A client called me recently for help with her website’s homepage. She had been working for several days on what to say on her homepage and was still felt tentative and unhappy with the results.
I took a look at what she had written so far and told her, “It’s not bad but your voice is totally absent from what you wrote. It could be just about anybody’s web page.”
“That’s it!,” my client cried, “It doesn’t feel like I wrote it! But how do I make sure my voice comes out in my copy and make sure that my home page gets people to take the next step?”
This is a very common problem for small business owners who are doing their own marketing: they assume because they’re not marketing “experts” their own way of saying something isn’t going to work.
So they take classes, read books, and ask others for help—and end up with bland, lame marketing that still doesn’t get them them the results they’re wanting.
How the Best of Intentions Will Ruin Your Marketing
This woman is the last person you’d expect boring copy from. She’s witty, a great story teller, and has a refreshing “tell it like it is” candor that makes her very effective communicator. (She’s a coach who works with women over fifty who are, in her words, “tired of putting their lives on hold.”)
So what the heck happened?
Three things actually:
1. She tried to sound like a “professional coach”
Every profession has at least one “professional voice.” It’s the voice that comes through in the articles found in specialty publications written for your profession.
This voice usually comes “academia”—the people who are doing research at universities and think tanks.
There’s nothing wrong with academics: lots of good stuff comes out of their work.
The problem is that academics usually write for other academics, not for the general public. For this reason academic language is full of jargon and technical terms and it’s very formal: written in a passive voice.
Unless you happen to be another academic this writing is dry and tedious to read. And if people don’t read what you write they’re not going to take the action you recommend and that’s what marketing copy is all about: helping customers take action.
2. She took copywriting advice too literally
There are literally hundreds of books, classes, blogs, you name it out there with advice for writing effective marketing copy.
I think it’s great when I see business owners actively looking to improve their marketing skills. The problem I see however is when business owners try to adopt the copywriting guru’s voice for their own.
In the worst case, they end up with copy that reads like a string of meaningless marketing cliches.
Even if they pull it off and write something substantive about what they’re selling, their customers are still buying from someone other than who they really are.
Ultimately, our customers are doing business with us not Joe Copy Guru. It is our voice they hear when we pick up the phone and when they talk with us.
Even if your own voice is less than perfect it’s better that customers consistently hear the real you.
3. She tried to use everyone’s feedback
My background is in advertising and consumer marketing and I strongly recommend trying your marketing out on a few customers before you send it out to the general public.
Typically then, the business owner will ask a customer or two and perhaps a few colleagues or business partners, “what do you think about my article (or website or brochure, etc)?
Often there are all sorts of helpful nuggets in the responses. But in my experience there is also advice that is irrelevant as well as conflicting. One person says there’s not enough information on X; the other person says there’s too much information.
In an attempt to take in all the advice, business owners end up with copy that is a patchwork of all the little bits and pieces of advice they were given. There’s no consistency or coherence in these message and once again the owner end up with marketing that doesn’t get any results.
Keys to Avoiding Lame, Mushy Marketing
1. Know what action you want clients to take before you write a single word
When I say “action” I mean what’s the next thing you want people to do after they’ve read or heard your message. Common actions you can ask your audience to take include:
- Click on this link for more information
- Click on this link to subscribe to my ezine
- Call this 1 800 number to get my free report
These are all small, low commitment activities that don’t require a lot of time, trust, or money. But they give you the opportunity to get contact information so you can stay in touch and build the credibility necessary for them to become paying customers.
2. Ask for specific, actionable input
Asking people “what do you think” is not really what you want to know. What you want to know is:
After you read this or hear it, will you take the action I want you to take?
Anything else, quite honestly, is irrelevant.
Questions to ask include:
- Is there anything here that confuses you?
- Is the product or service something you see yourself using?
- Are all the questions you want answered before you take the next step answered? What other questions do you have?
You may notice I didn’t suggest you ask “Are you going to buy my product or service?” Why? Because it’s incredibly speculative to ask someone what they might do in the future.
If you must ask the question I suggest you ask it as “How likely are you to …”
3. Use your heart to evaluate feedback
What does your heart have to do with marketing that gets people to take action?
A lot actually.
I allow my heart—my intuition—if you will, to be the ultimate judge of what input to incorporate and what to discard.
Why? Because the truth about what I want people to know about my business and services almost always resides in my heart.
When I try to think things through too much and “figure things out,” my brain treats the problem like a puzzle that rationalization and compromise can solve.
My heart is a lot more direct when it comes to “is this really what I want to say?” or “is this true for me?”
After you get your feedback, before you start editing, notice anything that sounds a little or a lot off. Focus on your heart and ask yourself, “Is this really true for me?” then pay attention to what your heart tells you.
I’ve learned to listen to that quiet little voice in my heart because it’s always spot on when it comes to marketing. When I ignore it; try to “figure it all out” I end up with mushy, lifeless copy that doesn’t say anything to anyone. Much less inspire people to take the next step.
Lame, ineffective marketing happens when the business owner’s voice gets lost—because they’re trying to sound like somebody or something that they’re not.
Your customers really want to hear your own voice; what’s true for you; how you see yourself serving them.
Before you pick up your red pen and start using feedback and input from others, please take a moment to make sure
- you’re clear about what you want your audience to do;
- you’ve asked for specific input, and
- you’ve run the feedback past your heart to make sure it feels true.