Chapter 1 of Write to SellSeptember 01, 2006
If this book is about any single thing, it’s about understanding your reader. Not your product. Not your company. Not your current special offer or promotion. Something I learned very early in my career as a writer was that the only person who counts is the reader.
It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter what your manager thinks. It only matters what your reader thinks (and feels). That means you have to do something that might feel strange at first. You have to write not what you want to write, but what your reader wants to read.
Many men still believe the “chat up line” is the route to a woman’s heart. But pre-prepared lines usually fail. Why? Because they don’t take into account the recipient’s feelings—they’re all about the sender. Ditto for much sales writing.
If the writer has a plan at all—and more on planning in Section Two—it generally involves a list of the points they want to make, the information they want to get across, the facts they want to write about.
Much rarer, about as rare, in fact, as a four-day-old Mayfly, is a plan focusing on the reader. On their wants, needs, expectations, ambitions.
But without taking our reader into consideration, we’re heading for trouble. All we can do is talk about ourselves—and we know what happens to people like that at parties.
Why you have to work harder
There’s a simple reason why you have to write for your reader—not yourself, not your boss, not your colleagues. And it has to do with the level of investment they make in your writing.
Imagine your reader sitting at their desk or in their sitting room at home. The post arrives and, after retrieving it from the front doormat, they return to their chair. After putting bills to one side they are left with three items:
A letter postmarked Australia—the handwritten address shows it’s from their old friend Lydia.
That month’s issue of Gardening Today magazine, complete with a free trial-size sachet of bonemeal fertiliser.
Your mailshot is the odd one out. It’s the only one in which they have no investment. They haven’t paid for it. They didn’t seek it out. They don’t care who wrote it.
When people have an investment in reading—either emotional or financial—they will read. And they’ll read despite poor spelling, faulty grammar, loose punctuation, unengaging tone of voice or any one of the many insults it’s possible to inflict on the English language.
When they don’t have that investment, they will be ruthlessly unforgiving. The only thing that will get their attention and keep it is a message aimed squarely at them—their interests, their concerns, their lives. A message delivered in such effortlessly good English that they don’t notice the writing, just the content.
Writer’s toolkit: Radio WIFM
Whenever you sit down to write—it doesn’t matter what: a sales letter, press release, web page or postcard—first tune in to the frequency your readers are all transmitting on: Radio WIFM.
What your reader wants to know, what every reader wants to know, is the answer to a very simple question. What’s In It For Me?
Send your message on this frequency and you’ll have a far better chance of being listened to. Send on WIII (What I’m Interested In) and you’ll lose them to a more interesting station.