But I was recently reminded of my high school swimming days and felt compelled to re-read the title essay from Dr. Keith F. Bell’s book on swimming psychology: Winning Isn’t Normal. It was worth ordering the book again, just for that essay, although the rest of the book carries every bit as much impact. I 100% guarantee relevance for writers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, etc and have excerpted the essay from the book, with the kind permission of the author:*
“Winning isn’t normal. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with winning. It just isn’t the norm. It is highly unusual.
Every race only has one winner. No matter how many people are entered (not to mention all those who tried and failed to make the cuts), only one person (or one relay) wins each event.
Winning is unusual. And as such, it requires unusual action.
In order to win, you must do extraordinary things. You can’t just be one of the crowd. The crowd doesn’t win. You have to be willing to stand out and act differently.
Your actions need to reflect unusual values and priorities. You have to value success more than others do. You have to want it more. (Now take note! Wanting it more is a decision you make and act upon — not some inherent quality or burning inner drive or inspiration!) And you have to make that value a priority.
You can’t train like everyone else. You have to train more and train better.
You can’t talk like everyone else. You can’t think like everyone else. You can’t be too willing to join the crowd, to do what is expected, to act in a socially accepted manner, to do what’s “in.” You need to be willing to stand out in the crowd and consistently take exceptional action. If you want to win, you need to accept the risks and perhaps the loneliness… because winning isn’t normal!”
P.S. I think this applies to copywriting without any special effort made to “translate” it, but this Monday Morning Memo from Roy Williams certainly takes the subject of this essay in a more writing/messaging-specific direction.
* As you might imagine, this is an extremely popular essay and so has been frequently excerpted and posted on the web without permission from the author and even without proper attribution. If you’d like to use this essay or pass it on, please contact the author to arrange for permission.
It’s a rare thing when I take exception to one of Seth Godin’s posts. But his last post on “Too much data leads to not enough belief” had me quibbling.
Of course, there IS a lot that I agree with in the post: namely that people respond to a story and a tribal affiliation far more strongly than they will ever respond to a spreadsheet. But I guess from a Web perspective, the idea of granularity and data as a hindrance to belief just doesn’t square with my observations.
What I’ve tended to see is the following:
- People go to the Web to check things out. They’re specifically researching a purchasing decision and are expecting more data from a Website than from an ad or even a direct mailer. When you don’t provide that data, people get suspicious.
- Content rich Websites tend to convert better than content poor sites. That doesn’t mean the data should take center stage or should replace a well-crafted story, just that those people who want to drill down on specifics, well, they want to be able to drill down on specifics. And they’ll find those specifics from somewhere, even if it’s from an ill-informed opinion on a forum somewhere.
Can you imagine Newton Running being unwilling to show you the science behind their running shoes? What would that do to your confidence if they wouldn’t show you (or didn’t have any) data from their tests?
Again, I may not need to study their graphs or watch all of their videos or look up their patents, but the very fact that they’re passionate enough to get into the nitty-gritty details with me — the fact that they do actually have data — makes me far more willing to believe them and to buy a pair of their shoes than if they wanted me to just accept their product/idea on faith.
I also think that passionate proof is an essential element of any high-margin or premium product’s Website, which is one of the main reasons I wrote my critique of Best Made Axe’s lack of proof.
To me, data isn’t a hindrance to passionate belief — it’s proof of it. How can you be passionate about an idea, design, or product unless you’re willing to put it to the test and show off the results?
What’s Your Experience
Of course, I’m always willing to hear thoughts from my readers. What do you guys and gals think? What’s been your experience? Have you ever had a situation where less would have been better when it came to proof and substantiation?
Seth Godin has linked to them. Several online magazines have featured them, both in articles and within seasonal wish/gift lists. And, of course, they also have the audacity to call themselves “Best Made Axe,” all of which made me eager to head over to their Website to read up on these (self-labeled) best made axes.
And while their Website (and marketing in general) does some things incredibly well – these guys are routinely selling out of their entire inventory of $200-$500 bespoke axes, after all – there are HUGE gaping holes in the site’s content. Here’s how their site fails the visitor:
1) No discussion of the painstaking efforts to ensure top quality.
Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you’re going to call yourself “Best Made,” it might be a good idea to substantiate that claim on your site. Tell me stuff like:
- What kind of steel are you using for the axe head?
- What kind of forging process?
- What kind of heat treatment?
- What kind of finishing process?
- Who is doing the forging?
- How are you attaching the axe head to the hickory handle?
- What are the ergonomics of the handle?
- What kind of extreme testing did you do to the finished product?
- How does the axe perform?
- How does your axe compare to other axes?
- In what ways is it actually better made than these other axes?
The Best Made Axe site does none of that. The most I get is the information that the axe is hand-forged of “fine grain” steel. Not nearly good enough – at least not when you want me to spend between 2X and 8X the price of a “darn good” axe in order to get your supposedly “best made” version.
2) No pictures of the manufacturing process
Don’t just tell me about the painstaking manufacturing process, SHOW ME. Literally. With pictures and video and stuff. Show me the manufacturing process and the ability of the finished product to outperform the competition.
The picture on the left is a perfect example of this. Saddleback Leather Co. manufactures premium, full-grain leather products. And they charge a premium for them. But their site goes into great detail regarding the superior quality and manufacture of their goods — content that’s fully illustrated with zoom-able photos and videos.
3) Not enough content from or about users kicking ass with their AXES.
Where are the stories of guys building their own log cabins with a Best Made Axe. Or how it has transformed a dreaded chore into an anticipated pleasure. Or about how just having the axe hung on the wall of their office has transformed their outlook on things. Or something!
The best I could come up with was to find Best Made Company’s fan page on FaceBook wich linked to a YouTube video of a guy opening a bottle with one of their axes. Not sure how impressed I was supposed to be with that, really.
Compare Best Made Axe’s Site to Those of Other Premium Products
Go ahead and compare the Best Made Axe site to other Websites for similar top-end/upscale products and see how much more thoroughly these other Websites sell you on their products’ quality:
Do you see how these other sites go into great detail about the design and manufacture of their products? How, almost on a point-by-point basis they explain WHY their products are better, and about the benefits that you, the consumer, can expect from purchasing this higher quality item.
Buyer Confidence and Buying Rationalizations
While not everyone will click through all of the detailed information provided on these example sites, and even fewer people will read through all that information, many people will scan through it, see that the quality information is there, that the passion is there, and gain the confidence to make the purchase.
Let’s be honest, Best Made Axe wants to charge you between $250 and $500 for an axe. You can pick up a Gransfors Bruks (what is commonly considered the Rolls Royce of Axes) at roughly $70-$120 for most models. You can pick up a very highly regarded, Maine-made Snowe & Nealey axe for even less than that.
What’s the quality difference between the Best Made and these other brands? What am I getting for 2x to 8X the price?
Even when it’s not about the money, it’s ALWAYS about giving prospective customers something to hang their hat on. The Best Made Axe certainly looks nicer than those other axes I mentioned, but most people are loathe to admit that their money is going towards nothing more than status and brand name. If you want them as customers, you need to give them something they can hang their hat on, some other faux-reason they can use to rationalize their purchase, like (notionally) better quality, durability, and performance. Etc.
That’s what detailed quality and manufacturing information content on a website does: not only does it fan the desire for the product itself, but it provides visitors with the justification they need to rationalize the expense. It also gives them the firepower needed to explain their purchase to a spouse, significant other, co-worker or any other any-sayer.
So what about Your Website!
Is your site closer to Saddleback Leather Co.’s, or is your site closer to Best Made Axe’s?
Maybe Best Made Axe just doesn’t really have the goods when you come right down to it. Maybe they’re mum on the quality thing for a reason. Maybe it’s a “better to keep your mouth closed…” kind of thing.
Now, I’m not saying that’s the case, but you can see why a website’s conspicuous silence on the subject invites that kind of speculation.
So if your product really does have the quality edge, you’d be criminally negligent not to make your Website into the most eloquent spokesperson it can be concerning the superior design, quality, manufacture/delivery of your product or service.
1) You’d want to make darn sure you KNEW where you were going
2) Upon “landing,” you’d want to ensure you arrived in the right place
Those are two of the most important things you can learn about crafting and structuring your hyperlinks, and they translate as:
- Word links so people can figure out where the link will take them, and
- Match your headlines, pictures, and page content with visitor expectations created by the hyperlink they clicked on to get to your page. Let them know they’re in the right place.
And yet these are also the two most frequently violated “rules” of hyperlinking. E-mails frequently have call to action links/buttons that take you to a page that utterly fails to follow-up on the offer presented in the e-mail. Call to action buttons meant to take you to a product page are often mislabeled as if they will place the item in your cart. And so on.
Master these two basic lessons and you’ll have learned more than 90% of most Web users, and even most Web developers and (sad to say) more than a few copywriters.
And yet, those are just the basics. Another, perhaps more sophisticated, way of looking at this is to say that every link represents a promise and every click represents permission.
The promise comes from the expectations created by the hyperlink’s wording or label. You’ve essentially promised the visitor that, if they click on the link, they’ll be teleported to the kind of content they expect. Which means that, on an emotional level, visitors will feel a site is “dishonest” if a link “tricks” them by teleporting them someplace unexpected or undesired. Ouch!
More fundamentally, this also means that you, as the copywriter, have to craft links (and content) that offer forth promises compelling enough to motivate visitor clicks. There is no gravity to an online conversion funnel; nothing will “pull” visitors through to the next click or micro-conversion except their own motivation based on promised benefits.
In other words, you can’t take visitors where they don’t want to go. You can’t force the conversation. You have to offer to talk about what the prospective customer wants to talk about — what SHE finds important. Ignoring a topic of conversation by not providing the appropriate link (or by failing to provide the right content on the other side of a link) is like a car salesman refusing to talk about the price of the car when asked. It kills credibility and trust.
The permission is what you get when a visitor clicks on your link, and permission is a copywriter’s best friend. Why? Because the right hyperlink construction can give you permission to speak about things that you’d never get away with otherwise. Here’s an example:
You’re crafting an About Us page that focuses primarily on a company’s history while throwing in a few credibility increasing features like a picture of the actual office and the team of employees, etc. But what you might really want to do is openly brag about all the home-runs the company has had – except that you feel a self-promoting tone might be “against brand.”
So you simply use self-deprecating link that talks about “our brag sheet” (or something similar) that links to exactly the kind of self-promoting copy you knew you couldn’t get away with on the About Us page. Why? Because any reader who clicks on a link to your Brag Sheet has mentally given you permission to brag. Following that click, you can brag without looking like an egocentric jerk.
Similarly, you could link to that same kind of content with an “Our track record” link placed most anywhere else on the site. Again, by clicking on “our track record” clients have given you permission to talk, at length, about the company’s successes. Normally you’d want to talk about What’s In It For the Customer and how you can help them, but the link provides permission to ignore WIFFM for a bit while you build credibility.
And if you ponder that analogy, especially in light of context, I’m sure you’ll come up with even more lessons about linking, persuasion, and online conversations
In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that last analogy. Tell me what you came up with…
The daily “gind” of life so fully stuffs our memories that it often takes a special effort to see bigger picture changes. You just can’t get a clear “before and after” picture of things without taking mental snapshots at specific moments in time and comparing them.
But without some kind of associational prompt, most people won’t flip through their gallery of mental snapshots to make that B&A comparison.
Anniversaries are meaningful precisely because they provide that prompt; they make seeing the changes easy.
Nobody looks back on and reviews the last 12 months of their life in June. They save that for New Year’s — unless of course there’s some other prompt that sparks the comparison, maybe a college professor seeing yet another class graduate.
Or maybe the prompt is more associational than temporal, like revisiting a certain place, say your home town, the house you grew up in, or even your college campus. Inevitably, those returns bring back memories of your previous visits, thereby highlighting the changes that have taken place in your life (and in you) during the intervening years.
So what’s the practical application here? Three things:
1) We love stories and messages that bring things back “full circle.”
2) Your copy should bring the reader forward in time to highlight accrued benefits.
Provide readers a mental image of themselves looking back on and being thrilled with their decision to buy because of the change/improvements/benefits they’ve reaped over the course X months.
3) You shouldn’t be leaving this time-stamping thing to chance.
If you offer a service that moves your clients from point A to point B over a period of time, you should figure out how to stamp these points into your clients memories and how to graciously remind them of the anniversary. This will allow you to highlight the progress and change without chest thumping.
Same thing with durable goods. Let’s say you make flip-flops so darn good that people fall in love with them. Would it hurt you to send them a thank-you post-card or e-mail 6 months or so past the time of purchase? Let ‘em know you appreciate their business, remind them of all the great features that they’re still enjoying but may have taken for granted by this time, show ‘em a picture of what a new pair looks like, and let ‘em know that now’s the time to buy next season’s pair at a special price. By sending that kind of e-mail, you’ll have reactivated everything the client loves about your flip-flops while also highlighting the not-newness of their current pair and the opportunity to update.
What about you? How are you taking advantage of – or creating your own – anniversaries?
It happens to the best of us. As copywriters, marketers, and entrepreneurs we get waylaid by our own best intentions, by our efforts at learning more about our craft, keeping up with all the must-read posts, magazine articles, and business books, and so on.
The end result: a reading diet way too rich on mediocre prose and way too low on first-rate fiction and poetry. Think about the last 10 books you’ve read and tell me that’s not the case.
And, in general, as you read, so shall you write. Garbage In, Garbage Out. So here’s my vitamin-enhanced fiction-reading commitment for next year:
- one short story, OR
- one chapter from a novel, OR
- At least one poem, OR
- A chapter from the Bible, OR
- One first-rate play or screenplay
I’ll read at least that much fiction each day, every day.
As far as New Year’s resolutions go, I think this one is probably one of the most pleasant I’ve ever made, and will very likely turn out to be one of the most effectively life-improving as well. I hereby recommend it to you.
Anyone else make a writing-specific resolution this New Year’s?