Improve your copywriting by getting specific
The words in most mission statements, copy in websites and marketing communication text is unimaginative and cliché ridden. A quick scan of such text and the media releases in www.prnewswire.com will quickly confirm that vague puffery surrounds us. How can such text be improved?
A five-step process can improve promotional and marketing communication text:
Tell only the verifiable truth
Consider this actual sales text from the high-traffic website of a large company in the health sector (its real name is not used here):
“Led by one of the finest management teams in the industry, Tray-med has consistently demonstrated a keen understanding of the industry and a strong vision for its future. This vision translated into a concept of a superior system – of how patients should move smoothly through a logical healthcare system that offers highly technical, less-invasive, cost-effective procedures.”
The trouble is that most of this text is merely unverifiable hype. The company has provided no information that can be validated to prove its unique attributes. Many other websites and examples of marketing text are similar. All unsubstantiated text should be deleted. For instance, in what way is their system ‘superior’? What do they mean by ‘logical’ system? What are the advantages of being ‘less-invasive’, and so on.
Remove all vague terms
All vague words should be deleted ruthlessly. Get rid of superfluous adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases:
- one of the finest
- highly technical, less-invasive, cost-effective
When the puffery is deleted, the remaining words are weak and meaningless. None of them can be verified.
Use third party endorsement
What other people say about you is much more credible and effective than blowing your own trumpet. Therefore use genuine testimonials or comments from other independent parties such as industry experts, academics, respected people, customers, peers or reviewers to give insights into your products and services. Quoting from positive articles in the news media is a great way to back up your claims – it is effectively third party endorsement, which is one of the key advantages of PR.
This testimony from others is a strong psychological factor that Professor Robert Cialdini, who wrote the best-selling book, Influence, calls the principle of social proof. We are influenced by people we like and respect. But don’t seek celebrities, entertainers or sports stars to provide endorsement unless they are genuinely relevant to your product or service.
Substitute general descriptions with specific facts
When specific information is used, it is much more powerful than general claims such as ‘Tray-med’s executive team is one of the top in the country’. If the executive team is highly credentialed, then provide a hyperlink to more details about each executive team member, or at least something impressive that the executive team has in common. If nothing else is useful, focus on the CEO’s credentials. Any of this is better than some vague puffery about the quality of the executive team.
Rather than general text about the company being one of the leaders in its sector, the text should include some detail, eg a mention of some of the specific achievements of the company such as industry awards, brief mention of efficiency or benchmarking results or other relevant – preferable recent – company achievements, innovative practices, and thought leadership such as CEO speeches.
Admit your weaknesses
The modern consumer isn’t looking for perfection. She is looking for honesty. And self-deprecating comments are accepted as truth.
When a company is humble enough to admit a weakness, it immediately distinguishes itself from competitors. Arguing against its self-interest, which can include mentioning a drawback of its arguments, proposals or products, creates the perception that the organization is honest. This puts the company in a stronger position when it promotes its genuine strengths. Some of the memorable taglines of self-deprecating companies bear this out:
Avis. We’re #2, but we try harder.
Motel 6: Our rooms aren’t fancy, but our prices aren’t fancy.
Listerine: The taste you hate three times a day.
L’Oreal: We’re more expensive, but you’re worth it.
(The same strategy can also be used in negotiating, in selling, eg your car, and even in court cases. However, this is only effective if your weaknesses are genuinely minor. There is no point in highlighting major weaknesses to the world!)
The two-way conversations now possible through the internet and social media allow you to introduce many engaging innovations such as:
- A customer satisfaction rating on the firm’s website in real time, and an uncensored customer comment area.
- A symbol next to each product feature that shows the proportion of current customers who vote positively for the product or service, eg tourism, accommodation and product websites.
- A chart that shows the firm’s prices etc compared with competitors’, eg Progressive Auto Insurance in the United States shows its rates and offers a comparison with the cost of the products of its main competitors, some of whom offer cheaper deals.
- A blog or discussion group that enables customers to engage in public feedback.
All of these steps and innovations will enable communicators to create much more effective material. Try some of these for better results!