By: Stella Orange
As a professional copywriter, I fervently believe that words create worlds. When I say that words create worlds, what I mean is that the words we choose in our writing shape the relationships, ideas, and futures that we can co-create with other people.
But I also believe that words are just the tip of the iceberg. Our actions also create worlds – and signal our values, motives, and ultimately, what other people can expect from interacting with us (and our businesses).
Now more than ever, we must sharpen our awareness of how the words and the marketing strategies we use actually impact other people, whether or not they become paying clients and customers.
I’ve been a professional copywriter for more than a decade, and have written or advised on hundreds of email sales campaigns. Several of them have made six figures in revenue, either for clients or for myself.
That experience has given me two working assumptions:
One, email and social media marketing tends to work well on less sophisticated/newer business owners – but more established, more sophisticated business owners are still watching (and a well-conceived, innovative online marketing campaign can absolutely generate business with this elite group; just don’t expect them to sit through your webinar and sales pitch. They tend to watch your campaign like a demo, and if they like what they see, reach out behind the scenes).
Two, the best tool we have for moving beyond dominance and manipulation-based marketing and sales is to look for clues in how other business’ marketing makes us feel. For years, I’ve been teaching my students to stop using words like “struggle” and “overwhelm” because those words tend to resonate with people who are dealing with issues of self-worth… or who have let a problem go on, unaddressed and unnoticed, for too long. While traditional marketing tells us to “write to their pain” in our marketing, too many business owners mistakenly write about pain in sloppy, generic ways that people with strong problem-solving skills and self-esteem would never recognize as describing them.
This week, I engaged with three different online marketing campaigns that piqued my curiosity. In two of the cases, I have a personal relationship with the business owner. In the last case, I don’t know the business owner personally, but have colleagues who do.
Case #1 – Valuing relationships, leveraging technology
I’m on a colleague’s marketing email list. She’s a business coach who interviewed us on her podcast last year. I got an email inviting me to her weekly thirty-minute live video, hosted on Facebook. I ended up attending (while I was technically off work and feeding my babies) and feeling it was a good use of my time.
Marketing funnel: Email invitation to her newsletter mailing list > video on Facebook > invite to three people in attendance to have a personal conversation with her.
What sparked my curiosity: Her topic was upbeat – something about drumming up new business – and a topic that has been on my mind as I return to work after four months of maternity leave. I know that sidling up next to smart people offering pointers on a topic that’s top of mind is a good use of my time.
What went through my head: “I need to send her a note telling her I took action because of her.”
Case #2 – Gathering the tribe, impersonally
I follow some colleagues on Instagram, who sent me a direct message there, inviting me to an event. I ended up not going, because it was at night (family time). But I did think about how much money I would donate if I did attend, and I forwarded the invitation to my business partners because I wanted them to see the donation option (we’ve been talking about pricing lately).
Marketing funnel: Direct message on Instagram with link to Eventbrite.
What sparked my curiosity: I pay attention to what this duo does, because I know them to be innovative and intuitively led in everything they do. Again, their topic was one that has been top of mind – the invitation was for a gathering on the full moon.
What went through my head: “Look – they are selling tickets and doing this by donation. Awesome.”
“I like that they invited me in my DM, but there is nothing personal about this invitation – they cut and pasted – so they must have sent this to a bunch of people.” It didn’t feel exclusive or special.
Case #3 – “Oh, this isn’t what I wanted at all”
I follow a person on Instagram, who I think is some kind of business coach, but I’m not sure. I know people who have worked with her, and we have colleagues in common. I’ve been watching her casually for a few years. She posted some provocative content in the text field of an Instagram post: how business owners in the coaching and self-development space need to pay their teams more and provide healthcare, how we should limit CEO pay as a ratio of what our team makes.
I was genuinely excited to see this message. In fact, I was surprised by my own enthusiastic reaction. So I engaged. I thought I was requesting a white paper on inclusive, radical business practices. I ended up getting a link to opt in for a webinar.
When I went to the webinar opt in page, my heart sank. I don’t remember exactly what was written, but it was something like “how to go from muddled to magnificent as a business leader.” I physically recoiled.
Marketing funnel: Instagram post with great content directed towards established business owners, with a call to action to “put an emoji in the comments for the link” > Direct message with a link to sign up for a webinar.
What sparked my curiosity: Here again, the topic is top of mind.
What went through my head: Seeing the post: “I totally want to hear a smart woman’s thoughts on this.”
Getting the link in my DMs: “I can’t wait to read more.”
Seeing the link was actually for a page for a webinar: “Oh! It’s not for a white paper. It’s a webinar. I don’t want to go to a webinar.”
Reading the copy on the opt-in page: “Oof. Oh dear. This is definitely not for me.”
I did not sign up for the webinar. One, I don’t want to go to webinars right now. Two, the words she used on her opt in page were very different than what was in the original Instagram post. Her original post spoke to leaders about a new paradigm of doing business. But the opt in page was very much written in the old style, in the old paradigm – assuming readers are mired and stuck. This lack of generosity in describing where prospects’ heads are at is a red flag. In this case, I suspect the business owner is very much in her creative process, and either wants to connect with prospects who are less self assured, or isn’t aware that her words are not in alignment with who she’s trying to call in.
In this changed and changing marketplace, we’re all experimenting with new ways of marketing our work. Here are some lessons we can take with us:
~ We’re all trying out new things right now – None of us are going to hit home runs on the first swing. Give yourself and everybody else some grace. We’re all learning together. We’re all making it up as we go.
~ Study how other people’s marketing makes you feel. Write out what their marketing funnel is step by step, and pay attention to where your attention heats up, and where people lose you (or turn you off).
~ Find ways to reach out to people that feel personal and special. Direct messages can be a nice touch, but take the time to personalize for each person.
~ Discussion, argument, and collaboration can help us catch things we can’t see working alone – Talking our ideas through with people we trust, who have different talents, knowledge, and perspectives than us strengthen the quality, alignment, and effectiveness of our marketing
One of the things I like to remind my team – and myself – is that marketing is an iterative learning process. Even if we’ve been successful in the past – especially if we’ve been successful in the past – we need to keep learning and growing and adjusting based on what’s going on in the larger ecosystem, and the larger conversation.
As a recovering perfectionist, I still have to unhook the part of my brain that tells me that I always need to look like I know what I’m doing. A large part of effective marketing is experimentation. So, experiment! And after every piece of marketing you put into the field, ask yourself: What ONE thing did I learn, that I will do differently next time?
Stella is cofounder and copywriter at Las Peregrinas, a creative and consulting agency. As our resident word nerd, she writes copy and points out the stories everyone is living and telling through their work. She is also fun at parties.
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