Are you and your staff asking that of your prospective customers? Do your surveys ask the same thing?
While your intent is admirable, your phrasing just might be hampering sales, and I’d like to suggest a far more effective variation.
But to understand the power of the variation, you have to understand what’s wrong with the question you’re currently asking.
The Magic of Word Association
It comes down to word associations. Our associations — our emotional reactions to words — often have very little to do with a word’s dry definitions. Take “discriminate.” Are the host of emotions and mental images evoked by that word explained by the dictionary definition: to note a difference; to make a distinction?
So, what are the associations behind the phrasing: “Do you have any question?”
Well, let’s skip to the word “question” itself. A question is usually imagined as fully-formed, well-articulated, and for the most part, direct. And emotionally speaking, asking a question is often felt as revealing or implying ignorance or weakness. And then there’s the presupposition of the “Do you” part of your phrasing, which assumes the prospect may not have any questions.
Ask me if I have any questions and chances are I’ll say, “no.” I probably haven’t formulated my thoughts yet, and quite frankly, I don’t want to sound like a bozo in front of the sales staff. “No” is safe. I like safe; I’d bet most of your prospects feel the same way, too.
How to take the negative associations away from asking a question
But what if you ask me about my CONCERNS? Ahhhh. Now I have permission to be vague, to take my time…and to not feel like I’m admitting ignorance.
If I’m expressing concerns (rather an asking a question), I can tell you about emotional things like doubts.
Did you think wordsmithing was only important to your advertising copy? Is your sales team hearing “No” more often than you’d prefer? Try a little wordsmithing; have them ask, “So what are your concerns?”
Applications to Online Copywriting
And if you’re reading this as a copywriter, ask yourself this:
Are you expecting visitors to use formal navigation in order to arrive at your question-answering content?
Or are you anticipating the associational flow of the conversation and supplying embedded links and embedded page elements like videos, testimonials, and pictures that would allow visitors to quickly drill down on areas of concern without having to explicitly acknowledge and consciously think about those concerns?
Does your copy address concerns, or just answer questions?
Sometimes an audience’s resistance to buying has nothing to do with intellectual uncertainty. They understand What’s In It for Them and they “get” the logical arguments, but they’re still not persuaded to act.
In these cases, audience doubt can sometimes stem from an emotional confusion. The facts may support your claim, but those facts clash with the reader’s known reality. This is when you need a (predominantly) emotional message, rather than an intellectual one.
- Intellectual ads present the audience with new information
- Emotional ads cause the audience to feel differently about information they already know.
Emotional ads work their magic by reconciling your claims to the audience’s self-image and world-view, evaporating emotional uncertainty in the process and leaving your audience ready to act.
The Wizard of Ads Saves Christmas w/ an Emotion-Driven Ad
Roy Williams’ ad for Heisenberg’s Jewelers masterfully demonstrates how to write this kind of emotional ad. Before looking at the ad itself, here’s a little background on the emotional conflict Roy had to overcome:
Heisenberg’s Jewelers had been in the same building on Main Street in Cabbage Valley for 105 years. A facelift 7 years earlier had given the store white carpet, walnut paneling and a huge chandelier in a high, domed ceiling. Heisenberg’s was the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. Not a problem, except that Cabbage Valley is the turnip capital of the world, a little farming community of about 45,000 people. Even the wealthiest of Cabbage Valley’s farmers felt they weren’t dressed well enough to enter that store. Heisenberg’s was truly an intimidating place.
Now imagine your goal is to get these farmers to come in and buy jewelry. What you’re facing is NOT a lack of knowledge or insight: everybody in town knows that Heidelberg’s is THE premier jewelry store in town. An intellectual perspective would be suicide.
What you’re up against is a clash of images. The farmer already has an image of who he is, and it’s one that involves coveralls, honest work, and maybe a little dirt. In other words, an image that’s in direct conflict with the idea of walking into the ritziest store in town.
So, Roy re-framed the farmer’s self-image and made it 100% congruent with the act of walking into the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. In fact, he made walking into that store an absolute must for the farmer who wished to keep his self-image intact. Here’s the ad:
“Ladies, many of you will be fortunate enough this Christmas to find a small, but beautifully wrapped package under your tree bearing a simple gold seal that says ‘Heisenberg’s.’ Now you and I both know there’s jewelry in the box. But the man who put it there for you is trying desperately to tell you that you are more precious than diamonds, more valuable than gold, and very, very special. You see, he could have gone to a department store and bought department store jewelry, or picked up something at the mall like all the other husbands. But the men who come to Heisenberg’s aren’t trying to get off cheap or easy. Men who come to Heisenberg’s believe their wives deserve the best. And whether they spend 99 dollars or 99 hundred, the message is the same: Men who come to Heisenberg’s are still very much in love… We just thought you should know.”
See what I’m talking about? Rather than thinking, “I’m a farmer and not really dressed to walk into such a ritzy store,” the ad caused men to think “I’m a devoted husband (who doesn’t want to be sleeping in the dog house come Christmas)”
Don’t Mess with Texas: the power of an emotion-driven campaign
Texas had a litter problem — and it wasn’t caused by Austin environmentalists driving around in their Volvos. Nor was it caused by people who “didn’t know any better.” Texas surmised that their litter problem was caused by citizens who felt that a modern sensitivity to litter was a little too mamby-pamby-ish for them. It conflicted with their self-image.
In other words, the self-image of these truck-driving, young men was one inspired by strong independence, anti-authoratarianism, a rejection of anything too “Politically Correct,” AND a very strong self-identity as Texans.
So the Ad agency elected NOT to run a typical PSA presenting new facts about the damage litter causes. Instead, they re-framed concern for litter from a pro-environmental concern to a Pro-Texas Concern.
Not littering was positioned as a matter of Texas-pride, where manly-man, undeniably Texan celebrities came out against littering, saying “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign reconciled the conflicting images, and the incidence of roadside litter decreased 72% between 1986 and 1990.
A 4-step process for creating emotional messaging:
1. Find the source of your prospects cognitive dissonance. In order to do this, you have to see your customer real. To see them real, it helps to contextualize their need for your product within the entire scope of their lives and self-image. Fully modeling your audience allows you greater insight into how they see themselves and what their preconceptions and concerns actually are.
2. Find a product or sales image that reaffirms that preconception. That’s right, reaffirms. Pointing out the limits within which the reader’s understanding holds true and pointing out the limits beyond which they are false are both exercises in defining limits. But the emotional distance between the two approaches separates success from failure.
So tell them how their conception of things is right, then show your proposed action to be consonant with that conception. Or, at the least, show them the limits within which their conception is right, while also gently pointing out what happens beyond those limits.
If you really want to convince a kid that fluids move faster through a narrowing (a la the bernoulli’s principle), acknowledging that toothpaste doesn’t work that way (and explaining why) makes things a lot easier. Similarly, Roy’s ad reconfirms the idea that Hiesenberg’s is an uncomfortable place to shop, and the Don’t Mess with Texas ads reconfirmed the “cowboy” image of its target audience.
3. Now, introduce a new mental image that re-frames your message & reconciles the prospects self-image with the action you want them to take. Roy introduces a new self-image for the farmer’s in his audience: that of a faithful and loving husband. The State of Texas introduced a new mental image for the “bubbas” watching the TV campaign: that of a Texan’s Texan taking litter as an assault on Texas-pride. Both images re-framed how the audience felt about the proposed action, whether that action was walking into a scary-expensive jewelry store or refraining from littering.
4. Make sure your new image already fits the audience’s self-image or mental model. If you want full conviction from your readers, you’ll have to leave them feeling as though this new way of looking at things is really a confirmation of what they’ve truly believed all along.
You can’t convince farmers that they aren’t farmers or that they’re really sophisticated suburbanites. You have to pick a self-image that they are already comfortable with, like that of a devoted husband. And you can’t convince bubba the cowboy that he’s really a crunchy granola type. But you can convince him that cowbows have always respected and protected their own land.
[Emotioneering is a trademarked word coined by Hollywood screenwriting and video game guru David Freeman. I’ve co-taught with David on a few occasions and can’t recommend his material highly enough, especially his book, Creating Emotion in Games.]
The needle measures the emotional stakes raised by your messaging, as perceived by your audience. If you don’t address, reference, or touch upon what’s at stake, little else matters.
Getting in shape or getting stronger may be a product benefit for an exercise program, but that’s not what’s at stake for the prospective customer. In order to understand what’s at stake, you have to contextualize the desire for the product within the life of the prospect.
What A Charles Atlas Ad Can Teach You About Moving the Needle
A perfect example of contextualizing desire is the classic Charles Atlas ads created by Charles P. Roman. Getting publicly humiliated in front of your girlfriend while she watches a bully kick sand in your face puts a completely different spin on “working out” than heart-health and longevity doesn’t it?
Now we know what’s at stake: the prospect’s manhood. Hence the power of the famous headline: “The Insult that Made a Man Out of Mac”
Do you see how much more emotionally galvanizing that headline is compared to a garden-variety pitch about the strength building benefits of “dynamic tension” workouts?
This old comic book ad is a wonderful example not only because of the searing mental imagery, but because it provides the first secret key:
Key #1 — The stakes are always about the customer’s self-identity; will he maintain and grow his self-image/ego or will he suffer in the face of adverse reality?
And the second secret key follows on from the first one, because if what’s at stake is the customer’s self image, then:
Key # 2 — The hero of the ad has to be the customer, not the product
Think about that Charles Atlas Ad again: who ended up kicking butt? Mac — the thinly veiled stand-in for the reader — was the star of the ad; he was the one who transformed himself from a 97-pound weakling into a muscle-laden stud — the product just helped him get there.
Back when Charles P. Roman penned his first Atlas Ad, there were any number of muscle men selling courses by mail order, guys like Joe Bonomo. If that name doesn’t ring any bells for you, and you can’t recall any of the others off the top of you head, it’s largely because the other guys either made themselves or their products the star of their ads. The Atlas Ads made the customer the hero and they’re still selling courses to this day!
Want to move the needle?
- Speak to customer emotions stemming from self-image. Contextualize the desire in terms of common scenarios. Understand what’s really at stake.
- The feature might be an easy, learn-at-your-own-pace musical instrument course
- The benefit might be mastering the piano in one’s spare time
- The growth of self image might be the transformation from a musical embarrassment to an accomplished (and admired) musician
- Provide a searing mental image of the customer kicking butt in the role they already desire to see themselves fulfilling. Make the customer the star, not the product.
Stay tuned for the follow-up post on how Temperament Affects Self-Image
A little late-Friday link love and interesting blog posts, videos, etc. Enjoy:
- Life Lessons from an Ad Man — If you’re involved in Marketing and Advertising in any way, I recommend this TED talk. Hat tip to John Morrow on tweeting this one.
- Google’s Time on Page is Wrong — This one is an eye opener and well worth the quick and well-illustrated read. Also, Click Tale has a free version of its software/service — get videos of visitor activity for free!
- Update — Here’s a Rebuttal to Click Tale’s claims by Brian Clifton, former head of Google Analytics, EMEA
- The Myth of the Page Fold — This one was sent to me by Bryan Eisenberg and it’s well worth reading.
- Eye Movement Analysis of Text-Based Web Page Layouts — Strictly for the hard-core web and user-testing geek.
- Call to Action Buttons: Examples and Best Practices — Smashing Magazine does a (characteristically) nice job of this one.
- The Sideways L: How to Use Misdirection to Make Your Readers Laugh — Copyblogger continues its long tradition of must-read content.
- Direct Mail: What REALLY Goes Through the Female Customer’s Mind — Michele Miller takes you through some women’s reactions to a Direct Mail piece making the rounds in Scottsdale, AZ. Get the brutal truth.
- Estee Lauder Creates a Powerful Social Media Campaign — My friend and former colleague, Holly Buchanan, discusses a Social Media Campaign worth watching and learning from. Feel free to add your own, must-read/view content in the comments.
David imagined making love to Bathseba before ever taking the first step to seduce her.
And so it is with all of us: we never take an action without “test driving” it in our imagination first; we want to see what’s gonna happen and what it’ll feel like. It’s the same compulsion that causes us to click the lights on in a room before we walk into it.
So it always surprises me how often Websites fail to turn the lights on for their visitors. How can a prospect confidently take action if she’s uncertain about the results? So here’s a quick and dirty checklist for ya:
The top 4 ways Websites leave visitors in the dark:
1) Forms that don’t explicitly tell visitors what will happen after the visitor hits “send.”
You may think most visitors would assume what would happen, but half-acknowledged doubt routinely kills conversion. So explicitly tell visitors what will happen if they fill out the form and hit send. For instance, on my own contact form, I tell visitos that the form will send an e-mail directly to my in box and that I’ll respond to that e-mail within a business day or two, if not sooner. I also give visitors an option to e-mail me directly or call, thereby helping them to formulate alternate or back-up scenarios.
Other stuff to keep in mind:
- If it’s a download, e-book, or white paper form, let people know if the button will automatically begin the download, will take them to a new page, or will send them an e-mail with a link for downloading the paper.
- For e-books and white papers, merchandise the download! Show them the cover. Give ‘em a glimpse of the table of contents. Tell them how long it is. Provide a sense of value for the content you’re offering.
- Re-assure visitors of your intentions for their info. If there is going to be a follow-up, be explicit about what kind of follow up — who will make contact and by what medium. Better yet, give visitors a choice on how they would prefer to be contacted.
2) “Buy Now” buttons that take you to product details rather than adding an item to cart
Many “buy now,” “book now,” and other call-to-action buttons really only take the visitor to a “details” or “learn more” type page, rather than placing an item in the cart of initiating a checkout process. Not only does this mislead the visitor, but it kills micro-conversion rates since most visitors aren’t ready to add an item to cart (or book the rental, or whatever) until they’ve first seen the details.
People don’t like commitment, so it’s best not to make it seem as if you’re asking for more commitment than you really are. This is why Amazon used to have a “you can always remove it later” note on their add to cart button; they were smart enough to try to minimize the perceived commitment — not add to it!
3) Websites that don’t provide timelines
This is especially important for Websites selling a service because you are likely delivering value over time and there’s also some transition period between paying you and getting set-up and everything. In other words, before pulling the trigger, most prospects will want to know:
- What the first week of working with you will bring for them
- What the first month will be like
- Who they will be working with within your company
- How soon until they notice results/ROI
- What will the payment schedule look like
- What your methodology is like and what they’ll need to prepare for
Not providing clear, imaginable answers to these questions is like turning down an opportunity to seduce the imagination of your customer. Do yourself a favor and make sure your copy mentally walks your prospects through the process of doing business with you.
4) Copywriting that doesn’t carry the value forward in time
The 3 highest praises a product or service might get from a customer are:
- It saved my life
- It changed my life
- It was money well spent
If you noticed a falling off on the third item, don’t let that distract you Focus on the fact that all of those commendations are made by someone looking back on their purchase. And that means your copy will be a lot more persuasive if you HELP the prospective customer imagine herself looking back on the decision to buy while feeling any one of those three reactions/emotions.
Ideally, you’d want product/service reviews or testimonials from customers to help you carry the value forward in time. You may also want pictures of items holding up to hard use, sort of like CC Filson use to be famous for. But copywriting is always available to help your visitors imagine long-term satisfaction from their purchase.
Confident Visitors = Converting Visitors
While there are more ways to leverage this principle the essence always remains the same: make it easy for your customer to imagine taking the action you want her to take. Eliminate any unresolved concerns and replace them with mental images that inspire her confidence in doing business with you.
“Wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see it.”
- G.K. Chesterton
Consider it a trained incapacity.
The more comfortable you are in big cities, the more you become habituated not to make eye contact with the homeless, the panhandlers, and the guys hawking newspapers on the street. Eventually, you pretty much just screen ‘em out.
So if you’re the ad guy confronting this, how do you get past it? More importantly, how do you talk about it without making your audience uncomfortable and eager to avoid your message in the future?
Check it out:
Lessons to Take With You
- Your audience has as many mental blindspots as anyone else, so don’t ignore the conditioned irrationalities inherent in your or your client’s industry or market — probe for them! Knowing them will help you write better copy and even formulate better value propositions to begin with.
- When you are forced to work against a conditioned irrationality, never rely on logic or syntax to make your point. Ditch any messaging that starts with something like “No one likes to think about the homeless…” In those situations people often forget the syntax, nuance, and context — they only recall (and pay attention to) the images.
- Where possible, let your mental images be the argument, just as the ghostly transparency of the homeless guy WAS the persuasion - no caption needed. If your message is only remembered through a simple story format, the vivid mental images will carry most of the meaning and emotion. Make sure you have vivid mental images and that they’re sufficient to carry the core of your message.
A great written example of this technique
My partner and marketing mentor, Roy H. Williams, wrote this ad to illustrate an editing technique, but I think it works well as a text-based counterpart to the video you just saw:
“You see him a block away. He sees you, too.
The night feels colder, darker. The streetlamps cast shadows you wouldn’t have noticed if you were walking with friends.
But you have no friends.
The stranger continues toward you, hands inside a long coat. He’s looking at you, reading you well, knows you’re scared.
You can almost see his chest expand with pride.
Seven feet away, you have only seconds to decide. You hear his breathing, watch his eyes bearing down on you. The sidewalk isn’t wide enough.
But they weren’t thinking of you when they built this sidewalk.
This sidewalk was built for him.
One foot away, you hold your breath, close your eyes.
Head down, you brush past him, embarrassed. He hops in a fine car, shaking his head and suggests you get a job.
You wish you could.
290,000 Canadians are frightened, homeless, and hungry.
The United Way can help. Will you help the United Way?”
Did you see all those mental images flash before your imagination? Did you notice how Roy forces you to look through the eyes of the homeless man — forces you to see the truth rather than just intellectually acknowledge it. And do you see how the sequence of images IS the persuasion? Good. Now all you have to do is produce those effects in your own work