Aren’t copywriters hypocrites sometimes?

I know I am. Give me the slightest encouragement and I’ll give you a mini lecture on why you should forget everything your English teacher told you.

“If you want to sell stuff,” I’ll say ponderously as I hitch my spectacle frames up my nose a millimetre or two, “use the same language as the people you’re writing for.”

By this point it makes no difference if you run screaming from the room. I like this topic so much I’ll run after you – just so I can finish.

Anyway, let’s assume you stay in the room and simply let your eyes glaze over.

“If you write in the way your teacher told you,” I’ll continue. “If you pepper your prose with semicolons; and if you use sixth-formy words like ‘postulate’ and ‘predicate’; then you’ll sound like a Victorian parson and no-one will read past your first sentence. They’ll be bored stiffer than a church mouse on a lollipop stick.”

I might be a pompous fool but – if you’ll let me mix my metaphors in a slightly disturbing way – there’s a nugget of wisdom in my hobby horse.

If you write in an awkward, stiff and overly formal way (just like you were taught to at school), you won’t sound genuine to the people who do read your stuff.

Instead, you’ll sound like someone who’s putting on a weird accent.

And – for quite good reasons – that’s something people don’t trust.

Good, honest writing

I was thinking about this on Sunday, when I dropped into the office to tidy up a few things.

While I was there, I got a web copywriting enquiry via the contact form on this site. So I replied and said I was happy to discuss the project there and then.

The client rang back and we had a great chat. Later in the afternoon, we swapped emails and – by the time I went home – we’d agreed to write a website from scratch.

I didn’t really push for the sale. In fact, I used one email to talk the client out of it – and sent them our flyer on how to create a website that sells. “If you do go it alone,” I advised, “read this!”

But the client liked my approach, so we got the job.

And when I got home, I realised that what I’d done was write a series of sales letters without being conscious of it.

Those emails did lots of the things sales letters are supposed to do – give good advice, offer benefits, include proofs (I sent links to some of our work) and so on.

Yet I’m certain that what clinched that sale was the honesty of those emails. They were written in exactly the right tone of voice. Mine.

And the hypocrisy bit?

The experience made me think about the ‘official’ sales letters I’ve written to promote our company.

Without a doubt, the ones that have done worst used all the very best sales techniques, picked up from the great direct response copywriters whose names I wouldn’t dare mention here.

But they were also the ones that sounded least like me – I wrote them in the wrong accent. That’s why they failed.

And that’s why they were outperformed by letters that used far fewer conversion techniques, but were written in a voice that was full of conviction – and not a trace of someone else’s accent.

So next time I advise someone not to write like a schoolteacher, it’ll remind me not to write like a direct response copywriter.

Because it’s our own voices that really bring home the bacon.