Transforming Marketing Messages from Blah to Compelling

Posted on 31 July 2009

Every day, when I read ineffective marketing copy (that means the words of a marketing message), I feel pain. The writers, usually small business owners, have good intentions and high hopes, but their copy is not likely to get the desired results. And unfortunately, most of them don’t know why.

So I want to share three examples of what I consider to be poorly written copy I’ve seen recently (not from my own clients); diagnose what’s wrong with it, and show you how I’d transform it into compelling copy that attracts attention and gets results. As a copywriter/editor, I do a lot more than just fixing minor spelling and grammatical errors – often, I need to do a total re-write to make the message effective from a marketing point of view.

We hope to be able to…

I spotted this PR blurb on the twitter profile page of a man who runs a computer repair company: “We hope to be able to handle most of your computer needs.” My immediate gut reaction was that it didn’t exactly inspire confidence. What do you feel about it?

Here’s why it doesn’t work for me:

  • It starts with the word “We”, i.e. it’s all about the company, not about ME (the potential client).
  • The verb “handle” is weakened by THREE qualifying phrases: “hope to” and “be able to” and “most of”. All three phrases suggest that the computer repair people doubt their capabilities.
  • If I have computer problems, I’m really not interested in what the company HOPES to do or what they’re ABLE to do; I want to know what they WILL do for me.
  • The phrase “most of” makes me worry that I might be wasting my time by contacting them.
  • “Handle” is not a particularly strong verb – “fix” and “solve” are stronger. If I call a computer repair company, I probably wouldn’t say “I want you to handle most of my computer needs”; I’d say “Help! My computer’s not working and I need you fix it. Urgently!”
  • It doesn’t tap into the reader’s emotions about having computer problems.
  • It’s merely a statement of fact about the computer repair company, so it evokes a “Big deal, so what?” response. It doesn’t tell the reader why that’s relevant to him/her, or what to do next.

So here’s how I’d re-write the copy:
“Computer problems? Call the computer wizards today.” (And of course I’d add the phone number.)

That doesn’t promise that they absolutely will be able to solve every computer problem a potential client might ever have, but if I had a computer problem, it would certainly attract my attention, inspire confidence and compel me to call them.

I can help you to…

On Facebook, an image consultant’s ad says: “I can help you to dramatically improve your visual appearance and personal style, which is crucial for individual and financial success.”

Here’s why this one doesn’t work for me:

  • It starts with the word “I”. Like the previous example, it’s about the writer, not the reader.
  • I especially dislike the word “can” in marketing communications material. Potential clients don’t care what companies or service providers CAN do, they only care what they DO do or WILL do. “Can” has no emotional oomph. When I see the word “can”, I immediately think “Yes, but so what?” (I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a whole article about how to get rid of the word “can” from your marketing communications material. Did you notice I didn’t write “how you can get rid of” there?)
  • Isn’t someone’s appearance by definition visual?
  • The phrase “which is crucial for individual and financial success” merely states the writer’s opinion. It may even be a truth universally acknowledged that improving your visual appearance and personal style is crucial for individual and financial success. But so what? It makes me ask “WHOSE individual and financial success?”, because it doesn’t speak directly to me as a potential client. What does it mean for the potential client? What is the measurable BENEFIT or RESULT of an image makeover for the client?
  • What exactly does the writer mean by “individual success”? That’s a vague, abstract, intangible concept – what does it look like for a client in real life? What precisely does the writer want the reader to think about? Better health, a better job, increased intelligence, increased confidence, a better sex life, greater happiness, less stress… what?
  •  The copy doesn’t evoke any emotion – it hasn’t established that the reader feels dissatisfied with his/her appearance and personal style and wants to do something about it.
  • Sorry, but it sounds like a bad “elevator speech”. It’s not written in an informal, conversational style – nobody would actually speak like that.
  • Like the previous example, it doesn’t tell the reader what to do next.

So without knowing the specifics of the image consultant’s services, ideal clients and desired brand, here’s my suggested revision:
“Do your clothes, hairstyle, makeup and body language allow your true inner beauty and uniqueness to shine through? I’ll help you transform your image so you’ll feel happier, radiate confidence, win that perfect job and attract more romance into your life. Visit www… today to find out how.”

You can’t afford to miss…

An event promoter sent me a flyer about an upcoming business and personal development workshop. The very first line at the top of the page, in small print above the headline (the title of the workshop), said: “You can’t afford to miss this… event!”

To which the contrary voice inside my head immediately replied: “Oh yes I can! Please don’t presume to tell me what I can or can’t afford to do. Just tell me what’s in it for me.”

As an editor/copywriter, I’d simply delete that sentence altogether and start from scratch to devise a much more powerful message that makes it clear who the flyer is aimed at, arouses curiosity and taps into the reader’s emotions. Maybe something like this:
“Attention curious, courageous individuals who are committed to doing whatever it takes.”

Send me your favourite examples

Have you spotted some less-than-compelling marketing messages? (Or have you even written a few yourself?) Send me your favourite  – or rather, least favourite – examples, and I’ll offer you my diagnosis and my suggestions for improvement.

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