How to avoid ‘hype’ in your sales copywriting: Pretend you’re face-to-face

September 15, 2009 •

You know ‘hype’ copy when you see it. And not just because it’s usually underlined, fluro-highlighted and thrust in your face! But avoiding hype in your own sales copy isn’t such a simple matter.

There are a variety of copy ‘techniques’ used (or, at least, unintentionally present) in hype copy that make it hype. This post discusses how to avoid a few of them.

The overriding trick? Pretend you’re face-to-face.

1) Be honest

It may sound obvious, but I’ve lost count of the number of clients who’ve had me write things because “we can get away with it” or “the reader won’t notice” or “they can’t prove otherwise”. Don’t say things that are untrue – even if they’re only a little bit untrue!

2) Be personal

Refer to the reader directly, as “you” (not “the reader”, “the user”, “the customer”, etc.). Refer to yourself as “I”.

3) When unsure, undersell

If you have a suspicion you’re overselling, you probably are. Err on the side of caution and undersell. Even better, make it clear you’re doing so. Perhaps say something like, “We can’t say categorically that it’s the best in the world. But we believe it is, and it’s certainly the best we’ve seen.”

4) Give something away for free – REALLY free!

When you give something away, you inspire trust and loyalty. But it has to be genuinely free. No strings at all. Don’t even make them supply an email address or follow you on Twitter. (Give them both options, but make it clear it’s purely optional.)

5) Be clear about the price, the terms, the deliverable and the catch

Don’t leave your reader guessing. No matter what you’re offering, if it’s a transaction, be up-front about it. Make sure the reader knows exactly what their side of the bargain is.

6) Include contact details

Most of the time, readers won’t contact you. But if they know they can, they’re more likely to buy. Be approachable: include phone numbers, email address, street address, Twitter ID, Skype ID, etc. And if your readers are in a different time-zone, make sure they know when it’s ok to call you (complete with a link to a local clock). This tells them you’re genuine about taking their call.

7) Include believable testimonials

Photos, full name and, if possible, contact details for happy customers always help. And don’t write the testimonials yourself – especially if you’re a bad writer. The moment you make the same mistake in more than one, readers will get suspicious.

8 ) Point out your flaws

Readers know no-one’s perfect, and nor is any product or service. You have flaws; consider opening up about them. Whether it’s a flaw in a related product or service, a misguided past attempt at marketing your offering, or simply a weak (peripheral) feature of your offering… out with it! Me? I’m no good at looonnnnnnnnnnnnnng form sales copy. I’m also crap at humour. But a prospect who’s interested in case studies won’t care a bit about those weaknesses. They will, however, respect me for being open and honest. When you’re open and honest, when you acknowledge your flaws, when you share, people feel closer to you. It’s a psychological fact. Just don’t paint yourself as a failure. A touch of realism is good. Successful people build their success on past failures, after all.

9) Discuss believable benefits

“Save $53 every week!” is far more believable and easy to grasp than “Save $2,756 every year!” Likewise, “Your wife will be impressed with your new body shape!” is far more believable than “You, too, can have a body like The Rock!”

10) Ask questions that you know the reader will answer “yes” to

It’s all about the persuasion slippery slide. If you can get the reader saying “yes”, even if only in their own head, they’re far more likely to say yes when you ask them to do something (your call to action). Read more about copywriting for the persuasion slippery slide.

11) Answer questions you know the reader will be asking

When you’re face-to-face with a prospect, they always ask questions. Readers are no different. You need to anticipate their questions, and use the copy to provide answers. In fact, you should even consider using those questions as your headings.

12) Be as brief as possible, but say as much as necessary

You’ve no doubt heard a lot about long copy out-performing short copy. In my humble opinion, the long v short argument is redundant. It’s not about length, it’s about appropriateness. Don’t set out to make your copy as long as you can; make it as long as you have to. Include everything your reader needs, in as few words as possible. The only rule is this: effective copy out-performs ineffective copy. (Read more of my thoughts on the long v short debate.)

13) Be respectful

When your reader reads your copy, you’re in their office or in their home. So be respectful. Just as you’d be polite, face-to-face, and mindful that they’re doing you a favour by reading your copy, show some of that respect in the way you write, and in the things you write. Don’t criticise people for having made poor choices. Don’t criticise the products or services they’ve bought in the past. Don’t try to scare them into buying. And don’t try to pressure them. In fact, be wary of negativity, full-stop. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s house and just start bitchin’. So don’t do it in your copy, either. (Also, respect their time. See point 12 above!)

14) Show some personality

People trust you if they think they’ve seen the real you. So show them. Don’t try to be the consummate salesperson. Be yourself. Maybe not warts ‘n all, but at least freckles ‘n all!

15) Show you understand their real situation

Everyone has a situation. Usually they’re trying to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle. Take the time to understand their situation, then show you understand it. I like to start my copy this way, because I immediately show that the reader’s needs are of paramount importance to me. (My friend, and fellow copywriter, Paul Jones, of Magneto Communication, talks more about this in this excellent interview with Flying Solo’s Robert Gerrish.)

16) Offer a money-back guarantee

It isn’t always possible to offer a money-back guarantee, but if you can do it, do it. Nothing makes an investment less daunting than the knowledge that it’s risk-free. Oh, and make sure you include (e.g. link to) clear instructions on how the reader can claim their refund, should they need to.

17) Discuss feelings

In any purchase ‘decision’, feelings play a huge role. I don’t have any research to back me up here (can anyone point some out?), but I’d say they play a bigger part than logic. So make sure you discuss the feelings that the reader will experience if they purchase your offering. In the words of another friend, copywriter Karri Flatla, of Snap Virtual Associates, in her comment on my ProBlogger guest post, “Signal the possibilities if they internalize (remember) what you’re saying. Indicate the potential result/outcome/feeling that lies ahead after reading the post. It creates momentum and motivation.”

18) Challenge them to find better

Issue an honest challenge to find better elsewhere (cheaper, faster, smoother, longer-lasting, etc.). Don’t be arrogant about it; just be straight-up. In fact, if you’re really confident, you might even consider pointing them in the direction of the competition you’d like them to compare you against. (This is risky, but if all your ducks are in a row, it can work.)

If you have any other suggestions for how to avoid hype in your sales copy, please feel free to comment.


Feel free to comment...
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Amanda Gonzalez wrote on September 15th, 2009

Well said, G. I find the layout of the copy plays a huge role in its success. Even if you're not the designer, put forth your ideas on the layout; you know the copy better than anyone else. I know how I feel when I see small copy in long paragraphs, without headings or dividing space. And I certainly know what I DO when I see garish yellow highlighting.

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Karri Flatla wrote on September 15th, 2009

Number 14 is my fave of course (show some personality). What's fascinating to me is how clients will initially be very reserved in their responses to my lines of questioning, say in a questionnaire. But then I let them know it's okay to let it all hang out (so to speak!) ... to tell me their story and their passion. Or their clients' stories and passions ... and boy do the flood gates open! It's great inspiration for writing their copy. Everyone is brimming with feelings about all kinds of things at any given moment of their day. And those feelings aren't terribly logical (else they wouldn't be feelings but just neutral, detached thoughts which is rather tough to execute unless you're a Vulcan). The trick I suspect is to tap the *right* feelings that will inspire them to act. Okay, I guess Number 17 is my second fave ;) This is a must-have check list for creating great web copy! Cheers, Karri

comment avatar
How to avoid ‘hype’ in your sales copy by Glenn Murray wrote on September 15th, 2009

[...] Posted on September 15th, 2009 by Clare Lancaster // Glenn Murray from Divine Write Copywriting has put together a brilliant post on how to avoid hype in your sales copy. [...]

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Charles Cuninghame wrote on September 15th, 2009

Read this in a copywriting book the other day: Your copy should be the same length as a short skirt - long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be interesting.

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Bill Harper wrote on September 15th, 2009

"Be as brief as possible, but say as much as necessary". This should be the mantra of everyone who writes. As you say, it's not a question of writing short or writing long. You just need to write tight. As long as there's plenty of 'meat' in your copy, people will read it. Bill.

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Oscar - freestyle mind wrote on September 22nd, 2009

Interesting, because I often see the opposite, especially regarding the price clarity. Thanks for sharing these tips, they all make sense to me. Oscar

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Glenn Murray wrote on September 22nd, 2009

Hi Oscar. Interesting! I'd be keen to see any examples you've noticed where price clarity isn't beneficial. Even if just anecdotal. That'd be great! Thanks mate.

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