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.]

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

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.]

 

Comments

  1. Hi, Kimberly

    I stumbled on your blog while googling case studies for interior design. I really love your blog, it’s exactly what I need for my small business. Thank you!

    Christine

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi Christine,

      Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m glad you’re finding the blog useful!

      Kimberly

  2. Hi Kimberly,

    Thanks for this informative post!

    What benefits would an artist (painter) sell, beyond put an original work of art on your wall?

    Also I am already on your email list, and I’d love to read the Creative Rebel Guide To Writing A Client-Attracting About Page. How do I get it please? It seems I am unable to subscribe to your email list again.

    Thanks
    Erin

    • Hi Erin,

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, I appreciate it!

      To get the Creative Rebel Guide To Writing A Client-Attracting About Page, look for the download link in the first email you got after you subscribed to the email list. The link in that email will take you directly to the page where you can download the guide!

      For benefits an artist can sell, take a look at the blog post I wrote called “Can Copywriting Principles Work for Visual Artists?”: http://kimberlydhouston.com/can-copywriting-principles-work-for-visual-artists/

      Hope that helps!

      Kimberly

  3. Hi Kimberly!

    We have the same name, woop!
    I -loved- what you said here! So so helpful!

    • Kimberly says:

      Yes, and what a wonderful name it is! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, glad you found the blog post helpful!

  4. Another great post! Authentic information every single time, I love it! Thank you!

Speak Your Mind

*