Cynics Can’t Write Great Copy

One of the recurring themes in my book is the need for copywriters to respect the people to whom they are writing. That is to say, treat your prospects with decency, and, above all, don’t look down on them.

Recently, one of my older sons was sitting in on a sales meeting with a group of vacuum cleaner salespeople. Their sales manager offered the following nugget of advice: “Remember, people are stupid. Look for their weak spots.”

What can I say? Well, there are a number of issues here.

First, let’s accept the fact that salespeople can make a living based on this philosophy (so long as they don’t have to work within the same territory for too long). You can take advantage of people’s gullibility. It isn’t difficult. This doesn’t make those prospects stupid; it simply means that they are open and susceptible.

The next issue is whether you want to be that kind of salesperson or copywriter. Though you may be able to close a few more short-term sales by trying to manipulate and deceive your prospects, you won’t build any long-term relationships that way.

Plus, if you’ll forgive me a West Coast moment, consider what taking that path does to you as a writer and as a person. We are what we do.

Also, it is a great deal harder to get away with being cynical about copywriting and about selling when you’re doing business on the Web.

Unlike the vacuum cleaner salesperson, you can’t just move from one territory to the next, leaving a crowd of unhappy customers behind you. The Web, happily, is one large community of souls. You can no longer fool and deceive each customer one at a time, in a state of isolation. Through the wonders of email, discussion lists, and instant messaging, news now travels fast.

If you are a cynic who preys on the gullibility of your prospects, you will have a problem online — sooner or later.

And even if you do escape the backlash of negative word of mouth, you miss out on one of the greatest benefits of doing business online — positive word of mouth.

Positive word of mouth — whether it occurs through “tell-a-friend” links or spontaneous chat and emailing — is golden. The endorsement of other customers will always carry more weight than your own sales pitch.

However, that kind of word of mouth is earned, not purchased. You can’t push for it or demand it. You can’t build positive word of mouth through deceit or cynicism.

The Web applies extra pressures on copywriters to be honest, decent, and clear. On the Web, honesty and openness in selling are rewarded. When your prospects feel your presence behind your words, when they feel that they can trust you and depend on you, that’s when they will start talking about your products and services to others.

This, to my mind, is great news. The Web raises the bar for copywriters online. It keeps us honest.

If you have real ambitions to make your mark as an online copywriter, treat your prospects with respect, because there has never been a great copywriter who was also a cynic.

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