Speaking To Your Readers, Or At Them?
“You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.”
– Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976)
Copywriting legend John Caples famously said the key to writing an effective ad was to enter the conversation already taking place inside your prospect’s head.
But, when you sit down to write an ad, how often do you really know the person you’re “talking to” well enough to enter that conversation?
Can you truly picture your prospect sitting there across the desk from you? Can you see what causes her eyebrow to bend… her smile to widen… and what causes her to shift restlessly in her chair?
If you can’t, your ad will less effective than it should be. It may hit the target, but it will miss the mark – and with more precise writers drawing back their bows, it won’t stay the control very long.
Impactful writing lives or dies by the relationship between author and reader… and this is never more true than with copywriting. It’s no secret that people buy from people they like. So, it stuns me a little every time I see an ad that is completely void of personality.
One that does nothing but shout at the reader.
Shouting impossible claims. Shouting empty promises. Shouting dire warnings of action not taken.
Like the late-night TV commercial for the local car dealer that screams “no money down” offers hoping to shake you awake in your easy chair. As if anyone pops out of a deep sleep in a buying mindset. I don’t quite get it. But, those ads run in every town I’ve visited for as long as I’ve been roaming the U.S., so they must be working on someone. (People with “bad credit or no credit” apparently)
But, what I find so strange about shouting ads on the Internet is that the medium is so obliging to a different approach. The Internet offers endless choices for how to express yourself to your prospect. So, why not use it to your full advantage and start a relationship with your prospect?
Even Budweiser gets that the Internet is best used to start a relationship. They could easily put sarcastic frogs on their website and gain some free viral attention – it’s worked in the past. But instead, they draw their consumers in with the “company heritage” approach, because they understand that funny frogs inspire a fickle loyalty. As soon as a rival introduces a “funnier” beer-loving forest animal, all their efforts will be lost.
But, get a consumer to digest a bit of your brand’s history while he guzzles your brew and you succeed in creating a deeper bond. It’s that kind of bond that makes sports fans carry team loyalty out of state with them if they move away. And it’s the same secret behind the longevity of certain rock legends compared to the flash in the pan burnouts.
Bruce Springsteen packs stadiums despite his Billboard chart position because his fans are loyal to his legacy. His songs speak to them on an intimate level and remain anchored there… they become part of the person. His live shows are a chance for fans to visit that intimate place in a communal atmosphere. This is why Springsteen shows feel more like a church service than a rock concert. (And more like a church service than most church services for that matter.)
Compare that to the likes of MC Hammer, who enjoyed a meteoric rise in the music biz, but fizzled to dust upon re-entry. Why? Plenty of circumstances played a role in these vastly different careers, sure, but… listen to “Can’t Touch This” and “Thunder Road” back-to-back and the mystery is solved.
On the surface it may seem easy to disregard that comparison as lopsided; they are 2 very different artists in very different genres, after all. But, stick with MC Hammer, and compare him to another hip hop artist, Jay Z. Same thing. Jay Z continues to dominate the genre more than 10 years after his first commercial success in 1997.
So, what’s the difference?
The same difference between shouting ads, and those that succeed in forming a relationship with the reader – creating intimacy.
So, how do we write intimately to our prime prospect when meeting them in person is not an option? When all we can see of our prospect are numbers and demographics – and if we’re lucky, some survey responses?
All skilled copywriters have their secret methods for getting at the heart of their reader. It can be one of the most difficult challenges we face. But, once you find the technique that works for you… the one that puts your reader right there on the bar stool next to you at the neighborhood pub, the writing tends to get much easier.
One tactic I’ve relied on is to take the facts the client gives me about his market, and search for a discussion board where users of similar products like to hang out. This is a cool way to interact with the people you’ll be writing to.
People chat openly on message boards, and they also tend to enjoy helping out a newbie. So, become that newbie with a lot of questions. You’ll be amazed at the amount of useful insight you get. You’ll pick up the lingo, you’ll find the hot button topics, and you’ll know what makes users of similar products say “so what” and “yeah, right” about new products like the one you’ll be pitching.
And if you really score, you’ll make a “board friend” that inspires your writing, and will become the person you write your sales letter to.
Forming this relationship will help you to anticipate the questions – and objections your prospects will have as they read your letter. Knowing you have answered those objections, and removed any “so what” and “yeah, right” land mines hidden of your letter will go a long way to gaining – and keeping – control of your market.