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The art of the message: do’s and don’ts

July 17, 2015


Copy sells.

Great copy can do amazing things. It stops you, even if you weren’t interested in stopping. It elicits an emotional response. Gets your attention. Draws you in. And can close the sale. Here, 3 key principles for creating effective copy online: what to do, and what not to do.

1. Get them in the door.

Copy is critical to communicate your message and to engage people with your brand. When it’s effective, it drives action- clicks, sign-ups, and ultimately, purchases. It will get them in the door.

Good copy gets your attention.

Good copy gets your attention and makes you smile.

Brevity is key. The goal is to get your customer to the next step, not to tell them everything they’d ever need to know. You have to prioritize your message. Keep it simple and uncluttered, if you want your message to resonate.

  • Good copy: FREE SHIPPING on orders over $50

It’s tempting to include lots of things to try to hit the right trigger points for everyone. Don’t. You’ll end up saying nothing to anyone. Too many messages become noise.

2. Explain and engage

It’s all about contextual information. Pacing is key. Providing the right information in the right places along the journey, to keep your customer engaged- and on a path towards what you want them to do. On each page, think about what you want your customer to know (and what he or she will want to know), to reinforce your brand, your product, or your offer.

  • Do provide social proof. What are your customers or media saying about it?
  • Do make it clear how to get there or what to do next.

3. Deliver on it

Tell the truth. Don’t over promise and under deliver. If you say FREE SHIPPING on the homepage, but don’t show it on the cart and checkout, your customers will feel duped. If it’s only FREE with a myriad of exclusions or conditions, and comes via pony and takes a year and a day to get there, your customers will feel duped. You might get the sale today- but they’ll think twice next time (if there is a next time).

Amazon claimed Prime Day would be the biggest sale event since Black Friday- and has declared it a success, but customers disagree. Disappointed Prime shoppers were all over twitter complaining that it was impossible to shop and that it was only the drek on sale. The Kindle was on sale- but only the base version- not the Paperwhite or the Voyage. It wasn’t the ‘good stuff’.  See “It’s not living up to the hype” on CNN Money.

Amazon prime day

A few choice tweets on Amazon Prime Day

  • Don’t over promise. If it truly is the biggest sale ever, say so.  Then prove it. If it’s not- think of something else to say that reflects your reality. It doesn’t have to say, ‘BIG SALE: all the stuff left over that’s not selling and we need to get rid of’– it just has to be true.
  • Do make it fun. Anthropology has a clever way to make further markdowns compelling- they’ve said, “Our sale is on sale”. That’s tempting. It doesn’t yell or scream, or promise rainbows and unicorns, but it does get my attention if I care about getting a great price, without sounding bargain-basement. is having a sale- the homepage says only “SALE”, with a little 25% off dot whack and a fun little animated confetti gif. Simple- but effective. Moo Sale

It’s tempting for your writers to overstate to make something sound great- but it’s only great if you can deliver on it. You may get people in the door with a hyperbolic message, but if you’ve over promised, they’ll be less likely to respond to it next time.

The lesson in all of this? Put yourselves in the shoes of your shopper. How will the message make them feel? Are you telling them what they need to know to make a decision? Are you delivering on the promise? How will they feel after they experience it? Emotions drive action- whether they come back to you, or not. It’s up to you.

Privacy matters

February 3, 2013


Everything we do online is tracked- by someone, or some entity. We all know it. Mostly, we accept it.

I don’t get too worked up about it. On the business side, retailers see it as a way to create a better experience for you. Executed thoughtfully, it can be. For example, if you come to a website and look at brand “A”, and add something from brand “A” to your cart, the retailer may send you emails about “brand A” in the future, knowing that it’s something that has interested you. This isn’t such a bad thing, though sometimes it can be misguided (as when you send someone a gift from a website that you also shop for yourself, and forever after get emails about that gift product or brand that you have no further interest in).

I’m not terribly offended by ‘stalker’ ads- banner ads from retailers, which seem to  follow you around as you browse news sites or content sites, showing you an ad based on products you’ve recently viewed on a given website. I don’t mind these, because they seem like they could be a coincidence. I don’t even mind getting an email from a retailer I’ve visited recently, showing me the product or brands I’ve looked at. Could also be a coincidence…although a little spooky when it’s exactly what I was looking at. And when I’ve added things to my cart, and then left the site, I don’t mind getting the email saying, “we’ve saved your cart for you.”  It seems credible that they know I have an interest in that stuff. Of course they just want to capture the sale. But maybe that’s ok- maybe I want to complete the purchase. Especially if they include a shipping or cart discount to encourage me.

Most retailers are careful to stay within the limits of what’s legal or within best-practices for protecting customer privacy. But there’s fuzzy territory when retailers try new things, or cross the line between what seems reasonable, and what seems invasive. What I mind, is when it all seems a bit too purposeful. A bit too obvious. When you think you’re anonymous, and then get called out by the retailer on it. Here’s an example:

I recently visited a website, looked around, and left. Never signed-in. A little while later, I get an email saying, “Glad you checked us out! Come on back….”

That’s just creepy.

Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore, online. There are measures we can take to protect our privacy, to a degree. If you block cookies, or clear cookies before shopping a website, the session can’t be tracked. But this isn’t top of mind on a daily basis, both because there’s not usually a problem, and because clearing cookies is inconvenient. At the end of the day, retailers are just trying to make money. And I want them to. Because then there are lots of jobs for lots of people.

So retailers: don’t forget you make money by making your customers feel good about you: your brand, your stuff, andIs a the experience. Don’t make me feel like you’re looking over my shoulder- or I won’t want to come to your store anymore. It’s that simple. I expect my information to be treated fairly, and thoughtfully.

And readers…What privacy issues rankle you most? How has it changed what you do online, if at all? I’d be interested in your experiences with privacy (or lack thereof).

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