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Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Just Say The Thing – Why Relevance Always Wins

By Jeff Sexton
September 2nd, 2009

Hemingway Quote

My friend and brilliant copywriter, Chris Maddock, frequently exhorts his writing students to “Just say the thing.”  This advice is based upon Chris’s extensive experience in what’s working right now for radio ads – and just as importantly,  what’s no longer working for any type of copywriting.

Google and the Internet have trained us to ruthlessly sort for relevance, and we now demand messaging formatted for, and adapted to, rapid sorting.  If visitors can’t get on your website, perform a 7-second scan and immediately see exactly:

  • what it is you do,
  • what your offering, and
  • why they should care,

those visitors will leave.   Basically, you’ve gotta “just say the thing”  (after which of course you still need to go on to close the loopholes, substantiate your claims, provide rich content, etc).  And these web preferences have spilled out onto our demands for traditional media as well.

Great creative enhances the clarity and power of your message…

…But often times, the finished product won’t necessarily “feel” creative.  Non-copywriters will tell you it’s too plain.  No one will be impressed.  Even visitors might not be impressed- yet they’ll convert!

Here’s a perfect example of that:


So first a caveat: this Kodak landing page isn’t perfect.  As an incentive for already established Kodak Gallery members, it’s a strong offer.  But Kodak has left themselves an out/loophole by reserving the right to end the free shipping beta program.  And this kills its ability to draw new members.

Frankly, I don’t want to upload all my photos to their gallery based on the promise of free shipping, only to then have the free shipping yanked away from me.  How much better would it be if they had a free shipping Opt-In program for new and existing members, a program you automatically join with any $12 or higher purchase from their gallery, and a guarantee from Kodak to continue to honor free shipping privileges for all existing members of the program even if they end the program.

Nevertheless, the thing to concentrate on here is how simply they just laid out the deal right in the headline.  The copy just says “the thing” and it’s straight-up about their intentions.  Also, notice how stunningly clear the comparison chart is.  Not fancy, just brilliantly clear in conveying shipping savings available through Kodak Gallery.

And even though no one will remark on what brilliant writing Kodak’s copywriter cranked out, or on how freaking cool the graphic designers chart is, both the copy and the chart are remarkably effective.

The trick is to not let the “plain” style fool you.  Just test it against copy with more snap, crackle and pop.  Test it against a prettier graphic, or against whatever “feels” right to you.  Over time, when clarity consistently wins out in your A/B tests, what “feels” right to you will change – and you’ll start writing much more effective copy.

[Editors Note:  The author of this article is now blogging at]

Add Your Comments

Comments (63)

  1. Great Hemingway quote. Thanks.

    In that Kodak banner, I’d go one step further and drop the words New and Program…

    The Kodak Gallery now offers
    Free Shipping

  2. Jake,

    That’s brilliant. I think the “program” part is Kodak’s way of hinting that the free shipping may not last. And that’s part of the problem with loopholes – the fact that they exist seeps into the rest of your copy.

    - Jeff

  3. After spending so much time tinkering with good looks and good graphics I came across a book from John Caples about copywriting. I tested his advice and the conversion is higher. The page looks boring on first sight but people do read if your content is what they are looking for. I am now looking for a new template that supports this and makes the content look readable and legible without any fuss. Will most probably end up with a good news template (I like New York Times on the net).

  4. Hey Jeff,

    Great article but what I
    I always miss is references to the claims made such as: “Seven seconds is all you have or they’ll leave your site.” Where I belive that you don’t have much time convincing your prospects, why seven seconds, who came up with this?

    It’s not only this article suffering from this so it would be great if you could offer references on all future posts. That would make it much easier to use grok articles for clients when you can’t do research like that. Not all of us have eyetrackers, blood presure measuring or other medicial gizmos at hand to check stress levels etc.

    I guess what I want to say is: Please substantiate your claims


  5. Thanks for your great article. It reminds me that many advertising campaigns not only on the internet but in reality have ignore the power of words arrangement – making the thing sounds more attractive and avoiding shifting customers’ attention. I’m Looking forward your next posting.

  6. David,

    While I wouldn’t get too wrapped around the axle on the exact number of seconds, I can say that the initial research was done by (or maybe it was collected by – hard to recall) Marketing Sherpa and made available via their Landing Page Handbook, first published in 2005. Only they used 8-seconds instead of 7. Since then, Silverpop has been popularizing the 8-Second rule on the web, with some people feeling that the figure really should be revised downward, due to the seemingly ever increasing velocity of online communications and expectations.

    But here’s the thing: context is everything. If the site’s been recommended to you by a trusted source, of course you’ll give it more time than 7-8 seconds. But if you pop in from a search result, and you can’t confirm that you’re in the right place within 7 seconds, yeah, you’ll likely bail.

    - Jeff

  7. I think it’s important to keep the issue of scale in mind. Yes citing the actual reference is good but the take-away is not that the cut-off is 8 seconds, versus 7 seconds, versus pi seconds — the point is that it’s NOT half a minute.

  8. Because relevance can prevent spam!what a simple thing!

  9. great article …. thanks for sharing….

  10. Jeff you are right if they would have allowed free shipping opt-in program for new and existing members then their scheme would have turned viral.Moreover it would have got them many new members atleast.

    Yes but one thing is cool i.e. the straight forward format in which they put their content.Customer often are impatient.

  11. Hi Jeff,

    I didn’t mean to go on about the exact number of seconds, totally not the point. Thanks for sharing the Marketing Sherpa source, that was what I was after. Again, would be great if such sources could be included in future articles.


  12. Great piece Jeff. Sometimes it’s not as easy for the small guys to get their message across so easily. seeing a i don’t have the marketing budget as the big boys i’ve started buying keyword domains. From what i’ve been led to believe they can help you with the Search engines, but they also tell your visitors exactly what you do, e.g. wallstencils (dot) com – you’d expect a site on wall stencils – solarenergy(dot)com – you guessed it – solar energy. Basically what i’m trying to say is that a relevant domain is a massive help to any advertising campaing and one way us smaller guys can compete.

  13. Agreed, you always have to test, especially in a new campaign. 3 or more landing page styles is a great start.

    You never know what converts for your user and traffic source – ugly or beautiful.

  14. One of my friends used the Kodak’s new program. It might result to a 50-50 success. If they don’t find ways to maximize their strategy, that would definitely create their downfall.

  15. David, here’s the SilverPop link to the Marketing Sherpa 2005 book (Landing Page Handbook):

    As for the Kodak landing page, I would have definitely made the compared items (photo books, calendars, mugs, etc.) clickable (traditional blue underline link) to make ‘shopping now’ more convenient, and I would have featured a kodak logo – in case it was a landing page in itself too, to make it more credible instantly

  16. I am also a big believer in the “clarity trumps persuasion” school of copy writing. (Maybe that’s because I find it easier to be clear than clever- character flaw, perhaps?)

    How many of us have seen an expensive, lavish television commercial, and wondered, what in the heck was that ad selling?

    There’s also what I call my Theory of Alignment- if someone hid the headline , body copy or photo, would the remaining elements be able to tell you what the message was? If not, you might want to think about whether the elements are all aligned to the core message enough to help the reader “get it.”

  17. Two other pet peaves about the Kodak ad- the call to action button is mighty tiny, and the table’s bold, bright red prices on shipping for Shutterfly and SnapFish actually drew my eye into them, not to Kodak. If the Kodak “zeroes” were larger and bolder and in color, with the prices of the competitors downplayed, it would have their point a lot faster.

  18. Copywriting is the essence of any marketing campaign which is thriving to bombard the scene and generate ground breaking ROI.

    Nice blog! Thaks for sharing with us! :)

  19. Relevance of information is one thing but accuracy is another, search engines and google are starting to cause the line to blur, just because something is relevat does not mean its accurate

  20. Relevancy always wins because, it does matter for the real search and knowledge for any things.

  21. Having directly video tested a lot of people on the seven second rule. I won’t go into all the details cause it is very extensive, but it always amazing how much people gather in that 7 seconds. Our testing model comes from a strong social AND cognitive psychology model and we probe for impressions, emotions and relevance reactions. The only thing I am absolutely sure of is that people hugely underestimate the amount that is conveyed in those 7 seconds and that what you say Jeff about being clear is important. I would add though that in niche focused sites, for example an audience that is strongly visual learners, relying on text alone is a mistake. In another vein, appealing to developers who are strongly intuitive/musical learners, finding the right (though clear) language makes all the difference. As is establishing the credibility of the voice and substantiating all claims. Great copywriting is important by sometimes great copywriting is expressed via images and captions more then just words.

  22. Todd,

    RIght on! Thanks for sharing some of your research results with us. I also very much agree with the need for design and visual elements to convey messaging and work with the copy.

    Thanks again for the comment.

    - Jeff

  23. Be clear and honest, always works out well

  24. I think the landing page needs a logo! That would add some credibility to the page.

  25. great article …. thanks for sharing….

  26. I purchased a pair of christian louboutin shoes to attend a friend party In the The red high heels are very sexy. I recommend everyone go here to buy

  27. it is an amazing article.
    something relevat does not mean its accuracy.
    But citing the actual reference is good .
    Anyway i like your post.

  28. Effective.

    I’ve been trying to nail down my “thing” for a while now. (That sounds so bad out of context!) Having a strong mantra and short mission statement is just as powerful as this. Thanks for the post!

  29. That would add some credibility to the page.think it’s important to keep the issue of scale in mind. Yes citing the actual reference is good but the take-away is not that the cut-off is 8 seconds,

  30. [...] is so true. Jeff Sexton persuades us that relevance always wins. I don’t need convincing. I’m sold already. Jeff insists if visitors can’t scan [...]

  31. Thanks for the good information.

  32. Good Article Just Say The Thing – Why Relevance Always Wins.

  33. What a beautiful example, simple and relevant websites and marketing materials perform so much better than complex and confusing websites.

  34. I love Ernest Hemingway quote, Kodak landing page is good example and it improves my understanding.

  35. Thanks For Informations In your site :)

  36. Thanks, very informative! I just searched for such information.

  37. Nice and informative article,keep up the good work.

  38. RIght on! Thanks for sharing some of your research results with us

  39. Nice and useful information. I want to add something to it. Infact I’ll suggest a tool, called scrutinizer. It’s available to download. You may google it.

    It helps finding the user’s pattern on our website. That is how their eyes move around on a particular website. This will help in setting up a more effective design and placement of various material on your site.


  40. this is a very helpful article it makes you understand the importance of search engines and much more keep posting…..

  41. Nice Article, I very like to read this article

  42. Great post but what I feel is the landing page desires a logo….. That would put in some authority to the page.

  43. Relevant, because it can prevent spam! What a simple thing!

  44. OK up until now I’ve overlooked the points you’ve made so thanks for a great article, it’s really helped me loads.

  45. Our testing model comes from a strong social AND cognitive psychology model and we probe for impressions, emotions and relevance reactions

  46. very nice article, thanks for posting.

  47. Planning a vacation in New York, its probably the best city in the world. There are loads of things one can do while in New York or just do nothing. Whatever your plans may be you will want no issues with travel, hotel reservations, air ticket bookings etc. Well allow us to do that for you while you just enjoy your time in New York.

  48. wonderful article. thanks for sharing. hope u could contribute more to your blog.

  49. Great article, nice post. Thanks for sharing

    The Kodak Gallery now offers
    Free Shipping

  50. Agree. Great article and good information. Thanks..

  51. I also very much agree with the need for design and visual elements to convey messaging and work with the copy.

  52. Thanks for sharing this I agree with most of your views in this very informative article. Thanks again, and remember to continue posting in the near future :D

    Btw I see your now posting at ?

    I will check out that blog now…

  53. Thank you for this blog post. The commenter, then, becomes the critic who shapes the writer’s next content. So I want to encourage you to keep on blogging in the same style as you writing style is really perfect.

  54. This is music to my ears.This is really a great post! Thanks for sharing. A blog really owes its success to its loyal readers and faithful followers.

  55. nice example here.. “relevance always wins”.. totally agree with you Jeff!

  56. Thanks for providing the quality information as there are lots of sites that can just crack your head into pieces for its non-English texts.

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  58. Relevance of information is one thing but accuracy is another, search engines and google are starting to cause the line to blur, just because something is relevat does not mean its accurate

  59. Relevence is important, attention spans are shrinking so people need to find what they want instantly or you get massive bounce rates. Anything above 35-40% should need attention depending on industry.

    There is scary info on PPC these guys click away in seconds if they dont get what they want.

  60. I think the “program” part is Kodak’s way of hinting that the free shipping may not last. And that’s part of the problem with loopholes – the fact that they exist seeps into the rest of your copy.

  61. Hey Jeff.

    That was a really powerfull point you made about the company reserving the right to withdraw that free shipping offer. That is a pretty big “safety net” for lack of a better word. And sets the company away from it’s competitors.

  62. Excellent post. Relevance is extremely important. I would love to know how you believe social commerce could help create relevance for users.

  63. Great creative enhances the clarity and power of your message, its good to see

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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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