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The commercial context for effective copywriting

 

A guiding principle I always follow in content writing is that what I write must be demonstrably so. In an age of social media and open CX, marketing cannot afford to be off-message with the customer's own experience. Yet it is often the case that hard won customers turn away from businesses once the engagement with the organisation changes from persuasion to reality.

 

My approach to content - indeed to any marketing activity - is to think of the customer first, irrespective of whether your organisation is B2B, B2C, not-for-profit or whatever. The customer's experience is all that matters.

 

Their first contact with the organisation must be compelling and relevant to them. Testing the dialogue must enable the customer to judge your claims effectively. Web UX and messaging must be simple, effective and evident of concern for the customer. Telephone contact must be seamless, with personnel trained in the brand ethos, message and claims. Sales personnel must focus on value, not on product or price. The complaints process must always leave the customer feeling the issue has been resolved and not left hanging (even if the customer is, in fact, wrong). 

 

Soliciting "always"

Leading CX specialist Ted Rubin, has a great line. He says that if you can get the customer to say "always" (followed by a positive message) when describing your business, you are on the way to customer nirvana. For example, "I like company x because their help desk always responds within a minute and solves my problem. If they can't they always call me back and resolve the problem within 24 hours".

 

I agree; yet in many cases organisations are let down by how they interact with their customers and how they describe themselves, or their offering, in their content, copywriting, CX and web UX messaging.

 

How can we be more effective in what we say (assuming, of course, that what we do is exemplary - which often it isn't!). Let's assume our businesses are run effectively and put the customer first, 

 

Truth or reality?

What is the truth? No-one knows. This means that a customer's experience of your organisation must be matched by your promise. Thus, to over-claim will be clear if, on experiencing your operation, the customer is let down. It is better, therefore, to under-sell than to over-state. Delight is a consequence either of the expected (living up to the promise) or the unexpected (trying a brand for the first time). I have not encountered a customer who has been delighted by deception. Not even a voter for a political party.

 

Honest terms and conditions

Obfuscation usually delivers bewilderment. Or, in the case of terms and conditions, contempt (as is shown by how few people actually read the T&C). If T&C contain terms which no-one would accept if they were clearly expressed, then it is argued that such terms only serve to protect the vendor, rather than the customer. I advocate a no-quibble policy; trust is engendered where the customer feels strong. Word of mouth, a consequence of unexpected delight, is a stronger commercial asset than a customer feeling cheated by legal dark arts.

 

Visual dialogue

Ownership rehearsal is an old concept, yet it is surprising even today how many organisations are ineffective at placing their products in the context. The context of a customer's joy. I have seen art galleries happy to sell work by contemporary artists based only on one website image. There is an assumption that because of brand, or artist's name, it will sell. The trouble is, most artists are not Picasso. So a stronger visual dialogue with the customer is essential: Photography shows use, captions sell core elements, body copy details persuasion. The dialogue method of Siegfried Vogele is as relevant to web as it ever was to direct mail. If not, more so.

 

Unrecoverable application error at node

In the old days, a computer failure often generated a simple on-screen statement such as that above. While we may have moved on, it is still utterly frustrating for a customer to be faced with an error 404 message, a  non-functioning page or a dead link. Good project management anticipates problems such as this and takes the customer's experience of these pages as seriously as a commercial transaction. Why? Because failure to communicate is indicative of contempt. This is unacceptable. Consequently, organisations should have an iron focus on their UX messaging, in addition to message black holes (such as what happens if you don't fit into any of the 16 telephone options available to you when you call a bank).

 

Copywriting for CX

Today, the art of the copywriter has moved beyond the days of low level functionary whose work is viewed with contempt by some senior academic or an editor. Today, copywriting is fundamentally focused on the customer's experience: on the website, order forms, emails, phone, sales scripts - whatever. Some businesses call this "tone of voice" but it's much more than that. It's about thinking of the customer - in all his/her shades: unknown; known; lapsing; annoyed; cancelled; dead (yes, really).

 

The commercial context for copywriting has never been more critical than it is today. If we keep in our minds always that price is the economic sacrifice a customer makes in order to receive value beyond that sacrifice then we can grasp that the context of good words is essential.

 

We no longer say "see this? buy it now!" We think instead, "I wonder what you'll say about us"

 

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