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“I kill people for a living”

At dinner a while ago, in Salisbury’s delightful Mill Gallery Café, I turned to my neighbour, James, and asked him what he did for a living.

He told me something that stopped my forkful of chilli seafood linguine halfway to my mouth.

“I kill people,” he said.

OK, he didn’t actually say that. He said, “I’m an infantry officer.” But it comes to the same thing, as James cheerfully admitted. In fact, he had just signed up for a course in how to do it better.

It made me think about all those actors who, leaning in close to the Esquire or GQ interviewer, whisper earnestly, “You know, every night I go on stage I am literally risking my life.”

Because, of course, they aren’t. Unlike James. They’re just using empty language to inflate their self-importance.

And in just such a way, many marketers delude themselves that their products are, variously, ‘essential’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘unique’ or ‘best’. When, more truthfully, they might be ‘useful’, ‘new’, ‘practical’ or, merely, ‘available’.

So what are we, as copywriters, going to do to create compelling communications that inspire engage and enthuse our reader without resorting to false claims, boasts and hyperbole?

Here’s what.

Talk about the benefits.

I imagine many writers don’t do this because they:

  1. Don’t know, or have never paused to work out, what the benefits of their products really are.
  2. Find it too time-consuming (or boring) to imagine the world from their reader’s point of view.
  3. Aren’t measured on how much business they bring in, and so have little incentive to write powerful selling copy.
  4. Don’t know what a benefit is AT ALL – and so wouldn’t be able to explain it in writing.
  5. Actually believe customers are going to spend their hard-earned cash on something just because it’s described as revolutionary.

But it’s benefits that make the sale. (I assume you, at least, agree with me.)

So what can we do to ensure our writing is benefits-driven, truthful and more likely to engage and persuade our reader? Here are three ideas:

  1. Spend some time looking at your product or service as your customer would.

    And asking the kind of questions your customer would ask. The simplest and most powerful of these is, “What’s in it for me?”

  2. Stop describing your product. Most products are not that hard for your reader to grasp.

    A pension is savings for your retirement. A management report is a document full of advice on how to run your business better. A tennis ball is a fluffy yellow sphere that makes a game of tennis more fun.

    Instead, start describing how your reader’s life will be more interesting, fulfilling or fun if they buy it.

  3. Get hold of whatever it is you’re selling and use it yourself for a week.

    Figure out what it does that’s good and write a story that dramatises this. And be specific. If it saves your customer money, calculate EXACTLY how much money it saves them and over PRECISELY what period of time.

This is called detail and it’s what makes good stories great.

And my point is?

Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” I say, so is empty, superlative-laden copy. Instead, get to grips with what you’re selling and what is really does for your customer.

Categories: Marketing Copywriting and Maslen on Marketing.

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