2010-01-25_1148I nor­mally don’t do moti­va­tional pieces — unless I’m talk­ing about moti­vat­ing the cus­tomer to buy ;)

I don’t do them because they’re not my forte and because my read­ers would nor­mally find bet­ter moti­va­tional con­tent over at the blogs of Steven Press­field and Tim Miles and Shawn Phillips.

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.

prove_it_tshirt-p235665999968993845q6wh_400It’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.
  • The mere pres­ence of (and access to) data is often enough to pro­vide con­fi­dence.  Data can some­times be like a pri­vacy pol­icy, most peo­ple just want to know that it exists and that you’re con­fi­dent enough to show it to them with­out really want­ing to exam­ine it in any great detail.  The mere fact that you have the infor­ma­tion and have pro­vided access to it is often enough to engen­der buyer confidence.

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?

2010-01-19_0934Dis­ap­pointed and uncon­vinced, I left their Web­site scratch­ing my head.

Seth Godin has linked to themSev­eral 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

2010-01-18_1747Don’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.

teleportThink of trav­el­ling through the web via hyper­links as a form of tele­por­ta­tion.  Now think of tele­por­ta­tion.  Specif­i­cally, if you really were tele­port­ing what would be your main concerns?

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

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.

joeisuzu1In 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

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.

First-Date-ConversationTo give you another anal­ogy, this link per­mis­sion for some­thing like “Our Track Record” is kind of like a date explic­itly ask­ing: “So what about you? What’s your story?”

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…

2010-01-02_2245The 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.”

This tech­nique, in fact, seems to be a favorite over at J. Pert­er­man.  Just check out the copy for these three items.  All of them bring you back full cir­cle with the last line or two of copy.

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?

MustReadClassicsBookshelfIt 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?

Page 27 of 32« First...1020...2526272829...Last »