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November 18, 2016
In business, it’s often said that drawing in new customers is more challenging than keeping current ones. This idea is applied to many things, including copywriting and marketing. Often, marketing is divided into strategies for cold leads and established patrons, but what if it were possible to consistently appeal to both throughout the copy of a website, article, email marketing, and more?
Though there are times and places to focus on one side, appeals to new or repeat customers are not completely exclusive tactics. Nor are the two methods to attract them as divergent as they seem. Let’s quickly look at the two sides of the coin, and how the coin is actually a circle with two points that support each other.
On one hand, we have the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias and marketing concept first popularized among economists. The curse of knowledge occurs when we overestimate someone’s knowledge or understanding of a topic compared to our own. In one exemplary study, subjects were asked to tap the beat of a very popular song, while other subjects tried to guess the song. The results were clear: half of the tappers were confident a listener would understand the song, but in fact only 2.5 percent of listeners guessed correctly.
Image via Flickr by racooncity
We easily assume that others are on the same page as us. In copywriting and marketing, this curse can easily cause a disconnect between the intended and received message. Anyone who decides to build their own desktop computer is a brutal example of the curse’s victims. Knowing what parts are ideal, what the specs mean and why they matter, all of this is made difficult due to a lack of simple, benefit-based copy. Instead, it’s all technical, and the barrier to entry is intimidating.
The human mind forgets or phases out old information constantly, and that is why those with experience on a topic can forget the pitfalls and needs of someone with little or no experience. In this way, the curse of knowledge is dangerous, but there is an equally risky compensation tactic: abstraction. This occurs when, in an attempt to avoid the curse of knowledge, only abstract benefits are mentioned. The lack of concrete features can appear unconvincing, sometimes downright shady, even to new customers.
Going back to the metaphor of computer parts shopping, while “24 phase digital power delivery” will mean nothing to someone new to purchasing motherboards, “unprecedented gaming experience” is equally unhelpful, and underestimates the reader’s intelligence and needs. Customers don’t just want a gaming motherboard. They want one with good features that align with their needs and interests, even if those needs and interests aren’t concrete in their minds yet.
So how do you write copy that appeals to those who are “in the know” without your message flying over the heads of new potential customers? The common takeaway most people gained from the curse of knowledge was “focus on the benefits, not the features” because there’s no guarantee that the features will be fully understood. However, one can describe an eco-friendly potting clay as “100 percent biodegradable” as opposed to describing all-natural silts and production methods, but while this focuses on benefits, they are abstract and will not appeal to informed customers.
To avoid the curse of knowledge or abstraction, focus not on benefits or features alone, but on beneficial features. A twist on the potting clay could be “when it breaks, spread it through your garden”. This implies not only that the material can return to the earth, but that it should. This speaks much closer to the heart of eco-friendly and biodegradable interests compared simply calling something biodegradable, but the reader isn’t bogged down with a science lesson either.
The trickiest part of getting beneficial features right is forming an information bridge which causes people to figure out the benefits on their own. Instead of describing certain oranges as the juiciest, calling them the “ideal breakfast juicing oranges” creates a concrete image of the customer’s benefit. This speaks to buyers who want the juiciest oranges possible, whether specifically to juice them or not. Advertisers who want more punch could even warn customers with statements like “don’t eat in the car!”
Image via Flickr by ecmbrest4
Returning to computer parts, a more challenging and complicated business for copywriters, let’s imagine having to write copy for a gaming mouse that has two buttons that allow a user to raise or lower the sensitivity. A feature-only phrase like “DPI adjustment buttons” is fine for enthusiasts, but likely confusing for newcomers. However, “convenient mouse-based sensitivity adjustments” has the opposite problem of not being clear enough. Instead, “change sensitivity between games with DPI adjustment buttons” includes beneficial features with a clear visual spark.
Earlier, I stated that customers have needs and interests in a certain market, even if they don’t know them yet. Someone can feel like buying oranges, without having a clear idea of what kind, until the person sees ones advertised as ideal for juicing. The customer could then realize that they both enjoy eating oranges as well as juicing them. They can then say “Yes, this is what I wanted!” That moment, whether for oranges or anything else, can happen literally seconds before a purchase is made. Full circle copy that highlights beneficial features is the secret to satisfying these prospects.
However, the beauty of full circle copy is that it also encourages brand loyalty. By re-incorporating features with their universally appealing benefits, full circle copy reminds current customers of why they bought from a certain brand in the first place. The benefits of convenient, user-friendly computer equipment never get bogged down in the numbers and complex wording of new features, and these features are always highlighted by their true benefits.
In this way, the copywriting and advertising philosophies that typically target new or repeat customers by themselves can feed each other. This cyclical balance will appeal to people on completely different tiers of the customer process. When writing copy for advertising, content marketing, sales pages, or anything else, remember to write in a way that helps new customers find what matters to them, while helping experienced customers rediscover those same things.