Marketing, at its core, is about communication.
Communication is how we connect with others, share ideas and help each other.
And with my work as a copywriter, my job is to show my clients and their work in the best light – specifically so they can make more sales.
But many sales and marketing techniques can be used in ways that don't align with my values. They lean on varying degrees of persuasion and manipulation and don't allow us to show up with integrity.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't use them at all.
Every day we spend time and energy trying to persuade others. Whether it's to go to a new cafe we love or recommending an amazing practitioner, we're always 'selling' our ideas to others. When we believe in something, we stand behind it and enthusiastically try to convince others to do something we think they should.
However, that is vastly different to how many people sell online.
And so below I'm sharing five common techniques that are used in the marketing space. They are persuasive and I use them in my writing.
So how does that work?
Well, I believe these techniques can be used in both a manipulative and conscious sense, depending on the intent behind their use, which is why it's almost impossible to declare a technique to be 'ethical' or not.
I'll let you decide for yourself.
Here we go…
Technique 1: Strategic placement of testimonials and social proof
Backing up a claim you're making is an effective way to show people you're not just making stuff up.
If I say "This program has helped [X number of] students launch a successful business", and then underneath I place a testimonial with someone talking about achieving just that, it shows that this claim is true, and also implies that this is possible for the reader. As soon as the reader can see themselves in that realm of possibility, it becomes persuasive to them.
So is it ok to use? Absolutely. Within reason.
Strategic testimonial placement becomes unethical when a claim is made and then backed up with a unicorn case. In other words - when an outcome which is not common for most buyers/students is placed to suggest that the case is standard, and not the exception.
Conclusion: If you have some great testimonials, absolutely use them! And place them where they are relevant within your content, especially if they're backing up an accurate claim. However, it's deceptive to use an exception case to imply it's the average result and one that an average person can expect.
Technique 2: Speak about the reader's problems
To me, problems are just that – problems that have solutions.
From a practical sense, it's important to bring up what you can help people with. If I'm selling an acne solution product, people wouldn't know so if I only ever spoke about having clear, smooth skin. (Isn't clear, smooth skin something that everyone wants?!)
But that doesn't mean we need to agitate the problem to make it into a pain.
When I'm writing copy and I include a problem my client's audience is having, I do a gut check: "Does this feel like I'm talking about a practical problem that has a solution, or does this feel like I'm agitating something really painful for them?".
For the acne skincare example above, you could talk about the practical, solvable problems that you help people with (redness, sensitivity, inflammation, cysts, infections etc.), without agitating the pain (reminding people how embarrassing it is to meet new people or how they always apply make up before facing their family in the mornings).
Conclusion: Conscious marketing doesn't mean never bringing up problems and only ever talking about happy feelings and positive outcomes. You can talk about the issue so people know what you have a solution for or to. But talk to people like you would speak to a friend seeking a solution – practically, kindly and with support.
Technique 3: Use Voice of Customer Research
Voice of Customer Research is a method for finding the wording and phrases your audience uses when they talk about the problems that you can help them with. It's usually done through interviews, surveys and sifting through online content, like in forums or online reviews.
For copywriters, this is a crucial step for creating copy that connects with the reader.
But, I believe that this research often gets misused and abused.
When I hold interviews, I aim to create a really safe and comfortable space for people to talk. And because of that, my interviewees often get raw and vulnerable and I get a lot of information. I not only learn about the pains that people are experiencing and the consequences they've faced because of them, but I also get the phrasing, terminology and expression they use to describe it.
With this information, I'm now in a position where I could use all this "Voice of Customer gold" to write sales copy riddled with the most vulnerable things people have expressed. By doing so, I know my copy would be more persuasive to create more sales.
So should I use it?
Many say yes. I believe the answer is, well, it depends.
I believe VoC research should be held to understand people and to create words that resonate with them.
But I also believe it's irresponsible - and even deceptive - to hold an interview to get all this raw information purely to make the copy as persuasive as possible.
I have experienced this as a buyer. I spent thousands of dollars buying courses and products from other copywriters because the content in the sales pages spoke to me so much. But the final product was a course that was absolutely not what I needed. I would have preferred them to use VoC research to understand where I'm at and to create relatable copy, but to then to use honesty to tell me exactly what the course does and who would most benefit from it. By doing so I would have been equipped with all the facts to make the buying decision myself, rather than being persuaded into it.
Conclusion: Voice of Customer is a vital tool. Without it, copy is just a bunch of words. But it's powerful and can make the reader believe the business really 'gets them', when perhaps it's more the skill of the copywriter and their research than the business knowing what their customers need. VoC should be used to connect with readers and to help the business understand their audience. It should not be used to persuade people to buy something they might not need.
Technique 4: Countdown timers for cart close
Living in Australia where most people I follow are in the US, I absolutely LOVE knowing exactly how many hours are left before cart close. It means I don't need to do the conversion myself.
On the other hand, I know some marketers who believe there is no place for countdown timers in marketing at all.
To make a decision for yourself for something so polarising, take a moment to check in and see how the tool makes you feel. Place it in your copy (or even just imagine it) and see if you get a light or a heavy feeling from it.
If you believe it's helping your audience, go ahead and use away. If you think it's creating panic for your audience, see what other ways you can show your readers how much time is left without using a timer.
Conclusion: A tool is simply a tool. A countdown timer can either add to the panic and make people feel like they're missing out, OR it can be a practical tool for people to know how much time is left. If you'd like to use it, go ahead. If you personally hate seeing them, perhaps use that as your guide to leave it off.
Technique 5: Providing a money-back guarantee
The reality is that when someone sees a guarantee, they feel more confident in purchasing. It makes buyers feel secure knowing the business won't just take their money and then flake out when it comes to providing the goods. This is exactly how a solid guarantee should work - helps the business by showing customers they're serious about their offer, but also protects the buyer if the business doesn't live up to the claim.
So where does it get tricky?
When businesses uses a guarantee that's there just for show.
Most people wouldn't think twice about the intent behind a guarantee. It's not until you look into what it takes to 'qualify' for a guarantee that you realise many are there for the sake of persuasion.
For example: Making people jump through hoops and finish loads of course material to be 'assessed' before they can qualify for their money back isn't a guarantee, but rather a way to get people to pay up under the illusion of a guarantee. In these cases, the business owner already knows they likely won't provide a refund later.
This is especially true if they're selling to a demographic who doesn't have the luxury of time, like people who are working extra jobs, have kids and no childcare, take care of family members, have their own health issues, amongst others. If the course or program hasn't lived up to their expectations, they now aren't able to complete the content to qualify for a refund. There is a power dynamic at play here where the person in a position of power (who has time, money and business know-how to create hoops for jumping through) is using their power over the person who is seeking a solution, but is now further disadvantaged from the transaction.
(Side note: I'm not saying all cases where completing work to quality for a refund are deceptive - only when it's purposely made difficult for the buyer.)
Conclusion: Many products and courses don't live up to their claims, and consumers are getting more sceptical of buying every day. As a business owner, a clear guarantee policy can help you stand out and help people to feel more secure buying from you. So absolutely have one, but make it clear and make it fair. It should never be used it purely as a persuasion tool.
Where to from here?
There are an abundance of tools to choose from when marketing our businesses. And for each tool there will be people on either side saying they either agree with it or they don't. This means it's up to us as individuals to decide how we feel about each specific one.
If you're ever unsure about using a specific tool or technique and you don't have someone to bounce ideas off, ask yourself:
"Would I be comfortable communicating this way with my best friend? My sister? My neighbour?"
"Would I be comfortable communicating this way in person, without a screen to hide behind?"
If the answer to those is yes, then absolutely go with it.
And while that doesn't mean you will always get it right, by using your own moral compass to make these decisions, you'll at least start to form your own thought process and begin to analyse marketing tactics differently.
What do you think? Are there any specific techniques you love or loathe? Any you're unsure about using?
Let me know in the comments below!
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