A few years ago, I discovered the new Amazon binge-worthy series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which was set in 1958. Somehow they managed to show fifties-era department stores, apartments, and city streets.
And sometime in the 1970s, there was a time when the “in” color for kitchen appliances was a shiny avocado green. Today the sight of a green refrigerator would make most people think “retro” (and that’s being polite).
There’s one copywriting strategy that deserves to be labeled “retro:” the scare tactic.
A very successful high-end marketer, Irene, was pitching her new course on a webinar. For support, she’d invited Ursula, her own mentor — a guru to the gurus — so superior most of us had never heard of her.
Apparently, the orders weren’t flowing fast enough so Ursula took to the air. “What’s wrong with you people?” she asked sternly. “This course holds the key to your success. If you don’t sign up now, you might as well go out of business.”
Now there’s a cheery thought.
Copywriters call this a scare tactic. Alarm company salespeople use it all the time. They bring out pictures of homes burning down. “This could be you!” they say.
It’s somewhat like the fairy tale when an angry witch puts a curse on someone because she was left out of a party invitation.
We rarely see curses of the magical kind, but we used to see predictions of tragedy:
“If you do this, your clients will head for the hills.”
“If you do that, you’ll never make another dime.”
The truth is, scare tactics can be insulting.
Scaring someone into a decision either implies they’re too stupid to grasp the real value at hand … or that there is no real value and we should all start running in the opposite direction. And frankly, most scare tactics are just not believable.
Today’s audiences usually respond to conversational copy.
Instead of scare tactics, today’s copywriters focus on addressing symptoms. Instead of vague scary outcomes like a total business failure, you can relieve symptoms that audiences know they need to address: courses not filling up, lead magnets not drawing signups, working long days and seeing no results.
The best way to begin is to figure out the audience’s backstory. What’s their baggage? What do they bring to the point of decision?
Here’s a quick 5-point checklist:
1 – Review your copy for the “must” and “should” words.
Consultants, coaches and other independent professionals write blog posts with advice and direction. As a result it’s all too easy to pepper these posts with preachy phrases. I’ve caught myself doing this and have cringed at my early writing.
These terms don’t just sound preachy; they’re empty words that miss the opportunity to convey a benefit.
“Elements that should be removed from your website…” would be more effective as, “Elements that distract visitors from your carefully-crafted brand message…”
“A Style Manual should be on every writer’s shelf…” could be changed to, “You may be surprised to learn that most top copywriters keep this Style Manual on their shelves.”
2 – Replace destruction metaphors with outcomes that resonate with your audience’s feelings.
“Crushing the competition” has become a cliche, and it’s not particularly realistic. A more effective promise might be, “We’ll help you become the go-to person in your field.”
Let’s face it: it’s not easy to wipe out the competition completely. But for many professionals, becoming the most-wanted player will be realistic. Sometimes you can achieve this goal by redefining your Unique Selling Proposition and your target market.
3 – Think symptoms, not sickness.
Copywriter Amy Harrison encourages copywriters to focus on “seductive symptoms.” Problems can seem generic or abstract, but your audience will experience symptoms as very real. They may even associate symptoms with pain.
“Feeling overwhelmed by record-keeping” is an abstract problem. “Not knowing how to organize financial records for the tax preparer” is not only a symptom many people can relate to; it’s an opportunity for a business to offer a specific solution that resonates with prospective clients.
“Marketing not working” is an abstract problem. “Being unclear on how to prioritize your marketing actions” represents a specific symptom.
“Feeling frustrated” can be abstract. “No longer enjoying your business as much as you did in the early days” paints a picture. You can make it even more vivid with bullets in copywriting.
4 – Promise, not prophecy.
Focus on what you can do, not the dire consequences of the client’s ignoring your advice. Some rule-breakers achieve massive success; some rule-followers never stop struggling.
5 – Focus on realism by incorporating stories into your message.
A convincing story tends to avoid melodrama and heavy-hitting scare tactics. Get the low-down on stories from my kindle book, Grow Your Business One Story At A Time. It’s free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.
If you’d like me to work with you on your fear-free copy, let’s set up a consultation. We can spend 90 minutes transforming your copy and addressing your unique challenges in standing out as a solo-preneur.