“So what’s your conversion goal for the copy?” I asked.
I nestled the phone between my ear and shoulder as I settled in for a chat with the marketing manager.
At least we had been chatting. Now I heard dead silence on the end of the line.
I doodled on my notepad. A sparrow hopped on the bush outside my window.
I cleared my throat—were we still connected?
“Well…” Sarah—not her real name—began. Her voice trailed off.
I drew two lines under the word “conversion.” A second sparrow joined the first.
“What I mean is,” I said, “What’s your goal for the project? What do you want readers to do after they read the content?”
“Oh,” said Sarah, her voice brightening. “Right. The copy is, you know, educational. We want readers to be informed after they read the content.”
Was that a passing cloud—or just my gut sinking?
How many times had I heard this response, especially when working on “non-sales” copy for healthcare, development or corporate communications?
I suddenly had a very bad feeling about this project.
Copywriting ABCs: Your content must Always Be Converting
Sorry people, I don’t care what kind of copy you write: “To be informed” is never its goal. “Being informed” is one of those nebulous non-goals—right up there with “raising profile” and “enhancing image.”
Of course your copy can and should inform, raise profile and enhance image—but it has to go a step further. It has to drive action. It has to convert.
Every single piece of content you create must Always Be Converting.
“But this isn’t sales copy.”
“We’re a non-profit organization…a college…a hospital.” “The copy isn’t a sales letter—it’s a training tool…an internal memo…an annual report.” “Our department chair…team…shareholders don’t like pushy sales spiels.”
Yeah, I know. And I’m not talking about Glenngarry Glen Ross-style-“always be closing” ABCs.
There’s a world of difference between closing and converting.
Conversion: What it is and what it ain’t
Conversion isn’t defined soley by sales tricks that transform folks from prospects to buyers.
At its core, conversion is about getting people to take a desired action. What kind of action? You name it. Certainly, it could be BUY NOW!!! But it could also be sign up for our newsletter. Make a donation. Ask your doctor for more info. Make a phone call, write the editor, click a link, tell a friend, tuck away our brochure, follow up on training initiatives, write a letter, leave a comment, retweet—and so much more.
Still think conversion is an inappropriate goal for your content? Read on.
7 kinds of content that benefit from copywriting ABCs
I hold that you improve any copy when you identify its conversion goals. And that includes…
- Corporate communications. At first glance, you wouldn’t think annual reports—or strategic plans or Intranet content or internal memos—need to convert, i.e., drive action. Take a closer look. Your annual report doesn’t just “enhance image.” It’s supposed to get people to talk—and write—about you (i.e., take action). Or move shareholders to buy more stock (take action). Or compel top performers to seek careers with you (take action).
- Training materials often focus ineffectively on organizational rather than learner goals. Written in an impersonal or pompous corporate tone, these tools delineate company mission, values and goals. They rarely give a thought to employees’ needs and priorities. But, as with customer-facing content, your employees’ first concern is “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). Learning content must implicitly and explicitly cite benefits. Whenever possible—and it’s possible more than you think—it should include calls-to-action or next steps.
- Development and fundraising tools. Charitable and NGO copy frequently focuses more on getting potential donors to think and feel, rather than do. Development people often deem content successful if it provides info, spells out mission and tells stories. If the NGO can simply tell compelling stories—about needy clients, altruistic programs, superb organizational management—donors will open heads, hearts and pocketbooks. If only. NGOs need to put themselves in fatigued donors’ shoes, take a lesson from salespeople and story tellers and learn how to write action-driving copy for worthy causes.
- Collateral, brochures, booklets, unfortunately, often contain some of the most “informative,” least persuasive copy of all marketing tools. A wasted opportunity—because collateral is always a conversion tool. The trick is to find where in the conversion cycle your collateral fits. Hint: Brochures are usually not closers. I could write a whole book on the persuasive art of brochure writing—oh, I did. For collateral structure, copywriting how-tos, tips and examples, download my Brochure Bible.
- Manuals and user guides. Instructional manuals should be the ultimate action-driving content, right? But often these crucial guides are put together by engineer/design folk. These brainy geeks suffer from “the curse of knowledge” and mistakenly believe “users” know as much as they do. Put yourself in your readers’ place. You need to break down complex processes into steps. Avoid acronyms and jargon. And use simple language that moves readers to take action.
- Blog posts. Well-kept secret: Website traffic is not a goal unto itself. Yes, you want traffic. You want page views. You want visitors to read your posts. But why? Ultimately you want your posts to build relationship, trust and credibility. You want them to position you as an authority, build personal brand, boost search engine ranking, generate leads, increase sales. To achieve these goals, you need to provide useful, quality content, and ask visitors to take action: Leave comments, download your ebook, contact you about your services, buy your product, retweet your post, contact you, share your post with friends.
- Editorial copy. Do conversion goals run counter to the journalistic goal to “seek truth and report it”? I don’t think so. While editorial content may not include an explicit call-to-action, good journalism almost always gets readers to do something: Talk about what they’ve read. Tell a friend. Write the editor—or senator or corporate fat cat. Vote for a candidate or legislation. On a more prosaic level—and more typically with lifestyle journalism—editorial content can move readers to visit Sardinia, grow an herb garden, try a recipe, repeat gossip about Pippa Middleton. Or subscribe to your scintillating publication.
Does your content include copywriting ABCs?
Do you think all content needs conversion goals? Do you delineate conversion objectives as you plan content? Or do you think implied calls-to-action evolve organically as you write? Or, be honest: Is the idea of “conversion” pure bunkum that doesn’t apply to your writing? Talk to me.