Tame Language Makes Tame Sales

As a copywriting coach I am often called upon to review and critique my students’ sales letters. There is one common defect I come across often and it’s the use of general language where more specific words can bring the copy to life. But instead the language is often tame, hesitating and noncommittal.

First, I would like to address the matter of being more specific in your writing and demonstrate how this can bring your writing to life. Consider the following sentences along with my revisions:

Original: We stopped by the shop to eat some food.

Revision: We stopped by the Mexican restaurant and had four Chicken Enchiladas.

Original: She expressed sorrow as she lost her most prized possession.

Revision: She wept as they towed away her favorite Porsche.

In both cases it’s easy to see that by replacing words of general and broad meaning with a more specific word that the sentences are more direct and meaningful. In the first case ‘shop’ was replaced with Mexican restaurant, and food with Chicken Enchiladas. In the second case, ‘expressed sorrow’ was replaced by ‘wept’ and ‘most prized possession’ with ‘favorite Porsche’.

Anyone who has studied the art of writing will agree than the best way to get your reader’s attention is to be concrete, specific and definite in your writing. The simple rule is that you should never use a ‘category’ word when you can use the specific word.

Consider the following list of words and note how each word becomes more specific than the one before: food, plants, vegetables, greens, lettuce, romaine lettuce. You’ll want to use ‘romaine lettuce’ rather than ‘food’.

Being specific has an enormous advantage of making your sales copy more believable. The more details you can share, the more likely your prospect will be convinced that you are telling the truth.

Now one area where a copywriter is often called upon to be specific is with regards to case studies and statistics. Consider the following examples:

Original: One man used our product and he made a lot of money, more than he ever did before.

Revision: Tom Haley, a truck driver from Michigan, bought Magic Money and raked in $156,789.14 in 2008—that’s $107,564 more than he made the year before.

Now which of those two statements is more engaging? Which is more believable?

Secondly, whenever possible you should avoid using negative constructs and place statements in a positive form instead. You will also want to use ‘not’ as a way to show denial but never to be evasive. A few examples would suffice:

Original: He was not a very good-looking man.

Revision: He was ugly.

Original: She did not think that doing internet marketing was a very good use of her time.

Revision: She thought internet marketing was a waste of time.

In both examples the original language is tame and wavering and illustrates how inherently weak the word ‘not’ is. Your prospect really wants to know what IS, not what’s NOT. Hence you should always try to express a negative in a positive form.

Therefore instead of writing ‘did not love,’ use ‘hated’, instead of ‘did not pay attention to’, use ‘ignored’—you get the picture.

Please note, however, that when you juxtapose a positive and its antithesis it can be very effective. Thus: “not slavery, but freedom”. Also other negative words can be more effective than ‘not’ such as ‘never’ and ‘seldom’.

Why not review your sales letters, articles and blog posts and see where you could replace general words with more specific ones and restructure those negative statements into positive ones. You’ll be surprised how your writing comes to life, and so would your sales!

4 Responses to “Tame Language Makes Tame Sales”

  1. I’ve thought about this issue. You illustrate it well here and give some good ideas of ways to fix ineffective sentences.

    I think maybe we get taught to “be polite” by not coming out and saying “what it is” straight away – as if being blunt is somehow coarse.

    Sometimes, as you’ve shown here, the sentence or thought can be boiled-down to a few short words – and other times the idea begs for specifics like the trucker’s cash windfall.

    Love your stuff Ray.

  2. Simple stuff but you make the point very well. It’s always good to hear a real pro’s take on these things.

    Thanks for a good post.

  3. No doubt- this is my #1 pet peeve when reading sales copy. The price is exact and everything else is vague. No sale.

  4. […] Your letter lacks SPECIFICITY and therefore it is less believable. You may find this post helpful: Copywriting Tips And Tricks Tame Language Makes Tame Sales Just look at the number of times you use the word "product" (I ‘bolded’ them). You need […]

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