The other day I was hit smack in the face with a copywriting mistake that I could have easily made.
My mother always liked to do blind taste tests to see which product was better. Thanks to her efforts, I use cheap cottage cheese in Lasagna rather than expensive ricotta cheese. I always used ricotta cheese. I swore it was better. Then she did a taste test.
We all liked cottage cheese better.
I imagine her doing some sort of blind copy taste test, presenting me with two copy snippets and asking me what I thought.
First, she’d show me Example 1 (which I took from the website of one of our clients):
Cool MSP provides forward-thinking tech support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whatever the issue, our IT staff is available around the clock to provide support by phone, email, and web chat.
She’d ask me what I thought of it. And I’d have said it was good. Maybe we could adjust a word or two, but it is pretty clean and effective.
I might even have written something like this.
Then she’d break out example 2 and ask me to compare:
Instant, around-the-clock support.
We can fill your gaps, especially on nights, weekends, and holidays. And when it comes to fixing your problems fast, the AgioNow chat function instantly puts you in touch with our experts.
And this would be my cottage cheese moment because Example 2 says precisely the same thing as Example 1 but is immeasurably better. They aren’t even close.
When I come across example 2, I instantly see the improvement, yet… I could see myself writing example 1.
That’s bad, mainly because I write a lot of copy, and I prefer that my copy be good, not bad.
So to ensure I never write Example 1, I devised five rules to follow. Audit your copy and make sure it follows these five rules. Then you won’t have to kick yourself for writing example 1.
And you’ll be cooking with cottage cheese.
But first: why do we make this mistake?
This was the first question I asked myself. I know better… why would I make the mistake of writing Example 1 instead of Example 2?
It’s simple: the curse of knowledge.
When you know something it is next to impossible to break out of what you know and come up with new ways to say something. Once you call something “24/7 support,” the name sticks, lodged like a splinter in your brain, and there is no way to extract it.
How do we break the curse of knowledge? That is what the rules are for. By following some simple rules, you can force yourself to find something new and not use the information you already have.
So here are the rules:
1. Pull the reader in with first and second-person language
To create a more personal connection with your audience, employ first and second-person language in your marketing communications. This means to use “I” and “you” rather than “they.”
(Oh, and avoid passive voice like the plague, but that is another topic).
Why? It invites the reader into the conversation, making them feel like an active participant.
Your teachers would have told you that the second person is a difficult writing style in high school English. It doesn’t work well for novels.
They were right.
But we aren’t writing novels here; we are engaging audiences.
If you look at example 2 above, you will see that they say “we” and “you” versus example 1, which talks about the business generally providing support.
Before: “Customers will experience unmatched customer service.”
After: “You’ll experience unmatched customer service with us by your side.”
Before: “Our clients enjoy high levels of customer service.”
After: “You’ll love our customer service.”
Before: “My clients want more sales.”
After: “You want more sales.”
2. Banish Cliches
Cliches are overused phrases that can make your marketing messages feel tired and uninspired. They turn the brain off rather than excite us and make us think.
So, your marketing copy should avoid cliches and opt for original, creative language.
It should still be easy to understand, just not cliché.
Where we see this in our examples above:
“24/7 support” (cliché) versus “Instant, around-the-clock support” (not cliché).
Before: “Our product is a game changer.”
After: “Our product revolutionizes the way you tackle daily challenges.”
3. Harness the power of exciting words
Power words are strong, descriptive words that evoke emotion and create a sense of urgency.
Integrating power words into your marketing communication and messaging will make your messaging pop off the screen, grab readers by the amygdala, and pull them into your world.
Where we see this in our examples above:
The words “instant,” “fill gaps,” and “experts” fill the function of power words.
Before: “Our software helps improve productivity.”
After: “Our cutting-edge software accelerates your productivity.”
4. No industry jargon ever
When I wrote this, I tried to devise a creative way to say that. But then I was afraid the message would get lost in the creativity.
I went for the direct approach so that there’d be no confusion.
See, it’s essential to be knowledgeable about your industry, but using industry-specific terms in your marketing communications alienates readers unfamiliar with the jargon.
And you don’t want customers familiar with your industry jargon – they need you less.
So keep your language clear and straightforward to ensure your message is accessible to a broader audience.
Where we see this in the examples above:
Even the words “tech support” are jargony. Notice how the second example discusses fixing your problem rather than offering tech support.
Before: “Our SaaS platform offers robust CRM functionality.”
After: “Our easy-to-use software helps you manage customer relationships more effectively.”
5. Focus on Endorsements, Not Descriptions
When promoting your products or services, emphasize the positive attributes and benefits rather than simply describing them. Build up your products and expertise, don’t minimize them.
This approach helps build credibility, establish trust with your audience, and make you look better.
From our examples above, notice how the first own offers service from IT staff and the other offers “our experts.”
Before: “Our team of skilled staff members is ready to assist you.”
After: “Our team of seasoned experts is dedicated to guiding you every step of the way.”
We all need tools to break habits and force ourselves to look at things differently.
It shocked me how easy it would have been to write this mediocre copy, so now I keep this list on my desk.
I recommend that you do the same.