words that work
CIRCA 2009 …
I was a cocky little somebody in graduate school. Being a writer before I arrived at the best place to learn writing blinded me with an unjustified, overly-confident disposition. In all my naivety, I believed there wasn’t much these professors could teach me in Advanced Writing 101 about how to form a show-stopping sentence.
I had just landed in Chicago from NYC after completing an externship at Armani. Before leaving, my words for the brand’s new “About” page were published online. It was my written pitch that got our new Spring collection in Elle, and it was my writing about why the Armani Exchange story aligned with their next issue that garnered a response from fashion editors all over the City.
I could write better than most, without any formal training on the craft. In my 24-year-old mind, I had it mastered before seeking a master’s degree. So, Northwestern University … what can you teach me?
Are you sensing my young millennial arrogance yet?
Back to class …
OUR VERY FIRST ASSIGNMENT – AND ONE THAT I WILL NEVER FORGET – WAS TO COMPOSE A COVER LETTER TO OUR DREAM COMPANY.
How we would add value to their organization and change their lives needed to be put into words that filled just one page. The objective, as is the objective of any cover letter, was to grab attention, engage, and pique someone’s interest enough to want to learn more through an interview. I wrote my letter at lightning speed, said all kinds of amazing things about myself, proofread every sentence, and submitted it with 100% confidence in my professor using my submission as a “best work” example next class.
Except he didn’t.
The next week, a paragraph of my cover letter was recited to 117 students from around the world (thankfully, without attribution) as an example of what NOT to say when writing to persuade a person or audience to take action.
My heart sank.
I was so embarrassed.
So scared he would say my name.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG?
After handing me the remnants of a letter with more red pen edits than white space left on the page, my professor turned to us all and said:
LOOK DOWN AT YOUR PAPER AND CIRCLE ALL MENTIONS OF “I, ME, AND MY.”
For most of us, nearly every paragraph started with one of those. For me, it was nearly every sentence. His point started to click. The lecture that followed my humble awakening flowed in S-L-O-W M-O-T-I-O-N. I soaked in every point on how to write in a way that captivated an audience (and not just the fashion elite in NYC) enough to want to learn more about you.
THE KEY WAS IN ONE WORD: “YOU.”
Failure to address your audience and pull them into the conversation using words that work would always result in a failure to compel, a failure to connect, and in business, a failure to convert. Leaving out the simple usage of “YOU” in my cover letter meant that I hadn’t taken the time to get to know the company enough to clearly articulate how I would add any value to who they already were. How could I possibly convince them to get to know me if I skipped this critical step?
THE SAME IS TRUE FOR YOU.
How can you convince your customers that you understand who they are and what they need if your copy is chockfull of “I, me, and my?”
MARIE FORLEO CALLS THE PRACTICE OF ADDING “YOU” TO YOUR BRAND NARRATIVE “THE SPOTLIGHT METHOD.”
I CALL IT “MANNERS”.
Because that’s exactly what it is when two perspectives are present in a conversation.
If you want to learn how to inject words that work into your brand messaging so your customers are prompted to press the “learn more” or “buy now” button faster, join me in Copymastery™ to catch my “Making Your Message Count” training.
Now, if your copy is flawless and converts quicker than you can reapply your red lipstick, feel free to ignore this entire message.