Objection Blaster #4: Why You?

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You know what makes selling really annoying? When people don’t buy.

Man, is that irritating.

Those pesky customers have reasons they’re not buying from you today, and salespeople call these reasons “objections.”

This is post four in a series talking about what, as copywriters, we’re going to do to blast those objections into zillions of harmless smithereens.

The Hard Question

Once we’ve captured a potential customer’s attention and brought up a problem that they’d like to have solved, we have to answer an important question.

Why should they work with us, instead of all the other things they might choose to do about this problem? (Never forget that doing nothing is one of their options.)

Why not the big, name-brand retail store? Why not some free resource they find on the internet? Why not your closest competitor?

What have you got to offer that solves their problem in a different way? And what makes that way better?

The Dread USP

I’ve been writing a lot about USPs lately. It’s all Havi’s fault, she and I got into an interesting conversation about them at South by Southwest last March.

(If you don’t know what a USP is, it’s a Unique Selling Proposition. If that makes you barf, think of it as a unique promise. That’s the great Gary Bencivenga’s term, and I think it’s a great way to frame the question.)

Havi is a big fan of the Sing with Your Own Voice USP, and so am I. It’s the one thing no one can steal—your personality, voice, and style.

But when you’re thinking about making a unique promise, it’s helpful if you add a little more. “I promise to be myself” is kind of cool in a New Age Self Help way, but that potential customer would also like to know what they’re going to get out of this.

Making a Compelling Promise

I like Bencivenga’s “promise” approach because it covers two sides. The “unique” part you can cover by being a unique human being. But you’re not done yet.

That word “promise” gets us thinking about our friend the customer. What are we going to do for her? How are we going to help? How will her life become better when she does business with us?

Let’s say you run an adorable little independent bookstore. You’ve got the unique thing down. You’re singing with your own voice. You’ve got your mom making her killer chocolate chip cookies for the café, you’ve got tables recommending all your very favorite books, and you’ve got your ancient friendly cat sleeping in the shop window.

No one’s going to mistake your place for a boring chain. It’s got your personality all over it.

Half down, half to go.

What Can You Promise that the Other Guy Can’t?

Let’s face it, the thing that will make or break your bookstore is how well you compete with Amazon.

So what can you promise customers that Amazon can’t?

  • Our shop is a great place to curl up in a comfy chair and hang out.
  • Enjoy my mom’s fresh chocolate-chip cookies, fresh from the oven.
  • Instant gratification! Get your book right now instead of waiting a few days.
  • Not in the shop but you want it today, not tomorrow? Easy peasy. Call us or send us an email and we’ll send your book over by bicycle.
  • Meet local authors in an intimate, fun setting at one of our local author parties.
  • Instead of a weird computer-generated recommendation that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with you, have a conversation with a real live book-lover who can help you find exactly what you’re in the mood for.

After you’ve answered that question, you also need to figure out what you uniquely promise that the other bricks-and-mortar bookstores in your town don’t. So you go through the same exercise.

Repeat until you run out of significant competitors.

The Great Intersection

You can see how the unique promise comes at a wonderful intersection.

Between you—who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you can uniquely offer, and your customers—who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what they uniquely desire.

If you don’t make an interesting promise that triggers your customers’ “ooh, nifty” response, there’s not much hope for the success of your business.

What Makes for a Good Promise?

1. You have to promise something that people in fact want. Not what you think they should want, but what they actually want.

You can figure this out by talking with customers, spending time in forums in your topic, running surveys, or hanging out on Twitter and in your comments and listening for what’s frustrating people.

This one kills a lot of businesses, so be really stern with yourself about it.

2. As a copywriter, you also want to make that promise vivid. Let the person see, feel, hear and taste what it’s going to be like when you deliver the promise. Use your full toolbox of great creative writing tricks to make the promise come alive in your readers’ mind.

3. A good promise feels intimate, one-to-one. All great copywriting speaks to one person.

Who believes mass advertising, or political promises? Nobody. They’re delivered to the millions, they’re cold and impersonal. But a promise whispered in our ear alone (or a promise that feels that way) gets our attention.

4. And of course, it’s only a good promise if we believe it. That’s why proof is such an important part of good sales copy (or good face-to-face selling, for that matter). So proof comes next in our series.

The Objection Blaster Series (so far)

Sing with Your Own Voice

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Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
~Dean Hunt &, apparently, Oscar Wilde

I was chatting with the smartest marketing princess on earth the other day, and we were talking about how few products and services are actually unique.

All marketing advice is basically rehashed John Caples and Claude Hopkins, sometimes with a few Gene Schwartz refinements tossed in.

House painters are house painters. Web designers are web designers. PR people are PR people.

Absolutely, there’s a spectrum of “seriously good” to “seriously incompetent,” and we all have our specialties. And that’s significant, I don’t mean to downplay it. It’s well worth your time to carve down your own little corner of the universe and make it perfect.

But there’s a more important differentiator.

No one else gets to be you

Let’s take it as a given that you’re very good at what you do. If you aren’t, either get better at what you’re doing, or do something you’re better at.

We’ve all been given amazing gifts, and we can all study and improve, so I am 100% confident you can be superb at something.

(Something useful. I’m not belittling your career as a nose-flute virtuoso, but you’ll also need to do something that’s of use to other people.)

With that as a given, what can you add that would take that “very good” to a magnificent new level?

What can you offer that’s dazzling? How can you find a unique message in the cacophony of advertising that’s deafening us all?

How do you find your own village of loyal customers who love you more than anyone else, and will support you in style for the rest of your days?

Sing with your own voice

I have two friends who help people get unstuck.

One is a yoga teacher with a duck. The other is a money guy with a sport coat and a (somewhat) more traditional resume.

They both do great work for clients. They’re both incredibly dedicated and committed. They both speak with an authentic voice.

They don’t offer the exact same services, but even if they did, you’d never need to ask how to decide which one to work with. The answer is obvious.

Havi is for Havi-people and Gary is for Gary-people.

So yes, work on your positioning. Work on your USP. Understand your relationship to your market, find your winning difference or your purple cow or your rightful share of customer.

But don’t let any of those slow you down.

Because beyond what you know and what you’ve learned and how you specialize, what you have to offer is you. It’s as simple and as complicated and as wonderful as that.

P.S. (Speaking of the smartest marketing princess on earth, we’re cooking up some coolerosity for you. Stay tuned.)

How to Beat a Terrible, Horrible, No Good,
Very Bad Mood (in About an Hour)

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking bad moods.

Sometimes you just want to go ahead and let yourself feel foul. There’s no law that says we have to be Cheery Mary Sunshine every day, and who would want to be?

But when you’ve got stuff to do, a crummy mood doesn’t help. It burns up all your energy and it ties up your mental bandwidth. You spend all your focus on the injustices you’ve been subjected to, and none of it doing your Big Magnificent Project.

When I had a day job, I had the luxury of cultivating my crappy moods. I could nurse a funk for days or weeks, keeping little lists of how screwed up They were and how deliciously righteous and correct I was.

But when someone else isn’t paying for that, it just gets in my way. Mama’s got work to do, and that ain’t helping.

I found myself in just such a mood last weekend, when I needed to be planning my world domination work week. I didn’t have a lot of time to indulge the horribles, so here’s how I kicked them to the curb.

Write it out

Let’s face it, you’re in a crappy mood for a reason.

Probably not the reason you think, but a reason.

So before you try to fix anything, break out some paper and your favorite pen and start complaining.

Write about why you think you’re feeling so foul. Write about what pulled your bad mood trigger. Write about what made you angry. Write about what hurt your feelings. Write about what’s got you frustrated. Write about who you hate even though you’re supposed to love (or at least like) them.

The most important instruction is Don’t be reasonable. You do enough of that already. Hush the voice in your head that tells you to quit being a crybaby. Go ahead and whine the blues.

Take it a little over the top if you want to. Or a lot over the top. Compare your bad haircut to nuclear holocaust. No one can see you, so wallow as much as you want to.

(P.S., remember, none of this works if there’s any chance in the universe that someone will see your ranting and raving. So be sure you keep your journal 100% secure from other eyes. Burn the pages if you have to.)

You can read more about the fine art of journal writing/tantrums right here.

Get moving

I won’t call it exercise, in case that’s a bad word for you.

But get your body moving. Get your heart beating a little bit faster than it usually does.

You can do this with the door stop exercise machine in the basement. If the weather’s ok where you are, you could just take a nice walk around the block. Go for a bike ride. Dance to silly music. Do Taebo kicks. Practice your pole dancing. Whatever.

Don’t think about all the advice about how exercise is good for your heart and lungs and skin and prevents Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure and reduces the incidence of virtually every kind of disease by about half. Even though that is true, it’s just going to make you feel worse.

Get moving because it feels good. If it’s not feeling great, maybe you’re pushing it a little too hard. Slow down. Notice the way the blood feels when it’s racing around in your body. Notice that your legs and butt actually like moving around. Enjoy.

If you can manage it, try not to think about anything other than what it feels like to move.

You don’t have to do this forever. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes. If that’s scary, you could make it 10.

Listen to silly music that makes you happy

Whether it’s the Jonas Brothers or ABBA or The Chipmunks, I won’t tell.

Listen to something that made you really happy when you were 10. Or to something that makes you feel like you’re 10 now. Anything that puts a goofy smile on your face will work. It doesn’t have to be dumb, but you get a few bonus points if it is.

Conveniently, you can do this while you’re moving around. It makes the time go really fast.

You might even be inclined to move around for 5 more minutes. If you really want to, go ahead. If you’re just doing it to be virtuous or to shrink your gigantic thighs, though, don’t.

Making your inner toddler happy

All this is about taking care of the part of yourself that still has tantrums, even though you’ve learned to call them something else.

The journaling part is about putting your feelings into language. Some of us got good at that when we were children; most of us didn’t. When we can’t express our feelings, they back up on us and gunk everything up. So express.

(Maybe language isn’t your main way of expressing yourself. It might be paint or tattoo ink or interpretive dance. If you’re not a writer, use the medium that works for you.)

The movement part is about being a physical creature. You evolved to move while you were processing thoughts and feelings, and your brain works better when your body’s doing something. Plus shaking your booty produces endorphins and all that, which just feels good.

No one’s asking you to be Lance Armstrong here. Don’t kill yourself. In fact, a nice slow walk works fine.

The music part is about playing and being silly and making a joyful noise. Whether it’s Aretha or the Wiggles that make you happy, music can take you to another place.

(I’m partial to classic disco. It’s hard to feel bad when It’s Raining Men, at least for me.)

Bonus ideas if you want them

  • Figure out the next action you need to take to start making the bad situation better. If this sounds like Crazy Moon Language, try the Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done.
  • Give away some money to someone who’s having a shitty life and not just a shitty day. Even $20 will help you feel better. I like these guys, and they’re low on donations since the economy melted down, but pick a group that rings your bells.
  • Get on Twitter or Facebook or your blog or (last resort) something primitive like your kitchen table or the telephone, and tell someone they’re awesome. I know it’s Pollyannaish, but it works. And detached cynicism is so 2005.

If you like this post, please link to, Tweet or Stumble it!

The quote at the beginning of the post is from Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Image from I Can Has Cheezburger?

Things You Can Learn from a Nancy Boy

I wish I could remember who turned me on to Nancy Boy.

I’ve never been to their shop, never met them in person, although I have every plan to make a pilgrimage one of these days.

All I can remember is that someone said, “You like all that email newsletter stuff, you have to get Nancy Boy’s. It’s . . . well, it’s amazing.”

And it is.

Here’s a quote from their most recent edition:

But the most excruciating social prevarication occurs during the dental hygienist interrogation. “You signed under oath in 1987 that you brush twice a day with prescription toothpaste, floss after each meal, use the Proxabrush and Stim-U-Dents nightly and gum stimulator every other night do you still swear it to be so?” My eyes roll back in my head as I dimly recall meaning to buy floss at duty free when we went to Martinique in 2002 but I smile brightly and exclaim, “Now I’m doing the gum stimulator EVERY night,” a bootlicking lead-in to the nitrous score. Yes of course just for the cleaning for anything serious like a cavity I have Madonna’s private anesthetist.

You may be thinking, wow, that’s wordy. And kind of insane. And it uses the word prevarication, they’re gonna get some unsubscribes with that one.

It’s a little like horehound candy, or stinky goat cheese. A lot of people don’t like it. Maybe most people don’t like it.

But the people who do absolutely crave it.

The competition is ugly

Nancy Boy sells soap. Well, soap, lotion, shaving cream, that kind of thing.

Nancy Boy, in other words, is competing with about half the universe.

Everybody sells soap. Safeway sells a hundred different kinds of soap, with billions of dollars in advertising to get you to pick Dial over Dove. Whole Foods sells expensive pretty stuff by the pound, funky little chunks that smell good. Boutiques sell it wrapped in adorable packages, or in the shapes of robin’s eggs, in beads and bombs and bath fizzies.

There is too much soap. The market is entirely saturated. Even if you have the fanciest organic handcrafted virgin yak-butter soap on the face of the planet, there’s too much of the stuff.

No one needs another vendor of soap. No one.

Even worse, the Nancy Boy retail shop is in San Francisco’s trendy Hayes Valley. There are probably eight stores on their block alone where you can buy fancypants soap.

And soap isn’t like a dinner in a good restaurant. No matter how much you like it, you still don’t buy it 30 nights in a row.

Soap is the worst business in the world.

Unless you’re Nancy Boy.

A star, a story and a solution

That’s an old Gary Halbert formula for product success.

Nancy Boy has a good story, about an advertising exec who vowed never again to shill cosmetic products that needed their 900% markup to pay for their advertising.

They have a good solution—a high-quality, locally produced collection of products.

But what Nancy Boy really has is a star, in their newsletter writer, Eric.

Eric takes nice soap and turns into a cult. Eric is Nancy Boy.

If you’re into Eric’s writing style, reading his newsletter is exactly like getting a personal email from a witty and insane friend. It’s likely to involve anxiety attacks, mood-altering substances, public humiliation, jokes that are so bad they’re good, and an attitude that is euphemistically called “very San Francisco.”

It may be a euphemism, but it’s not inaccurate. Email from Eric makes me miss home.

And, of course, I forward Eric’s email to my friends. Who forward it to their friends. And everyone buys soap.

Stars aren’t perfect

When I say Eric makes himself a star, I don’t mean he puts himself out as being particularly handsome, smart, rich or talented.

Eric makes himself particularly himself. Or at least, a more boiled-down, vivid version of himself.

Everyone who reads gossip magazines (something tells me Eric falls into this category) knows that nobody loves perfect people. We love Lindsay and Britney and good old Liz Taylor. We love train wrecks and bitches. We love the lost, because we’re a bit lost ourselves, and they make us feel better.

Just like a great story in the tabloids, Eric’s monthly newsletter gives you a little drama, a little glamour, and a good dose of “good lord did he really say that.”

Sometimes, all you have is you

You might be in what’s called a “commodity” business, like house painting, with lots of other vendors competing with you on price.

You might be in a crazy competitive market no one in their right mind would choose, like real estate. Or soap.

Maybe the answer is you.

Obviously you’re not going to be the next Nancy Boy. There’s already a Nancy Boy.

But you might be the wacky yoga/business/life coach who talks to a duck.

Or the small business marketing guru who swears like a sailor.

Or the alternative relationship coach.

Or the lazy surfer/millionaire.

The more you think you’re too flawed or messed up or just plain weird to put yourself forward as the star of the business, the more promise you have.

Go for it. If it can sell soap, it can sell anything.

Flickr Creative Commons image by akaporn