’s still an unsubstantiated and un-persuasive claim.  Copywriting alone can’t fix this.

3) Just because what you’re saying is true doesn’t mean people have to believe you.  You may really have world-changing, you’ll-never-settle-for-anything-less-again coffee.  It may be true that you have “The best coffee,” but that doesn’t mean it’s anymore believable when you say it than when anyone else says it.

4) The best way to substantiate claims like this is often through Action / Signaling Theory.  You really believe that you’ve got the best coffee?  Prove it! Offer a free taste, put a money-back guarantee on the taste of your coffee, hold public taste-offs against all comers, etc.

There’s something very compelling about a company willing to give you a free taste on the conviction that you’ll want more.  Or to allow you to try it on the condition of a full refund.  I’ve seen it work to sell everything from frozen custard, to hamburgers, to sales training.  If you’re stuck for a way to substantiate your claims or differentiate your company, give this some consideration.

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Comments (15)

  1. So true, the core must be meaningful without the extra fluff!

    I’d add that things you say about yourself are LESS believable than when OTHERS say it about you! Thus the popularity of shopper reviews, etc.

    Also, humans still motivated by avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure. The sweet guilty pleasure of something that might be enjoyable for free can pull the most apathetic shopper out of their sofa!

    Great work!

  2. If you say it enough …
    People will believe you …


  3. I really like the concept of “stripping it down to the core” for ALL communications, not just customer facing marketing and PR.

    It’s very easy for all of us communicators to “Drink Our Own Bathwater” and become self-enamored with all of the jargon and hype we’ve applied to our message. Let’s don’t lose the message under all the spin.

    Stripping the message down to the core is a good “gut check” on whether or not there is really anything to our message. Another approach I’ve used comes from the extensive business I do in Asia. When communicating to Chinese or Japanese customers, frequently anything other than very basic English gets lost in translation. Imagine you had to translate your Powerpoint or your Copy for a non-fluent, non-native speaker. Slang, Spin, Metaphors, Allegory — all strictly forbidden. If you boiled off all the extra fat, does your message still have any meat on the bone?


    President & COO, AGY

  4. [...] just came across a follow up to Seth’s post at GrokDotCom. This is the part that caught my attention: [...]

  5. this is way smarter than my original post was

  6. I’d suggest that most marketing statements deserve to be stripped down anyway – not just to find the real substance, but to actually communicate effectively.

    I’m surprised how many companies still use “corporate speak”, which to my mind is a way of saying lots of stuff without actually moving, persuading or getting anybody excited – an awesome skill if it weren’t so pointless!

    Paul Hancox
    The Optimal Persuader
    “I help you be optimally persuasive.”

  7. In his review, Norberg criticized Biegel’s billing practices and said the chiropractor was being dishonest with insurance companies.

  8. Benidorm,

    I think you meant to comment on Bryan Eisenberg’s post on Yelp.

    - Jeff

  9. I love the Carlsberg message: “Probably the best beer in the world”.

    They are not saying that it is the best beer – htey just saying that they think it is…

  10. Rejsebeskrivelser,

    That works for Carlsberg because the humor woven into it is meant to communicate their personality rather than make a serious claim. The brand comes off as like-able. And that’s a good thing for a beer to be ;)

    - Jeff

  11. JS … You & Wankek & Godin are just a bit too NICE. Use Henchspeak(tm) as in “Starbucks tastes like lukewarm piss compared to our coffee”. dirt

  12. Rejsebeskrivelser,

    That works for Carlsberg because the humor woven into it is meant to communicate their personality rather than make a serious claim. The brand comes off as like-able. And that’s a good thing for a beer to be ;)

    - Jeff

    Thanks Jeff.

  13. A free taste like you mention, or perhaps a testimonial is almost as good?

  14. Property Management Software,

    Testimonials are tricky, because there’s always that doubt that it was cherry-picked or scripted or outright faked. We’ve moved into an age where people want verification, and the sample provides that – I don’t have to take someone else’s word for it ’cause I can try it myself without risk.

    You are right that an inescapably authentic testimonial can do wonders, but those are very rare.


  15. its true, you make your points here, but it’s very rare that an inescapably authentic testimonial can do wonders

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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