Think Benefits and Talk to Customers to Give Your Copy More Power

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"I was just visiting a client," said Jim Sinkinson, president of Fired Up! Marketing, "and he told me about a customer who came into his office for a brown-bag lunch recently. The lunch gave him the opportunity to learn from that customer about how they use his product.

"It was revelatory for [my client]. Most marketers don't spend time with customers, and that's not good. Spending time inside the customer's skin will allow you to write more powerful copy about that customer. You can't manufacture intimacy. There's only one way to know how they talk and think."

Sinkinson will deliver one of three powerful pre-conference workshops at the 40th Annual SIPA Conference in Washington, D.C., June 6-8—his is titled Words of Power, Words of Wonder: How to Supercharge Your Copy and Achieve Breakthrough Results. In the meantime, he wants you to have conversations. "Surveys are great, but nothing compares to one-on-one," he said. "If you do a survey, attach a question at the end asking if the respondent can be contacted about his or her comments.

"I often end up using the customer's words in copy; otherwise it might come out sounding like a salesman and not like a real person," Sinkinson continued. "A customer may give you some great turns of phrase, and that will give you soulful appreciation for the product."

He said there are two ways to supercharge your copy: First by saying the right things—offering benefits that truly move people and make them buy. "They are what I call words of power. Save 15% in 15 minutes. Learn to speak like an Italian in just 30 days. The trouble is, while it's easy to understand what a benefit is, marketers often have trouble internalizing the concept—and they end up falling back on product features. I've developed some ways of explaining and practicing benefit-thinking that guarantees you will always write copy using powerful benefits.

"The other dimension of great copy is creativity—these are the words of wonder. The ultimate driving machine. Just do it. What's in your wallet? It's what makes copy stick in people's minds, what makes them notice your email or brochure and remember what you said." Copywriting legend David Ogilvy called it the "burr of singularity," Sinkinson said. It's the one magic element of a product that differentiates it from everything else on the market.

The only problem is that you really need to practice what Sinkinson preaches. How many times have we read or watched something and then said, "Okay, I got it," only to be proven wrong? Ever have to put anything together from Ikea? "Some of these things are almost too easy to understand," Sinkinson said. "You might say, 'Yeah yeah yeah I get it,' but unless you actually do it... It's difficult to integrate."

That's why he favors the in-person training. "Every one of my workshops involves 45 minutes to an hour of actual writing," he said. "The format is interactive and involves lot of examples of publishing so people can see how to sell content. The workshops are very supportive. We're all in this together, so we need a safe place to learn these skills."

Sinkinson's pre-workshop copywriting tips:

- Use numbers and lists. They attract us; the concepts are tangible and concrete.

- Make the copy about the reader, not the product. If a story is about the reader, then the product becomes the hero.

- Use "you" twice as much as the product name. Marketers tend to forget in the crush of a schedule to reflect the users' experience and workflow. The best marketing is portraying the drama of the customer succeeding with your product. "Great marketing is great theater," Sinkinson said, "and great theater in marketing is stories about customers—ideally customers getting results using your content or products." 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…