I geek out hard over copywriting — I know what your brain looks like when you read something you love, and I can talk neuroscience and psychometrics and A/B testing and curiosity gaps and God so much more forever.
But while it’s incredibly fun to get caught up in all of that, it’s important to remember that ultimately, what matters isn’t the hormones, the statistics, or the conversion rates. It’s the person. And that’s why, ultimately, the only question that matters to me about your writing is this:
Are you pulling people up with your words, or are you pushing them down?
Or, in a less tweetable format, are you using your writing to pull people up into their best selves, or are you using them to push people down into fear, scarcity, and pain so that you can up the chances of them buying the solution you then slap down in front of them?
But … but … but …
I know, there are tones of rationales for writing fear-based copy. And I’m in no way saying that you should keep things all rainbows and butterflies, all the time. There are excellent reasons for writing about people’s pain points, and I often do it myself. But there’s a very fine, extremely important line between demonstrating an understanding of a problem so that you can help lead a person to a higher version of themselves and bullying someone into buying.
Not easy. Not something that lends itself to a three point, foolproof template that you can blindly apply to everything you write. But important, and more effective, since the whole being cruel to be kind thing just doesn’t work long term.
See, humans are weird this way — we develop a tolerance to fear.
Writing scare-based copy is great when you’ve got a huge audience with a lot of churn, because you can play on their fears and insecurities and get a decent response because you’re hitting most of them fresh. But the problem is that once you start playing this game, you constantly have to top yourself.
Think about how a few years ago, you would have gotten involved with a headline that today you would easily recognize for clickbait. Once we see a tactic for what it is, we get cynical about it and develop a tolerance to it, which is why you see phrasing variations on headlines get bigger and crazier until they eventually collapse on themselves and become used to make jokes.
What’s more, there’s only so long that you can bash on someone’s fears before they start tuning you out, either assuming that since they’ve tried all the other stuff and you’re still telling them they’re losers that there’s nothing they can do to fix this problem, or ignoring you because you make them feel bad.
Most charity marketing is a great example of this — the commercials with the African kids with flies on their faces and stomachs swollen from starvation were incredibly effective when they first came out in the 90s, but now they hardly rate with people because (1) they make people feel ineffective and helpless, since they make it look like nothing has changed as a result of all those donations and (2) because people don’t want to feel bad, so they change the channel.
Nobody wants to feel bad. Shocking, I know.
But empathy, real empathy, and a genuine interest in people as actual, living and breathing people, doesn’t get old — and the more flashy headlines and shady tactics are used, the more the real thing stands out.
So if you want churn, then go ahead, turn yourself into the singing and dancing scare show, make people feel so very bad about themselves that they buy your thing.
But if you want to build longterm clients who buy again and again because they love how they are when they work with you, then take the care, take the time, and take the responsibility to raise them up.
Thoughts? Tell me below in the comments!
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