They say that the headline is the most important part of your online copy. But your deck and lead copy are just as important. These often make up the the section called “above the fold,” which is the topmost section of your website’s page, without any scrolling.
(Think of the front-page headlines and pictures of a newspaper, folded on a newsstand. This section is vital, for it’s the section that sells papers.)
Online, it’s the first screen your visitors see when they hit your site. The deck copy is usually the portion immediately following your headline (also known as the “subheadline”), and the lead is the opening of your letter. (Usually the first few paragraphs if not sentences of your body copy.)
There are many things you need to take into account when developing your “above the fold” section. Adding a picture, grabbing attention, perhaps even incorporating audio and video.
But for the purposes of this article, I want to explore the concept of communicating your core idea, benefit, claim or promise, and doing it in the most powerful, persuasive, and productive way possible, in that vital above-the-fold section. It’s called…
The “elevator speech.”
The importance of creating a persuasive opening statement on your website is increasingly higher these days. Once a visitor hits your front page, the headline as well as the very first paragraph should be truly compelling in order to direct visitors into your site — and buy your offering.
But most importantly, your opening statement should be brief since people are click-happy and have very short attention spans, particularly on the web. If your opening statement does not capture their attention in an instant, you will lose your visitors.
Aside from graphics, pictures, and multimedia, your opening statement must grab people’s attention and it must do so very quickly. To that end, create a brief introduction — almost a mini-sales pitch — about your offer. Typically, it’s about 30 words or less. Focus on what John Audette said:
“Be short, pithy and punchy.”
In 1999, there was a local event called “Ideas on Tap,” which was being held each month in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada, at local bars. (Ottawa Valley is the home of many high-tech head offices, including Corel, Cognos, Cisco, etc. It’s affectionately known as “Silicon Valley North” as a result.)
Aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs were given a soapbox (they stood on empty milk crates, actually), a microphone and only 60 seconds to pitch their ideas to a crowd filled with venture capitalists, dotcom executives, high-tech reporters, and so on.
The show was interesting. There were five contestants in total each night. Through an applause rating system, the crowd chose the most successful pitch — and the winner received a $100 gift. But that 60-second limit was strictly enforced. If a speech happened to pass that limit, the microphone was mercilessly turned off.
But as the crowd began to mingle after the show, one could instantly tell, by noticing where most investors and executives were gravitating, who were successful with their pitches.
While I could certainly appreciate the majority of ideas that were proposed during that event (in fact, I thought that four out of five were really good ideas), only two entrepreneurs were able to successfully attract investors.
But the question is, “Why?”
Successful elevator speeches were not successful because of their messages but by the way they were conveyed. In comedy, they say “it’s all in the delivery.” And in the case of elevator speeches, the same hold true.
Like with a person you’ve just met in an elevator, such as a potential client (or investor), you only have a few seconds to make an impact until she leaves the elevator. Therefore, your speech must be good enough and concise enough to capture, in just a few short moments, the attention of the other person.
In terms of your website however, your elevator speech signals to your visitors the main advantage they receive from it or at least in browsing further. How many websites have you visited in the last day or so? How many out of those did you read their pages in their entirety? Not many, I’m sure.
So develop an elevator speech about your site or offer. Write down a solid paragraph that tells people, immediately, succinctly, and in terms your visitors can understand, what you’re all about. But more importantly, what it is you are all about can do for them.
Try to say it in 30 words or less. If you need to write down more, do so. But edit it down, and try to be as pithy and as concise as possible.
Don’t be vague or general. Don’t say, “We solve problems” or “we offer solutions.” They don’t say anything! And don’t say, “We’re superior,” “the best,” “of high quality,” “unique,” “number one,” etc.” These are claims, not benefits. And they are focused on you, certainly not on your audience.
(Claims mean absolutely nothing. Or more specifically, claims, without justification or a reason why they are important to the reader, mean nothing.)
Think about it: If everyone said they were the best, then who do you believe? So instead, think about what makes you the best. How are you unique? What do you specifically bring to the table that no one else does? Why should people enter?
Also, if you are making any claims, think about how your claim specifically connects with your reader. If you are the best, why should a reader believe you? And what would “being the best” specifically mean to the reader?
Remember, when your visitors hit your site, they are easily distracted and annoyed. Why? It’s because they’re listening to their favorite radio station: WIIFM (“What’s in it for me”).
If your site does not tune in to that same radio station, you will have easily lost them. Visitors will either leave almost instantly or not fully grasp the true value of your offer (forcing them to scan or skip your copy altogether).
Once you’ve developed your elevator speech, cut it down to a single sentence of 16 words or less. This may not be an easy task. It might even take awhile — but it’s the best investment of your time you can make in writing your copy.
Try to distill your speech to the very core essence of what you offer. Cut out the generalities and the excess fat. Remove superfluous adjectives, superlatives, and adverbs. Substitute them with action verbs and picture words to communicate the same message — with the same impact.
Think carefully: There should be only one important benefit that encompasses all others — something that immediately captures the essence of all that you are. Ask, “What’s the single, most important quality or benefit of my website or offer?”
Once you’re done, those few words with which you end up can give you some direction as to what you should focus in your above-the-fold section.
It may become your headline (remember, the headline’s job is to get people to read your copy, and nothing more). Or it will give you an idea of what the deck and lead copy should entail. You can use your speech verbatim in this section, or let it guide you in the process of writing it.
(If I came to you, right now, and asked you what you can do for me in 16 words or less, would you be prepared? Would you stumble and fumble? Or would you be at a complete loss for words?)
Like a headline, an elevator speech is not a summary, either.
(Do restaurant menus that list all the ingredients of a particular item entice you? No, unless you’re hungry. But they should make you salivate by just reading what’s on them, perhaps even confused or frustrated because there are so many delicious items on the menu from which to order!)
For example, if you were to ask me what I do, I could easily say “copywriter.” That’s a summary, not an elevator speech. Instead, you might hear me say, “I help businesses and individuals create endless streams of new, repeat and referrals business with words.”
(That’s 16 words if you’re counting, by the way.)
The problem with many headlines these days is the fact that the author is trying to give away too much. They give away the store too early, or they try to cover all the bases by making sure all the main benefits are listed so people don’t miss anything. But this often backfires.
I don’t necessarily mean to be short. But headlines that are too long are either too long to read (defeating its purpose in the first place), or giving too much information that may even cause people to know too much, too early — thus creating doubt, or negating any attention, urgency, or curiosity it may have created.
The elevator speech is therefore a great exercise in pithiness. You can essentially say the same thing but with different words that will drive people’s attention and curiosity. And more important, they can immediately get a sense of what they get from reading further.
You can use your elevator speech in your deck and lead copy as well. Or you can expand on it, or use it as a foundation that will give you some direction as to the kind of copy you need to effectively communicate to your reader.
But remember to focus on the core essence of your site offer and what it means to the reader, and try to be as brief as possible.
Remember that we click in and out of sites as often as people enter and leave elevators. So, you need an attention-capturing, curiosity-generating and interest-enhancing statement — one that is brief, terse and to the point.
As Jim Rohn once said, “Brevity has a lot of power in it.”