By Tom Trush
As an entrepreneur or executive, you likely feel that your work as a marketing writer could be improved.
The problem, though, is you don’t have time in your schedule to comb through books, courses, or trainings.
In fact, Joanna Wiebe, author of the Copy Hackers series of copywriting guides, calls these phrases “lazy messaging.” The problem with this type of messaging is that it’s too common. Your message never stands out.
Rather than talking about the technical details and features of your offer, shift your focus toward your readers’ ideal outcome. What experiences and feelings do they want and why? What impact do they want your product or service to make in their lives?
Fortunately, with a little practice – especially on the changes that have the greatest impact on your skills – you can quickly start creating more effective marketing materials.
Here are 5 places to focus your attention:
1. Push the outcome, not the features
It’s easy to write about how your product or service can “save time” or “save money.” These claims have even become a crutch for many copywriters and marketers.
By asking these questions, you’ll address your readers’ deeper needs, rather than just checking off a list of repetitive features.
Consider the general brand messaging behind charity: water, the non-profit that helps provide clean water in developing countries. Rather than always using imagery or words that tell the tragedy of communities living without clean water, they push attention toward a positive end result.
Here’s a excerpt from their website:
“When a community gets access to clean water, it can change just about everything. It can improve health, increase access to food, grow local economies, and help kids spend more time in school.”
Also, rather than forcing a list of features on readers, such as the number of wells or pumps they could fund, charity: water talks about the impact of donors’ contributions.
After all, people don’t donate to charity: water because they have a burning desire to buy wells and pumps. They do it because of positive changes they can contribute to a community.
So, why does this work?
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Advertising, mental pictures of a promised positive scenario help persuade people to change their intentions. The stronger and more positive the mental picture, the easier you make it for prospects to be transported into the world you’re building (so they can “buy” into your vision).
2. Tell stories
Whether writing an email, website content, or a direct mail piece, making it compelling or persuasive depends on one factor:
Not just any story will do, though. A truly persuasive story takes readers from their current state to the world you create with your words.
Psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock are recognized for their extensive research on stories’ persuasive powers. Their studies show that, as long as a story successfully transports a reader, it can cause a change in views or attitudes (to more consistently align with the story), regardless of whether the story is fact or fiction.
What does this mean for you?
While a positive end result is a great place to start your marketing message, you should also include a fully realized story. According to Green and Brock’s research, your story should create excitement and cause readers to feel uncertain about the ending (so they keep reading).
Also, include a “model” in your story – a character your reader can mimic by following behavior and attitude changes.
Zapier, an online software company, features an impressive collection of customer stories on their website. These stories often follow a common template…
A customer encounters a complex problem in their business processes, and then, after creating a solution in Zapier, now spends more time doing the work they love (read a few detailed case studies here).
Framing customer stories in this way, rather than just through vague testimonials, provides stronger proof. More importantly, prospects can see themselves in the profiled clients.
So next time, think about how you can use a story to frame your marketing message. It may mean more work, but the results are backed by science.
3. Anchor your claims in facts and data
Strong credibility is critical to supporting your stories and promises. Statistics and science-backed research are an effective way to handle this task.
According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, these concrete details add credibility to you (as the writer) and your marketing message.
Slack, a collaboration and messaging tool for teams, offers an example of this approach in action. Though they pack their marketing messages with outcome promises – such as “make your working life simpler, more pleasant and more productive” – their homepage also shows several charts and numbers.
For example, a bar chart details how teams using Slack report a 25.1% reduction in meetings and a 48.6% reduction in internal emails. Displaying hard facts like these boost credibility because the messaging is backed by data.
So, when crafting your marketing messages, once you figure out your prospects’ desired outcome and work in a story or two, review your claims and support them with data. You can use your own research (like Slack) or cite academic research and statistical findings.
4. Improve one thing at a time
The Japanese have a business philosophy called “kaizen,” or creating change through continuous small steps. A process like this for writing is often more sustainable than trying for a big change all at once.
For example, when writing new website content, don’t try to knock out every page all in one sitting. Work on individual sections during several shorter time periods.
Forming this tiny habit can increase your odds of completing the project, instead of feeling overwhelmed and putting if off for another day.
Keep in mind: you can also apply kaizen to other areas of your business.
5. Deconstruct the work of great writers
Ever visited a museum and seen student artists copying the paintings on display? For them, this is an exercise in studying from old masters, mimicking their approach, and learning practical lessons along the way.
Benjamin Franklin improved his writing this way, as did journalist Shane Snow.
Whenever you see a piece of writing you can’t ignore – whether it’s a sales letter, email, or advertisement – analyze what kept your interest.
What was the headline? How did the writer start the piece? How did it end? What transitions were used to move from one thought to the next? What was the offer?
Once you have these answers and work in the above concepts, you’ll notice yourself writing better marketing materials in no time.