Think of how the world has changed over the past few millennia. Vaccines. Electricity. And oh, the smartphone.
But one thing hasn’t changed in thousands of years. The power of words.
In modern marketing, we call that copywriting. And as you read the examples in this article, you can see how a tiny tweak here, a new approach there can make a significant difference in results just as it probably did for our ancestors, even if they had different conversion goals at the time.
Read on for specific copywriting examples from a press release company, men’s style blog, language site, journal maker, magazine and school.
(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)
A large international company offering press releases to small bloggers on WordPress worked with MECLABS Institute Conversion Marketing Services to increase clickthrough to a product page. (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa.)
They ran an A/B variable cluster test to determine which treatment would generate the highest clickthrough rate.
The control had the headline “Drive More Traffic to Your Blog.” You can see the full page below.
Creative Sample #1: Control landing page for press release company
The treatment has the headline “Get More Readers as Early as Tomorrow.” You can see the full page below.
Creative Sample #2: Treatment landing page for press release distribution company
By controlling the thought sequence with clarified copy, the treatment drove a 321% relative increase in conversion.
Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, goes deeper into the above case study and uses it to teach a methodology for writing effective copy, in the MarketingExperiments session Copywriting for Marketing Leaders: Why you should never delegate the marketing message (and how to get it right). (MarketingExperiments is the sister publication of MarketingSherpa.)
When copywriters think of urgency, they usually focus on artificial urgency: “This discount expires at midnight” or “There are only a few products left.” This is an artificial urgency created by the brand.
However, there is also natural or intrinsic urgency customers face. Here’s an example.
For its email newsletter signup, Irreverent Gent’s original headline read “Out-Dress the Other Guys: Enter your email address to discover nine details you need to nail to look sharp and stand out from the crowd.”
After the men’s style blog changed the headline “Don't Let the Other Guys Out-Dress You: Enter your email address to discover nine details you need to nail to look sharp and stand out from the crowd,” email newsletter signup increased 17%.
Creative Sample #3: Updated email opt-in for men’s style blog
“Instead of implying that signing up for my email would give guys an advantage over other guys, the new version implies that they are already behind other guys in terms of their appearance and need to catch up,” said Dave Bowden, Founder, Irreverent Gent. “This makes the need to improve their appearance more urgent, creating a greater impulse to take action.”
Ah … le français, la langue de l’amour. The language of love.
We’ve often found that clarity trumps persuasion with headlines. But depending on the product or situation, you may need a more romantic or whimsical headline to capture the value proposition of the product.
Like on a French language blog, for example. The original headline for its email opt-in popup read, “Do you want to speak French fluently?”
The site ran an A/B test with a treatment headline of “Voulez-vous parler français?”
The original headline had a 2.61% conversion rate while the treatment had a 3.13% conversion.
Creative Sample #4: New email opt-in headline for language site
“I have since tried other headlines in French and had similar results,” said Benjamin Houy, creator, French Together, a blog that helps 282,375 monthly visitors learn French.
“Try something unexpected and surprise your audience. People are inundated with marketing messages, and a surprising or unexpected message is a great way to stand out. This could be a headline partially or completely written in a foreign language,” Houy said.
Specificity converts. Which is why we provide so many specific examples in this article.
It’s one thing to say that you should use specificity in your copywriting. It’s another to show you a specific example where it worked.
The original headline on the site’s banner hero image simply read, “SELF Journal.”
Creative Sample #5: Original productivity website headline
This control was tested against a more specific treatment that read, “Join 172,783+ professionals who achieved their goals by using the Self Journal.”
Creative Sample #6: Treatment headline for productivity tools website
The treatment headline was designed to be outcome-driven, clarify who the product is for and create trust.
The treatment increased that product's sales by 26.8%.
“Understand how people describe your product and brand to their friends; use their language and their words when communicating to them. Bring up things that may be part of their daily lives. Focus on answering their questions, appeasing their concerns, and the ‘benefits’ they can get from using your product [or] service,” advised Raphael Paulin-Daigle, Founder & CEO, SplitBase, the agency for the productivity site.
This next mini case study is a little older, but it’s a perfect example of a lesson I’ve learned in my writing career that I always want to pass on to other marketers — you are not your customer.
Any time you’re in a marketing meeting or an agency’s creative pitch session and you hear the word “I,” be careful about that feedback. “Well I would never read that much copy.” “Well I would never care about that offer.”
Who cares what you would do? You are not the customer.
Josh Manheimer, Direct Response Copywriter and Creative Director, J.C. Manheimer & Company, wrote direct mail to sell subscriptions to More Magazine, a women’s lifestyle magazine aimed at women 40 years old and older.
Manheimer is not in that targeted customer set. Yet if you read his copy, you can see it does an epic attempt to understand and communicate what it is like to be the type of prospect More Magazine is going after.
Here is the beginning copy from the direct mail’s lift letter as an example.
The only thing that separates you from us is … this thin piece of paper.
We’ve been married to frogs and to princes (some of us, several times each). We’ve had hysterectomies, crushes on our best friend’s husband, and tantrums over things too stupid to mention.
We’ve stayed home and raised kids. We’ve gone off and started careers. We’ve thought about murdering our boss, each other, and even ourselves.
We’ve been nauseated by chemotherapy. Saddened by grief. Outraged by infidelity. Overwhelmed by in-laws. And driven to distraction by hot flashes.
Yet, we all agree on one thing. We wouldn’t want to be someone else and change our life experience for the world!
Hi! We’re just a few of the women who help publish More Magazine, and we thought you’d like to know about us.
Today, during our “confident years”, we don’t worry what people think if we wear the same earrings three days in a row. We don’t worry about getting pregnant. And we sure as hell don’t worry whether our homes are spotless
-–well, some of us.
The package also included imagery and headlines like “we don’t just admire models, we admire role models!”
Creative Sample #7: Headline from direct mail package
I am not in the customer set, so I can’t judge how well he tapped into the ideal customer. We’ll have to leave it to the results. Manheimer provided this quote about those results: “Your direct mail package for More Magazine indexed at 200 — doubling response. That doesn't happen too often in magazine history, and is the first time it's happened at Meredith,” said Ellen de Lathouder, former VP of Creative Services, Meredith.
So I asked Manheimer how he channels the customer when he is not in that customer set. “Today, if you ask a copywriter to do research about an audience, they will usually start searching on Amazon and read reviews, and then they might migrate to Reddit and poke around forums,” he said. “Since I cut my teeth selling magazine subscriptions — before the internet — I learned the best place to learn what motivates an audience is to read the Letters from the Editor in the front of the pub.”
Manheimer admired the job that magazine editors did of tapping into the audience and giving them an intellectual rise. “So I would study those carefully and mine them for the language I would need to craft compelling letters which will resonate to the lists I was mailing to,” he said.
When it comes to writing sales letters, he encouraged marketers, “Whether you're talking about lap quilting or trout fishing, you can always find a way to sing a love song to your audience.”
When we think of copywriting, it’s easy for your mind to go straight to writing the right answer for the prospective customer, telling them what they need.
What about asking the right question? Here’s an example with a private school, Balmoral Hall School.
“We assumed private school parents only cared about university prep and career tracks; we believed they would select an institution with the strongest track record of getting students into the top universities for doctors, lawyers and engineers. Other institutions leaned on these stats in their marketing, and our client also had a history of promoting these stats,” said Kiirsten May, Co-owner, UpHouse.
They conducted a series of workshops with faculty and asked what made their school’s education offering different from other institutions that prospective parents were considering. Teachers said they focused on developing the qualities that would enable girls to be successful in any future path: being resilient, bold, creative and humanitarian. Next, they spoke to current parents to determine whether this differentiator was the reason they chose the school. “They confirmed that they cared more about who their daughters would become as adults, not what they would do for careers,” said Alex Varricchio, Co-owner, UpHouse, and co-author with May of The Proximity Paradox: How to Create Distance from Business as Usual and Do Something Truly Innovative.
The school’s previous campaign was “It’s a girl’s world.”
The new campaign changed the message to “See yourself like never before” in its recruitment efforts. This message was rooted in one of the school’s founding values — to consider students as individuals — and it focused on who they would become rather than what they would become.
The team developed a video ad campaign featuring interviews with students from K through 12. It started with the common question asked of young students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Later in the video, the question is reframed: “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
Creative Sample #8: Video ad campaign for private school
“The girls’ responses are sweet, funny, thoughtful, courageous, empowering and awe-inspiring. The call-to-action at the end of the video invites viewers to learn more about the school if they care about who their daughters will become, not what they will become,” May said.
The following September, the school started the year with the maximum number of students enrolled. It was the first time that had happened in over a decade.
“Through this process, we learned that asking questions of our students, parents and faculty paid off in a deeper way than other marketing approaches we’d tried in the past. Asking what everyone felt and thought about their experience produced richer results than letting data and stats drive our marketing decisions. As marketers, we sometimes risk telling our brand story in a vacuum. We learned that we can trust our student voices to tell our story in the most authentic way. Marketing can then package that message to fit the school’s enrollment goals and needs,” said Chris Allinotte, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Balmoral Hall School.
“When developing your marketing campaign, take thirty minutes to write down all the assumptions you’ve consciously or unconsciously made about your audience. What do they value economically, socially and culturally? Then begin testing your assumptions by speaking with groups that influence the audience’s purchase decision as well as members of the audience group. Your goal is to uncover a contradiction between your assumption and reality,” Varricchio said.
Varricchio and May advised marketers to document these contradictions and bring them to your next marketing campaign brainstorm asking these questions:
Use the answers to develop your marketing campaign concepts.
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