MORE Setting Your Shop Apart

Last week, in “Setting Your Shop Apart,” I suggested that once you had built a customer-centric foundation for your site, you might want to give it a ‘personality’ that is both attractive and memorable.

My premise is, in part, that loyalty to a person or personality is likely more enduring than loyalty to a ‘place’ that competes on the basis of price and service alone.

Even before that article appeared, an apparently clairvoyant reader, Zoe Kemp, sent me an email posing this query:

“In the last article, the examples used were web sites in which the personality or appearance of the author shines through, the writer of the copy is the site proprietor and can easily drop their own idiosyncrasies into the copy making us like (or absolutely dislike!) them. What I’m trying to find are examples of web sites written by copywriters on behalf of clients which nevertheless convey the same sense of personality, of human closeness just behind the screen, even though this may well be a subtle literary artifice used to enhance brand essence.”

Zoe was clearly way ahead of me here.

Can a personality or character shine through on a large site that is not written by that person? Well, I don’t see why not.

Back in 1985, when I still had my direct marketing training wheels on, I wrote dozens of mailings for a broker who sold ‘bundles’ of unit trusts. Unit trusts are the UK equivalent of mutual funds.

This guy had a great knack for picking winning combinations and developed a very large and very loyal following of clients. And he had a lot of energy. My partners would lock me in a small, windowless room with a carton of cigarettes and lots of coffee. I’d pump these mailings out at a rate of three or four a week.

Is this an interesting story so far? Not really. But what does make it interesting is that I had to learn to write these mailing not in my own voice, but in the client’s voice.

And he was a bugger to work with. If one phrase was ‘out of voice’ he’d shout and scream until I fixed it. And I hated his voice. This guy sold investments like they were Ginsu knives. No kidding. That was the hardest-selling, fastest-paced, most smash ‘n’ grab copy I ever wrote.

From time to time I’d lose it and storm into one of my partners’ much bigger offices and rant and rave about how stupid our client was. Dave, who was older and smarter than I and knew how to put a good buck ahead of a writer’s thin skin, would take me out to his favorite pub.

He’d sit me down with a huge sandwich in front of women taking their clothes off and, while both my mouth and eyes were full, tell me to shape up, stop whining and do as I was forkin’ well told.

Anyway, a couple of years and numerous sandwiches later, our client sold his business for millions. The key to his success, aside from being as smart as the other investment guys, was that he had a very distinctive voice that ran through everything he did. And people recognized and were loyal to that voice.

The guy had character and people liked that.

As for this distinctive voice of his? Not one word of it was written by him.

So yes, I think you can increase customer loyalty at your site by giving it a distinctive, memorable voice and character. In fact, I think it would be much easier to achieve this via the Internet than it was via direct mail. There are so many more opportunities to create and share a ‘voice’ online.

And yes, Zoe, I think the “voice” can be written by someone — even several someones — other than the owner of that voice. Simply follow these two easy steps:

  1. Hope that someone high up in the web site hierarchy has a distinctive personality and voice that’s worth using.
  2. Be really abusive to your writers and don’t let them go home until they get it right.

    At least it worked for Dave.

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