To explore how to create phrases that sell, I interview Ray Edwards, one of the world’s leading copywriters. He’s the author of How to Write Copy That Sells and hosts a podcast called The Ray Edwards Show.
Ray explains why marketers need to talk about the problem their product or service solves. You’ll also find eight examples for talking about these problems and tips for using them in your marketing.
Why Copywriting Matters to Marketers
Ray defines copy as persuasive communication, whether it’s written, spoken, or some other form. If you’re communicating to persuade—and we almost always are—then that’s copy. Copywriting is important to marketers because it helps you get the results you want.
I add that social media algorithms respond to the engagement your organic and paid posts receive. If your words move people to engage, more people will see your posts. If your words can move people to take your desired action, you’ll become the hero of your company because people will see you as someone who understands how to get prospects to act when no one else does.
Listen to the show to hear about the mastermind group to which Ray and I both belong.
Why Marketing Copy Should Talk About Problems
The biggest mistake marketers make is ignoring the negative part of their message. Specifically, they need to talk about the pain their product or service solves. Even entertainment solves the pain of boredom. Addressing pain is important because people tend to respond quicker to relieving pain than to feeling pleasure.
Ray believes marketers make this mistake so often because they don’t want to feel like they’re manipulating other people. They’re afraid of writing copy that feels icky because it plays on people’s fears or scarcity. Ray believes copy that tries to manipulate people in this way is wrong, but copy can avoid this problem when you think of your task as helping people and telling them the whole story.
The problem your product or service solves is part of your story. If your audience doesn’t understand they have a problem, they won’t be interested in buying.
I note that sometimes people don’t know they have a problem until you explain it to them. To illustrate, the Fitbit solved a problem I didn’t realize I had. I knew I wasn’t being active enough, but I didn’t know a little device tracking my steps would help me overcome that problem until a friend suggested I get a Fitbit.
Ray says smartphones are similar. At first, people didn’t realize they needed them, but now most people don’t leave the house without theirs. Smartphones solve our desire for instant gratification. Before smartphones, if you wanted to answer a question right away, you’d have to call the library or a research desk. Smartphones are like having Encyclopedia Galactica in your pocket.
I mention that recent episodes of The Journey have focused on the Facebook video and email deliverability problems Social Media Examiner is facing. These episodes have more video views than any other episode in the series. People have said to me, “Oh my gosh! It’s so amazing to see that I’m not alone. I love your stuff even more.”
Ray says he thought those were the best episodes, too, and thinks my story demonstrates the value of talking about the problems we all face.
Listen to the show to hear how I covered talking about problems in my first book, Writing White Papers.
8 Ways to Talk About Pains
Ray then shares eight small but mighty phrases that lead right into powerful copywriting. When you use these phrases, your copy is more likely to engage people, increase purchases, get people to agree with you, or whatever your goal is. For the sake of simplicity, he uses Social Media Marketing World as an example.
As you might expect, this statement says, “If you have the following pain or problem, then here’s the solution and why.” Using Social Media Marketing World as the case study, Ray strings together a few “if” statements:
“If you’re confused about which social media marketing strategies work in today’s market… If you wonder whether it’s too late to capitalize on video, it’s not—but only if you know which platform to focus on and which to ignore.
“And if you want to understand how to market through social media, but you need a comprehensive approach and a better understanding of what you can and can’t accomplish, then Social Media Marketing World is being carefully crafted for someone just like you.”
Ray starts this example with one of the most common emotions people have about social media marketing: they’re confused about which strategies work because so many voices shout at them from different directions, all contradicting one another. When you write your own “if” statements, include your audience’s emotional triggers and major challenges.
Ray included the statement about whether it’s too late to capitalize on video because it reflects questions people in the target audience have right now. The statement about understanding the market and a comprehensive approach does a few things: it’s an all-inclusive statement about what’s bugging the audience and goes back to the first statement.
The answer to all of these statements is Social Media Marketing World, which is “crafted for someone just like you.” Ray might follow his if-then example with four reasons you must attend. These reasons would be bullet points about what the audience will gain by going to the conference.
2. If You Don’t Do Anything, It Just Gets Worse…
This type of statement acknowledges people’s tendency to hope their problem will go away if they ignore it. Ray shares an example: “If you ignore the social media marketing problem, it won’t go away. And that’s a problem because a conversation about you is happening on social media. If you’re not part of it, you can’t influence it.”
Alternatively, you can say something like, “Choosing to do nothing about your social media marketing has consequences.” You might explain what those consequences are or let your audience figure that part out on their own depending on your market and whether your topic is a hot-button issue.
For a touchy subject, drive the point home with examples. Choose examples that highlight the cost of not doing what your audience needs to do. I share an example for persuading someone to use Facebook ads:
“If you’re not investing in Facebook ads and are instead relying on organic posts, you’re fighting a battle against an algorithm that will crush you. It will make sure your content is never seen until you’re forced to spend more money as the marketplace gets more competitive.”
For a more succinct approach, Ray shares a phrase that stands on its own: “Ignoring the problem doesn’t solve the problem.”
I then ask about metaphors, such as a child doing their homework, as a way to emphasize the problem. For instance, “If a child doesn’t do their homework, you know they’re going to fail the course. Why would you not do your homework? You don’t want to fail in life.” Ray agrees that metaphors like these can work well.
3. What Most People Do…
In this type of sentence (which is one of Ray’s favorites), most people do the wrong thing. To visualize this, “What most people do about their social media marketing is copy what their competitors are doing, plus or minus 10%, and call it good. That is a huge mistake.”
Then you reward your audience for being smart, savvy people who understand. To do that, you say something like, “I know you’re not like those people. Instead you’re someone who does X and someone who does Y. That’s why this solution is perfect for you.”
4. Imagine This…
Imagine is like a magic word because when you ask people to imagine something, they can’t resist. When you use the word imagine, you can put an idea in the minds of your audience and get them to picture something. Marketers’ biggest challenge is getting people to picture themselves experiencing the successful outcome that your product or service will bring them.
Fortunately, you can simply tell them to imagine their successful outcome. Using Social Media Marketing World as an example, Ray might say:
“Imagine your social media marketing efforts start to outperform all of your previous marketing while your ad costs go down. Imagine every key player in your industry comes to you for social media marketing advice. Imagine your boss gives you a big, fat raise because she doesn’t want you taking a job anywhere else.
“Does that sound like a fantasy? Well it isn’t. If you can deliver the goods as a social media marketer, then these and other benefits will come to you.”
You then explain why your product or service can bring your audience all of the things you asked them to imagine.
I mention another example based on the experience that Social Media Marketing World offers:
“Imagine talking with the social media marketing idols you’ve been following online, shaking their hands, and asking them questions. Instead of working in a cubicle where no one understands a thing you say, you’re surrounded by people just like you. They get you and want to talk to you.”
As Ray and I go back and forth sharing examples, Ray notes that writing with a team or at least one other person is helpful. Everyone on the team will think of different angles and ideas, which can help you write much better copy. To illustrate, Ray started with the hero angle but said my image of shaking hands with marketing celebrities took him back to his first time at the conference.
5. If the Only Thing You Get Is…
This is another technique where Ray recommends stacking ideas. In this case, you emphasize the major benefits of your product or service, and if the only thing they get is one of those benefits, then taking your desired action (buying, engaging, or something else) will be worthwhile.
With Social Media Marketing World in mind, Ray shares the following example:
“If the only thing you get is certainty about the kind of video marketing you need to do and where you should be doing it…
“If the only thing you get is expert, insider understanding of each major social platform and the unique opportunities and pitfalls that come with it…
“If the only thing you get is one dramatic case study after another of players who are crushing it and exactly how they’re doing it…
“If you get any one of these things, it’ll be worth the investment and the time to attend Social Media Marketing World. But you don’t get only one. You get them all.”
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Building on Ray’s ideas, I share a few of mine: “If you only get clarity that you’re doing something wrong and need to stop before it spells disaster… If the only thing you get is a plan that points you down the path to success…” Ray likes the idea of a plan because most people don’t think through a comprehensive plan. They have ideas that come into their inbox one after another.
Because I know most people come to Social Media Marketing World for specific tactics, I also like this idea that Ray and I brainstorm together: “If the only thing you get is an idea that allows you to skip all of the trial and error, and actually do social media marketing that moves the needle…”
Ray adds that he loves these phrases because most people can start brainstorming ideas like he and I did. To get started, you need to hear the phrase and a couple of examples. From there, you can riff and develop a ton of ideas.
6. Don’t Let This Happen to You…
Because this phrase is easy to understand, Ray moves directly into sharing ideas. He starts with the following ideas, continuing to use Social Media Marketing World as an example:
“Don’t get caught using yesterday’s outdated tactics and thus throw good money after bad.
“Don’t be ashamed that you don’t know everything about social media marketing, and by keeping it a secret, allow your pride to rob you of results, your reputation, perhaps even your job.
“Don’t trick yourself into thinking you already know everything and that you’re too smart for the room because when you decide you know everything, you’ve merely chosen where to level off.”
Then I share an example: “Don’t let yourself think that Social Media Marketing World is above you, because in reality, we restart almost every month in an industry that constantly changes.” From there, Ray suggests a segue into episodes of The Journey where I’m not embarrassed to discuss how we change our marketing. When you share that kind of detail, your audience bonds with you.
Another example is based on problems social media marketers have had with platform-driven tactics: “Don’t let Facebook tell you that you need to produce longer videos when the data tells you otherwise. Instead, talk to people who track this stuff, have insider knowledge, and can tell you whether it really works.”
You can also flip this phrase so it’s positive instead of negative. You might say, “You’re probably wondering how to avoid all of these terrible things. Well, you need to put yourself in an environment where people know the real answers, and that’s what we do when we come together at Social Media Marketing World.”
For industries that change quickly, another angle is “Don’t be the last one at the party.” You could say, “Social media marketing changes so fast. If you’re late to the party, the strategy has likely changed. Instead, imagine you’re the first person in your company to use tools that increase opt-ins, grow your email list, and reduce the time needed to achieve those results.”
7. What If…
This phrase evokes possibilities: “What if you could be ahead of everyone else for the next Snapchat or Instagram Stories?” Ray usually reserves this phrase for positive possibilities. The phrase is simple but powerful (although “Imagine…” is probably a more powerful tool).
8. You’re Standing at the Crossroads…
This phrase uses a metaphor to discuss a binary choice, such as going to Social Media Marketing World or not going. Although this phrase feels a little cheesy, Ray has found using this exact kind of language to be effective:
“You’re standing at a crossroads right now. You’ve got two roads to choose from. The road on your left is the road you’ve been traveling down. It’s rocky and bumpy. You’re trying the same old tactics. They’re less and less effective. Your ads are costing more and more. The cost per lead is going up.
“Or you can go down the road to the right, which is paved and smooth. Only a few people are on this road, but their social media marketing is getting more engagement, their ad costs are going down, their cost per click and per lead are incredibly low. This road is the one that you travel when you attend Social Media Marketing World, so choose the right road.”
Ray acknowledges that this approach sounds a little over the top, but it works. The copy intentionally reiterates the same point in different ways: that to stay on the road you’re on and not change is a choice. Good copywriting (or any persuasive writing) tends to be subtly repetitive so your audience doesn’t notice.
Another version of this tactic focuses on different types of people instead of the road metaphor. Ray shares the following example:
“You know there are two kinds of people in the world? The kind of person who’s a lifetime learner, a consummate student, and a courageous innovator. Or there’s the kind who thinks they know it all. They’re more concerned with being impressive than with being right and are a panicky, play-it-safe kind of person. Which kind of person are you?”
Listen to the show to hear Ray and me share additional examples of these phrases.
Where to Talk About Pains
Often, marketers use copy that talks about pains in only one place, like the sales page. However, you can use these phrases to write all kinds of copy addressing customers’ pains. Each of these phrases could be part of an email campaign or social media posts such as an Instagram story. You can also turn copy based on these phrases into a blog post, podcast, or talking point.
These phrases are a small but powerful toolbox that can open big doors for your company. However, nothing about them is magical. You simply have to use them to talk about your customers’ problems. With a systematic approach, you can take stock of all of your company’s marketing messages and note where you only talk about the solution, not the pains. That’s where you can use these phrases.
To try out these phrases, simply start with one post, Instagram story, email, or some other medium. When you see how people engage and respond to your copy, using these phrases can be kind of addictive. For longer copy, such as an email, you can weave customers’ pains into a larger persuasive message. Here you see a YouTube video Ray created using the “Which type of person are you?” approach.
As you test these phrases, you’ll figure out which message moves people to take the right action. After you learn what that message is, you can develop variations that work for different types of marketing copy.
Listen to the show to hear my thoughts about the ways Social Media Examiner has focused on solutions instead of problems.
Discovery of the Week
With Stories Creator, a desktop browser-based tool from Buffer, you can create content for Facebook or Instagram Stories in batches.
Creating a bunch of Stories content on your smartphone often isn’t efficient. With Stories Creator, you can upload and design your images on a larger desktop computer. Then you can download all of the images and send them to whomever will be posting the stories.
To use Stories Creator, you start with a template. You can then customize the background with your own image or a plain color. Upload a logo if you like. Each template has three types of text you can customize: title, body, and caption. Simply click the one you want to edit to see the text editing options. You can also choose not to display any of these text elements by toggling it off in the left pane.
When you’re done editing an image, click to download it, and you can move to the next one.
Stories Creator doesn’t work with video and the interface is very streamlined for a specific purpose. The tool does one thing and does it well.
Stories Creator is free and available via any desktop computer with a web browser.
Listen to the show to learn more and let us know how Stories Creator works for you.
Key Takeaways In This Episode
- Visit Ray’s website to learn more about his work and sign up for his email newsletter full of useful information.
- Read How to Write Copy That Sells (or sign up to receive a free, signed copy plus shipping via Ray’s website).
- Listen to Ray’s podcast, The Ray Edwards Show.
- Watch episodes of The Journey focused on Facebook video and email deliverability problems Social Media Examiner has faced.
- Create content for Facebook or Instagram Stories in batches with Stories Creator, a desktop browser-based tool from Buffer.
- Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on Crowdcast or tune in on Facebook Live.
- Learn more about Social Media Marketing World 2019.
Listen to the Interview Now
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What do you think? What are your thoughts on phrases that sell? Please share your comments below.