Does your marketing copy show whose side you’re on?

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More years ago than I care to remember I was working for a training services company. The Marketing Director decided to target financial services companies with a direct mail campaign headed ‘Let’s Face it – You Need Us!’. Something about this approach troubled me.

Her idea was to appeal to corporate anxiety around compliance and keeping the FSA happy – no doubt there had been a recent financial scandal. What I didn’t appreciate (or couldn’t articulate at the time) was that appealing to anxiety is usually not a good marketing approach.

When you think about it, it’s not hard to understand. To respond positively to a message like that a customer is going to have to overtly own up to some inadequacy or vulnerability on their part. The statement is almost a challenge to respond ‘Actually, I don’t need you’, or possibly something stronger. Customers want to know that you are on their side.

At a basic level people need to have gaps in what they have or what they are able to do in order for trade to take place – but there are much subtler ways to get them to that realisation. Ways that don’t alienate them.

Positive Marketing

As with so much in marketing, positivity is crucial. Claude Hopkins realised early in the 20th century that you don’t sell face-cream with a picture of a wrinkled face. Sell the vision of how things are going to be rather than dwelling on current problems.

The headline above failed in another crucial area – not speaking the customer’s language. If I were writing that headline now I would certainly want to get the word ‘compliance’ in there somewhere. At the time it was a word that would have registered with people in the finance industry (and probably still would).

Words are important

Customers want to be reassured that you are on their side. Use the right words and you will convince them that you understand their challenges and aspirations, and can make their lives better. A misplaced word or badly thought-out headline could totally undermine this message. Good copywriting makes a massive difference.

Be Nice

The final difficulty was that the approach was blatantly opportunistic. Profiting from the misfortune of others is not an appealing trait. People will need to be very desperate to respond to that sort of offer. Much better to use words that build a positive rapport by showing customers that you are motivated by wanting to help them.

If I had to write that headline today I would probably go with something like ‘Compliance is a State of Mind’. This would lead naturally into a description of how training is critical in changing behaviour and would hopefully be sufficiently intriguing for somebody grappling with the compliance issue.

Can anyone suggest a better headline? Or do you have any examples of marketing messages that did a great or terrible job of getting customers onside that you’d like to share?

marketing copywriting

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