Do your research – develop a persona

First things first: who are you writing for and how do you tackle that? There’s no two ways about it: everything starts with in-depth customer research. You’re aiming to get to know your target market as well as possible. Focus on this key question: what problem does your target audience have, and how will you solve it? This is where buyer personas come in!

A buyer persona is a fictitious character that represents your average customer. You build an image of the demographic background, as well as the interests and more abstract values (e.g. wishes and aspirations) of this buyer.

By giving your target audience a face, you can determine the right tone of voice and the best communication channels or media. Having a good buyer persona allows you to respond to the specific needs and problems of your target audience.

  • Remember though: the customer and user are not necessarily the same person. Take the example of a children’s backpack. Here, the children are the users but not the customers (buyers). In cases like this, it’s best to build separate buyer and user personas.

Use storytelling

What’s the best recipe for bringing a trusted brand to market? Grandma’s way: telling a story. From a psychological point of view, good storytelling contains all the ingredients to get your target audience to engage with your brand: connection, empathy and emotion.

Take the anecdote: you can explain that there was a time when you had the same problem as your target buyers, but you overcame this obstacle and now you’re sharing your solution with the rest of the world. It’s simple and yet effective, because you acknowledge your readers’ problem (showing empathy) and give them the solution (your product or service). This is where influencers’ skills lie, which brings us immediately to the following point.

  • There’s nothing wrong with an honest mistake. Quite the contrary, in fact. The pratfall effect describes the tendency of a competent person who makes a mistake being perceived as more likeable than someone who always does everything right.
  • Our sister company, Outsource Communications, reveals these 6 tips to up your storytelling game.

Add a bit of social proof

What restaurant are you going to walk into: the more upmarket yet deserted place, or the crowded eatery around the corner? Exactly: you’d rather wait patiently until there’s finally a table free at the latter. It’s busy, so your intuition tells you that this is the place to be, right?

We are all indirectly guided by the social signals of others. That is exactly why a testimonial, a good review or a positive comment on social media is invaluable. Essentially, you’re letting others tell your story for you. “Auntie Pat always gets her pastries from the bakery on the square”. You can’t get a more glowing endorsement than that!

  • Awards, certificates and product placement all work towards the same goal: influencing your decision through others’ opinions. Did you know that the average consumer reads no less than 10 reviews before trusting a company enough to buy something?

Emphasise benefits, not features

Did you just see your Auntie Pat on the square clattering over the cobblestones with her shopping trolley? Imagery turns storytelling into memorable content. Good sales copy doesn’t just list the readers’ problems, but conveys an image of how your solution makes their lives easier. This is exactly why it’s so important to emphasise the benefits over the features.

Let’s put it this way: people don’t want drills to put nails into their walls, but they do want to hang up their pictures. A polished copywriter seizes any opportunity to transform the ‘what’ in your product or service to a ‘why’: a tangible benefit. That’s what turns ‘one-button brewing’ into ‘fresh, flavourful coffee at your fingertips’.

  • Get closer to the essence by asking yourself, for every feature: “So what?”
    Download speed up to 300 Mbps. So what?
    Fast internet. So what?
    Smooth streaming and browsing. Bingo!

Write copy that’s easy to read

Another handy aspect of the ‘benefits over features’ technique is that the focus stays on the key message. That makes the text more concise and easier to read.

Easy-to-read copy conveys the message without requiring a lot of effort on the reader’s part. Additionally, it’s more credible. Look at it this way: a product or service that’s simple to explain can’t be tricky to use. Or, as we sometimes say at Blue Lines: “If grandma gets it, it’s clear”.

  • People read around 28% of the words on an average website. That’s just over a quarter. With an average attention span of 8.25 seconds, digital consumers officially score lower than a goldfish!

Deliver your content in bite-sized chunks

Just like Auntie Pat’s pastries, successful sales copy is bite-sized. This means it’s snackable thanks to short paragraphs, and scannable thanks to key words in bold text and a clear structure.

For each piece of text, come up with the right format. For example, sum up the benefits of your product using bullet points or present your quick-start guide in 5 simple steps. A balanced combination of concise paragraphs and evocative images gives readers enough breathing space and anchors to absorb your message.

  • Talking about lists: according to the ‘serial-position effect’, the first and last points in a series are those that stick with us the longest. So if you are listing something, make sure your most compelling content is located first and last.

Pepper your text with power words

Writing in the active voice, positive framing and replacing generic adjectives with words that have more substance: these are all ways in which you can make your storytelling pack a more powerful punch. Shame there aren’t any magic words that will immediately guarantee you conversion. Or are there?

Power words are words that are proven to trigger readers to take action. Simple words such as ‘guaranteed’, ‘results’, and ‘loved’ immediately capture attention and result in a higher click-through rate (CTR). This makes them the ideal candidates for catchy titles or subject lines in newsletters. You don’t have to use much imagination either. According to the same study, ‘sale’ and ‘free’ are the highest scoring power words. Surprise, surprise!

  • “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” – David Ogilvy, advertising tycoon and inventor of the concept of power words.

Substantiate your claims

Another hugely powerful word is ‘because’. Every kid sooner or later discovers the power of this seemingly innocent word. This is when the floodgates open. As a parent, often you haven’t even finished your sentence before you get a response. And it’s always the same: Why?

Studies have shown that we are more responsive to questions if a reason and substantiation are given – even if that reasoning doesn’t make much sense. “Auntie Pat always gets her pastries from the bakery on the square because their pastry cream is so delicious it’ll make your taste buds sing”. Admit it: you’ll be there on Saturday, in that queue outside the bakery on the square, won’t you?

  • This principle originates from research by social psychologist Ellen Langer. The experiment goes like this: the researcher wants to skip the queue at the photocopy machine. She tries the same scenario out with 3 different questions:
    1) Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier?
    2) Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier, because I have to make some copies?
    3) Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier, because I’m in a rush?
    The results speak for themselves: only 60% let her through with the first question, whilst more than 90% agreed to let her skip the queue with questions 2 and 3. So what’s the moral of the story? Substantiate your claims. Why? Because. That’s why.

Give and take

When friends invite you over for dinner, you don’t like to turn up empty-handed. Not that you expect something when you invite them over, but it just feels right to bring a little thank you.

This is called the reciprocity principle. If someone does something for me, I am expected to return the favour. Logical, right? If your readers first get something they value (a free sample, an introductory meeting, a checklist etc.), they will be more quickly inclined to take action. You often see this strategy on landing pages and customer surveys. There’s no doubt about it: results show that the reciprocity principle works.

  • If you Google the search terms ‘copywriting’ and ‘psychology’, you’re bound to come across the work of Dr Robert Cialdini, a world-famous marketing guru. These are his 6 principles of persuasion (2 of which we have already covered):
    I. Social proof: others’ choices influence and justify our own choices (see point 3).
    II. Authority: everyone listens to the advice of an expert. We assume that the opinions of doctors, scientists and CEOs are well founded and therefore reliable.
    III. Scarcity: scarcity makes a product more valuable and therefore more desirable. Scarcity also creates a feeling of urgency that galvanises us into action.
    IV. Commitment and consistency: when we choose something, this also influences our future choices. When we commit to something, we want to be consistent (whether consciously or unconsciously).
    V. Liking: positive reactions or compliments, similarity and physical attractiveness inspire liking. A likeable person (or company) incites trust.
    VI. Reciprocity: when we receive something (of value), we are indebted to the giver and want to return the favour (see point 9).

These principles may originate from the times of the dinosaurs but they’re still invaluable for all marketing and communication. The power of language cannot be underestimated – because smart copy will stick in your customers’ heads. So use your power wisely, young Padawan!

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