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Every time I drive past this gas station in the Ozarks (yup, weezums in Missoura like people to say what they mean ana mean what they say) I smile–not only because it’s funny as heck but because clearly, the proprietor knows her audience. She does an excellent job of speaking their language and relating to them which is what is at the core of good copywriting.
Listening to Jeff Julian and Jonathan Kranz discuss copywriting at CM World 2016 in Cleveland was a huge treat and a pretty much made my day because they confirmed what my instincts have been telling me: it’s good to be empathetic. Jonathan Kranz (author of Writing Copy for Dummies) does a fantastic job of walking us through his learning curve and poses a series of hard questions that prompted me to re-frame how I think of copywriting. Many of us start a project with the end goal in mind (if we’re going about it strategically, anyway) and often in copywriting, that goal is to sell. But what if we conceive of the end goal not by asking the question, “did you sell?” but rather, as Jonathan asks, “are you real?” and “will you tell the truth?” Of course, selling matters but the whole point of any communication with our customers ought to be relationship development. Long term relationship development. Would you want to be in a long-term relationship with someone who was always and only trying to “sell” you or would you prefer to spend your time and energy on someone who offers intrinsic value by being authentic, compassionate, and in the end, helpful in solving problems? Kind of a “no-brainer,” right?
The approach Jonathan Kranz advises for copywriting applies to consulting as well (incidentally, you should Google Jonathan Kranz and click on the second link that you see). As Jonathan and Jeff note, we are far more likely to place trust in someone who admits they are not perfect, have made mistakes along the way, and most importantly, learned from those mistakes than we are likely to trust someone who is blustery and claims to be infallible. The takeaway from this for me is that copywriting, as well as, client meetings need to be real conversations. By this, we are actively listening and empathize to understand as well as converse openly about mistakes and learning experiences.
When I was teaching, I often utilized a neat feature of McGraw-Hill Textbooks: case studies. I found carefully examining the case study to understand what happened behind the scenes of some of the biggest PR events in my lifetime was incredibly illuminating. We got to examine how and why Johnson and Johnson took immediate action during the Tylenol scare of 1982 and what the creative process was for the “Got Milk?” campaign. These case studies (because they were written for textbooks) always included a lesson–what the professionals learned along the way and better still, how they learned from their mistakes. I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Kranz and Jeff Julian on the statement that being honest and forthright about one’s fallibility and the lessons learned from being fallible is far more endearing than the pretense of perfection.
I got further confirmation on the power of listening and being empathetic from Marketing Prof, Ann Handley, who points out in her article, Why “targeting” customers is the wrong approach, that use of the word “targeting” is an indicator that we may be going about it all wrong. Ann asks, “What if we didn’t target customers, but instead sought to serve them?” Oh yeah! The customer is always right, even when it comes to what words we use to communicate with them. That means we need to be pathologically empathetic with the customer. Along with that empathy, there also ought to be, as Jonathan Kranz puts it, “something of intrinsic value for the customer,” meaning we need to literally put the customer first and by doing so we find the copy becomes more real, more authentic, and hopefully, a lot like talking to a friend. As someone who possesses what could arguably be too much empathy at times, I was delighted to read that empathy is a great asset to the copywriter and concurrently to the marketer as she talks to clients. Turns out wearing my heart on my sleeve isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
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