“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 😉
Consumer Reports rarely endorses the same products that enthusiast magazines do. They rarely pick the same car that, say, Car and Driver might, or select the same stereo that Audiophile would deem a “best buy.”
Why is that?
Because Consumer Reports tries to objectively calculate the “sweet spot” on the Quality-to-Price Ratio, while enthusiasts give more weight to subjective subtleties and refinements; things like aesthetics, ergonomics and brand affinity. Such things aren’t as big a factor for Consumer Reports when they’re trying to help you find “the most X for your money.”
Enthusiasts go beyond the point of so-called diminishing returns because, to them, the return doesn’t feel diminished.
The Perceived Value Curve
Just to make this as clear as possible, I graphed it…
As you can see on the chart, Consumer Reports looks for products that sit on the inflexion point, that spot on the curve just before it gets too steep. They do this because their audience wants an objective, substantiated and dispassionate analysis of which brand/product offers the best bang for the buck. They’re looking for those 85%-as-good-but-half-the-price products.
From “Consumer” to Enthusiast
Unlike the Consumer Reports crowd, enthusiasts are more conscious of a product’s refinements, or lack thereof.
The enthusiast’s minimum standards are higher than average. Audiophiles can distinguish between a CD recording and a 192-bit encrypted MP3 file. Driving enthusiasts appreciate the smooth clutch and slick jolts of a great manual transmission. Wine connoisseurs can anticipate the blackberry notes and soft minerality of their favorite Cab Franc
This is why acquiring a taste for expensive wines, stereos and cars can sometimes “ruin you” for lesser quality goods, because as Kathy Sierra insists, “Learning increases resolution.” Enthusiasts continue to perceive noticeable, worthwhile benefits well beyond the normally perceived point of diminishing returns.
How to use this in your copy
So, if you can’t substantiate your product’s superiority in a no-nonsense Consumer Reports-style manner, your best bet may be to write copy that evokes the Enthusiast’s experience.
When you create a high-resolution experience with your Web copy, you help the average, uninitiated consumer picture themselves as enthusiasts, which in turn helps them justify paying more for the service or item.
Back in 2008 when I first wrote this article, Fuji’s F30 Compact Camera was a perfect example. The F30 had rather unimpressive specs (6 megapixels with a 3X zoom) and had supposedly been supplanted by the newer F40 and F50 models — but it was STILL selling for between $220 and $300, which was as much or more than either the 12 megapixel F50 or the 8 megapixel Canon SD850.
Why is it commanding so high a price?
Because enthusiasts had embraced the F30 for its unmatched ability to take high ISO and low-light photos. At the time, it was the only pocket camera able to take really great low-light shots. So as soon as a retailer “sold” a consumer on that ability, the lower megapixel count no-longer mattered. Smart copywriters could have focused in on this “hidden” ability/refinement of the F30 in order to raise its perceived value.
Roy Williams gives an example of copy that does just that:
In this brilliant Monday Morning Memo, Roy writes this (made up) sample copy which perfectly illustrates my point:
“The prettiest camera in this price class has a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. But the shutter speed of the ugly Canon PowerShot S500 is a superfast 1/60th of a second, allowing you to take fabulous photos in low-light situations. Your indoor photos will look rich and vibrant when all the others look dark and grainy. And your nighttime photos will make people’s eyes bug out. Beautiful contrast and luminance, even without the flash. This camera can see in the dark. Take a picture of your lover in the moonlight. It will become your favorite photo ever. And that superfast shutter speed is also very forgiving of movement. That’s why no one ever replaces their PowerShot S500. Go to your local pawnshop and see if you can find one. We’re betting you can’t. But you will see several of that “prettier” camera available cheaper than dirt. So if you’re looking for a great price on a sleek-looking camera, that’s probably where you should go.”
Who wouldn’t want a camera like that?
And if copy alone won’t do the trick, think about staging live events, webinars, streaming videos… whatever it takes to show a glimpse of the hi-res experience. (Here’s another example from Kathy Sierra.)
Overcoming Conditioned Irrationalities
Very often in competitive industries, certain specs get distorted in comsumers’ minds as being, the only thing that really matters. In cameras, that feature is megapixel count, but this consumer symptom ain’t unique to cameras, it happens in everything from granite countertops to jewelry to kitchen knives to computers. Just try explaining why Macs are worth the premium to a spec and price-conscious PC-buyer 😉
In fact, I’ve heard it said (probably in jest) that there’s only 2 real business models:
- We give $5 haircuts (maximum spec per $)
- We FIX $5 haircuts (Real value / all the subjective goodness most people “in the know” want)
While I may not fully agree with that, it certainly clarifies the point: building perceived value often means overcoming the “conditioned blindness” around “the one spec that matters.” A conditioned blindness that often requires getting burned to break free from.
So for companies using business model #2 who would like to expand market share beyond the once-burned crowd, (re)creating the enthusiast’s experience and dramatizing the benefits beyond the specs is usually the surest and best way to create Perceived Value.
[The “From the Vault” series is an attempt to spotlight some of my older Grok posts that remain relevant for today’s readers. As always, I’m open to suggestions, if you’d like me to re-visit a topic of interest to you]
Story Appeal creates audience curiousity. Basically it’s the out-of-the-ordinary element that causes readers to guess at an explanatory back-story or narrative.
David Ogilvy used the term in his book Ogilvy on Advertising to describe the kind of photographs which best grab reader’s attention, as exemplified by this Hathaway ad:
Here’s what Ogilvy wrote about Story Appeal (and this ad):
“The kind of photographs which work hardest are those which arouse the reader’s curiousity. He glances at the photograph and says to himself, ‘What goes on here?’ Then he reads your copy to find out. Harold Rudolph called this magic element ‘Story Appeal,’ and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people look at your advertisements.”
‘The eyepatch injects the magic element of ’story appeal.’“
Do you see how the odd characteristic of the Baron Wrangell character sparks readers’ curiosity? One can’t help but speculate about his background, purpose in the ad, etc. – and so one reads the ad to find out.
Moving the principle online, story appeal creates click throughs from readers hoping to get the full story on your home page. And the “click through” example brings up the obvious point that Story Appeal can work as well for headlines, titles, and tweets as it can for pictures in ads.
Note that this content is a re-hash of one section of my previous Grok post, “Visual Scandal, Story Appeal, and Banner Ads.” I’ve reproduced part of it here to better explain the term “story appeal”
“Check out my blog” I tweeted, and almost nobody did – I got exactly what I deserved
But I learned my lesson.
So a day or two later, I tweeted the following: “Why telling the truth rarely works,” along with a link to my post, Does Your Copy Tell or Compel. That’s when a fair following of people clicked through to my blog.
- My first tweet was all about me, no matter how humbly or simply I worded it, so few readers responded.
- The follow-up tweet promised an interesting read on a topic my audience cared about – it was all about them and they responded accordingly.
- In both cases I got exactly what I deserved
Here’s how this works outside of Twitter headlines
Let’s say you own a local restaurant. If you have a FaceBook page, what do you think should be on it?
Of course, you’ll likely have some pictures of the restaurant up, and maybe even the menu, but what should the majority of your status updates focus on?
If you’re aiming to deserve social media success, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Announcement of FB-friend only specials. Doesn’t have to be a savings or sale, it could simply be an off-menu special that only your FB friends know about.
- Pictures of your guests (posted with their permission). Take photos of your patrons and diners and ask them either for their FB names so you can tag them in the photos, or encourage them to Friend you and tag the photos themselves.
- A few behind-the-scenes pics and comments to let people know about the extra effort you go through to make sure the food is outstanding. Let them see some of your passion without making too big a deal about it.
Notice that 2 out of 3 recommended updates are focused on your customers – it’s all about them – and that even the last item is indirectly about the customer, as the customers are the focus and beneficiaries of all the hard work and passion the suggested updates would be documenting. Former Grok readers will recognize this as a case of customer-centric versus we-we copy.
And the great thing about this near universal principle? You can test it for yourself with almost no risk or investment. Social Media provides near-instant feedback and your test can be as close as your next tweet, status update, or blog post.
Give it a shot and see if these principles don’t work for you. I already know they’ve worked for me and for my wife’s photography business.
In most home fires, smoke kills more people than actually flames. That’s a commonly-quoted fact. But simply stating that fact never compelled anyone to test their smoke detectors/fire alarms.
The fact comes off as more interesting than compelling. One tends to view it in much the same way one views the (rather dubious) statistic that 50% of drunk men who drown are found with their fly unzipped.
Here’s how to cause people to REALIZE the truth behind the smoke statistic:
A couple of things to keep in mind about this ad:
1) The statistic was un-motivating because the mental image it created was hazy (pun intended). Most people picture conscious individuals who, having been awakened from the smell/heat/sounds, are then overcome by the smoke somehow. This leads the audience to question the reality of the statistic; you can almost hear them thinking: “can that many people not drop down to the ground, put some clothing over their face, and get the heck out of the home?“
2) The image of coughing on smoke-filled air isn’t nearly as primal and scary as drowning. I’m not saying this makes sense, just that it’s an emotional reality for me and for most others that I’ve spoken with.
3) This ad brilliantly dispels any confusion or vague images around how and why people are overcome and killed by smoke while replacing those vague images with a startlingly clear and appropriately-frightening image of drowning.
Mediocre copywriters string words together; great copywriters create and sequence mental images. That’s one of the primary differences between telling the truth and causing people to realize it.
Hat tip to AdFreak for turning me onto this ad
If I told you one particular book sells almost 300,000 copies every single year, what would you guess actually drives those phenomenal yearly sales? Want a few hints?
- It’s not a how-to, Chicken Soup, or For-Dummies book
- The vast majority of those 300,000 copies are sold in the spring
Give up? The book is Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go – an incredibly popular gift for graduates.
That book manages to powerfully communicate what hundreds of thousands of parents and relatives all want to say but can’t quite seem to say nearly as well as the good Doctor. And because he has so graciously supplied them with the means of saying it, Dr. Suess continues to sell huge amounts of books spring, after spring, after spring – for as long as there are proud parents of new graduates needing to hear the message.
The question for you, dear Business Owner, is what are you helping people say?
- What are you helping them say about themselves?
- What are you helping them say to others?
Because not quite knowing how to say what’s on your heart is something we all suffer from – and something most of us will gladly pay for relief from.
Are you willing to harness the same profit engine that Dr. Suess has used to sell millions upon millions of copies of Oh, The Places You’ll Go? This brilliant radio ad by Adam Donmoyer represents a perfect example of how to harness this power to drive sales:
That ad sold more watches that Fathers’ Day than that jewelry store has ever sold on any day, ever. All because they helped plenty of daughters say what they really wanted to say, but weren’t quite able to give voice to on their own.
What are you helping your customers say?