It may be hyperbole, but copy as we know it is nearly useless. Why is that? First we must define what copy is: copy is marketing text designed to persuade users to take action. Today, copy is less successful at persuading users and moving them forward than it has been in the past. Marketing and branding is changing, especially on the web.
Now value and brevity are more important than ever before as Internet users become more impatient, more cynical, and even more demanding. How do we combat such cynicism and increasing skepticism? The answer is clear text with interactive proof.
A different landscape
Nowadays I see hundreds of designers and marketing professionals treating websites like they are billboards, television commercials, or magazine ads. Copy as a marketing tool was developed for these more traditional methods where persuasion is everything. We cannot treat the web like it’s just another presentation medium.
The web has a powerful new ingredient: interactivity. The interactive element completely changes the game. Now customers can quickly evaluate and move on. We no longer have the luxury of pure brand exposure and time for product ideal-isms to simmer in their heads. Traditional methods of writing copy are losing effectiveness because the way they persuade is fundamentally about ideas and not about backing it up.
Credibility is harder to come by
The web as a medium levels businesses and products on to the same playing field. Before the Internet was born, having advertising in traditional spaces was enough because there was a financial barrier. The Internet breaks down such pricing barriers and allows smaller products and companies to speak with users on the same terms as potentially multi-billion dollar companies.
This means that you can no longer just speak with credibility — you must show it, support and feature it. Even as Internet scams become more rampant, users have gained access to tools that make it extremely easy to check into the validity of an offer.
Customers are experienced
Consumers are bombarded with a stream of advertising, marketing and sales pitches. In past media customers learned to expect advertising in certain places, but now they are subject to persuasive speech and image during most of their time on the web. In short, our users have become experienced and savvy when it comes to marketing. How can they not be? If familiarity breeds contempt then most users must hate marketing.
Copy usage on the web has become a multi-layered fight. First, we must break through the skepticism, fight the cynicism and address the reality. Great sounding text, slick promises and professionalism don’t get you very far anymore. Consumers are demanding more of marketing and in less time.
The road ahead
Okay, so I lied. Copy isn’t dead; it’s just outdated. The question now is what designers and marketing professionals need to do about it. The answer: adapt and build a better approach, and that approach is known as interactive copy.
Copy is no longer about just persuading the user. You have precious little time to capture attention and interest, so don’t mince words. When you communicate clearly and directly, users will respond.
Setting up the needs was a valuable tool in the past, but users no longer have the patience for it. Get straight to the point.
I could tell you that the new user doesn’t have a large attention span and that quick copy is a time limit issue, but that’s really not the case. You have limited time because users have gotten good at seeing through poorly crafted offers. Brevity does one powerful thing: it communicates confidence.
When was the last time an expert in their field had to convince people that he is good at what he does? Probably not too recently. Achievement breeds confidence. People are aware of this and recognize when it’s absent. If your copy is long winded, it can come off as desperate and feel like you are trying too hard to prove something. Be confident and be brief.
Gone are the days when you could just convince a customer that your product or service was good. Users will ignore copy if it isn’t backed up by testimonials, portfolio, case studies, free trials, or more. “Take my word for it” is basically useless now. Users today are terrified of bad decisions and the Internet doesn’t have the best record for providing ethical companies that deliver on their promises.
You may look good and sound good but users are more skeptical than ever. You must offer tangible proof, and keep the user engaged and moving forward in the process.
The web is an interactive medium. You have a powerful opportunity to not only provide the user with a path to your product or service but the ability to engage them. Never before have you been able to offer a promise and immediately engage the user to show them why it’s true.
Interactive Copy is all about momentum. If you can build it up by generating a valid question and moving the user to the next step, don’t leave them hanging with no direct way to get to the answers. Not only should copy be an active step in the process but it should act like it. Make your links and buttons react to user input and activity. Just like a confident and charismatic salesman can work wonders so can copy and calls to action that provide feedback.
With Interactive Copy, one of the new tools we can leverage is momentum. Building up urgency and process movement is critical to effective sales. The way to build up effective momentum is crafting scarcity into your calls to action. The user is not watching a TV show, driving or reading a magazine. They are on your website looking at your product or service. If you don’t call them to engage in the process then you are inviting them to procrastinate and think it over.
Scarcity breeds value and urgency. If they feel the offer is temporary, they’ll act sooner. This builds more momentum. Always move the user forward with urgency, calls to action, and justifiable intent.
Interactive copy is here to stay
While there are whole other articles (and even books) written about good copy-writing and marketing tactics, we are dealing with a new breed of user and a new approach with a brand new tool-set for persuasion. Engage your users, provide them with ways to interact with your copy, and the result will be momentum toward sales and, eventually, success.
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