Keep your content direct and to-the-point.
Time is a fickle thing: at times you have more of it than you need, and less of it when you do. In marketing, time is a finite resource. This fact is underscored by the need to get tasks done quickly and efficiently.
For example, consider the point of marketing tools. They’re supposed to make your job easier. Salesforce’s recent expansion of its CRM with blockchain technology provider, Lition, is a prime example of that.
The CRM giant integrated blockchain tech in a play to become more compliant with GDPR–the regulation that governs data privacy in the European Union. The integration also makes sure that users’ data is secure, regardless of size.
Simply put, Salesforce’s move to partner with Lition saves marketers time because they don’t have to make additional arrangements with third-party vendors to secure data. It’s all right there on the platform. Convenient, time-saving.
And so it goes in your copywriting efforts. You want to sell to the prospect or customer in a way that saves time. That doesn’t necessarily mean you save time writing copy and content, you want to save your customer time.
If all that companies cared about was saving their own time so they could focus on more bottom-line types of tasks, you would see lazy, self-serving copywriting–advertising writing that uses a lot of jargon in its attempt to sell.
It is central to your job as a marketer that you create content with prospects’ and customers’ time in mind. It’s important to make the distinction here that what I’m saying is not the same as saving your clientele time.
That would imply the creation of only valuable content. What I’m talking about is creating time-saving, but valuable content. Remember when McDonald’s used to offer the option to supersize meals before 2004? I’m telling you to set your sights on creating “supersized value-adding copy and content.”
Who doesn’t want to get on board with that? The question is, how?
Keep Copy and Content Direct
Keeping copy and content direct is harder than you might think since everybody has an opinion of the way writing should be done. There’s always going to be opinions of how your writing could be leaner, smarter, and more efficient.
For example, consider Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. Another person may have written that to be something else. (“Think Differently” comes to mind. Ultimately, it comes down to what tests better.)
The main takeaway from Apple’s example is that you can be innovative and still keep your content direct while keeping prospects’ and customers’ time in mind.
Consider another example:
In a commercial run by the energy drink company, NOS, the whole point of the ad is to advertise that NOS is a company that sells a no-nonsense product. This is illustrated by two very different underground fighters battling it out.
One fighter with fancy fighting techniques and an appearance to match squares off against a fighter with none of that, and he gets knocked out with a single punch right in the kisser by the simpler fighter.
While the brand could have communicated that point–what they sell is straight-forward–much simpler, NOS made it direct. How did they achieve this if they could’ve done it better? Let’s take a closer look.
The commercial begins with a shot of the “fancy fighter” arriving at the ring and getting the audience amped up. The commercial’s actual story doesn’t begin until the two fighters are in the ring together.
What NOS is doing in the ad is showing context. If you just start right in the middle of a story, your audience will be confused. (Although it can be effective if you work it the right way.) In terms of keeping your copy and content direct, this would look like the following sequence:
Here, you want to make a claim about your product or service that shows context. Look at the way Nike advertises its yoga collection on their website.
Their copy reads, “Breathe. Stretch. Move.” That’s the claim.
The example personifies Nike’s claim by featuring a banner of an athlete dressed in Nike products while stretching.
That’s also the example. Nike is showing their product in context in a visual format.
The relevance comes to Nike’s target audience through a “Shop” button. Taken together with the copy and the image, the button implies that the comfort and flexibility these people are enjoying can be yours, too, if you click it.
That’s some direct writing right there. Nike did a complete selling job using just three words.
Other Ways to Keep Stories Direct
The author of Writing Without Bullshit, Josh Bernoff, makes keeping stories direct a guiding principle of his book. Specifically, he calls it the “Iron Imperative.” And that’s simply, in his words:
“Treat[ing] the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.”
At the same time, it isn’t that easy. To apply the Iron Imperative in writing means you have to have a grasp on psychology. Specifically, you want to use something psychologists call a “schema.”
A schema is psychological shorthand for how you understand something using generic images. For example, if someone shouts that there’s a fire in the building, you don’t need to physically see the fire to know that the person crying out, “FIRE,” is talking about burning flames.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “FIRE”–that’s a schema.
You know what a fire looks like–that’s generic. You haven’t seen the fire the person’s screaming about–that would be a specific image.
Schemas are particularly useful when trying to write with prospects’ and customers’ time in mind.
Using the Nike example mentioned earlier, “Breathe. Stretch. Move,” please notice that all three words are verbs.
Verbs are supposed to work together with nouns to paint a picture for audiences. And verbs, by themselves, are abstract. You need a subject to visualize it. Without one, your schema is incomplete.
Go ahead, try to visualize what “breathing” is without a subject. I bet your mind will think of examples of what breathing looks like, but those examples all would have subjects. Someone or something is doing the breathing.
Some of the best examples of schemas that develop in writing come from the stories you tell, and often show up in stories brands use to teach what their company is all about.
Consider GE’s “Ideas Are Scary” commercial. They used the schema of a monster—hairy, ugly, different, uncared for—to illustrate how GE fosters and nurtures innovative ideas, regardless of what shape they’re in.
So schemas become shorthand for understanding larger ideas.
Another way to keep your stories direct and to-the-point is to use something that often goes hand-in-hand with schemas: concrete words. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, speak to how well an idea—and in this case—an understanding is remembered:
Concrete ideas are easier to remember. Take individual words, for instance. Experiments in human memory have shown that people are better at remembering concrete, easily visualized nouns (“bicycle” or “avocado”) than abstract ones (“justice” or “personality”).
More of the Heath brother’s insights can be found here.
Having content that gets to the point quickly with prospects’ and customers’ time in mind is only as effective as its ability to be remembered. Both concepts—schemas and concrete words—work in sync with each other. The concrete word is what activates the schema.
So, if you use concrete words to describe an area you know a prospect or customer has intimate knowledge of–their pain–the prospect’s or customer’s schema of what you’re writing about will be activated. Because they’re already familiar with the topic, they understand it. They don’t need an explanation.
Translating this to your copy and content writing efforts means you’ve got a recipe for more direct and to-the-point writing.
This interplay between concrete words and psychological schemas works particularly well in advertising–both in and out of copywriting. For example, consider a commercial Philips aired called, “The Longest Night.”
About the work-related stresses to the body of fisherman, Páll Pálsson, there are several schemas at work, ranging from abstract ones (sleeplessness represented by a lightbulb) to concrete ones (Pálsson physically handling fish). It’s a very visual ad.
You might be wondering what a commercial has to do with concrete words, but this particular commercial is spoken in Icelandic.
That means there are subtitles. The subtitles allow prospects and customers to think of the image called to mind when concrete words are spoken, while the commercial itself can visualize schemas of different ideas.
The ad represents the purpose of this whole post: writing with prospects’ and customers’ time in mind.
Whether you use psychological schemas and concrete words separately or together to tell a direct story that shows context, examples and relevance, keep in mind the Iron Imperative. Always make sure to “Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.”
After all, time is a fickle thing: you have more of it than you need when you don’t want it, and less when you do.
How have you used concrete words and schemas to save customers’ time? Send us a message in the chat below to talk about your experience.