Question vs. Concern“Do you have any questions?”

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?

And even though the two words have sim­i­lar def­i­n­i­tions, is it really that sur­pris­ing that every­one wants to be nor­mal but no one wants to be aver­age?

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?

KittySome­times 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.

Heisenberg'sNow 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

dontAnother fine exam­ple of this strat­egy comes from the Don’t Mess with Texas cam­paign, as explained in the Heath broth­ers must-read book Made to Stick.

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.]

Moving the needleTo move the nee­dle on the “who gives a sh**” dial, you need to know what’s at stake.

The nee­dle mea­sures the emo­tional stakes raised by your mes­sag­ingas 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

Atlas-Mac-adA 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

Joe-2If the cus­tomer is the most emo­tion­ally invested in the out­come and has the power to deter­mine the out­come, who else could pos­si­bly be the hero?

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?

  1. 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
  2. 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.

piano_ad3

Stay tuned for the follow-up post on how Tem­pera­ment Affects Self-Image

by Jeff

A lit­tle late-Friday link love and inter­est­ing blog posts, videos, etc. Enjoy:

Turn the lights onDavid 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.

Amazon Add to Cart-1Peo­ple 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

see_worldNot 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:

YouTube Preview Image

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.
  • 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

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?

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 ;)

P.S. Hat tip to Mad­ver­tis­ing for cov­er­ing and turn­ing me onto the fea­tured tele­vi­sion ad.

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