Know your audience
Elena Fawkner discovered this snippet of copy from the Web
site of a professional Web copywriter:
"Today's readers and Web browsers
demand frankness and verisimilitude, so your written communications require
exacting professional integrity with accurate and adequate research. For
concrete, colorful and dynamic written material that willfully attracts
customers, Bob Tony* will work with you to develop unrivaled written
communications for your marketing materials, grants, newsletters, Web site, or
other publications and articles. To ensure your writing tasks with pacesetting
presentation and unparalleled, consistent editorial power, give your deadlines
to Bob Tony*."
* Name changed to protect the
ostentatious and largiloquent.i
Verisimilitude? Willfully attracts? Ensure with
pacesetting presentation? Editorial power? What a mouth- and headful of
gobbledygook! Bob Tony is definitely not the fellow you want as your
Where do you look? To your customers!
Folks are out there talking. So listen to what they have to say and how
they say it, then model your copy to reflect their needs and concerns. If
you’re going to invest time doing “adequate research,” dig in here!
Keep your copy customer-centered
Ditch self-serving copy that promotes how wonderful you
are. Focus on the powerful perspective of the second person (YOU!) to help your
visitors put themselves inside the picture, and always let your visitors know
what’s in it for them by
communicating the benefits of your product or service.
Appeal to their emotions by
showing rather than telling and by engaging the senses.
Create a personality
For all its interactivity and dynamism, the Web isn’t very
personal. And you want to get as nose-to-nose with folks as you can. Do it not
writing as you (and they) would speak, but also by creating the impression
appealing personality. Give your writing a
distinctive, memorable style that captivates as it persuades. And keep in
mind: who you are is far less important than who your visitors imagine you to be.
Verbs get your visitors excited, and they should form the backbone of your
active verbs will not only help keep your visitors engaged, it will also
help improve your credibility. The passive voice occasionally may help you set
the right tone or focus on the activity rather than the actor, but for
persuasive purposes, it tends to sound shifty and overly academic. In general,
avoid it in your Web copy.
Imperative verbs are commands. Act. Drive. Click. See.
Go. Download. Pair them with benefits and you have effective calls to action.
Your copy sends out credibility vibes all the time.
Over-promising and spouting lots of marketing hype won’t work in your favor.
typos and grammatical errors.
Make your copy usability-friendly
eye-tracking behavior helps you optimize the organization of your copy on
your Web pages. It also helps to understand how folks
scan and skim copy.
- Use bulleted points to detail critical information
(including your value proposition)
- Get important information to your visitor first;
elaborate later (think newspaper articles)
- Highlight important text by using bolding, color, a
highlight feature, or making the critical text a link (as appropriate)
- Use “white” space to separate your points
- Keep your paragraphs concise and small –eyes glaze over
when they encounter impenetrable blocks of text
- Use font sizes that don’t require magnifying glasses
- Avoid light type against a dark background (reverse
type) – stick with contrast combinations that are comfortable on the eye
Is that everything? Sheesh, you know me well enough by now
to know that when it comes to your online copy, I could keep going till the cows
come home. But then, these wouldn’t be The Grok Notes, would they? And you
wouldn’t know which areas I think are most important to your efforts.
Now you do!
1. “Writing for the Web.” Elena Fawkner.
Internet Day, 14 December 2001.
There is good news and bad news for you. The bad
news is that in this edition we were going to
promote our unique 3-day workshop
Wizards of Web but it sold out (oops, sorry
about that) without ever promoting it at all.
The good news is that we're going to be starting a
list of our readers who want to be notified of our
special events before they become public knowledge.
Here's a preview: we'll be offering the 2-day
of Conversion Rate Marketing" in July and
Wizard of Web workshop in August.
Let us know if you want to be included on that
CIO, Future Now, Inc.
P.S. Do you have questions you would like to see
Speaking to the Analytical Mind
You’ve heard from our resident
Now, I’d like you to hear from Robert Bly, one accomplished dude who’s going to
explain how to persuade the engineer to take action.i
If you take the broader view, this is juicy information about how you sell to
the Analytic personality type - engineers generally possess strongly analytical
personalities. So if you hope to persuade them, you can’t ignore their needs,
anymore than you can ignore the needs of your Amiables, Expressives and
So, let’s climb inside the Analytical mind!
Six Things I Know For Sure About Marketing To Engineers
By Robert W. Bly
I am a chemical engineer and have been writing copy designed to sell products
and services to engineers for 10 years. Here’s what I know about appealing to
this special audience:
Engineers look down on advertising and advertising people, for the most part.
Engineers have a low opinion of advertising-and of people whose job it is to
The lesson for the business-to-business marketer? Make your advertising and
direct mail informational and professional, not gimmicky or promotional. Avoid
writing that sounds like “ad copy.” Don’t use slick graphics that immediately
identify a brochure or spec sheet as “advertising.” The engineer will be quick
to reject such material as “fluff.”
Engineers want to believe they are not influenced by ad copy-and that they
make their decisions based on technical facts that are beyond a copywriter’s
understanding. Let them believe it-as long as they respond to our ads and buy
Engineers do not like a “consumer approach.”
There is a raging debate about whether engineers respond better to a straight
technical approach, clever consumer-style ads, or something in between. Those
who prefer the creative approach argue, “The engineer is a human being first and
an engineer second. He will respond to creativity and cleverness just like
Unfortunately, there is much evidence to the contrary. In many tests of ads
and direct mailings, I have seen straightforward, low-key, professional
approaches equal or outpull “glitzy” ads and mailings repeatedly. One of my
clients tested two letters offering a financial book aimed at engineers. A
straightforward, benefit-oriented letter clearly outpulled a
“bells-and-whistles” creative package. And I see this result repeated time and
Engineers respond well to communications that address them as knowledgeable,
technical professionals in search of solutions to engineering problems.
Hard-sell frequently falls on deaf ears here-especially if not backed by facts.
The engineer’s purchase decision is more logical than emotional.
Most books and articles on advertising stress that successful copy appeal to
emotions first, reason second.
But with the engineering audience, it is often the opposite. The buying
decision is what we call a “considered purchase” rather than an impulse buy.
That is, the buyer carefully weighs the facts, makes comparisons, and buys based
on what product best fulfills his requirement.
Certainly, there are emotional components to the engineer’s buying decision.
For instance, preference for one vendor over another is often based more on gut
feeling that actual fact. But for the most part, an engineer buying a new piece
of equipment will analyze the features and technical specifications in much
greater depth than a consumer buying a stereo, VCR, or other sophisticated
Copy aimed at engineers cannot be superficial. Clarity is essential. Do not
disguise the nature of what you are selling in an effort to “tease” the reader
into your copy, as you might do with a consumer mail order offer. Instead, make
it immediately clear what you are offering and how it meets the engineer’s
Engineers want to know the features and specifications, not just the
In consumer advertising classes, we are taught that benefits are everything,
and that features are unimportant. But engineers need to know the features of
your product-performance characteristics, efficiency ratings, power
requirements, and technical specifications-in order to make an intelligent
Features should especially be emphasized when selling to OEMs (original
equipment manufacturers), VARs (value-added resellers), systems integrators and
others who purchase your product with an intention to incorporate it into their
Example: An engineer buying semiconductors to use in a device he is
building doesn’t need to be sold on the benefits of semiconductors. He already
knows the benefits and is primarily concerned about whether your
semiconductor can provide the necessary performance and reliability while
meeting his specifications in terms of voltage, current, resistance, and so
Engineers are not turned off by jargon-in fact, they like it.
Consultants teaching business writing seminars tell us to avoid jargon
because it interferes with clear communication.
This certainly is true when trying to communicate technical concepts to lay
audiences such as the general public or top management. But jargon can actually
enhance communication when appealing to engineers, computer specialists, and
other technical audiences.
Why is jargon effective? Because it shows the reader that you speak his
language. When you write direct response copy, you want the reader to get
the impression you’re like him, don’t you? And doesn’t speaking his language
Actually, engineers are not unique in having their “secret language” for
professional communication. People in all fields publicly denounce jargon but
privately love it. For instance, who aside from direct marketers has any idea of
what a “nixie” is? And why use that term, except to make our work seem special
Engineers have their own visual language.
What are the visual devices through which engineers communicate? Charts,
graphs, tables, diagrams, blueprints, engineering drawings, and mathematical
symbols and equations.
You should use these visual devices when writing to engineers-for two
reasons. First, engineers are comfortable with them and understand them. Second,
these visuals immediately say to the engineer, “This is solid technical
information, not promotional fluff.”
The best visuals are those specific to the engineer’s specialty. Electrical
engineers like circuit diagrams. Computer programmers feel comfortable looking
at flow charts. Systems analysts use structured diagrams. Learn the visual
language of your target audience and have your artist use these symbols and
artwork throughout your ad, brochure, or mailer.
i Permission to reprint has been granted graciously.
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