Many people agonize over writing sales copy. I am one of them. But writing copy designed to sell a product or service doesn’t have to feel like an exercise in hucksterism if you simply stop thinking about yourself for a minute and pretend you are the customer.
In many ways, when you write copy it’s actually more important to understand your customer than it is to understand the product or service you are trying to sell. That’s because every person who reads a sales letter or visits a Web site really doesn’t care much about your product. (Sorry!) What he cares about more than anything in the whole wide world is himself. When you write copy, you need to “walk a mile” in your customer’s shoes. This process is obviously much easier if you can identify with or have something in common with your ideal customer.
For example, here’s the train of thought I went through when I rewrote our Vegan Success Web site recently. The product is a cookbook and the subtitle actually describes what is in the book and who it is for: Scrumptious, Healthy Vegan Recipes for Busy People. As you can tell, the target audience is vegans (people who don’t eat any animal products) who don’t have much time to cook. Since I am a member of the target audience, (a vegan who doesn’t have a whole lot of time) it’s easy for me to imagine my reader.
Before you start writing, it’s helpful to create a sort of “character study” of your target reader. For example, what does my vegan cookbook reader fear? What does he like and dislike? In this case, his fear may be dying young from diseases related to poor eating habits, becoming overweight, getting a serious disease like cancer, feeling listless, or just generally unhealthy. Many vegans are involved in animal rights, or simply like animals. (Mister Rogers is credited with saying he didn’t want to “eat anything with a face.”) Often vegans are environmentalist who have changed their eating habits for ecological reasons.
Once you have an image of your customer in your mind, it’s time to start thinking about his biggest fears, uncertainties, and doubts (sometimes called the FUD factor). What problems does he hope to solve by buying this product? In the case of our cookbook, our vegan may be worried about how he’s not eating very well (French fries can be vegan, but they aren’t exactly healthy). Our vegan may not have enough time to cook or he’s stuck in a “cooking rut” making the same old stuff every night because he’s not feeling particularly creative. So he stares into the refrigerator every night wondering what the heck he’s going to make for dinner.
Now he’s starting to worry that cooking in general is just “too hard,” chopping veggies is a drag, and cookbooks are filled with a bunch of “designer” recipes no real people would ever make on a day to day basis. Plus, most traditional cookbooks don’t cater to his vegan eating habits, and he’s not very good at converting standard recipes. What is this poor guy going to do? (In case you haven’t guessed, the answer is buy our cookbook!)
After thinking through all this, I started to develop a picture in my mind of our poor, bored, cooking-challenged, time-pressed vegan. Once you have visualized your audience, writing the text for your Web site becomes far easier because you can just “talk” to the character you’ve developed. I went through all the problems I thought he might be having that our cookbook can help with.
When I went to write the page, I was able to mentally “talk” to my customer and explain to him that if he makes the recipes, they’ll taste good, he’ll eat a wider and healthier variety of foods, and enjoy fun quality time with his family making flavorful food that’s actually good for everyone. Plus, the cookbook has a list of vegan cooking ingredients and products we like, so when he goes shopping he’s not mystified by some of the more esoteric “health food” ingredients he finds on the shelves, so I mentioned that too.
The next time you are feeling intimidated at the prospect of copywriting, just “walk a mile” in your customer’s shoes. The resulting copy will be more sincere and actually sell better because you took the time to put your customer first.