It’s OK to Write Copy That Sells

There has been a lot said by smart people about the alleged sleaziness of writing copy that sells online. Apparently, it’s not OK to sell on the Web. I beg to disagree.

To start with, let me put my head in the lion’s mouth by saying that even in the days when selling was a “conversation,” it was still selling.

For those of you who have been to a Saturday-morning street market in the East End of London, you know the pleasures of being sold to by the “barrow boys.” These are consummate salesmen. They stand behind their stalls selling you knives that never get dull, pots and pans that never warp, mops that leave your floors gleaming, and clothes that will take 20 pounds off your weight the moment you wear them.

The best of these salesmen are fabulous entertainers. They look you in the eye or they may pick you out in person, they ask your name, and then they offer you a very special price. It’s true one-to-one. And, yes, when they do that, it’s a conversation. But these guys aren’t chatting with you because they enjoy the fine art of conversation on a wet Saturday morning. They are chatting with you because it’s part of how they sell. When you get that knife for just #2.50 — because he “likes the look of you” — then everyone wants the same price. It’s classic hard selling.

But do people see these guys as sleazy con artists? Not at all. Their audience loves them. People aren’t stupid; they know the game. They know that they could buy that knife for less if they went to a discount store down the street. But they pay that premium for the pleasure of being entertained.

Same thing with TV. When I’m told that a particular shampoo will give me an “organic” experience, I know that’s not true. But I don’t care because it’s part of the dance between vendor and customer. We both know that dance, so it’s OK. Do I believe that drinking a particular beer will immediately put me in the company of fun, attractive people? Nope.

Customers aren’t stupid. We don’t need to take a patronizing, paternalistic position to protect them from advertising. They get it. They read what you’re saying and apply the appropriate grade of “ad-talk” filtering.

It’s OK to sell from your site online. In fact, when you refuse to sell, many of your visitors will get confused and wonder what the heck is going on. They expect to be sold to. It’s the sign they are waiting for. It tells them, “Hey, here’s the spot where I say. ‘Yes.'”

If you sell fountain pens and I come to your site, chances are I want to be sold a great pen. If I’m just browsing for now, that’s OK, too. I can filter out the sales patter. But when I’m ready to buy, for goodness’ sake, sell to me!

To take the view that “selling” with copy online is wrong is an insult to the intelligence of your visitors. And there has never been a romantic period in commerce when “selling” was somehow a charming, sales-free conversation. Street and market vendors are and always have been the greatest salesmen of all.

The brave new Web of commerce online will belong to those who are not too shy to stand behind their virtual stalls, open their mouths, and make the sale.

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