How I Wrote a Story-Based Sales Email That Landed Me in the Top 5 in a Copywriting Contest

sales emails

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

I came in 4th place, to be exact. Now, that might not seem like much, but there were roughly 78 entries from copywriters who ran the gamut from fairly new to quite successful and experienced.

I’ve been doing this here copywriting and marketing thing since about 2001, but some of my fellow copywriters participating in this? Let’s just say I was a little (and by little, I mean a lot) intimidated.

In fact, initially I thought, “No way am I entering a contest I likely won’t do well in given the competition, especially since it’ll take me hours to write an entry. I’m already at capacity with work right now.”

[Can ya hear all the limiting beliefs nonsense going on there? Yikes!]

But deep down, I really wanted to do this. Because if you’re not making yourself uncomfortable from time to time, you’re not growing. So say the personal development geeks. Of which I am one. 😊

I’m sharing the contest details and my entry here, because if you pay close attention to the rules, template, questions, and other guidance Kevin and Chris presented, along the prep work I did before submitting my entry, you’re sure to learn a thing or two about what it takes to write a story-based email that sells.

The Background

The contest took place inside the Copy Chief community, which I’m a proud member of.

The emails were judged by Kevin Rogers, founder of Copy Chief and expert direct response copywriter who has helped clients earn $100M in sales, and fellow Copy Chief member Chris Orzechowski, email copywriter & consultant extraordinaire who helps e-commerce companies earn big paydays with email.

Kevin and Chris critiqued the email entries via video inside Copy Chief, and chose the top 5; we lucky 5 received a coveted Copy Chief “Nobody Writes Alone” t-shirt. Yee-haw! The grand prize winner also won a scholarship to Chris’s Email Copy Academy and an email sequence review.

The Challenge: Write a “story-based” email that sells

The fellas did a fantastic presentation explaining the elements of, and psychology behind, storytelling emails that sell to help us prepare for the challenge.

The Rules

We were given three products to choose from to write the sales email for:

A pillow, a pressure washing service, or a productivity course.

We were to pick the product, write a story-based email that sells people on buying the product, then post our entry inside the Copy Chief forum.

I chose the pillow, and used Casper for my model. But I renamed my “imaginary” product the Euphoria Pillow. 😊

We were graded on:

  • Subject line
  • Strength of the story/hook
  • Clarity & readability
  • Call to action language

Emails That Sell Need to Do a Few Important Things

In order to write a persuasive email that moves people to action, we had to do three things: determine what our ideal customer’s current beliefs were, tell stories to implant new beliefs that would get them interested in our chosen product, and give them an action to take that would bring them closer to their goal, such as making a purchase.

To determine what to say, we were instructed to:

  1. Talk to people in our market – I did this by chatting with couple of friends who had sleep issues and had recently purchased pillows. I also did lots of review mining: I sifted through pillow reviews on the Casper website, plus positive and negative reviews of other premium pillows on Amazon. I saved loads of this voice of customer data into a doc to use while writing my sales email. (You need to understand where people are now, the challenges and struggles they’re facing, and where they want to ultimately be – which is what your product or solution offers. You can’t write persuasive copy without research and voice of customer data. Full stop)
  2. List out their problems – The review mining mentioned above gave me lots of intel about problems and challenges. For example, many people suffer poor sleep and wake up with a stiff neck and other aches and pains because they don’t have a quality pillow. And we all know poor sleep has a hugely negative impact on everything else we do in our day-to-day lives.
  3. List the outcomes (results) they want in their life – On the surface they just want to wake up pain-free. But what they really want is to wake up feeling refreshed, well-rested, and ready to tackle the day. To slay the day. To handle everything with grace, ease and joy, the way you do when you’ve gotten eight glorious hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep.
  4. List their “false beliefs” – Some could include: “Spending $80 on a pillow is crazy, it’s not worth it.” “A premium pillow isn’t going to make that much difference in my sleep quality.”
  5. List “new beliefs” they need to gain in order to make a buying decision – “$80 is a small price to pay for something that can seriously improve your sleep, and because quality sleep is so important to health and overall happiness, it’s worth every penny.”

The Template

Chris shared a basic outline of emails that sell:

  1. Subject line
  2. Story
  3. Segue/The ‘Turn’
  4. CTA

(Optional): P.S.

(You’ll see these things in action in my email entry, below)

He also talked about eight kinds of subject lines, along with eight different story frameworks.  I chose the personal story framework for my email.

And of course, we covered the uber-important call to action: you must tell people what to do, why they need to do it, and why they need to do it now.

BUT … even after all this, we’re still not quuuuite ready to begin writing.

Nope, first, we needed to answer the following questions. My answers included here:

1. Where does this email fit into the context of the marketing funnel?

It comes after web visitors have read some info on the Casper website, or have otherwise been exposed to the brand, and they’ve signed up for the Casper email list to learn more.

2. What is the objective of this email?

To make a sale

3. What’s the new belief you want readers to have?

That an $80 pillow is totally worth it and can change their life

4. What’s a story/hook that can implant that belief into their brain?

Talk about how quality sleep is the most important health action they can take, as illustrated through a personal story about the before-and-after results of getting quality sleep; demonstrate through a story that shows – not tells – the transformation. Could also consider using data on sleep; benefits of quality sleep, etc.

5. What is your call to action going to be?

Buy now

6. What ‘reasons to act now’ do we need to add?

Don’t miss one more night of quality sleep and go through your days unable to do all you want to do, to the best of your ability. Life is too short, and you have too much you want to do, for that.

The presentation Chris and Kevin gave was so good, and so thorough, it’s not possible to share all of it here, but I’ve outlined the very basics above.

Prep I Did Before Writing

Once I decided to enter the contest, I was all in. Meaning, I did what I do with every actual client copy project I take on – research, research, and more research, which comes in a few varieties:

:: I talked to a couple of friends with sleep issues. I asked how the sleep issues presented, and what they did to resolve them.

:: I signed up Casper’s email list to see how they do email.

:: I spend loads of time on the Casper website, reading about their pillows (product research), AND, more importantly, reading customer reviews (to gather voice of customer data).

:: I did review mining of other premium pillows on Amazon to gather more voice of customer data on things like: where people are in their solution-seeking journey when they arrive at the place of deciding to spend upwards of $80 for a single pillow, what problems they’re trying to solve, what they’ve tried before that didn’t work, and to suss out the transformation they really want. Sure, they want a good night’s sleep, but more than that, they want all the benefits that derive from a good night’s sleep.

:: If this were a real project with a real client, I also would have: had the client fill out my intake questionnaire, had a call to review completed questionnaire and discuss the direction and goals of the copy, talked to a handful of actual customers, done loads more product research, and undertaken more competitor analysis.

My Sales Email Entry

(Chris and Kevin’s feedback is pasted in at the end of the email.)

Original email subject line ideas:

Red wine, tough love, and clouds made of rainbows

Alternative SLs:

Pairs nicely with success

$80 for a pillow?!?! You’re crazy.

A handful of other subject lines I considered, but didn’t post as part of my entry:

BOOM! This is how you improve every area of your life … for just $80

There’s not an app for that

As soon as I laid down, I was in love

This 5-letter word changed EVERYTHING

Why aren’t more people talking about this?

Is this the missing link to a better life?

You can’t put a price on this

__ % of adults don’t get enough of this

Pillow talk

Driving drunk or driving underslept … which is more dangerous?

Sixty percent of adults have done this life-threatening thing

EMAIL BODY COPY

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Ronda, my BFF of 30+ years, committed one of the kindest acts a trusted friend can ever do.

She called me out on my bullshit.

Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

The truth?

My crappy sleep habits were actually wreaking havoc on my career.

Last Thursday was a typical night, I told her.

I woke up in the middle of the night with shoulder and neck pain. Again.

Tossed and turned for hours, couldn’t get back to sleep.

And the whole time I’m lying there, I’m stressing out more by the minute each time I look over at the clock, knowing I’m gonna have to go into work on the next day and give one of the most important presentations of my career, to our agency’s highest-profile potential client yet, on 3 freakin’ hours of sleep.

The stress and exhaustion made me want to weep.

“Well that sucks,” Ronda said.

I told her that wasn’t the worst of it.

After the presentation that Friday my boss called me into her office. Told me she didn’t think I brought my “A” game. Said if we don’t land this big account . . . then she kind of trailed off and didn’t say much else.

“Uh oh,” Ronda said.

Uh oh is right. Like me, Ronda’s worked in advertising. She knows the drill.

If the agency didn’t land this big client we’d been wooing for weeks, I might get fired.

“Crap, I can’t get fired, I just bought a house,” I said.

That’s when Ronda dropped the tough love.

“Kimberly, you’ve been complaining about this since early April. It’s now May. I told you 6 weeks ago about the Euphoria pillows I bought that totally eliminated my shoulder and neck pain. I told you how I’ve been sleeping through the night for the first time in years since buying them. I told you how I’ve never felt more well-rested. I waxed so poetic about these pillows you accused me of being a rep for the company. Hell, you even slept on one when you spent the night here a few weeks ago and said it was like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. BUY THESE PILLOWS, girlfriend.”

I’m embarrassed to say that’s when I nearly shouted, “But those pillows are $80 damn dollars a piece!”

With a sigh and what I swear was a little bit of an eye roll, she said, “Kimberly, I say this with love as your best friend: you can be kind of a miser sometimes. I know you spent well over $80 on this bottle of wine and the ingredients for the dinner you made us tonight. Why wouldn’t you spend $80 bucks on something that’s actually, you know, going to improve the quality of your life in an honest-to-god real way?

I had to admit she was right.

“Oh alright,” I said, “give me the damn Euphoria Pillows website link. [à Link to website] And pour me another glass of Chianti.”

I’m happy to report that I ordered two Euphoria pillows that very night.

And while it took me a minute to get over the mild shock of spending $160 (I could buy four bottles of pretty decent Chianti for that sum), a few weeks on, I can say it was more than worth it.

Now I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in a very long time. I’ve never felt more well-rested. I’m ready to wax so poetic about these pillows you might accuse me of being a rep for the company.

And it’s not hyperbole to say that sleeping on Euphoria pillows is like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. [à Link to website]

Now, you might be asking yourself, “What the devil is Kimberly emailing me about pillows for? I got on this list to learn how to rock an ad agency career.”

But hear me out on this:

Think of superior quality pillows as a career enhancement tool.

That’s right.

A career enhancement tool, one of many in your arsenal.

You wouldn’t show up to the interview for the senior copywriter position at your dream agency with a resume written on a piece of paper ripped out of a spiral notebook would you?

Of course not.

You wouldn’t knock back two martinis at your agency welcome lunch the first day of your new job, right?

No. No, you wouldn’t. (Unless you’re Don Draper, in which case, you don’t need my career advice.)

So why would you rely on pillows that make it damn near impossible to get a quality night’s slumber, and potentially screw up your chance of landing & keeping that hot new agency career, all because crappy sleep prevents you from bringing your “A” game?

Don’t do that.

And don’t be me – don’t wait until a poor night’s sleep practically derails your career.

It just so happens that today – next Monday the exact kind of Euphoria Pillows I bought and swear by are on sale for $50 bucks off when you buy two.

$110 bucks to improve the quality of your life and, dare I say, your career prospects too.

Go on over to the Euphoria Pillows website right here, and get your $50 off today through Monday only[à Link to website]

Your shiny new ad agency career prospects will thank you.

XO,

Kimberly, reformed miser

P.S. My hesitation about investing in Euphoria Pillows is now a small speck in the rearview mirror. It’s been overshadowed by 6 weeks of kick-ass quality sleep that’s seen my agency land that high-profile client (and I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo!).

Get your career-enhancement tool here for $50 off, through Monday only.

[END OF EMAIL COPY]

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

So, there it is.

Once I knew my entry placed in the top five, the next step was to watch the video Chris and Kevin recorded breaking down the email and pointing out what worked and what didn’t.

If I’m honest, I was terrified to watch that video, and put it off for days.

Turns out, it wasn’t so bad. Everything they pointed out that needed improving was spot on, and super helpful to know.

Sure, I winced a couple times, but as Chris said in his review, “I’m being nitpicky, but yeah, you know, you’re on the leaderboard, so I reserve the right to be.” LOL.

Feedback from the Experts

(The feedback below comes from the video review Chris and Kevin did. I took notes while watching the video, so they’re a bit rough.)

Kevin’s feedback:

This had me hooked top to bottom.
Although you risked losing me in detail here…

Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

I love how you framed the value in STORY.

Really well done, @KimberlyHouston

Chris’s feedback:

First up, the weaknesses / what needed work …

He said the subject lines were just “ok/decent.” He said there was some curiosity in the main subject line I chose.

Curiosity is critical to persuasive copywriting, and subject lines are one of the key places we need to be using it. If your SL isn’t compelling, ain’t nobody gonna open that sales email, and you know what that means … no sales.

He also called out this section, saying that I was erring on the side of “a little too much detail” –> Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

Detail is necessary and good, and it’s sadly missing in much of the underperforming copy I see when I do copy reviews. However, as Chris pointed out, “There’s a fine line into crossing into too much detail territory.”

He said he would break this up into two sentences –> And the whole time I’m lying there, I’m stressing out more by the minute each time I look over at the clock, knowing I’m gonna have to go into work on the next day and give one of the most important presentations of my career, to our agency’s highest-profile potential client yet, on 3 freakin’ hours of sleep.

I say this to my own clients all the time: If people see long blocks of uninterrupted copy, they’ll usually be turned off and not read it, so this is good to keep in mind, whether you’re writing web copy, sales emails, landing pages, or anything else you write for your business.

He said about this paragraph, “It’s ok, but a little much,” and suggested I might want to pare it down. –> “I told you how I’ve been sleeping through the night for the first time in years since buying them. I told you how I’ve never felt more well-rested. I waxed so poetic about these pillows you accused me of being a rep for the company. Hell, you even slept on one when you spent the night here a few weeks ago and said it was like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. BUY THESE PILLOWS, girlfriend.”  –> Oh, and he didn’t like the “wax poetic” thing either, lol.

Here he cautioned against using “wax so poetic,” again, and suggested I not overdo that. Ditto, “accuse me of being a rep for the company,” which he pointed out, “is kind of redundant from before, so let’s not have that twice.” –> Now I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in a very long time. I’ve never felt more well-rested. I’m ready to wax so poetic about these pillows you might accuse me of being a rep for the company.

Here he said, “Ok, I don’t really know what that means, but alright.” –> And it’s not hyperbole to say that sleeping on Euphoria pillows is like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows.

He said to tighten this up a little. –> You wouldn’t show up to the interview for the senior copywriter position at your dream agency with a resume written on a piece of paper ripped out of a spiral notebook would you?

Here, he mentioned something that has always been one of my weaknesses as a writer – long sentences. Sometimes lengthy sentences are 100% necessary, but when writing copy, generally not. –>  So why would you rely on pillows that make it damn near impossible to get a quality night’s slumber, and potentially screw up your chance of landing & keeping that hot new agency career, all because crappy sleep prevents you from bringing your “A” game? –>So Kimberly you really have this tendency to, you know, these long sentences. They’re ok. I mean, you have that, then you have a 3-word sentence, and then you have a medium-size sentence. [Which is good, he confirms] So with readability, let’s try to make this a little bit better.”

And here, Chris made a smart observation about how he would have done this differently. –>“Oh alright,” I said, “give me the damn Euphoria Pillows website link. And pour me another glass of Chianti.” –> He said, “Now here, I might handle this a little bit differently, I might transition and zoom out from the story. ‘You know, she was absolutely right. So I went to the website and actually I got a link for it right here.’ Blah, blah, blah, ‘you can buy it through my link. And it’s changed my life and here are the benefits,’ you know really quick, and then, ‘I think you should buy one too, and it’s honestly changed my life and I started sleeping better, my performance at work started improving,’ and blah, blah, blah. That’s how I would have probably taken it. Instead of putting the link in the dialogue, just segue directly into it.”

Finally, he pointed out the “the whole CTA (call to action) could be tightened up just a tad bit.”

And now, what worked about the email:

Chris said he liked the storytelling, and the one-to-one conversation. He said it was very natural and flow-y, “very email.”

He mentioned that a lot of people tried to shove a sales letter into an email in this challenge, and he told people not to do that; my email was a story-based email, “which was exactly what we were looking for.”

He said this was a great opener:

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Ronda, my BFF of 30+ years, committed one of the kindest acts a trusted friend can ever do.

Chris –>  “It’s a great opening line, because it hooks you to the next one. And both lines pull you into the email copy. And that’s what you want to do at the beginning of an email.”

Here Chris said, “Yeah that’s a real fear, the fear of underperforming. There’s all these problems in people’s lives, how they manifest, how they appear, how they are dimensionalized in people’s lives, those are a good kind of demonstration.” –> After the presentation that Friday my boss called me into her office. Told me she didn’t think I brought my “A” game. Said if we don’t land this big account . . . then she kind of trailed off and didn’t say much else.

“Here you’re piling on the fear, but it’s ‘good fear,’ not like, ‘you’re gonna DIE!!!’ A lot of other people took that angle. But this is like a real fear.” –>  “Crap, I can’t get fired, I just bought a house,” I said.

“I like this because it’s telling your customer, ‘buy my thing!’” –>  “Kimberly, you’ve been complaining about this since early April. It’s now May. I told you 6 weeks ago about the Euphoria pillows I bought that totally eliminated my shoulder and neck pain.”

Here Chris pointed out, this is “an awesome way of handling an objection. This is a nice job.” –> With a sigh and what I swear was a little bit of an eye roll, she said, “Kimberly, I say this with love as your best friend: you can be kind of a miser sometimes. I know you spent well over $80 on this bottle of wine and the ingredients for the dinner you made us tonight. Why wouldn’t you spend $80 bucks on something that’s actually, you know, going to improve the quality of your life in an honest-to-god real way?”

He said this worked. –> And don’t be me – don’t wait until a poor night’s sleep practically derails your career.

And he liked this. –> Kimberly, reformed miser

And finally, re the P.S., he said, “Good, there’s some resolution to the story.”

P.S. My hesitation about investing in Euphoria Pillows is now a small speck in the rearview mirror. It’s been overshadowed by 6 weeks of kick-ass quality sleep that’s seen my agency land that high-profile client (and I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo!). I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo! –> Chris:This is kind of aspirational, an implied benefit. People will read that and go, ‘I want that too.” They start to place themselves in your story and they’ll be like, ‘maybe if I . . .’ and they start to connect the dots. ‘Maybe if I get better sleep, I might perform better at work, and good things can happen for me too.’”

In the end, according to Chris –>“Overall, nice job. I thought this was strong, and demonstrative, and very email native I guess is maybe the right way to describe it. So, awesome job, Kimberly Houston.”

Key Takeaways

#1: Do things that scare you. I came very close to not entering this contest, for all the reasons mentioned at the top of the post. And if I hadn’t? I wouldn’t have honed my story-based sales email writing skills, I wouldn’t have gotten one-on-one feedback from two uber-successful & skilled copywriting experts (<– priceless), and I wouldn’t have a valuable piece of content to post to the blog.

#2: Get in a supportive community of your peers. To quote the Copy Chief guiding motto, “Nobody writes alone.” There’s nothing like knowing a wise and experienced group of industry peers has your back anytime you need help with challenges or problems in your business, or simply when you want to share a win. The Copy Chief community is about so much more than copy feedback. Copywriters, marketers and business people of all experience levels are there everyday providing feedback, answering questions, seeking answers to their own questions, and as an added bonus – having a damn good time doing it. It’s no exaggeration to say it feels like a family.

#3: If you want to write persuasive copy that sells, you must do the pre-work before ever putting fingers to keyboard. See above, “Prep I Did Before Writing.” This is imperative if you hope to connect with your ideal customers and convert them into buyers.

#4: When it comes to selling via email, stories tend to work better than strictly transactional emails. (NOT in every case, but in many.) You can probably see why. Would you rather read an interesting story that actually demonstrates how a product can improve your life in real-world ways, or an email that whose sole purpose is to sell, at all costs, and screams something like, “Our biggest pillow sale of the year!! 75% off through midnight tonight! Click here to buy now!”

 

Next time you’re writing an email to sell your products or services, consider using a story-based approach. It can be a lot more fun for you – and importantly, your audience – than writing a standard sales email. And it may get much better results, too.

 

What a USP Is, Why You Need One ASAP, and How to Create One for Your Service-Based Business So You Can Get More Business, Bookings & Sales [Part 3 of 3]

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

[This is the final installment of a 3-part series on creating a memorable USP. You can find Part One here, and Part Two here.]

If you’ve already read Parts 1 & 2 (linked above) of this 3-part series, welcome back! If you’re arriving at this post fresh from somewhere out there on the interwebs and you haven’t read the first two installments, I recommend you read those first. 😊

To recap, in Part One of this post on creating a compelling USP for your business, we defined the terms USP (unique selling proposition) and “meaningful difference,” covered how a memorable USP informs your signature marketing message, and importantly, why your signature marketing message is so critically important to the health of your business, and I shared a short excerpt from my guide Marketing Messages That Convert: A Step-by-Step Copy Messaging Guide for Solopreneurs, Freelancers, Creative Business Builders & Other Non-Marketing Types, to help you make sense of it all.

In Part Two, we talked about five ways a stand-out USP will help you get more business, bookings & sales.

In this final installment, I’ll share a few examples of successful unique selling propositions and talk some about why they work, which I hope will give you solid inspiration for creating a great one for your own business.

Let’s get started.

As I mentioned in Part One, it’s unlikely that your product or service is unique in and of itself, so figuring out what makes you different – whether this is your process, your personality, your backstory, your specialization, your target audience, or all of the above (and it’s usually some combination of all of the above) – and conveying that in your marketing will give you a competitive edge.

I call this the “combo platter” test.

Another framework to consider is the “what your business stands for” test.

As Joe Putnam from Conversion Engine, writing in a guest post on Neil Patel’s blog, says:

A unique selling proposition is what your business stands for. It’s what sets your business apart from others because of what your business makes a stand about. Instead of attempting to be known for everything, businesses with a unique selling proposition stand for something specific, and it becomes what you’re known for.

He shares three excellent examples of this USP framework in action: Starbucks, Zappos, and project management software, Basecamp. Check out Joe’s article on unique selling propositions here for more on that.

Examples of Effective USPs 

If you’re anything like me, it helps to see Real! Live! Examples! to make the theory talk gel and show you the way forward.

I love me some examples, so here’s a big ol’ section full of ‘em.

 [*Caveat: When you look at the first set of examples below from our friend Jim Muehlhausen, you might think, “Oh noes! I have to fit my USP into a short, pithy tagline!” No, you do not. Great if you can do it, but my definition of USP is broader than that. See “combo platter,” above.]

In Compare a Unique Selling Proposition to a Unique Value Proposition, Jim Muehlhausen says:

The goal of any great business model is to have a high-profit product that customers want to buy. A highly marketable product is traditionally described as having a unique selling proposition. Whole Foods offers only healthy choices in its stores. Domino’s Pizza grew rapidly because of its super-fast delivery. UGG boots are not only fashionable but also allow you to walk comfortably without socks. These are all unique selling propositions.

Muehlhausen shares a list of other good examples of products with a clear USP and tagline:

  • BMW:The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • Dawn Dishwashing Liquid:Gets grease out of your way
  • Domino’s Pizza:You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free
  • FedEx:When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight
  • MetLife:Get Met. It Pays.
  • M&M’s:Melts in your mouth, not in your hand
  • Target:Expect more. Pay less.
  • Walmart:Everyday low prices

Want more?

A fantastic resource I love is Corbett Barr’s 10 Examples of Killer Unique Selling Propositions on the Web. I often refer people to this article when they’re struggling to come up with a USP for their business.

Saddleback Leather is one example of a killer USP Barr shares in the article above, saying:

“There is no other leather bag company on the planet like Saddleback Leather This company oozes personality. The website is full of tales of Mexican bullfighting, travel in third-world countries, simple pleasures and touching stories about the owner’s beloved Labrador named Blue.”

About TOMS Shoes, he says:

“TOMS Shoes are quirky, comfy, light and inexpensive. That alone maybe isn’t enough to make a company stand out in the shoe business. The most unique and compelling part of the TOMS Shoes story is that they give a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you purchase.”

Check out the article over on Fizzle.co for these and a handful of other great examples.

Here are a handful of my own favorite USP examples, curated from around the web over the last few years and saved into my personal swipe file:

Hiut Denim 

I can’t even begin to explain how much I adore this company. I would marry this company if I could.

What they stand for?

“Do one thing well. We make jeans. That’s it. No distractions.” 

Their backstory is also very compelling, with a powerful emotional hook. But it’s not contrived. It’s not some made-up marketing B.S. It’s the real effing deal.

Hiut Denim saved a town and its livelihood.

Whether or not you find that meaningful, it’s certainly a story you won’t forget. “Oh, that’s the company that saved the town of Cardigan and got them making jeans again.” 

I mean, sure, Meghan Markle wears their jeans, but in my mind, that’s just a natural result of their extraordinary product and business ethos.

They also have the best weekly newsletter of any retail goods company I’ve come across, called Scrapbook Chronicles. It’s full of compelling stories, creative inspiration, out-of-the-box thinking, and interesting ideas. It’s my favorite thing to read on a Saturday morning.

The Unmistakable Creative 

The Unmistakable Creative is a podcast, blog, and so much more. Podcast host, writer, and multi-published author Srini Rao says about The Unmistakable Creative:

I help creative individuals and organizations bring their ideas to life using research-backed principles from neuroscience and behavioral psychology.

Now, you can argue that’s a value proposition, and you’d be right, but The Unmistakable Creative is a distinctive brand with a stand-out USP.

Srini says about his podcast:

I’ve interviewed bank robbers, drug dealers, billionaires, performance psychologists, New York’s highest paid dominatrix, performance artists, entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss and David Heinemeier Hansson, and many more, trying to understand what makes some people’s lives so uniquely them – so unmistakable.

The podcast is a treasure trove of fascinating people doing unexpected things, many of them taking decidedly non-traditional paths to finding success, joy & fulfillment in their professional and personal lives.

Definitely not your “usual” business or marketing podcast (though there are many guests who are geniuses at both of those things), which is one of the reasons I find it so compelling.

Anthropologie 

If you want to read an in-depth, case study-like overview of how Anthropologie has developed passionate brand loyalty among its ideal audience, check out the article Sophisticated Sell on Fast Company. 

I read this article years ago, saved it to my “examples of great USPs and messaging” file, and still refer to it often.

The article overview sums up Anthropologie’s unique appeal nicely:

“Why are so many women so passionate about shopping at Anthropologie? Because Glen Senk and his colleagues aren’t just selling clothes and furnishings. They’re selling a sense of adventure and originality — and the promise of self-discovery.”

If you’re a student of effective copywriting and marketing, you’ll know that what we “sell” has less to do with the actual product or service on offer – whether that’s photography, design, art, business consulting, marketing services, or anything else – and more to do with how our products and services make the buyer feel, how our goods enhance or reinforce a perception people have, or want to have, about themselves.

What Anthropologie “sells” is the aforementioned “sense of adventure and originality — and the promise of self-discovery.” (Think about the oft-used example of a mattress: it’s not the mattress itself that’s being sold, it’s a good night’s sleep.)

Their retail stores create a distinct experience. As Anthropologie’s president explained in the Fast Company article, “One of our core philosophies is that we spend the money that other companies spend on marketing to create a store experience that exceeds people’s expectations. We don’t spend money on messages — we invest in execution.”

One of the things Anthropologie does especially well is spend the time and effort to know their core customer deeply, then reflect that in all they do, through every touchpoint of the buyer experience.

“Most stores cater to a broad base of customers or specialize in a product category. We specialize in one customer. And we offer her everything from clothing to bed linens to furniture to soap,” says Anthropologie’s president.

Now that is a distinct USP.

(If you’re on my email list or read my blog, you’ll know that I am absolutely obsessed with beginning the process of determining your USP & signature marketing message by getting to know your ideal client or customer and their needs and desires really, really well. It all starts there. That’s why I love this Anthropologie example so much. I highly recommend you read the entire Fast Company article linked above; it demonstrates how they have done this successfully.)

The Parker Palm Springs 

Hotels. There are a million of them. So how to stand out and be remembered in order to attract your ideal guests?

The Parker Palm Springs does it in a thoroughly captivating way: through the use of a “short memoir” on their website Home page.

The “memoir” shares a day in the life of an ideal hotel stay, from waking and enjoying a decadent breakfast, to exploring the lovely hotel grounds, to spending time at the sparkling pool and enjoying an afternoon cocktail, all the way through drinks & dining in the p.m., and on through to nightcaps the end the evening, and a perfectly delightful day.

The feeling of being transported and pampered the hotel delivers is captured beautifully in their messaging, images and overall web experience. And those rooms! To die for.

What you come away with after visiting The Parker Palm Springs website is a very different experience to most hotel websites, many of which (even for the nicer hotels) feel much more transactional and utilitarian in their approach.

As I like to say, you have to “paint a picture” for your ideal clients and customers, and The Parker Palm Springs does it brilliantly.

 

I hope this three-part series has helped you better understand what a memorable USP is, the importance of creating one for your business, and how to get started devising your own.

My next step suggestion is to begin paying close attention to the brands you’re drawn to, and note why that is – I bet it has something to do with that company’s USP and brand messaging. (For example, I’ve been driving a Jeep Cherokee for years. When I first bought it, I was still living out West after being a life-long East Coaster, and doing a lot of hiking in the mountains on the regular. The Jeep USP and brand messaging aligned with the person I saw myself as at that time – an active, outdoorsy person who doesn’t follow the beaten path in life and likes to do things a little differently.)

Discovering and conveying your USP is essential to business success, especially online where every potential client or customer that could be yours has a world of choices at their fingertips 24/7.

I have more examples of memorable USPs from my swipe file I may share next week, or some other time soon.

In the mean time, good luck with creating your compelling USP and signature marketing message (s)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a USP Is, Why You Need One ASAP, and How to Create One for Your Service-Based Business So You Can Get More Business, Bookings & Sales [Part 2 of 3]

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

[This is Part Two of a 3-part series on creating a memorable USP. You can find Part One here. Part Three is here.]

In Part One of this mega-post on creating a compelling USP for your business, we defined the terms USP (unique selling proposition) and “meaningful difference,” covered how a memorable USP informs your signature marketing message, and importantly, why your signature marketing message is so undeniably important to the health of your business, and I shared a short excerpt from my guide Marketing Messages That Convert: A Step-by-Step Copy Messaging Guide for Solopreneurs, Freelancers, Creative Business Builders & Other Non-Marketing Types, to help you make sense of it all.

In today’s post, we’ll talk about five ways a stand-out USP will help you get more business, bookings & sales. Then in the final installment of this series next week [Part Three], I’ll share a few examples of successful unique selling propositions and break down why they work so well, which will help you create a great one for your own business.

Ok, so let’s recap a bit:

In Part One, I mentioned that creating your signature marketing message can be approached through use of a “formula” of sorts, which looks something like this:

ICA (Ideal Client Avatar) + USP (unique selling proposition) + your expertise + your life experience & unique backstory + your worldview, applied to your ideal client or customers’ challenges & how you will solve them = your overarching marketing message

You’ll weave this in on your website, blog posts, newsletters, social media updates, and all your marketing communications, wherever you’re in conversation with your audience.

Your signature marketing message is what compels your ideal clients and customers to choose you over all the other choices they have, it tells them why you’re exactly the right person or business to solve their problems and challenges, and it begins to tell them how you’ll do so.

Your messaging should strike an emotional cord with your ideal/desired audience, and make them feel like, “Yes, this is exactly who I want to work with. Where do I sign up?”

Here’s another way to think of it:

The hook/big idea/marketing message of your business answers the question, “Of all the other [thing you do] out there who are equally talented, skilled, and experienced, why should your ideal clients choose you?”

A marketing message that converts will entice your desired clients and customers to take some kind of conversion action, such as subscribing to your email list, signing up for a free consult, inquiring about working with you, making a purchase, or similar.

 

So, let’s say after reading Part One of this post you’re clear on what a USP / meaningful difference is, and you understand how it informs the creation of your signature marketing message. You also get that it’s imperative to begin incorporating your USP and signature marketing message into all your copy online and elsewhere in your marketing communications, so you can stand out from pack and attract and convert your ideal clients & customers.

Once you’ve got that in motion, you’ll start enjoying the following benefits.

5 ways a compelling USP will help you get more business, bookings & sales

A compelling USP attracts and appeals to your ICA

#1: Your signature marketing message is created based on a USP that is meaningfully different in a way your ICA finds appealing, so when expressed in your marketing communications, ideal clients will naturally be drawn to you, and want more of what you have to offer. [I get this may sound like theory, but in next week’s post when we look at examples of great USPs, all will become clear.😊 ]

A compelling USP creates trust with your ICA, and trust = more sales

#2: When you communicate what makes you different from others who provide a similar product or service in a way that resonates with your ICA, they’ll feel seen, heard, and understood. This creates trust. And creating trust is critical to making sales.

A compelling USP helps you create marketing copy faster (and related … helps you make sales even if your copywriting & marketing skills aren’t stellar)

#3: Knowing your ICA well and understanding what your USP/meaningful difference is, means you don’t have to be the world’s most skilled copywriter or marketer to start getting great results from your web and other marketing copy, as long as you’re expressing an enticing USP clearly.

And that means …

You can sit down and bang out copy faster. Get it up on your website or landing page faster. Send out those sales emails faster. And obvs, start making sales faster as a result.

What a bonus!

I still fret over every sentence and word when I’m writing copy for my own business, but because I know my USP and how it’s meaningfully different for my ICA, I can incorporate those elements into my messaging and get the copy out the door so I can make sales now, rather than some undetermined time in the future when the copy is “perfect.” Which it never will be.

True story: my website in its current iteration sorely, sorely needs to be redesigned and upgraded, and I do just fine. In fact, there are many things in my business that need to be improved and upgraded, and there are loads of things I’m not good at, but despite that, I do just fine.

That’s because my marketing message, of which the USP is a large part, resonates with the right people, and enough of those right people reach out to work with me so I can earn a good living.

A compelling USP allows you to create the right marketing message for the right audience

#4: Knowing your USP will allow you to create blog posts, videos, newsletters, email onboarding and nurture sequences, social media status updates, web copy and all other conceivable kinds of content to show off your expertise to your right people with much more ease, instead of spending countless hours in front of your computer pulling your hair out wondering what to write. When the right messaging gets put in front of the right audience at the right time, some of those people are naturally going to buy.

A compelling USP will help you save time, and time = money

#5: When you don’t have to work yourself to a frazzle creating content that establishes your authority and attracts good clients, you’ll free up more time to do other key activities in your business. And as we all know, time is money. Actually, time is a finite resource, and therefore more valuable than money. One way to spend your valuable time well & earn more is to write effective marketing copy faster, which you are equipped to do once you know your ICA + USP.

And as a result of #1 – #5 above?

You’ll convert more sales, because your targeted content & marketing copy demonstrates your USP / meaningful difference in a way your ICA finds engaging, in a way they are drawn to, and in a way that is deeply beneficial to them (which makes it nearly impossible to ignore).

The bottom line is, being one of a kind in your marketplace makes it so much easier for your right people to find and choose you. And you do this in part through a kick-ass USP.

And … that’s it for Part Two.

In the final installment of this 3-part series next week, I’ll share Real! Live! Examples! of USPs that have helped businesses of all kinds develop enormous brand loyalty with their target audience & stand out in their (very often) saturated niche.

My hope is that you’ll look to those examples for inspiration in creating your own memorable USP and the signature marketing message that naturally goes along with it.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the process I recommend for finding your USP and compelling marketing message/s, I invite you to check out the Marketing Messages That Convert guide here.

What a USP Is, Why You Need One ASAP, and How to Create One for Your Service-Based Business So You Can Get More Business, Bookings & Sales [Part 1 of 3]

Photo by Ine Carriquiry on Unsplash

[This is the first installment of a 3-part series on creating a memorable USP. You can find Part Two here, and Part Three here.]

“Your USP can mean the difference between success and failure.” Corbett Barr, Fizzle.co, from The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition

Oh, how true that is.

I know it well, because I stupidly didn’t create a USP (and the signature messaging to go with it) for my service-based business when I first got started online, the result of which was months of wasted time, weeping into my wine on a regular basis, and working myself to a frazzle with nothing to show for it.

I came very, very close to giving up on my business entirely, a story I’ve told before.

If you want to avoid my dumb mistakes, then I urge you to take Corbett Barr’s assertion that “deciding on a USP is possibly the most important decision you can make about your business,” seriously. 

Before we get into the finer points of USPs and how creating a compelling one will help you sell more, let’s talk definitions.

I started my copywriting and marketing career way back in the dark ages, round about 2001.

Since then, I’ve seen/read/heard enough definitions for various marketing terms – USP (unique selling proposition), UVP (unique value proposition), positioning statement, Point of Difference (POD), differentiation, core marketing message, and many, many others – to make my head spin.

Many of these terms are used interchangeably.

Heck, despite my years in the marketing trenches, even I started to feel overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all while researching this article. (And I’ve got the 40-page research document to prove it.)

All of which is to say, there are marketing nerds out there who may disagree about what, exactly, a USP is, but I care not one whit about that.

The important thing to know is that you need to do something to distinguish yourself/your business online, and your USP is how you do that. Because without a compelling USP, you’ll struggle to get any kind of traction at all (been there, done that).

For our purposes here, I define a USP (unique selling proposition) as:

The collection of factors unique to you and your business that compel your ideal clients to choose you over someone else who offers a similar product or service. This will be based, in part, on the kind of clients and customers you serve, and their needs / desires related to the thing you sell.

Now, if you want an “official” definition of what a USP is, here’s one  from businessdictionary.com:

Real or perceived benefit of a good or service that differentiates it from the competing brands —and gives its buyer a logical reason to prefer it over other brands. USP is often a critical component of a promotional theme around which an advertising campaign is built.

Corbett Barr defines a USP like so:

Your unique selling proposition is what makes your business stand out. It’s what makes you different and earns you a special place in the minds of your potential customers.

I like to think of your overall USP as your reason for being. Think about it from your customer’s point of view. With tens or hundreds of potential options out there, you have to answer the question, “why should I buy from you?” ~Corbett Barr

It’s unlikely that your product or service is unique in and of itself, so figuring out what makes you different – whether this is your process, your personality, your backstory, your specialization, your target audience, or all of the above (and it’s usually some combination of all of the above) – and conveying that in your online marketing will give you a competitive edge.

Like brilliant marketer Derek Halpern, says, “It’s not about finding unique ingredients, it’s about finding a unique recipe.”  

Take me, for example. I’m a conversion-focused marketing copywriter specializing in website and email copy, which is not unique in and of itself, but the combination of the clients I serve + my experience, expertise, offerings, personality & style, approach and backstory is.

Meaningful Difference vs USP

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, newsletters, and elsewhere, I prefer the term “meaningful difference,” rather than USP. This is because often people hear “unique selling proposition,” and get wigged out about the “selling” part of unique selling proposition.

If that’s you, then think of your USP as your “meaningful difference.”

What is a meaningful difference, you ask?

Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst, Insights Division, Kantar, defines it like so:

So what’s a meaningful difference? I think of it this way. We humans find it impossible to judge anything in isolation. We tend to compare things to very close alternatives. So a difference, a factor that distinguishes one item from another, gets our attention. And while a difference may be apparent to most people, it won’t seem important to everyone. A meaningful difference is one that is considered to be important—one that provides a brand with a meaning that is likely to have an influence on a person’s brand choice. [Bold highlighting mine]

According to Hollis:

In the absence of a meaningful difference, the cheapest brand may be regarded as the best choice. Lack of differentiation turns brands into commodities and marketing messages into white noise. But a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium. In today’s complex, confusing, and increasingly impersonal world, people cherish meaning wherever they find it, whether it’s in a brand, a memory, or a lump of rock. So to build value, give people a reason to cherish your brand. [Bold highlighting mine]

Think about that – “a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium.” [Italics mine]

Look no further than well-known brands Apple, Harley Davidson, and designer Tory Burch, to see this principle in action.

You could buy a computer, or a motorcycle, or clothes much more cheaply from plenty of other companies, but the cache attached to these three brands because of their position and differentiation in the marketplace makes their ideal customers insanely eager to pay premium prices for them.  Heck, they even line up around city blocks for hours, just for the privilege of paying premium prices, in the case of Apple.  

That’s the power of effective differentiation, AKA, meaningful difference.

[Hollis’ notion of meaningful difference is much more nuanced and in-depth than I have room to talk about here. I suggest you read his article, Not Just Different but Meaningfully Different.”]

How Your USP Informs Your Signature Marketing Message 

Ok, now we’re clear on what a unique selling proposition (USP) or meaningful difference (MD) is.

This is fantastic information to have, because a USP / MD is a key part of your signature marketing message.

And your signature marketing message is what attracts and converts your ideal clients and customers.

What is your marketing message, exactly? Is it your tagline? Your mission statement? Your company’s vision statement? The details of the product or service you provide? A combination of all the above?

The following excerpt comes from my guide, Marketing Messages That Convert: A Step-by-Step Copy Messaging Guide for Solopreneurs, Freelancers, Creative Business Builders & Other Non-Marketing Types

The way I define a marketing message is this: it’s the combination of things about you and your business — that you already possess! — that put together the right way, will help you attract and connect with your ideal clients & customers (your “ICA,” or ideal client avatar), stand out from the online crowd (instead of being a copycat version of every other person for hire out there doing what you do), and, once you’re getting consistent quality traffic to your website, help you get more business, bookings and sales.

It’s created from your ideal client profile, your unique selling proposition (USP), or what I prefer to think of as your “meaningful difference,” your expertise, and your unique backstory, among other things.

So, if it were a formula, it would look something like this:

ICA + USP + your expertise + your life experience & unique backstory + your worldview applied to your ideal client or customers’ challenges & how you will solve them = your overarching marketing message

You’ll weave this in on your website, blog posts, newsletters, social media updates, and all your marketing communications, wherever you’re in conversation with your audience.

Your signature marketing message is what compels your ideal clients and customers to choose you over all the other choices they have, it tells them why you’re exactly the right person or business to solve their problems and challenges, and it begins to tell them how you’ll do so.

Your messaging should strike an emotional cord with your ideal/desired audience, and make them feel like, “Yes, this is exactly who I want to work with. Where do I sign up?”

Here’s another way to think of it:

The hook/big idea/marketing message of your business answers the question, “Of all the other [thing you do] out there who are equally talented, skilled, and experienced, why should your ideal clients choose you?”

A marketing message that converts will entice your desired clients and customers to take some kind of conversion action, such as subscribing to your email list, signing up for a free consult, inquiring about working with you, making a purchase, or similar.

If you want to learn more about the process I recommend for finding your marketing message/s, I invite you to check out the Marketing Messages That Convert guide here.

Ok, that’s it for Part One, folks.

Coming up next week, in Part Two, I’ll be talking about 5 ways a compelling USP will help you get more business, bookings & sales, then in the final installment the following week [Part Three], I’ll share Real! Live! Examples! of USPs that have helped businesses of all kinds develop enormous brand loyalty with their target audience & stand out in their (very often) saturated niche. My hope is that you’ll look to those examples for inspiration in creating your own memorable USP and the signature marketing message that naturally goes along with it.

 

Want More Email Subscribers? Implement These Two Ridiculously Simple Tips

Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash

I’ve been doing loads of web copy & messaging strategy sessions this week, and here’s something I’ve noticed:

Pretty much everyone I talked to KNOWS that building a healthy, robust email list is non-negotiable if you want to build your business and get clients and customers online (without having to do the constant client-getting hustle).

Yet, most of the fine folks I had calls with had their email opt-in forms buried in a hard to find spot on their website, and/or the copy asking people to sign up for the list was the standard, “Sign up for updates here,” or “Join My Newsletter,” or similar.

And in most cases, there was also no dedicated landing page for the email opt-in opportunity.

That situation will not convert very many web visitors to email subscribers, if it converts any at all.

This wasn’t news to most of those I spoke to – they get it.

But keep in mind, every day your website isn’t optimized for email opt-ins is a day you’re not building your audience; therefore, you’re “leaving money on the table,” to use a terribly cliché phrase. (Cliché, yes, but TRUE? Also, yes.)

During every consult where the above was the case, I shared the following advice.

Two tips anyone can implement simply and quickly to increase email opt-ins

Tip #1: Create persuasive opt-in copy

What you want to do is create opt-in copy that gives people a compelling reason to sign up for your list. Make it about the benefits of signing up, and tell them how often they can expect to hear from you, if you can fit that info in.

So, not this:

Or this:

 

No, no, no no no. That will not do. No one wants to enter their email address into a mystery form like the ones above with no information about … anything.

Instead, give your opt-in copy some personality, and share those benefits! For example, the copy on my Home page opt-in says:

“Enter your email below to get instant access to the FREE Creative Rebel Guide to Writing an Ideal Client-Attracting About Page (so you never have to accept work from someone simply because they have a checkbook and a pulse, ever again.)”

The pop-up opt-in on my website says:

“Get Actionable Copywriting Tips to Grow Your Creative Business: Weekly copywriting & web marketing advice for creatives, solopreneurs & other non-marketing types. Sense of humor and Southern twang included at no extra charge.”

And check out the copy on Ashley Ambirge’s opt-in form for her “25 Days to $100K Freelancer Challenge”

Notice how much more enticing the idea of handing over your email address in exchange for valuable, interesting content becomes when the copy conveys benefits AND personality.

Tip #2: Create a dedicated landing page for email opt-ins

Create a dedicated landing page for your email list, and have access to that page it in the main navigation menu at the top of your website.

This link is what you’ll use in your social media bios. Because, again, you want to build the email list, and this will help you do it.

Here’s the power of a dedicated landing page for your opt-in:

The small opt-in form on my website Home page converts about 1.9% of website visitors. My email opt-in landing page converts around 48% of website traffic.

HUGE difference.

If all you have on your site is a tiny email opt-in form, especially if it’s hard to find AND the copy on it is not that compelling, you’re missing out on potential subscribers every single day.

And if you’re doing things to drive traffic to your site so you can GET more subscribers, that effort will be wasted.

So, what should you write on your email opt-in landing page?

You can go into a little more detail about the kind of information people can expect to receive once they sign up, and how often they’ll hear from you. You can share more about the benefits of signing up.

For example, on my email opt-in landing page, I say:

Enter your email below to get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE …

You’ll also receive free weekly updates: tips and advice on how to use personality-driven web copy and bespoke web marketing strategy in your creative business to:

  • Instantly captivate clients who are perfect for what you have to offer . . . and subtly shoo away those who aren’t
  • Get client inquiries rolling in consistently so you can get off the feast-or-famine roller coaster for good
  • Book more projects & make more folding money

All while keeping your creative integrity intact.

Enter your email below and click “Give Me the Guide!”

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To recap, if you want to get more email subscribers:

#1: Create opt-in copy that gives people a compelling & benefit-driven reason to sign up for your list

#2: Create a dedicated landing page for your email list

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LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE I SPOKE TO THIS WEEK, I TOO WAS AFRAID TO MARKET TO MY LIST IN THE BEGINNING

I’ll admit, I wasn’t always about sending offers to my list when I first got online. 

Sure, I started an email list from Day Freakin’ One, but even as an experienced marketer and copywriter, I was hesitant to send anything other than high value free content.

“What if people get upset?” I wondered. “What if people unsubscribe?” I whined, to no one in particular.

Now I realize none of that matters. If someone unsubs because you sent out an offer, they aren’t your people, and were never going to buy from you anyway.

Or maybe they unsub because you’re just not their jam. That’s cool. You don’t want those people on your list. Let them go.

OH, BUT THEN …

Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like sending an offer to your subscribers, and getting people raising their hand, eagerly saying, “Yes, I want that!,” in return.

A few years ago, when I sent my very first true sales email to my list, I was pretty nervous, because up to that point, I’d ever only sent “value bomb” / educational emails.

But I got over my fear and hit “send.” The email announced a small $500 offer, and 5 people replied yes within 24 hours.

And no one died!! AND I generated $2500 in revenue!

I’d always believed in the power of email marketing, even if I was too afraid to make an ask at first, but after that first experience, I was well and truly sold.

Sold, I tell you!

$2500 in 24 hours from sending one email?

I’ll take it.

And I’m small potatoes. My list is TINY. Embarrassingly tiny.

There are folks out there sending one or two emails and making 5 or 10 times that. They’re more well-known, have pricier offerings and bigger email lists, but I’m living proof there’s still much you can do with a small, dedicated list of email subscribers.

Of course, it goes without saying that you have something valuable people actually want and are willing to pay for.

But you can start building your email list now, before you have all your products and services worked out; that’s what I did.

 

I hope by now you’re sold on optimizing your website for email opt-ins.

It’s one of the very best things you can do for your business, especially if, like me, you’re an introvert, and love the idea of doing most of your marketing online.

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Want me to write your persuasive opt-in form + email sign-up landing page copy so you can start getting more subscribers sooner rather than later, and build your audience of raving fans?

Email me at: Kimberly [at] kimberlydhouston [dot] com with “Email opt-in copy” in the subject line, and I’ll get back to you ASAP with details of how we can work together.

If building your email list is important to you, then let’s connect!

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: The Baby Carrot Story and Using Personality in Marketing

Baby Carrots_blog image

 

Consider the carrot. The baby carrot, to be precise.  

A nutritious, wholesome, feel-good snack you can feel smug about eating, what with its minimal calories and healthy dose of good-for-you beta-carotene.

And sure, they’re good for you, but the truth is, they’re just not that interesting, are they? I mean, carrots, right? They’ve been around for 2000 years, they’re not trendy or hip like ramps or kale, or whatever other produce happens to be taking its star turn this year; they’re not really unique or special in any way. 

So, what if it was your task to “brand” them? What if you had to come up with a way to position baby carrots so they could compete with, say, cheetohs, potato chips or other junk food as a snack alternative?

Maybe you’d think, well, let’s promote their health benefits, that’ll do it!

Unfortunately, that line of thinking happens not to work all that well.

(Horrifying factoid: In 2012, $116 million dollars was spent on advertising fruit and veggies. And $2 billion was spent on advertising junk food to kids.  Yes, you read that right – $2 billion dollars.  Damn, that’s a lot of money spent to convince kids to eat crap!)

Even though print and online publications have been touting the joys and benefits of eating fruits and vegetables for years, not to mention many dozens of stories appearing on TV about the dangers of unhealthy eating, produce still has trouble competing for our shopping dollars, and per capita consumption isn’t up.

What’s a carrot seller to do?  And what’s the point of all this talk about carrots, anyway?  

My point, and I do have one, is that with enough creativity and resourcefulness, you can uncover the benefits and bring out the personality of any boring old thing to make it interesting and appealing to your audience, as I talked about previously here

Bolthouse Farms did this with carrots a few years ago. And if you can do it for carrots, you can do it for your creative products and services.

How Bolthouse Farms Transformed Carrots from Boring Agricultural Commodity to Cool, Crave-able Snack

A few years ago, Jeffrey Dunn, President and CEO of Bolthouse Farms, which grows and processes more than a billion pounds of carrots a year, was shopping for an ad agency to help create a campaign around baby carrots. Bolthouse had never marketed its carrots before, but sales were down, so Dunn decided to shake things up and get creative.

But he didn’t want to appeal to smarts and responsibility as in, “eat carrots because they’re good for you,” he wanted to market his company’s baby carrots in a different way. He knew that pitting the health benefits of the cute veggie against the perils of eating junk food wasn’t going to cut it. Instead he wanted something funny and emotional that appealed to impulse snacking.

Enter ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.  Instead of pitching a campaign centered around the health benefits of carrots, Crispin proposed aligning the baby carrot with junk food.

In an article in Fast Company, Omid Farhang, vice president and creative director at Crispin, said “The truth about baby carrots is they possess many of the defining characteristics of our favorite junk food. They’re neon orange, they’re crunchy, they’re dippable, they’re kind of addictive.”

The idea was to do the same kind of marketing for carrots as for things like Coke and cheetohs, because as Dunn was quoted as saying in the Fast Company article, “If all we do is tell people fruits and vegetables need to be part of their diet or they’re not going to be healthy – the rational approach – we have zero chance.”  

Think about it – we already know we need to eat our veggies, so telling us that in an ad campaign has no impact. As Farhang said, “What a silly use of advertising dollars to tell people that vegetables are healthy.”

Instead, the campaign they rolled out featured new packaging in which baby carrots were packaged like Doritos, in a crinkly potato chip bag with junk-food-style graphics, and an ad campaign with taglines such as “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” and “Baby Carrots: The Original Orange Doodles.”

You can read more about the whole she-bang in the fabulous article in Fast Company, “How Carrots Became the New Junk Food.” And check out the Bolthouse Farms website here for a great example of how to position with personality in order to stand out in your niche.

Marketing Lessons and Questions to Ponder

I don’t know if it’s because I once worked for an ad agency and I appreciate a killer creative marketing campaign when I see one, but I haven’t been able to get the Baby Carrots story out of my head since I first heard about it late last year.

It’s proof that positioning with personality works.  (Sales in Bolthouse’s test markets went up 10% to 12% over the year before in the year following the test campaign.)

Think about how Bolthouse Farms went against the standard approach in this campaign by deciding not to use a health benefits approach, instead aligning themselves with junk food.  How can you apply this kind of creative thinking to your own marketing?

Consider how Bolthouse uses personality to transform baby carrots from a healthy, but boring vegetable into a hip, crave-able snack.  Are there ways you can do this with your creative products and services?

Share your thoughts in the comments! 

[Sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]  

 

How to Do Your Own D-I-Y Website Audit to Increase Conversions

website audit to increase conversions

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Question: Do you dream of having a website that does the job it’s meant to do – namely, to serve as your 24-7 salesperson – so you can go about doing your important creative work without having to constantly worry about marketing yourself? 

Having a “web presence” just to make your business seem legit is not the sole, or even the most important, reason your website exists.

Your website needs to make a powerful connection with the buyers and customers you want. It should position you as the obvious choice for your ideal clients. And it needs to get those people excited to take the next step on the path to working with you or buying from you (and that next step needs to be clearly and compellingly laid out).

Your website is ultimately meant to get you clients and customers and sell your products and services. Full stop.

That process might involve three steps or twelve, and it’ll usually start with subscribing to your email list, but at the end of the business day, if you’re in business, the reason your website exists is to generate revenue.

Maybe your website is actually doing a little bit of that right now. If so, great.

Or . . . maybe it’s behaving more like a lazy employee with a bad attitude, who sometimes does a half-assed job of getting you the results you want, and other times does nothing at all.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s a simple checklist of questions you can ask yourself to gauge your website’s performance:

:: Is your website connecting with your ideal clients and customers?

:: Is it moving them to take the action you want them to take?

:: Is it conveying your signature marketing message, one that speaks directly to those you wish to work with and serve?

:: Is it crystal clear and uber-easy for potential clients to get all the information they need in just one or two clicks, whether that’s signing up for your email list, requesting a consultation, buying your stuff, or something else?

:: Are you employing tried and true, proven copywriting principles in your web copy? (For example, speaking to one person; using conversational language; addressing your clients’ needs, wants, desires, goals, and interests; using client & customer-focused language rather “I do this” and “I do that” language, and so on. The list, it do go on.)

:: Does your web copy instantly convey what’s unique and different about you and why your ideal clients should do business with you?

:: Does your web copy adequately coach the most important conversion you want on each web page? (Each of your web pages needs to have its own goal, and everything on that page should work towards achieving that goal. An obvious example is your newsletter sign-up or email subscriber landing page; it’s one and only goal is to get subscribers.)

:: Is the “path to buy” on your site clear and straightforward?

What I Look for When I Do Website Reviews

For each web page, I consider the questions above. That starts with an in-depth questionnaire in which my client answers a couple dozen questions about their ideal clients, their marketing message, what’s working with their web marketing and communications, what’s not, their website goals, and so on.

I start by looking at the three most important web pages: the Home page, the About page, and the Services or Work with Me, or whichever page the client sells from.

Here’s a brief checklist of the elements I review:

#1) Tagline: does it clearly convey something unique/special/different that makes the web visitor want to stay on the site and explore, or instantly identify what they’ll find on the website?

For example:

Abstract Art for the Unconventional Collector

Wedding Photography for Punk Rock Brides

Life Coach for Gutsy Entrepreneurs

Minimalist Silver Jewelry for the Style Savvy

#2) A clear call to action on each web page: a clear, specific instruction for what web visitors should do next.

For example:

Visit my gallery here.

Schedule your free consultation today.

Contact me here if you have any questions.

Buy now.

Your call to action will obviously depend on the page it’s on and the #1 thing you’d like your web visitors to do after reading that page. First determine the goal for each web page, then make sure CTA on each page reflects that goal.

#3) Understand your ideal buyer/customer and write web copy that speaks to them – you’re not trying to attract and sell to everybody, only those who fit your ideal buyer or client profile.

#4) Strong headlines on each page that convey a clear and compelling benefit so that the right people (those who love what you have to offer and who can afford it) will want to read the rest of your copy or check out the rest of your website. You want your headlines to be clear, compelling and benefit-driven.

#5) Customer/client-focused web copy/language, i.e. reader-oriented content and conversational one-to-one language throughout website. Talk to one person.

#6) Address objections somewhere – an FAQ page is a great place to do this. Create a page that answers questions your potential buyers or clients typically have about working with you; include anything that could be lingering in their mind as a reason not to buy.

#7) Guarantees/remove risk

#8) Proof elements – like testimonials and reviews, etc.

#9) A clear path to buy. It should be crystal clear what someone who is ready to purchase or move forward to working with you should do next, and it should be very easy for them to select that option and take the next step.

#10) Focus on the three most important pages first – Home page; About page; Products/Services/Work with Me page, or whatever you call the page you sell from.

Hat tip to AWAI (American Writers & Artists Inc.) for the “5 C’s” of effective content:

:: Customer-focused – the content makes it clear you understand your audience

:: Competitive – your content conveys your USP or what I call your “meaningful difference”

:: Clear and easily understood, no confusing industry jargon

:: Conversion optimized – each page indicates what web visitors should do next and helps convert browsers into buyers

:: Consistent – products and web copy & language, etc.,  are consistent across the website

What You Can Expect When You Make These Website Changes

The great thing is, you don’t have to do everything on the list above to start getting better results from your website. Just start somewhere. Take baby steps if you have to, or heck, do a D-I-Y website improvement binge over the weekend. But just get going on this. If you’re getting consistent, quality traffic, your conversions will improve (and even if you’re not getting much traffic right now, more of what you are getting will begin to convert).

I’ve worked hard to get here (and I know I have some advantages as a professional copywriter and web marketing strategist) but I get consistent email inquiries from potential clients on a weekly basis, simply because they landed on my website, liked what they read, and knew what to do next to get in touch with me.

Very often, these are people I’ve never met or had a conversation with. I’ve never had any contact with them at all until they found my website, then reached out to me. Sometimes they got on my email list first, then a few weeks later reached out.

OR (and this always shocks me), landed on my website, read two blog posts and my Work with Me page, then reached out to hire me right then.

These inquiries consistently turn into clients I adore, and many come back to me for additional copywriting projects, marketing strategy, or consulting. Some of those projects are quite large and ongoing for many months, at the kind of investment level that makes it possible for me to do work I love, without doing the client-getting hustle, hustle, hustle all the time.

If that isn’t a simple & low-key way to find great clients and work on projects you love, I don’t know what is. 

And that is the power of using the right language, in the right places, on your website. [By the way, as you can see from my website, it’s FAR from perfect. In fact, it needs a massive upgrade, but I still do just fine.]

So, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t get clients from your website.

Why do I bring up that last bit?

I’ll tell you.

About a year ago, someone who read something I’d written about the power of effective website copy reached out to me to say that some marketing “guru” they follow said no one gets business from their website.

LOL.

I had to laugh (and laugh and laugh), because that’s typically the ONLY way I get new (and repeat) business. I don’t do cold calling, or send email pitches, or go to networking events. (Call me lazy, call me introverted to a fault, but that’s just how I roll.)

Now, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with any of those methods. I’ve used them all at some point, and they work. And I’ll be happy to use them again if/when I feel inspired to.

But these days, I focus on doing an awesome for my current clients, and replying to email inquiries from potential new clients who find me through my website.

Yes, you absolutely need to get quality traffic to your site as well, but my traffic stats are shamefully low, and I still get great clients. I don’t need hordes of people to find me online, I need the right clients to resonate with my marketing message, then inquire about working together, and they do.

Let me repeat: That is the power of persuasive, compelling copy and a clear, easy-to-follow path to finding the right information, in the right place, on your website.

Want the same results for yourself?

If you KNOW your website could be getting you more clients, customers and sales, and you want it to happen NOW, so you can start getting those PayPal and Stripe notifications sooner rather than later, I invite you to reach out to me about working together.

I’ve got a full, comprehensive website copywriting package that may be just right for you. Or if you’re working with a more limited budget, I also offer a VIP Website Audit & Review, which includes a comprehensive website action plan with customized-for-you copy & conversion recommendations you can implement on your own to start improving your website results ASAP.

Simply reach out to me at Kimberly [at] kimberlydhouston [dot] com, and put “website copywriting package” or “VIP website review” in the subject line, depending on which service you’re interested in. I’ll get back to you within 48 hours during normal business hours. We’ll begin by discussing your project over email, then if moving forward makes sense, we’ll schedule a call to talk about your next best steps.

What a Personal Development Classic from 1959 Can Teach You About Writing Web Copy That Sells

magicofthinkingbig image

[EDITING NOTE: This post was originally published in November 2014. Because its topic and principles are evergreen, and because I’ve gotten lots of questions lately about how to write for your ideal clients and how to “paint a picture” with your web copy, I’ve decided to republish it.]

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Wherein we talk about how to create killer copy for your small business website by painting a picture, and I give you an example of how it’s done . . .

So a few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house drinking wine, chatting, and having a gay old time, as the old-timers say.  On the way out the door, I stopped by her bookshelf – I’m a sucker for spying on what other people read – and spotted a book called The Magic of Thinking Big: Acquire the Secrets of Success . . . Achieve Everything You’ve Always Wanted, by David Schwartz, Ph.D.

(Even though this book is a classic published way back in 1959, I’d heard of it; in fact, it was on my mental list of “inspiring books to read soon.”  A mental list which, miraculously, hadn’t been erased by all the booze I drank on vacation last week, or I might never have remembered I wanted to read it.)

While the book is certainly worth reading so you too can train yourself to “harness the power of thinking big,” what I want to talk about today is a specific passage in the book that perfectly describes what your small business web copy needs to do if you want to attract your ideal clients and customers, and that thing is “paint a picture.”

This picture you’re painting with your copy is of your ideal customer’s ideal outcome, and if you do this well, these ideal customers will want to give you money for your products and services. 

Say, wouldn’t that be just swell?

Painting a Picture with Your Web Copy

On page 71 of the afore-mentioned book, the author tells us to “see what can be, not just what is.”  Which is a perfect instruction for small business copywriting.

He illustrates this concept by telling us about a successful realtor he knows.  This realtor is selling lots of unattractive rural property that other realtors in the same area can’t sell on a bet.  How does our realtor do this?  By selling the property not as it is, but as what it can be.

As the realtor states:  “I develop my entire sales plan around what the farm can be.  Simply telling the prospect, ‘The farm has XX acres of bottom land, and XX acres of woods, and is XX miles from town,’ doesn’t stir him up and make him want to buy it.  But when you show him a concrete plan for doing something with the farm, he’s just about sold.”

So here’s what successful realtor guy does:  He comes up with three possibilities for what the farm can be, and sells prospects on one of those three possibilities, fully fleshing out the benefits of owning this farm so the prospect can see in his mind’s eye exactly what an idyllic life he will have once the farm belongs to him, revenue-producing possibilities included.

Keep this technique in mind as you’re writing your own small business web copy.  You want to highlight the benefits of your product or service.  (“Sell a good night’s sleep, not the mattress,” as a famous copywriter once said.)  In our example here, the “XX acres of bottom land and XX acres of woods” are features, not benefits.  And while it may necessary to mention features at some point, remember “facts tell, benefits sell.”

The Realtor’s Painted Picture

In my favorite of the 3 scenarios, our realtor paints a picture of the farm converted into a riding stable.  Why does this work so well?  Because the farm is near a big city, which means access to a large, sophisticated market of eager end users of the riding stable. Our realtor knows that big city residents of a certain income level like to escape to the countryside to enjoy the great outdoors on weekends, and that many of those people like to ride horses.  All he has to do now is sell the potential buyer of the lot on this scenario.

So, instead of selling his prospect on XX acres of bottom land, and XX acres of woods, and is XX miles from town, he shares the compelling vision of a thriving riding stable business, with glossy horses and wholesome couples with disposable income riding off into bucolic nature with their picnic baskets full of expensive artisan cheeses and fine champagne. (OK, I made that last bit up – there is no picnic in the realtor’s painted picture, but there would be in mine.)

Using this method, our realtor says, “Now, when I talk with my prospects I won’t have to convince them that the farm is a good buy as it is.  I help them to see a picture of the farm changed into a money-making proposition.”

Smooth, right?   He is not selling the land, the dirt, the acreage – the features, in other words – but the full-blown dream of a horse farm with a riding stable and beautiful couples riding happily through the trees, which they will pay handsomely to do.

So whatever it is you sell, help your clients and customers see what can be for them, in their particular situation. Show them the payoff of using your product or services by selling them the solution, the results, the vision of what can be.

A Real World Example from the World of Interior Design

Now, let’s look at a real-world example of copy that does not paint a picture from the world of interior design.  Specifically, an interior design business’s “About” page.

Why an “About” page, you ask?  Well, here’s what I see over and over again on interior design websites and blogs:  designers using their About pages to list their education and design credentials, when what they should be doing instead is “painting a picture” of their ideal customer’s ideal outcome, while weaving in their credentials and experience.  Because even in your About page, you want to paint a picture of what you can do for your clients. 

This is a much more powerful way to connect with your prospects on an emotional level, which is key to driving more sales in your business.

(And because I would never want to hold anyone up to ridicule publicly, names and specific details have been changed to protect the innocent in the following example.)

Jane graduated from Parsons with a degree in interior design and a minor in studio art. She is an active member of ASID Carolinas Chapter and the local design community.  She attends many conventions and workshops locally and internationally to stay on the cutting edge of design. Jane makes each project unique for each client and has a fine-tuned ability to work with a variety of interior design styles and settings.  Her signature style combines practicality with sophistication.

Where do I begin?

From a strictly writerly perspective, that copy commits a cardinal sin – that is, it tells rather than shows.  We want to know HOW Jane makes each project unique for each client – show us.  Also, it’s boring.  And thirdly, it talks about Jane, not the client.

When looking at this copy from a “painting a picture” perspective, you can see that, beyond being deadly dull and not really saying anything very useful to the client, it does not, in any way, shape or form, make an emotional connection with the reader/potential client and show them what can be by working with Jane.

Here’s how we might improve Jane’s copy:

You’re one-of-a-kind.  An iconoclast.  The “rules” you follow in life are your own.  Not everyone gets it. And you want your home to be a reflection of your unique perspective.  Your approach to life can’t be replicated on an assembly line, and your home’s interior shouldn’t be either.  

Hi, I’m Jane, an expert in telling your story, your way, through your home’s design. Together we’ll create a truly singular space that boldly expresses your one-of-a-kind personality and translates your unique sensibility into a home that could belong to no one but you. 

My approach to design is less about rigid rules and color schemes and more about translating your personal tastes and preferred lifestyle into a sophisticated oasis that is luxurious, yet livable. The result?  A home that gives you that “I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-live-here” feeling every time you walk in the door.

Jane could add more “painting a picture” copy here, then add information about her training and design credentials.  But she should lead with painting a picture

Now obviously, if I were writing this copy for an actual interior designer copy client, I would meet with said client to get the details about their target audience and their target audience’s needs, wishes and desires so that I could write copy specifically for that audience.

Here the copy I wrote was meant to appeal to a design client who has a strong vision, knows what they want, and wants to work collaboratively with a designer to achieve their dream home design.   The copy would be vastly different if “Jane the interior designer” only worked with Moms on a budget with young toddlers in tow, or a family with teenagers and a grand home on the beach, or empty nesters looking to pare down.  You get the idea.

So that, my friends, is how you paint a picture with your copy.  

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]

 

Embarrassing Web Copy & Marketing Fails

So the other day I had a meeting with the owner of a web design and development company who I may be working with on some upcoming writing projects.

Naturally, we got into a conversation about some of the unfortunate website mistakes we’ve seen over the years, on both the copywriting side and the design side – including our own.

Yes indeed, even the pros make mistakes and suffer web marketing fails.

For example, I remember back in the day when I was first getting started online. Those halcyon days when I actually believed that putting up a decent website, writing some basic copy, and doing a little bit of marketing each week was going to have new clients beating down my door, fairly busting a gut to work with me.

What actually happened?

Well, friend, they stayed away in droves, to quote the late film producer Samuel Goldwyn. (Well, ok, not completely in droves, I did get a few clients from that original website.)

But why so few? Why so many hours spent trying to be visible online to get merely mediocre results, despite doing everything I was told to attract clients through my website?

Turns out the problem was that my website copy was very “flackluster” (a new word I just made up on the spot to describe something that is both “flaccid” and “lackluster” at the same time, ha ha), and so it wasn’t doing me any favors in the client-getting and revenue-generating department.

And here’s the crazy part.

I knew exactly why I was getting these anemic results – I hadn’t figured out who my ideal clients were, or worked out what set me apart among others online who were providing similar services, and all this was reflected in my sad, generic, no-personality, underperforming web copy.

All of which lead to painfully average results.

Still, I dragged my feet for months to fix the problem.

I felt like I couldn’t step off the hamster wheel of blogging, social media posting and otherwise trying to be visible online for long enough to get clear on my ideal client avatar (ICA) and my unique selling proposition (USP), so I could write web copy that was actually compelling to my ideal clients.

Though I knew taking care of these two key things would start attracting more and better clients, and bigger paychecks, I resisted.

But finally, after too many months of craptacular results, and the looming fear that I’d have to go back to work for “the man” if I didn’t get this little challenge resolved, I decided I’d had enough and changed everything.

I got clear on exactly who my ideal clients were. I worked out what my “meaningful difference” in the marketplace was. I rewrote all my web copy, every last page of it, to be compelling, client-attractive and attention-getting to the people I most wanted to work with. I infused it with my personality, worldview and unique selling proposition.

And once I did that? Well that’s when things started to turn around fairly quickly.

I got more email subscribers almost instantly – from exactly the same amount of website traffic. I started getting client inquiries with email subject lines like “I want to work with you, please call me!” and “Photographer very interested in working with you,” sometimes several just like this in a single day.

I got more clients, and not just any clients, but clients who were ideal for me and who I absolutely loved working with. And I generated more income.

Again, I didn’t increase the traffic to my website to do this – I simply wrote better, more targeted, and more persuasive, personality-filled web copy that reflected my unique selling proposition and spoke directly to the kind of clients who were ideal for me.

Why, oh why hadn’t I done this sooner?

It pains me to think of all the wonderful clients, projects, and income I left on the table, simply because I wouldn’t slow down long enough to go off the grid for a couple of weeks to get my web copy in order.

But all’s well that ends well. And I needed to learn the lesson that not understanding my audience or my USP, coupled with the generic web copy that resulted, was never, ever going to bring in the kind of clients, projects and income I wanted.

So, what about you?

Is that where you are right now? Is your web copy “flackluster” and underperforming? Is it not doing its job?

(To be clear, if you’re in business, your website’s JOB is to get you consistent client and customer inquiries, new clients, and sales. If it’s not doing that, that’s a problem. A problem that must be fixed if you plan, like most of my clients do, to use your website as your main marketing vehicle.)

I’ve written about the importance of determining your target audience/ideal clients and working out your “meaningful difference” or unique selling proposition (USP) on the blog before. I even included free downloadable worksheets to help you get clear on these things so you can start getting more traction from your website.

You can check out those posts here:

The Dreadful Client-Repelling Mistake That Will Keep You Broke (and how to fix it)

Creatives: How to Uncover Your Unique Selling Proposition (and why you need to)

Now, if you’d prefer some one-on-one guidance to help you get crystal clear on your target audience and “meaningful difference”/USP, and how to implement these things on your website for better business results, I make a few strategy sessions available each month specifically focused on these two critically-important-to-the-success-of-your business topics. If you’d like more details, simply email me at Kimberly [at] kimberlydhouston [dot] com, and I’ll send you the info.

Why Most Product Websites Make Me Sad: The Good, the Bad, and the Unsightly

I recently got a comment on my Facebook page asking for examples of what I consider good home pages for websites selling physical products.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single one.  Yep, that’s right, I couldn’t bring to mind even one example from recent memory of a website selling physical products that made a lasting impression on me. 

Then I remembered I’d stumbled on some I loved in the last year or so, but dang it, I didn’t make a note of them at the time, so they disappeared from my memory like a fine vapor, just like that.

And that is unfortunate. 

But it highlights the big problem with many e-commerce and product sites: most are entirely forgettable.

What bugs me about the default kind of product website (examples coming up) is there’s no wooing of, and engaging with, the prospective buyer. Many of these sites feature tons of images with short and boring product descriptions (well, if they have to be boring, at least they’re short, right?), how to order info, and not much else. It’s all, “Well, here’s what we got; we couldn’t be bothered to make it look/feel/seem compelling or desirable in any way – so how many bracelets/hoodies/cheese logs do ya want?”

Plus, there’s not much to differentiate one site selling jewelry/clothing/food items/what-have-you from the next.  Most are soulless, corporate things that don’t move or excite the likely buyer, or call up any emotion at all, except for “Next!” as the potential customer hits the back button or navigates back to Google from whence they came.

Here’s what I’m talking about. One of these sites is trying to sell us some lovely men’s jeans, and the other, sterling silver jewelry:

Jeans {<– Click here}

Sterling Silver Jewelry  {<– Click here}

Notice the cold, impersonal feel.  Notice how everything is jammed together on the page, with nary a finely turned phrase anywhere to increase desire for or connection to the products, or paint a picture of how wonderful it would feel to own them.  This makes me sad.

What you want is personality.  Memorability.  Warmth and approachability. Copy that engages with the likely buyer on an emotional level, copy that forges a human connection. You want to give your web visitors an experience. We’ve talked about using personality to connect with ideal customers and stand out online before here and here.

Ok, you say, now I know what ineffective product site home pages look like, but what about product website homepages that get it (mostly) right, ones that exude warmth, personality and a sense of connection, sites that are memorable, engaging, and use copy well? Well, I toiled over my computer to find you a couple of examples, so let’s take a look at those, shall we?

Daniella Draper Jewellery 

Take a look at this site. {Click on company name above} It’s beautifully designed. It’s memorable. It’s evocative.  There’s a person looking directly at you as soon as you land on the page. There’s warmth and a sense of human connection. The likely buyer of this jewelry (or “jewellery,” as it’s spelled here) is going to be intrigued enough to want to scroll down and find out more.  It employs easy and intuitive web navigation.

Admittedly, there’s not much copy on the home page, but there are several markers of personality, warmth, and humanness, from the image of the young woman at the top of the page, to the picture of Daniella herself, to the Instagram feed featuring shots of Real! Live! People! wearing the jewelry and otherwise keeping it real, as the youngsters say.

Two of the brief bits of copy on the home page – “Beautifully British: Handcrafted Silver Jewellery,” and “Incredibly unique, designed and handmade by Daniella Draper” – begin to give you a glimmer of what you can expect from your experience here, and naturally compel you to explore more of the site if you’re the likely customer for this handmade jewelry.

Compare this site to the two I linked up above, where as many products as possible are crammed onto one page, making the products look janky and cheap, even if they’re not.

Hiut Denim Co. 

Again, notice the beautiful design and easy and intuitive web navigation. {Click on company name above}

The “Do One Thing Well” tagline instantly conveys passionate attention to detail, a love for going above and beyond to craft something amazing. And the images and home page copy all support the “do one thing well” ethos.  Very nice.

But here’s what I simply adore about the Hiut Denim site: its fantastic use of a Founder Story to set itself apart from all the other companies online selling premium denim.

Check out the “our story” copy on the home page to see what I mean. It’s actually more than just a founder story – it’s the story of how Hiut Denim helped Cardigan, a small town in Wales once home to the biggest jeans factory in Britain, get back on its feet again after the jeans manufacturing operation moved to Morocco.

How can you not love this? –> “So we decided 4 decades worth of know-how shouldn’t go to waste. That’s why the Hiut Denim Company was born: To get the town making jeans again.” Call me crazy, but that actually gives me chills.  

And talk about differentiation!  What a powerful and effective way to set themselves apart from other premium denim purveyors and forge an emotional connection with the likely buyer – because after all, you’re not just buying finely crafted and beautiful denim, you’re helping a town hold on to its livelihood.

The J. Peterman Company  

I always have to share the genius of J. Peterman when I’m talking about pitch-perfect product copy, because it’s the pinnacle of gorgeous and evocative product copywriting. {Click on company name above}

The beautifully written copy here reads like a story (just click on any of the individual product images), one you aspire to become a part of, or one you identify with, if you happen to be the likely buyer. (And that is who we’re talking to after all – we’re not trying to convince the unlikely buyer to buy our stuff, we’re trying to appeal to those with a predisposition or pre-existing hankering for the product.)

As humans, we’re hardwired to respond to stories, and the copy on the J. Peterman site taps into that longing brilliantly.

If your business sells products of any kind, your time would be well-spent studying the compelling product copy on the J. Peterman site.

Conclusion

What do these product company web pages have in common?  They are evocative. They convey warmth, soul, and personality.  They are approachable. They make an emotional connection.  There are actual human beings involved. They make you want to stick around and explore, even if you’re not planning to buy the goods right now.  They are memorable.

And importantly, the combination of web copy, photography, graphics, and the stories they choose to tell all work together to create an experience that will resonate with the likely buyer. This is what you want.  

In the comments below, I’d love for you to share your favorite product websites and tell me why they resonate with you.  (Even if it’s your own!) Go ahead, share your thoughts; I’d love to see what other product sites out there are making an impact!

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