|Copyright © 2005 by Bruce Carlson|
One of the least talked-about areas in copywriting education is
voice. This is probably because it’s tough to set general rules
for something that’s so personal to each of us. After all, the
same things go into building your copywriting voice that go into
making you who you are!
Personality, upbringing, environment, education, audience,
purpose…all these and more go into forming your voice, no matter
what kind of writing you’re doing.
In this article, I’d like to try to tackle the subject of voice
in copywriting. I’ve identified a couple of areas that I believe
are the most important when it comes to making your voice more
credible when writing copy -- style and tone. By improving these two
areas, you'll connect with your customer in a much more genuine way.
In my conversations with successful copywriters and marketers,
I find that practically every one of them has an uncanny ability
to communicate on a gut level with their customer or prospect.
And that is one of the main keys to their success.
How do they do this?
By removing internal editors, and writing as if they were
speaking to a friend.
When you sit down to write, you need to make a psychological
leap and forget everything you ever learned about writing in
Yes, I know that you’ve got those “ghosts of English teachers
past” sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear about
how you should write. But those internal editors need to be
Instead, you need to write like you talk. This is much easier
said than done, and requires some practice and work. If you have
a hard time doing this, one possibility is to record yourself
speaking your sales message first, and then to transcribe it
afterwards. That way you’ll get the spoken spirit of the
You’ll still need to edit it though, to get rid of “hesitation
markers” like ummmm, uhhhhh, etc. You don’t want those sounds in
But more than anything, writing like you talk means being
informal. One thing I see with novice copywriters is that, even
though they might start to get the idea of writing like they
talk, they’ll still “speak” formally, as if they were giving a
(dull) public speech.
It’s true that ad copy from 50 years ago, especially direct mail
sales letters, may have been a bit stiff and formal. And there
may still be times when a certain level of formality is needed,
depending upon your target market. But with Web sales copy,
and especially with email copy, informal is the right way to go.
Informal style means breaking a ton of grammar rules. Which is
what you do when you talk, anyway, at least in conversational
speech. Use contractions (like can’t and won’t and I’ll…). And
fragment sentences. And you can start sentences with “and”. Or
And you can tail off sentences with ellipsis markers (those
three dots)… Which is also a good way to show hesitation when
writing, by the way, since you can’t use the hesitation sounds
you normally use in speech.
And you can have sentences that have only one or two words. Like
And you can use really short paragraphs to express a quick thought.
Or a bit longer paragraphs to express a longer thought.
There are also things you can do with language. Like using special
terms or jargon used exclusively within a specific marketing niche.
Customers know immediately if you're "one of them." Jargon and
specialized knowledge help give them the clue for that.
There’s an awful lot you can do. And you’re really only limited
by that internal editor/critic. So the sooner you throw that
critic out the door, the better.
Also, when writing like you talk, you need to be able to keep a
warm tone. One way it’s put by sales professionals is to imagine
that you’re making “a referral to a friend” rather than making
“a sales pitch to a customer.” The examples you’ll usually hear
copywriting educators use for this are the kitchen table
conversation or the barstool conversation.
The best way to develop this warm tone is through identification.
Getting to really know your target market (or “tarket”, as
Lorrie Morgen-Ferrero calls it) allows you to identify
first-hand with their hopes, dreams, wants, and needs. This
comes from study and research, although a certain amount of
intuition comes in handy too.
You really do need to be able to put yourself into your
customer’s shoes in order to be a good salesperson, whether in
print or face-to-face. As the old saying goes, “Become your
customer.” They need to become real in your mind -- as real as
that person sitting across the kitchen table.
There are plenty of ways to identify with your customer or
prospect. Reading the trade journals or magazines they read is a
good place to start.
But what this skill really amounts to is empathy. Identification
and empathy are two peas in the pod.
In business, you develop empathy simply by putting your customer
first. By actually caring about your customer and making it your
avowed goal to help them. By going the extra mile to find out
what it is that keeps them awake at night. By becoming obsessed
(in a good way) with bringing them a product that will solve a
problem and make their life easier.
And by listening.
How do you listen to your customer when they're not there? The same
way you would if they were there. By asking a question. And then
listening for the answer. From inside you.
Whenever you write sales copy, you need to continually ask "So
what?" after every single sentence you write. The person sitting
across the kitchen table or next to you at the bar is a skeptic.
Which is normal and healthy!
By keeping your customer's possible objections in mind every
single minute you write, you establish a kind of dialogue. And
that's when your customer will really get pulled into your copy.
That's when they'll say, "Hey, she's talking to me!"
You'll be getting that empathy. And with it will come that warm,
So practice writing like you talk, keeping in mind that you want
to be informal and familiar. Get to know your customer better so
you can identify better with them and build empathy.
Eventually you'll get "over the hump" and your "right" voice will
start to come naturally.
And that's when you'll start to see a steep rise in your sales
Bruce Carlson is a freelance writer and educator living in Finland. Visit his website at www.dynamic-copywriting.com and sign up for his fr.ee newsletter The Dynamic Copywriter!
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