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I’m so fed up of the awful, hypey, clickbait headlines that are all over the internet.
You could argue that the over-exaggerated claims and attention-drawing headlines do fall into the advised structures we all know and love, but they’ve taken templates designed to display value and skewed them into a weird freak show of over-the-top persuasion.
If you ask me, headlines like those above are the mark of a lazy, unskilled copywriter. Use them at your own peril.
Hype lowers trust. It’s as simple as that. We know that people buy from those they trust, so over-hyping your copy is a major no-no.
Instead of taking the easy way out and creating hyperbolic copy, you need to create copy aimed at helping your prospects whilst using the language they want to see.
What is Hype?
Of course, the examples opening this article are at the extreme end of the scale. Very little copy is actually that exaggerated. However, thanks to the majority of retailers shoving over-hyped copy down our throats for the last few years, it’s easy for us to overlook more subdued examples, even when we’re the ones writing them.
So what exactly is hype? Well, one of the definitions provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is:
A deception carried out for the sake of publicity.
If you ask me, that perfectly describes so much of the bad copy we’re subjected to on a daily basis. I’m not saying all hyped copy has been produced to purposefully mislead, but rather that companies who aren’t sure how to produce good copy resort to overly generic and grand claims.Good marketing doesn’t make generalist claims. It’s customized and specific.
How? It speaks directly to a specific audience and addresses a particular problem they’re dealing with.
Let me say that again. No-hype copy is specific. It gets to the heart of the matter and actually helps your audience.
So lets have a look at the steps you should be taking to produce some awesome, targeted, no-hype copy.
Know Who You Are and Who You’re Targeting
When you’ve not settled on your message, tone or simply don’t understand your audience’s needs, you’ve only got one recourse. Generic hype. Trouble is, that’s when the dreaded vague promises start to appear.
To escape the cacophony of marketing managers and their generic messaging with original, impactful copy, you need to understand your prospect’s needs, how you can help them and the tone in which to deliver your messages.
This is the only way to create copy that creates an emotional connection. You’ll find the specific language and message that’s going to build trust with your prospects and convince them to buy.
The first job you’ve got is to zero in on what you want to say.
Your message should focus on what your product can do to help your prospect.
You need to find the overlap between your audience’s pain points and the services you provide. This overlap is what will define your message.
Once you know what you want to say to your audience, you need to figure out how to say it.
You should already have your brand identity established but that’s only your starting point. Knowing that you’re a romantic, innovative, whimsical or serious brand isn’t enough to craft compelling sales material.
You need to find the overlap between your own identity and the language your audience uses to define a tone that will convert like crazy. It’s going to take a hefty amount of audience research. Survey your existing customer base, mine product reviews, call them or even bug their house if you have to.
Pay particular attention to the language they use. Make a note of adjectives that repeatedly pop up. Mimic that language in your copy.
These are the words that will define your tone and create kick-ass copy that builds an emotional response with your audience.
So you’ve got yourself your message and tone sorted. Perfect, that is honestly the most important consideration in creating copy that’s not filled with useless hype.
But it’s not the be-all and end-all. There are still a few potential issues that could cause your copy to fail.
Keep it Conversational
We’ve all heard this old gem.
When writing for your prospects be sure to keep your tone conversational. It helps build trust and form a connection with your audience.
It’s great advice, but it’s a little generic.
What exactly is meant by “conversational style”? Should you imagine you’re speaking to your best friend or a family member to help nail a conversational tone?
Only if they represent your wider audience.
“Conversational” isn’t a universal tone. Do you talk to your mother the same way you talk to your best friend? I know I don’t.
If you’re selling a financial services product, adopting the same style you use when chatting with Dave about last night’s football isn’t going to cut it.
When we say conversational, we want to imitate the conversations we’d have with our target audience if we were in a cafe with them. It’s no easy feat. Getting out of writing mode is a difficult task, especially when it’s just you sitting at your computer.
To help nail your conversational writing, here’s a four-step method to get you in the right head space.
- Set up an accurate customer persona. Use it as your imagined conversational partner because imagining a conversation with a loved one just won’t cut it with your audience.
- Speak. Don’t write. Want a conversational tone? Then start speaking. Record yourself if you have to and transcribe it later. Just get the juices flowing through some spoken word.
- Read it out loud. When you’ve finished your copy, read it back to yourself out loud. You’ll pick up on any awkward phrases or segments that are overly formal or hypey.
- Steal. If you’re really struggling, do what we’ve all been guilty of in the past. Head over to the site of a company that does it well and pilfer a few ideas. I personally like the Innocent website for a little conversational tone inspiration.
Avoid Absolutist Claims
This can run contrary to writing conversationally because we do tend to use a lot of exaggeration in day-to-day speech.
In the last week, I’ve seen the best movie I’ve ever seen, had the tastiest plum in history and even finished the most difficult article in the world.
Sadly, none of these statements are true. The plum was very nice, Jurassic World was enjoyable and the article was more difficult than normal, but they’re hardly the superlatives I made them out to be.
We exaggerate a lot in spoken language because we have inflection and tone to help us out. People know from pitch, tone and inflection that we’re not being literal. Exaggeration and sarcasm are easily picked up on in spoken word, less so when written.
Very few brands can get away with such absolutist claims. Most of the time they have a long history of an irreverent approach and a multimedia campaign allowing them to get away with going a little overboard. Just like Old Spice and Carlsberg.
Unfortunately the majority of brands can’t get away with such outlandish claims. Instead of taking the absolutist approach and including subjective terms, we need to focus on providing substantive facts for an audience.
Here are a few examples and what prospects are probably thinking when they first happen across your site.
- We’re the top provider for… “According to who?”
- The best company in… “Really?”
- We provide the best offers… “I doubt that”
Exaggerated claims like the above are believed to hook an audience and wow them with your bombastic claims. Truth is, all they do is raise doubts and questions.
We live in a hyper-connected era. Do you really think a vague claim is going to convince anyone when they can head to Google and see that you’re not the “cheapest service within 200 miles”?
Hit them with facts. Facts cannot be denied and are far more convincing than vague claims to greatness. Let’s try those above statements again, shall we?
- Rated [such-and-such publication/organization’s] top service provider for 2015: “I trust that publication!”
- Over 15 years we’ve solved x problems for ## companies, giving them an extra $$ in total revenue: “Sounds pretty impressive”
- Prices range from $x to $x: “Those aren’t bad prices!”
Benefits and Features
Benefits over features is a great piece of advice. After all, great copy doesn’t sell you a product, it sells you an improved version of yourself.
Gyms don’t sell memberships. They sell a fitter, more attractive you.
Book stores don’t sell books. They sell a more knowledgeable you.
But benefits are only half the equation.
Sometimes, knowing how we get the end result is just as important and persuasive as actually getting there.
Let’s say you want to get fit. Your local gym has hooked you with their killer copy and the idea of a brand new you. The testimonials from happy customers who have banished their muffin tops and now easily coast a 10k race are great. But they still lack clarity.
How did these people lose weight and increase their fitness? Sure that’s the end goal your prospects want, but the process is unclear.
Instead of just saying, “Come here; get fit,” a better campaign would look at the benefits followed by the features.
- Pack on the muscle and put Arnold to shame, in one of our three Olympic-standard weight rooms
- Burn calories and lose weight faster at our fun Zumba parties led by fully accredited Zumba™ instructors.
Benefits need to go hand in hand with features. Benefits alone tread the line between sales and hype. Features alone are dry and unpersuasive.
Whether you focus more heavily on the benefits or features will depend on your particular target market, which is another reason why audience research is so important.
Generally speaking, benefits should take pride of place in your marketing materials. The majority of purchases are emotional decisions, and benefits help you speak to those emotions.
However, this isn’t always the case. A prime example of features trumping benefits is the tech sector. Generally speaking, tech professionals already know the benefits offered by various products and will be far more interested in the technical features of a new product.For high conversions you really need to know your audience before you put pen to paper.
When you’ve nailed your tone, created awesome conversational copy and included benefits and features without making absolutist claims, there’s one last action you need to take.
Forget about the sale
It sounds counter intuitive, I know, but copy aiming only to make a sale is unsurprisingly salesy—a tone often mistaken for hype.
Instead of focusing on the sale, aim to form a relationship with your prospects. Inform, educate and entertain, and don’t try to fool your prospects for your own benefit. As the copywriting king David Ogilvy said:
The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.
Would you lie to your husband/wife? You don’t have to answer that 😉 Either way you shouldn’t be lying to your prospects.
They’ll be happy they’ve found the honest, no hype brand in your niche and will be far more compliant when it’s time to actually ask for a sale.
Follow these steps and you’ve got a far better chance of producing some kick-ass, high-converting copy that doesn’t sound like hype.
What are you doing to avoid hype in your sales copy? Any tips you’d like to share?
Read other Crazy Egg articles by Peter Boyle.