I’m about to throw down some sales, persuasion, and copywriting sacrilege…
From early on as a copywriter, I was taught never to say “I” or “we” too much in my copy. This was a backlash against image advertising. The idea that stuck with me is that you don’t want to “we” all over yourself…
And, at heart, this idea is correct.
In traditional image advertising, a company will talk all about themselves — to the exclusion of the most important person in advertising, the customer!
“We’ve been in business since 1492.” “We pride ourselves on service and quality.” “We love ourselves so, so much.” You get the point.
The problem with this? Your customer doesn’t give a flying duck about you, except in the context of what you can do for them!
And so rookie copywriters are taught to make it about “you.” Meaning, write to the customer, about their needs, wants, and desires. About their dreams, and sense of destiny. About their fears, frustrations, failures. About what benefits they will get out of responding.
In fact, in Perry Marshall’s copy readability tool, which I use often, one of the things it measures is the You / Me Ratio. Specifically, how much you talk about yourself, versus how much you talk about the reader. And the implication — though unstated — is that you want to talk about your reader more than you talk about yourself.
Again, this is fundamentally correct. All of it.
Because most advertisers are too caught up in their own inner dialog to step outside of themselves and truly make it about the person they’re speaking to. Those who can become the “masters of the universe” in the marketing world, because this is such a rare and valuable skill.
Now it’s time for my big, fat BUT!
More and more, I’m noticing that the world’s best copywriters break this rule all the time!
Deep in the archives of the Copy Chief podcast is an interview with Michel Neray. Michel is a career copywriter who has started something that’s NOT about selling: momondays. It’s an event where people are challenged to share raw stories that they’ve never shared before. And very explicitly, it’s NOT about business or pitching yourself — you just tell your story.
Well, Michael was talking about how to use story for connection, and he clearly stated something I’ve believed for a very long time, that explains perfectly how to break the “I” vs. “You” rule like an absolute pro…
Michel’s point, about telling the story, speaks to the two journeys every good story’s protagonist goes on…
There’s the exterior journey, which is what we actually sense and see when we’re watching a film.
Then there’s the interior journey, which is how the protagonist changes internally as a result of going on that journey.
Every great story has these two journeys — not just one.
When we tell our own personal stories, there’s interest in our UNIQUE, EXTERIOR journey or experience as a story.
But, by telling our own personal stories, we connect on the basis of the UNIVERSAL, INTERIOR journey, experience, and transformation.
By telling your own personal and unique exterior journey story, you’re able to connect with the person who is hearing your story on this universal interior level.
This is the connection that stirs the emotions and can move the prospect to response!
In fact, based on connecting a whole bunch of dots, I believe we will continue to move into an age or era of increasingly-necessary transparency and vulnerability.
In other words, prospects won’t just appreciate when you “keep it real,” they’ll demand it.
And the way they will demand is is they will respond less and less to pure “you”-focused benefit pitches… (Just like they respond less today to “we” and “I” copy that doesn’t speak them at all.)
While they will connect to and respond more based on your ability to rip off the mask and just be a decent human being.
I’m hearing murmurs from those bold enough to experiment with this that webinars showing a human side (as opposed to a polished business exterior) are absolutely, positively killing it right now. Tested side-by-side, same basic message, same basic offer — the webinar that feels more real, human, vulnerable, transparent, and unrehearsed sells more.
You still need the chops. In fact, you probably need even better selling skills to do this — because you have be able to make it about the other person, while superficially making it about yourself. You have to speak to the universal truth, while telling your unique story. But if you can do this and do it well in our ever-connected age, you will sell more.
In case you haven’t noticed, I do this all the time!
I’m always telling real-life stories. It helps you feel more connected to me. Because I tell my stories with a point or moral or lesson that’s relevant to you, even if the story itself is about me.
This is impossible to measure with Perry Marshall’s tool, but this is something that so many great persuaders do.
Starting with Perry himself! Some of Perry’s most powerful writing tells his personal story. Once upon a time, I was reviewing a piece of copy of his, and it had a story of him going to meditate on the rocky coast of Ireland. It was a page about this crazy experience, and how mystical this place was. I told him to leave it in. While the wrong kind of buyer might reject it, the right kind will buy (a $5000 business seminar) because of it. I was right. He said a ton of people came up to him at that seminar and wanted to talk about meditating or Ireland’s rocky coast!
Joe Karbo, in his famous Lazy Man’s Way To Riches ad, talks all about himself. I ran the copy through Perry’s tool, and he talked about himself 2.4X as much as he talked about the reader. That thing sold a $10 book at a profit, for a very long time.
And perhaps the most interesting example and explanation comes from outside the field of marketing. Famed hypnotist Milton Erickson was known for putting people into a trance almost without explanation. He’d start telling a story about himself, and the next thing the person knew, they were in a deep hypnosis. No “you are getting sleepy, you will feel yourself relaxing now…” Just a meandering story that takes you straight into trance…
Here’s the most powerful secret!
Summing up, if you can speak about yourself in a way that connects to deeper, universal truths or experience, you can form an incredible connection with your audience, reader, or prospects.
One of the best ways to do this is by telling your unique story. As they follow along with your unique story, they will pull out those universal truths and the benefit and personal relevance on their own. It’s how our minds process story.
And in fact, in our over-marketed age, this more subtle approach to persuasion by talking about yourself is only growing more and more powerful.
Get really good at this, and your persuasive messages will sneak past the reader’s conscious mind into their subconscious, and form a bond far tighter than you ever could with talking about them and how they’ll benefit.
Then, you don’t just have a customer — you have someone that will stick with you through thick and thin, a raving fan, and a friend!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS: Starting on Thursday, I’m going to do a series of “Best of” essays. I have about 10 days of family time planned, and these will see you through, with consistent breakthroughs. But if the above essay (especially the story part) resonated, you’ll want to pay extra close attention the first full week of June. Because I have a very, very big announcement coming. Stay tuned…
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