Discover more from The Mmm...Letter
The Two Types of Copy
But I May Have Missed a Few...
Nora Ephron, famous essayist and romcom queen once wrote, everything is copy. She wisely excluded ‘good’ from her pithy quip. As marketers, our words are meant to convince prospects to buy, and customers to buy again. We fail. A lot.
Today, I’m hoping to improve our odds. After you read this article, you’ll categorize copy into two broad groups: clinical and empathetic, and you’ll begin separating good copy from bad. Later on, you will name your keyboard The Fed, because your words are going to start printing money.
Okay don’t trust anyone who promises that. However, you will be a tad wiser about the words you choose to promote your services and what effect they may have on your prospects.
To explore the two copy types, we’ll study some examples in the wild.
Peloton — Because I Like Picking on Them
I can’t describe this copy by any term other than clinical. This is the first thing you see when you visit their site, and it’s a series of lifeless statements. I presume Peloton is a smart company and they’ve optimized this landing page to the ends of the Earth. After running their experiments, this is what the data showed as most effective.
Right up-top there’s a psychology play, one we’ve all seen before, “LIMITED TIME OFFER,” not a discount but alike in spirit: engender feelings of FOMO to encourage the reader to take action — highly tactical, wildly impersonal.
The headline then, in all caps, “TRY THE PELOTON APP. FREE FOR 2 MONTHS.” We’ve got a call-to-action and another psychological tactic to ease the reader into complacency.
There’s no space brand establishment, Peloton presumes you’ve heard of them by now. And the subtitle is a value proposition: “Take strength, boxing, yoga and more on your phone, TV and tablet,” which omits the Oxford comma, something I’ll excuse (for now).
Again we have another line entirely devoid of emotion, purely clinical in its agenda to deliver the most value-promising statements in as few breaths as possible. After reading the entire page, it’s only among the snippets from news outlets where we skim something a human might say:
The quote from Forbes is a buried lede if I’ve ever read one.
What We Learned
This copy is similar to copy all over the Internet. Marketers understand they have precious few seconds to capture the attention of our wandering Wifi-enabled brains. That said, I don’t hate what Peloton’s done here, but I also find nothing worthy of love.
On first impression, we fail to discover Peloton’s personality nor why Peloton, rather than our 10,000 alternatives is worthy of bringing home to meet mom & dad.
Let’s take a look at a brand that chose a different path.
One of my favorite new tools is Notion, I use it for work and for personal reasons.
Notion is a relatively unknown brand, so the copy on their homepage does more heavy lifting than Peloton’s — whereas Peloton relies on copious advertisements and word-of-mouth, Notion still caters to people who stumble across their page.
The tool itself is quite advanced, giving users a tremendous wealth of note-taking options. I found it intimidating at first; but the website eases prospects in.
Other than the call-to-action, there are no pushy psychological tactics here. The headline delivers both value and impact courtesy of its selective choice of words.
It took me a moment to suss out the meaning, but I soon understood that this tool believes it can become the single platform in which all company teams collaborate. While that’s certainly a pipe dream at many organizations, a dream it remains, and one I’m aiming for at my workplace.
Then comes the subtitle, “We’re more than a doc. Or a table. Customize Notion to work the way you do,” which reads like a jab at Notion’s critics.
Despite lacking familiarity with the tool or its weak points, the subtitle imparts on me a fighting spirit; the team behind this product is out to prove its value and fight back its naysayers, they’re not sitting on their asses at Notion.
And then we’re hit by some pretty gnarly social proof: Pixar and Spotify stick out to me. Further down, something incredible takes place.
This tool targets people like me: white-collar workers in young, tech-forward companies. And for us, the phrase, “What’s the context?” rears its head on a weekly basis.
We have the exact problem Notion purports to fix, and seeing my own frustrations written in my own words leaves one hell of an impression. Despite knowing that I’m reading a document rather than speaking to a company representative, I feel this organization empathizes with me better than a solution which chose another phrase.
Notion did their homework. This is empathetic copy.
As copywriters, when we lack the insights to form stupid-simple yet highly-specific value statements, we resort to clinical copy. If we don’t know why customers buy, we don’t know what to sell.
But to play Devil’s advocate, the empathetic approach also comes with risks. Let’s look at the two approaches closely.
Clinical copy is both inoffensive and accurate. As a consequence, it appeals generically to many.
The risk in dry, to-the-point English is that visitors’ eyes will gloss over, rendering the copy invisible.
When we use common phrases and word combinations in our copy, our words begin to look like words readers have seen many times before — after you’ve seen enough stop signs, you don’t need to read ‘STOP’ to know the sign’s intentions.
On one hand, clinical copy is highly-accessible; more readers will grok your meaning. On the other, clinical copy is lazy and teaches customers nothing about you other than that you (in this instance) passed on the opportunity to connect with them more deeply.
Empathetic copy can be both offensive and inaccurate.
If we empathize with the wrong people or choose the wrong pain-points, our copy seems inaccurate and appears to speak to someone else, i.e. not me...
A company such as Peloton grew to serve many psychographics: runners, cyclists, strength trainers, cross-trainers, meditators, yoga enthusiasts, cardio buffs, the list goes on, and that’s before they cut a cross-section between age groups and fitness goals.
To thread a single needle among the breadth of problems for which Peloton has a solution is no longer possible. But for younger, focused products, such as Peloton of 2017 and Notion of today, an empathetic approach delivers results.
For fun, here’s the Peloton homepage from September 2017.
While imperfect, we now get a sense of the target audience and why they may want to try Peloton. Unfortunately, we don’t see the customer’s words on the page, this is written by a marketer, but they’re at least attempting to empathize with the reader’s desires.
What To Do?
If you’re reading this, you’re likely working at smaller, less established business that has an opportunity to leave a first and positive impression with your copy. To write empathetic copy, you need to know why your customers chose you.
If you can’t figure that out or if you have too many problems for which you are a solution, clinical copy may be the way to go.
And whatever you do, don’t be boring.