Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability, SEO, relationship marketing and consumer psychology.


The Perspective of Your Copy

We’ve talked about the importance of consistency in your copy. But that doesn’t mean you are always going to be making the same pitch the same way every time you tackle an email or your Web site copy.

You need to make a series of choices about your copy that will serve as writing guidelines. There are truly no right or wrong choices to make here, simply decisions. Each choice provides a framework for unifying your message and defining the boundaries that will allow you to make your point. Once you've made a choice, honor the integrity of that perspective and stick with it. If you discover it's the wrong choice for the project, then start over.

Here’s the catch: as you write, don't vacillate between the perspectives. Copy is always most effective when it says one thing really well. Particularly if you are preparing copy for ongoing emails, there’s always tomorrow to get your point across in a different way.

Perspective No. 1: Intellect versus Emotion

Intellectual copy presents new information in an attempt to lead readers to a new conclusion. Emotional copy tells readers what they already know to be true, subtly inserting a new perspective that influences them to feel differently about the information. Before you put pen to paper, you must consciously choose whether your writing is going to appeal at an intellectual or emotional level.

Perspective No. 2: Then versus Now

The past tense speaks of what has already happened. The future tense speaks of what might happen. The present tense speaks of what is happening right now. There is a presence in the present tense; because it places the reader directly in the action, it most effectively engages the brain. But there are times when you need to evoke the experience of the past or the promise of the future. Consider which perspective will give your copy its greatest impact.

Perspective No. 3: Me, Them or You

First person perspective is that of the speaker: I am standing. Second person perspective is that of the reader: The copy starts with “YOU are standing in the snow, 5 ½ miles above sea level…” Third person perspective is that of the outsider: They are standing. In general, people tend to find first and third person perspectives less engaging. Second person perspective puts you right there in the action - you, the person you care most about. To your readers, it's them. When your goal is to persuade action, the “understood you” is extremely powerful: it’s the imperative call to act (“Click here”); it's the avenue that will lead your readers to the richest, most satisfying mental imagery.

Perspective No. 4: Time versus Money

Business owners like to think their products or services are money-driven: “It has always been and it will always be about price.” But it’s only that way because we think about it that way, because advertising promotes products and services based on price. Yet these days, particularly in the United States, the customer is more often interested in saving time. There are probably a few exceptions to that. If your product saves both time and money, you have to make a choice of which to use in your copy.

Perspective No. 5: Style versus Substance

What are you selling? Style or substance? It's an important choice. Here's a Rule of Thumb: If your product is mainly about style, you can promote it with style; if your product or the decision to buy the product is mainly about substance, then you'd better promote it with substance.

Remember Nissan's GI Joe, Ken and Barbie TV ad? The one where Barbie ditches Ken and drives off into the room with Joe in a hot red car (van Halen pulsing in the background)? It constituted one of the most famous ad campaigns in the last 10 years. Bummer for Nissan though. They spent over two hundred million dollars, and sales actually went down. How come? ‘Cause most folks aren’t persuaded to invest $35,000 in a substance product like a car based solely on style. Nissan learned the hard way - these days they focus on substance.

Perspective No. 6: Pain versus Gain

Will your copy appeal to your readers' fear of loss or their hope of gain? Experiments show when people are offered a choice between a guaranteed $3,000 or an 80% chance at $4,000, almost all people choose the sure thing. Hope of gain is motivating when there are no attendant risks. But there is something far more compelling in the fear of loss. However, speaking to pain, igniting the fear of loss, can be dangerous - it can conjure unpleasant mental images. If you choose this path, use it wisely.

If you always wrote with the same combination of choices, your messages would become predictable and boring. Your goal is to develop strong, consistent copy that persuades, and you want to maximize the persuasive power of your copy appropriate to the actions you seek to motivate. Invariably, poor copy results when you find yourself halfway down the path before you ever decided which way you really meant to go.


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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledges and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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