Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/15/2001

Think Active!

A big, deep voice echoes off the walls of the lecture hall: "The passive voice is DEATH to persuasive writing!" Nobody in the room makes a sound. Not even me! I'm awed … I'm humbled … I'm certain I've just received “The Word.” And now I'm going to pass it along to you. So, to the notebooks once more. Cap off in the back there, if you please, and save the note-passing for after class. Today's lesson is about using the Active Voice to keep your customers motivated and fully engaged in the sales process.

Every now and again I talk about the value of brilliant copy to your e-commerce efforts. Words are magical, and within them is the power to inspire, motivate, persuade and literally call your customers to action. Just as easily, your words can bore folks to tears, leave them yawning with indecision and persuade them that greener pastures lie elsewhere.

There is no substitute for superior copy. You must have perfect words and perfect phrases to make your copy vibrant and immediate. This simply will not happen if you bury your message in text written in the Passive Voice.

OK, so what is the Passive Voice, you ask? It is a verb construction that shifts the focus of a sentence away from the doer. The emphasis in the Passive Voice is always on what is happening, not who is doing it.

Passive: The mail was delivered in a timely fashion. ("by someone" is implicit, but not stated.)
Active
: The postman delivered the mail in a timely fashion.

Passive: The stew was being gobbled by the ravenous crone. ("by someone" is the crone)
Active
: The ravenous crone gobbled the stew.

Make sense? The Passive Voice has its uses, but for sales purposes, it is wordy, vague and distances your customer. Your goal in e-commerce is to be as customer-focused as possible in order to bring them closer, remember? Try this one on for size:

Passive Description 1: Once the button has been clicked, the order is generated immediately and an e-mail confirmation will be sent automatically to you.

Active Description 2: When you click the button, we immediately generate your order and automatically send you an e-mail confirmation.

See the difference? Feel the difference? Description 1 is wordy, vague and requires the customer to make some assumptions - who's clicking, who's generating, who's sending. In contrast, Description 2 is short and sweet. You do this and we'll do that. Ta-dah! There's comfort in the Active voice. You can trust the Active Voice. It gets things done. It makes promises that don't sound wishy-washy. It's the voice of accountability!

Now think about this:

Passive Description 1: The Sonic Drill can be used to make holes up to two inches deep and one inch in diameter using the accessory kit that is packaged in the set. Expanded possibilities are made available through additional attachments that can be purchased separately.

Active Description 2: The Sonic Drill has everything you need to make perfect holes up to two inches deep and one inch in diameter, quickly and easily. We also stock accessories that make it a snap for you to expand your possibilities.

Description 2 involves your customer and puts her inside the activity. In Description 1, she's got to work hard to make the description relevant to her. More than that, Description 1 just sounds too pompous to be appealing. One of the greatest attributes of the Active Voice is that it embraces the individual. And when you can get your customers imagining your copy is speaking directly to them, you have their emotional attention and involvement. They are engaged. They are with you in spirit. You are that much closer to a sale and a delighted customer.

When was the last time a passive pitch got your juices flowing? Can't think of one? Me neither! So purge the passive. Keep your customer center-stage. Think ACTIVE!

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/15/2001

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