4 ways to have them at Hello

You had me at hello. Remember that line from the movieJerry Maguire?

Why did that line work? Jerry Maguire put himself out there. He gave his girl what she needed and she responded. Though he made a compelling case after hello, the fact that he showed up smoothed healing ointment atop her emotional wound.

What does Hello have to do with copywriting?

Everything! At some point we must introduce ourselves to our customers but if we barge past the hello and forget to answer the why are you here? questions, we’ll lose our readers before we begin. There will be time for introductions later. If readers like what you have to say, if you compel them to read further, they’ll ask you for your name and number.

4 ways to say hello

1. Answer your readers’ most pressing need.

You may sell widgets, but why do your customers need them? How is their life worse without them? What is their biggest objection in getting widgets from your competition? Or what will your clients appreciate  more than anything else? Lead with answers that address their needs.

In developing DF Painting‘s web copy, we could have lead with “Hey, DF Painting is the best painter in Redding, CA.” While this may be true and important, we discovered that commercial clients expect quality but get really perturbed when commercial painting outfits skip out or don’t deliver or show up disheveled and without teeth.

We used bold-faced subheads such as: Quality Counts, Promises Matter, Looks Kill and Communication Works. We had to show clients we understood their concerns before we asked for their hand.

2. Cite facts your reader can identify with.

It’s hard to argue against facts. For a fair trade, pesticide-free apparel business, we opened the home page with statistics, such as Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides to lure clients who might be on a quest for a lifestyle change. We knew this company’s potential clients would have the same reactions the founder did when faced when cold, hard facts.

We then offered links to her company’s products, which at that point almost became the byproduct of her company’s values.

3. Ask questions.

This technique is not my favorite because it’s tricky to get right. Often it sounds amateurish and infomercialish, but it can also be effective if you can answer it directly or appeal to a real emotion. With my pesticide-free cotton client, we used this lede technique with the statistics (#2) such as: Did you know…Cotton is considered the world’s “dirtiest” crop due to its heavy use of insecticides?

Just be careful of fragmented half questions like: Tired of messy tortillas? (picture a fajita obliterating in a diner’s hand.) Try to rephrase your question ledes and use them only if you can’t find another method that works.

4. Know to whom you are speaking.

While this isn’t technically a lede technique, it will affect your tone in all of the above. Define your reader. I don’t mean kinda define as in…my customer is anyone who needs a widget. I mean, who specifically makes buying decisions for your products and services? Is it a 32 year old homemaker or a middle management suit who desperately needs to look like a hero to his superiors? Why does he/she need what you have to offer? What might stand in her way of getting it?

Of course not every customer will fit your profile, but if you can look into your reader’s eyes as you create your ledes, you’ll have a better chance of offering up something of value, rather than a generic all-purpose informational blip.

What lede technique has worked well for you?


How’s Business? and why I hate this question

As a small business owner, I get asked at least once a day: How’s business?

I’ve come to really dislike the question.

Similar to How are you?, most who ask are scratching for an  easy entrance to conversation and are not particularly interested in the answer. But still. Maybe I’m the only one, but the question makes me squirm. I never know how to answer.confusion

For starters, business owners’ incomes are inherently tied to their business’s success. If there is anything we know, it is that it’s impolite to ask about money and politics.

Turn the Tables

I would never ask an employed worker, “How’s your job? Are they paying you toward the top end or the bottom end this week?”

If I ask how your job is, I am expecting to hear whether or not you are enjoying what you do. And I’d guess that is what well-meaning people mean when they ask me how business is going. But that isn’t what the words are asking. Ergo, I’m stuck not knowing how to answer.

Business is Good. Great. Bad.

If I say, “business is great!” what does that mean? Too much enthusiasm indicates customers are rolling in and profits mounting. People assume I’m getting rich. Or I’m delusional. Or I am bragging.

If I say, “business is good” what does that mean? Could be better? Might be struggling? Paying myself but not much more?

If I say, “business is not so good,” friends worry because that must mean I’m not making any money.

If I say, “fine,” I’m saying nothing. Or I might be lying.

As much as we hate to admit it, we are comparative creatures. So no matter how I answer, I’m giving you the opportunity to classify me  and my income as above, below or on par with you. I could be opening doors for both envy and pity, neither of which I want to do.

What would be better?

It would be unfair if I told you I don’t like your question without offering some alternatives. But maybe telling you how to change isn’t the answer. Maybe I need to come up with a safe and benign answer that addresses what I’d rather share about what I do. Here are some phrases I’ve thought about:

On a good day:

You: How’s business?

Me: I’m really enjoying what I do.

You: How’s business?

Me: Fulfilling.

You: How’s business?

On a less than great or discouraging day:

You: How’s business?

Me: It has its frustrations, for sure.

You: How’s business?

Me: I’ve had better moments.

What do you think? Are you an “asker” or an “answerer?” Does this question bother you? How have you addressed it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Copywriter Value: Can’t Anyone Write?

“Have you ever seen someone at an art gallery size up a painting with the words, “Well, I could do that!”
Truth is, maybe you could. But you didn’t.”

~Dave Egan

Most of what makes decent, even excellent writing happens in our minds and hearts. It really is more like pottery or painting or other art. We think or make a mental picture or mutter to ourselves or pace around or have another cup of coffee or tea or call a friend or listen to music or sit in silence or, well the list can go on. Quickly or slowly words begin to come through our fingers as they move across the keyboard and appear onscreen.

~ Anne Wayman, About Freelance Writing

My fellow business writing freelancers have been tossing around this lively discussion about the mystery vs. the value of writing. Have we made it look too easy? Can’t anyone put words on paper? How hard can it be?

From a business perspective, the question boils down to this: why should we pay a writer?

I love what Dave Egan said about art valuation above but I’d add a musical analogy. It doesn’t take a genius to draw little notes on a staff. I did that in my second grade piano class. But play your scribbled notes and then play Mozart’s. Different? Vastly. Why?

Mozart understood how to arrange rhythms and melodies, rests and syncopations to enhance a listener’s experience, to move them emotionally.

It’s much the same with an experienced writer. We use the same tools you do, but we understand flow and rhythm. Marketing copywriters know what it takes to move a reader sensibly from information to action. Good writers forego flowery and flabby phrases and distill data into understandable and compelling copy.

When you hire a capable marketing copywriter, you should know that every sentence you review has survived a gauntlet, been strained through a sieve, questioned for purpose and scrutinized in tone. Writers glean gems from the mundane and mine management for passion. They think and drink coffee, research your competition, check keywords, call your clients, think some more, nap, ask questions and then, maybe, write. Once they’ve written, they review and prune with machete-like motion. They agonize over phrases and worry over rhythms. They drink more coffee and revise again. And this is for your first draft.

Is there value in what a writer can do for you? You decide.





Email, O Email. What Can You Do?

Me: Honey, the garbage disposal isn’t working. (!!)

Him: What did you put in there?

Me: Stuff. Everything. Potato peels, leftovers, 1/2 a sandwich. I dunno.

Him: No wonder. How would you like it if someone stuffed everything down your throat at once?

When developing email campaigns, it’s tempting to use your list to the nth degree (especially if you are paying money for the list). You’ve got a one-shot-WOW window and you want to make the most of it, right?

But how many things can you market in one piece before your recipients’ eyes glaze over or worse, hit delete (even worse–relegate your message to Junk).

What do you want, more than anything, from your email campaign? (Choose one.)

 1. A click-thru.

Marketing is a step by step process, a little like chess. We move our prospects from one square to the next. If we expected them to enter the game and get to a check-mate in one move, we’d be asking too much. They may decide it would be less confusing to just not play. But asking for just one move is probably doable.

 2. A sale.

Ultimately, of course, this is the desired outcome. But  will one message make that sale? Or can we lead the prospect on a sensible journey toward their options? to the website > plant questions > offer insights into additional options.

 3. Any action at all.

This would be nice but the goal is undefined. Therefore, its hard to measure–which means it is difficult to know how to structure the piece–which means the message will probably look confused to the recipient–which means the recipient will be confused. You can see where this is going.

There is NO DOUBT you have many great products, options and services to offer. But ask yourself how much you could feasibly understand in one email?

Check the junk in your trunk.

Look in your own junk mail folder and read through a few pleas. Which ones do you think are most effective? What is the senders’ primary call to action? How many products/services are they trying to sell you in the message and how do you feel about it?

It’s a risk to focus on just one thing when your cash/livelihood is on the line. We need our marketing dollars to go as far as they possibly can. But, on the other hand, we don’t want to ask so much of every marketing effort that we diminish the effectiveness of the investment.

Learn from the best

Does Coca Cola advertise Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Sprite in one ad?

In a Nike Air Jordan ad, are you also told about Nike’s yoga gear and watches?

How about Honda? How many different cars are represented in each commercial?

Right. These companies have taken the risk and worked hard at developing their brand with singular focus.

How about you? Have you ever been nervous to market just one product in lieu of the rest?