Categories
Copywriting

Can Your Prospects Take An Oath?

Preamble: I wrote this article back in 2003 and I rewrote it in early 2005. Back then, it was meant primarily for a copywriting audience. Now that I specialize in SEO, and seeing how the concept of “funnels” is gaining popularity, I took the liberty to slightly update it.

One problem in SEO, copywriting, content, or any kind of communications, is that the audience is not targeted for the message or the message doesn't march the intended audience.

When it comes to SEO, if the content doesn't match the search intent and fails to align with what the user's searching for, the user will bounce back and search engines will conclude that your website doesn't meet the user's needs, which will impact and lower your rankings.

When it comes to copywriting, an untargeted, unqualified prospect won't buy, no matter how good the copy is. If the content is targeted, it can still miss the mark because it doesn't speak to the customer at the stage of awareness at which they happen to be.

It is absolutely essential to ensure that the your content or marketing message appeals to, qualifies, educates, and converts the user. It's about connecting with them at their level of awareness.

What are these “stages of awareness?”

There are four.

I've used these before I ever learned about their existence. Mostly unconsciously through researching a target market. For example, Eugene Schwartz talks about this and at great length in his book, “Breakthrough Advertising.”

Schwartz discusses the various stages of market sophistication, but I prefer to use an acronym so it is easier to remember and follow.

I call it “OATH.” As in, “Is your prospect ready and willing to take an oath?” It's a cool mnemonic to help you remember how aware is your market about the problem, their need for a solution, and of course, your solution specifically.

Here's what I mean.

Depending on what stage of awareness your reader is at (determined by their knowledge of the problem, the solution, and their desire to solve it), the amount of education, credentialization, and persuasion you need to provide will vary.

Maybe they're hurting right now and need a solution fast. Or maybe they're not there yet, which means they may not be aware they have a problem in the first place. Maybe they are aware, but they don't appreciate how big the problem is or might become, and the reasons why they should solve it.

With SEO, this is answered to some degree by the search intent. The way they search Google will say a lot about their awareness level. Your content or sales message should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to the next stage.

I like to look at it this way: how prepared they are to take an OATH? Meaning how confident, ready, willing, and able they are to buy?

The answer is based on any one of those four stages.

“O” is for Oblivious.

At this stage, they're unaware of the problem let alone a need for a solution. They don't know. Or they don't know that they don't know. In the world of marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-unaware.

So in this case, your content needs to educate them about the problem. It's to bring it to the top of their minds. If you hit them too early with your solution, without being aware of the problem in the first place, you're only going to confuse them, push them away, or create unwanted hostility toward you.

Often, this is what happens when your copy is too short or presumptive. Or when your content discusses your solution as if they're already fully aware of it. If they simply have an unmet desire, an unmet desire is also a problem to be solved. But they're still unaware of it.

“A” is for Apathetic.

They know they have a problem but they're indifferent. They don't care, don't care enough, or aren't aware of how important it is (or that it can be solved). In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-aware.

So your content needs to make the problem more real and concrete. Your content must educate them on the seriousness of the problem. It could be about the risks or drawbacks of not solving the problem, since inaction is a potential problem, too.

When you understand and cater to your user's stage of awareness, copywriting won't seem pushy but merely an attempt at preventing procrastination. The more aware they are, the more their inaction is about the need for reassurance than it is about the lack of desire.

“T” is for Thinking.

They know they have a problem and they're thinking about solving it. They're shopping around, considering solutions, and investigating options. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as solution-aware.

So at this stage, when it comes to SEO, your content should take them from thinking about the problem to wanting to solve it. With copywriting, they're considering solutions, so you need to sell them on your solution and why it's better than others.

This is where you have to build value and differentiate yourself. Why is your solution the best solution? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes it better than all other alternatives? An alternative may also be a totally different solution that soothes the same pain.

“H” is for Hurting.

At this stage, they want to solve it. They're convinced they must fix the problem. They're acquainted with all possible solutions and considering your solution specifically. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as product-aware.

So your job is to convince them, reassure them, and provide information that they can use to make a decision and take action. Perhaps it's understanding the risks and guarantees; your expertise and credentials as a medical professional; or social proof with before-and-after case studies.

Perhaps they don't know how or what payment options you offer. Perhaps they have fears you need to assuage first. Maybe they're overwhelmed, skeptical, or suspicious, or they've used other solutions unsuccessfully and are afraid.

At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.

If they're hurting, what do they need to get over the remaining hurdle? What objections or unanswered questions do they have? Your content may need to increase proof, reduce risk, and remove fear.

Often, it's based on the fear of making a bad decision. Your content or copy needs to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your patient at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn what information they need to go ahead, and then you need to give it to them.

In SEO, their search intent is often dictated by their level of awareness. Here are some searches as an example:

  • Oblivious: “hairloss” or “what causes stretch marks”
  • Apathetic: “how to stop hairloss” or “how to get rid of stretch marks”
  • Thinking: “micrograft before and after” or “tummy tucks Chicago”
  • Hurting: “hair transplant pricing” or “book consultation Dr. Smith”

That's the OATH formula in a nutshell.

Bottom line, your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. In other words, they're unaware of the problem, aware but don't care, aware of the various solutions, and finally aware of your solution and ready to solve it.

Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to give your reader, but what kind of information and what kind of offer that will transition them into buying your solution.

It's not about serving content that meets their awareness level. If that was the cause, your patients would only need Wikipedia. It's about meeting them at their stage of awareness and taking them to the next.

Categories
Copywriting

The Biggest Mistake Copywriters Make

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Most of the copy people ask me to rewrite seem to offer great products and services. In fact, some offers are so good, prospects would be crazy to turn them down.

But they do.

And these sales pieces end up falling on my lap because they're desperately unproductive. When clients ask me to critique or rewrite copy, one of the biggest problems I see is the fact that the copy is stale, limp, and anemic.

Copy so downright dull, the only response it gets are yawns.

You've heard the adage, “copywriting is salesmanship in print.” This is nothing new. It comes from the ageless teachings of the masters, like Hopkins, Barton, Collier, and others, which still ring true today. Including the Internet.

But people tend to forget this axiom. Here's why…

Writing copy is like face-to-face selling. And when writing copy, the lack of human interaction takes away the emotional element in the selling process. Therefore, a sales message must somehow communicate that emotion that so empowers people to buy.

As the saying goes, “How you say it is just as important as what you say.”

That's why the challenge is often not with the offer itself but with the language, the tone, and the “voice” of the copy. You may have a great product, but your copy must be effective enough to make its case and present its offer in an irresistibly compelling way.

But the problem is, some sales messages get so engrossed in describing companies, products, and product features that they fail to appeal to the reader specifically.

It's understandable. Businesspeople are often so tied to their businesses or products that they get tunnel vision and fail to look at their copy from their readers' perspective.

Understandable, yes.

Excusable, no.

My advice? Be more experiential in your copy, as if the reader is experiencing what you're telling them. Let them feel or imagine how it feels. And be more benefit-rich, of course. But more important, appeal to the reader's ego when describing those benefits.

Often, people mistake “emotion” for “hype.” People buy on emotion. Even when selling to other businesses, people are still the ones okaying the deal, filling out the purchase orders, whipping out their credit cards, or signing the checks.

And people always buy for personal, selfish reasons.

Copy that uses convoluted, complex, highfalutin language, with hundred-dollar words, doesn't sell product. It might in some cases, true. But this type of third-person, impersonal, “holier-than-thou,” ego-stroking corporate-speak is self-serving.

It may sell product. But when it does, it does so out of luck or market demand than out of good marketing. (By the way, when I say “ego-stroking,” I'm referring to copy that strokes the seller's ego, not the buyer's. Big difference.)

The fact remains that companies and websites and committees and C-level titles are not the ones who fork out the money, issue the purchase orders, or sign the checks.

People do. Living, breathing human beings.

So don't be shy or afraid in being personal, conversational, and emotional with your copy. Of course, I'm not talking about being so lackadaisical with your grammar or spelling to the point that English majors want to burn you at the stake for heresy.

(Granted, your copy might infuriate some purists. Unless you target grammarians or offer a product that aims to help one's grammar, these people are not, and never will be, your clients. Your clients are the ones that matter. After all, they're people, too.)

And I'm also not talking about being crude, uttering profanities, or using a style that's so crass, brash, or laid back, you appear as if you're on anti-depressants in an attempt to assuage your nightmares from earlier high-school English class detentions.

I mean copy that goes “for the jugular,” is down to earth, and is straight to the point. Copy that presses hot buttons, energizes hormones, and invigorates buying behaviors. Copy that relates to your audience at a personal and intimate level…

… Not an educational or socio-economic level, but a level people can easily understand, appreciate, and identify themselves with. One that shows you are concerned, genuinely interested, and empathetic seemingly with each and every individual reader.

So, here are some tips.

Follow the rule of the “3 C's.”

Express your offer as 1) clearly, as 2) convincingly, and as 3) compellingly as possible.

  1. Use words, phrases, and imagery that help paint vivid mental pictures. When people can visualize the process of doing what you want them to do, including the enjoyment of the benefits of your offer, you drive their actions almost instinctively.
  2. Be enthusiastic. Be energetic. Be excited about your offering. Because your job is to transfer that excitement into the minds and hearts of your readers.
  3. Denominate, as specifically as possible, the value you bring to the table. And how what you bring to the table will meet and serve the needs of your prospect.

In other words, you need to make them feel important. Write as if you were speaking with your prospect, right in front of them, in a comfortable, conversational manner.

(Not to or at your prospect.)

When you do, your copy will imply that you understand them, you feel for them and for their “suffering” (for which you have a solution), and you're ready to serve them, nurture them, and take care of them. Like a friend or confidante.

As top copywriter Brian Keith Voiles often notes, “Write as if you and your offer are a blessing, a blessing to your reader at this point in their lives. Because you really are.”

Forget things like “we're the best,” “fastest,” “cheapest,” and other universal, broad claims. Steer clear from self-interested, pompous statements, like “we're number one,” “we've won awards,” “we offer the gold standard,” and other nonsense.

Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express any claim broadly. Be specific. Specify what those claims mean to the reader. Tie them in with direct benefits to the reader, or simply leave them out altogether.

You can still make claims, sure.

But be intimate. Be ego-driven. Above all, be emotional.

People buy on emotion first. They then justify their decisions with logic. Which is why you should include logic and reasoning and rationale in your copy — most often, to give them reasons they can use and call their own for justifying their purchase from you.

(And that, after they made the decision to buy.)

Look at it this way: if you want to tell people how better or different or superior or unique your offering is, make sure you express those claims in your sales message in a way that directly benefits your buyer and appeals to her ego.

Being different is important. There's nothing wrong with being the best and expressing it. But don't focus on how better or unique you are. Focus on how that uniqueness or superiority directly benefits your prospect, even to the point they can almost taste it.

Again, people are people. They always buy on emotion and they always will. Even if they seem to be the coldest, most conservative people in the world. They only justify their decision with logic, and rationalize their feelings about your offering with logic.

Once you accept and internalize that fact, you'll clearly have the first rule of copywriting (or selling, for that matter) down pat. Plus, according to my experience, you'll also gain an edge over 98% of all other businesses and copywriters out there.

Even when selling to multinational, Fortune 500 corporations, the buyers are people, not companies. Purchasing agents are people. Decision-making committees are made up of people. Even C-level executives with seven-figure incomes are people.

They are stuck with the same “problem” we all share: being human.

And people always buy for, or are influenced by, personal desires, selfish reasons, and self-interested motives. It's been that way for millions of years, and nothing's changed. My friend Paul Myers said it best: “We are but only two short steps away from the cave.”

Outwardly, they might seem like they're not. That's because their job, their ego, their superiors or subordinates, and their peers demand it. But don't let that fool you.

So don't try to sell to some inanimate object called a “business,” or even a “prospect.”

A business is just a bunch of bricks and mortar, or a bunch of computer chips and electrons in the case of online businesses. And a prospect is not some name and address on a mailing list, a credit card number, a floating wallet, or a “hit” on your website.

Remember, it's not businesses or prospects that buy from you. It's people. So your job is to express your offer in terms that trigger their emotions, press their hot buttons, jerk their tears, tug at their heartstrings, and nudge them into taking action.

If not, then you're only bragging instead of selling.