With just 26 letters in the English alphabet, it sometimes seems impossible that language can meet all the selling challenges we set for it. The magic of persuasion lies in the art of choosing and arranging words. Subtle nuances of words can spell the difference between a reader losing interest or feeling an overwhelming desire to go on.
Here are five expert tips on using words to win attention, build credibility, trigger interest and eliminate doubts so people buy or register as a possible customer. Many of these points I learned at the feet of top editors at New York publishing houses, major magazines and public radio. Although they were teaching me how to shape words for the utmost clarity of factual information, the suspensefulness of a narrative line or the impact of commentary, the techniques apply just as well to using words to sell.
- The word “but” deserves caution because it signals an obstacle or hitch and may subtly signal disparagement. Compare, for example, the increased power when we change “It’s first come, first served, but we’ll try to help you meet your deadline” to “It’s first come, first served, and we’ll do our best to help you meet your deadline.”
- Avoid the word “no,” which functions like a stop sign, when trying to elicit action. See how that little two-letter word throws the message out of whack in this line on a billboard: “We’ll call you back. No, really.” When we simply remove the “no,” the impact of the message strengthens. Likewise, there’s an overall lift in impact when you change “No other local bank offers 24 hour answers about your loan” to “Unlike other local banks, you get 24 hour answers about your loan from us.”
- The present tense for verbs conveys more power and confidence than past or future tense. You can hear and feel the improvement from the usual “After our ten-point tuneup, your car will run like a dream” to “After our ten-point tuneup, your car runs like a dream.”
- Adverbs weaken statements, even though they’re added as strengtheners. Avoid intensifiers like “really,” “very” or “extremely.” Get rid of “literally” any time your sentence doesn’t pass the test of literalness: “We literally exploded in laughter.” Did you explode, according to the dictionary definition of that word? No. Then out it should go.
- Don’t use violent metaphors like “killer web sites” unless you’re targeting an audience that thrives on machismo. It’s common to use violent, aggressive imagery as an all-purpose intensifier, but this makes for sloppy writing that makes many audiences pull back instead of smile. For instance, a sales coach promises “Deadly Efficient Selling.” The word “deadly” suggests a process similar to a sniper picking off a victim with one shot and no wasted effort. Well, who is the victim, in that case? The customer? Surely most businesses do not want dead buyers.
Give every word choice a ruthless lookover during the editing process so you create the most persuasive argument with your arrangement of your 26 basic components!
Marcia Yudkin is the author of more than a dozen books, including 6 Steps to Free Publicity, now in its third edition, and Meatier Marketing Copy, from which this article is adapted. She mentors beginning copywriters and marketing consultants and helps business owners connect with their target market through the creative use of words. Learn more about her Marketing Insight Guides series on the finer points of copywriting, persuasion and marketing: http://www.yudkin.com/guides/index.htm .