Have you ever noticed how you suddenly sound more formal when you write a letter or type an email?
Take a typical past due letter. So many companies talk about customer service and developing customer relationships. Then they shoot stuff off like this:
Dear Mr. Smith:
We appreciate your business. However, our records indicate invoice number 12345 is now 30 days past due.
If you submitted your payment, please disregard this letter. If you have any questions about the past due amount, please call our customer service at 800-123-4567.
Billing Department, Acme Company
Wow, that has as much personality as old gum on the bottom of your shoe.
Did that letter feel like it acknowledged or respected you as an individual, a breathing human?
How sincere did that opening of “We appreciate your business” feel? Pretty lame, wasn’t it?
You may be thinking, “Why should I sound like I care? The *&!@ owes me money!” True, but the goal is to get paid AND keep your customer, right?
So what if you sent a collection letter like the one below?
Did we do something wrong? We all worked hard to provide the best service possible and delivered your order on time. But you’re 30 days behind on your payment for invoice number 12345…which makes me wonder, did we do something wrong?
If you’re unhappy for any reason, please call me immediately so I can help resolve your concern. My direct line is 111-123-4567. We appreciate your business and want to make things right.
Or maybe you enjoyed our quality service like our thousands of other loyal customers. But you got so busy, you forgot to pay the invoice. That’s OK, we know it can get crazy sometimes. If that’s the case, I’d really appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to take care of us now.
Thanks for being so prompt. And please call me any time if you have questions. 111-123-4567.
Customer Care Supervisor, ACME Corp
Do you hear – or even better – FEEL the difference between the two letters? And which one do you think is more likely to get the invoice paid?
Mary sounds like a real person. She sounds like she cares and doesn’t give you corporate-ese. Both letters can be auto-responders and generated by a machine. But notice how the first letter sounds and feels like a machine? The second one sounds and feels like a person.
If you owed a machine money, or owed the nice lady Mary money, who would you be more likely to pay first? That’s right, good ol’ Mary.
But Mary wants to make sure she gets paid promptly. So she added several copywriting tricks in the letter as insurance. We’ll review those in another post. For now, let’s focus on one of the most important rules for writing engaging copy:
Talk TO your reader, not AT them
To make sure you’re talking TO your reader, try putting your copy through what I call the cup o’ Joe test.
You know you’re talking TO your reader when you sound natural. Much like you would if you were sitting across him talking over a cup o’ Joe.
Talking to a person instead of at them is important because it helps you bond with the reader. Unlike face to face meetings, online or print correspondences don’t let your reader see all of the signs that make him want to bond with you. He can’t see your facial expressions, your hand gestures, or hear the inflection in your voice.
He needs these cues to help him quickly size you up and figure out: “Who’s this dude talking to me? Is he a weirdo?” “Is he trustworthy?” “Is he likeable?” “Do I want to do business with this guy?”
Without the advantage of being face to face, you must show personality in your sentence structure and your word choices. This helps the reader feel recognized and respected as an individual. This helps create stronger customer relationships as if you’re talking to them face to face.
For many businesses, this means making sure your copy passes the cup o’ Joe test.
Of course the degree of personality and casualness depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. A medical device company wouldn’t send cardiologists a brochure starting with, “Hey – what up?!”
Annihilate the stuffy drone
Your copy may not be as soulless as the corporate-ese example above, but I bet it’s a bit stilted here and there and could be more engaging.
When reviewing your copy, here’s an easy way to prevent the corporate-ese drone from creeping in and choking the life out of your message. Picture yourself talking to a real person you know – someone who fits your customer profile. For example, if you’re selling supplements to 70-year old women, picture yourself talking to your mom, aunt or neighbor.
Now read your copy out loud. Would you talk to your mamma that way? Yes? Good, you’re on the right track.