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This time it's personal

Monday, December 12, 2016
northampton copywriter

Use empathy to engage your readers

Remember those heady days when mail merge was first available for PC users?
You do?  I’m not sure I believe you.  No matter.  If you truly are that old, you’ll recall the excitement -

"Great!  Now we can write like this …


Dear Mrs Protheroe
As a highly professional HR Consultant, I am excited to be able to offer you a 25% introductory discount on our amazing range of printer consumables

There are at least 3 things wrong with this single sentence.  But that's for later.
Our main concern is the confusion between personalised and personal copy.

Personalised’ is what mail-merge gives us - the ability to drop in words or phrases specific to each reader,
as in the little example above.
And what does our nifty bit of mail-merge work tell our reader?

“Hey you!  I’m so clever!  I know your name and I know what you do for a job!”

This is a world away from ‘personal’ copy.
How about this?

Has this ever happened to you?
You’re ready to print out the first draft of that all-important document you’ve been working on for hours, when your printer groans to a halt, because – you guessed it – you’re out of toner!

Even if, unusually, your reader has never suffered this inconvenience, what matters is that she or he could have done.
The reason this morsel of copywriting works is that it develops empathy with the reader.

So - being personal really matters but it’s different from being clever with mail-merge technology.

Get inside the minds and hearts of your reader and they’ll love you for it.  They really will.

Oh – and those three things wrong with that first slice of copy –

  • Who’s the ‘highly professional HR Consultant’?  You or your reader?

  • ‘I’m excited to …’  You know what?  No-one cares.  No-one gives a flying fig leaf if you’re excited, delighted, or utterly discombobulated about your offer.  It’s not about how you feel.  It’s about how it might make your reader feel.

  • Not ‘amazing’.  Please!  Never ‘amazing’!  The most over-used word of the millennium.  If you want to communicate that your product or service is 'really rather good', then sit down with a nice cup of tea and your online synonym dictionary and find a better word.  There are plenty out there.  And if you still can’t find one … ask a friendly copywriter.

Question - You might have gathered I'm not too fond of the word 'amazing'.

Which word or phrase do you hate above all others?

The answer which amuses me  (to be received by midnight on Monday 19th December) will earn the sender an amazing Copywriter Pro Christmas present!
If you choose the word 'copywriter' you've no chance of winning!

Contributions below -

Till the next time


"At the end of the day." What's wrong with when you wake up, or just after lunch? Why should the state of play be any more significant just because it's time to go to bed?

I do agree Stephen. It's one of the laziest cliches around.

Frequent use of "Does that make sense?" At the end of sentences. Drives me potty! Are you asking me if what you have said: a) is good english. b) has been put simply enough for me to understand. c) can you reassure me that I don't sound like an idiot. d) do you agree with me; or worst of all, and I suspect most likely, e) all of the above.

An interesting one Sara. In the past, this has never bothered me but now that you've brought it to my intention, I shall make a point in future, of being suitably outraged :-)

I hate the word HOT when it is used to describe someone as sexy or good-looking. I once saw an interview given by Katie Courak a highly thought of media personality in America who mentioned the word HOT more than seven times while interviewing a boy band celebrity. The interview was only three minutes long. Another word I hate is AWESOME. I think anyone over 15 should not say awesome. I have more to say on this subject but space is limited, so maybe we should have a cup of tea some time and discuss.

Now Osel - if you think for a single moment that such an invitation will influence the judge's decision on the winning entry, you might possibly be onto something ;-)

1. I maintain a deep hatred for 'passionate about'. Like your 'amazing' this phrase is so overused, especially in gasp-wow, must-go-there travel writing. Passion is for true, strong emotions. I hate 'passionate about' passionately. 2. Your synonym search for 'amazing' will also throw up another weary, lazy adjective: 'awesome'.

I agree with you Stephen, the word amazing is so overused these days. Another word that irritates me is LOL though it's not a word its a social media abreviation that for years I thought was short for, Lots of Love! I often wondered why they would say that to me on social media channels! I now know of course that its short for Laugh Out Loud :-) the problem I have is that it seems to be creeping out into every day language in written letters and all forms of media.

Indeed Andy - and of course, our erstwhile Prime Minister, David Cameron, found himself a trifle embarrassed over his misuse of the term, as revealed during the hacking trials a few years back. Should I perhaps invite him to sign up to the Copywriter's Chronicle?

Miles, if you cast your eye over Osel's comments above, you'll notice that you and I, by the smallest of margins are disqualified from using the word 'awesome'. As for your other suggestion, suffice to say, 'passion' in all its forms is barred from the offices of Copywriter Pro.

I hate: "Wash its face", i.e "This campaign 'washed its face'" meaning it managed to 'break even'. Break even is more readily understood and is shorter to say, so why come up with a long-winded jargon version other than to make people who are not in the know feel like idiots. You might have guessed that this is what happened to me the first time I heard it!

Good one Mark. It's not as though there's anything about face washing that could make you think of breaking even. I wonder how this one came about?

One phrase that always makes me cringe internally is any question that begins with "Can we just..." as it invariably ends up being a request that is far more complex than the word 'just' indicates... :)

Yes Tim ... and doesn't it suggest a degree of impatience?

I dislike the word "hate". Life is too short to hate. Focus on positive things instead.

Good point Andy. Will 'strongly dislike' do instead? And surely you wouldn't advocate 'I have a probelm with'? As for, accentuating the positive, some months ago, on social media, I invited people to share their favourite word/phrase. Perhaps we'll repeat the exercise in the New Year.

I don't get upset with jargon and buzz phrases even when I hear them over and over again. My pet hate is over familiarity from people I don't really know. It took me ages to accept that it was alright to start a message with "Hi" and end with "regards". "Hiya" still sends me into paroxysms of rage. As does "bless". To be fair they are more often said than written. Although I suspect it is only a matter of time. And what about quote marks? Guidance please.

Ah Jackie - some interesting points there. When it comes to salutations, I guess I stay safely on the side of caution. If I'm initiating the exchange, I'll open with 'Dear ...' or 'Hello ...' followed by a first name. However, if I'm replying, then I'll reflect the style of the correspondent. If they say 'Hi', then I'll respond in like fashion. Then I can't go wrong. Though I'm not sure I'll ever sink as low as 'Hiya' :-)

... and the winner is Mark Coster! His least favourite expeession - "Wash its face!" Your prize will be with you in early January Mark. Thank you one and all! Hmmmm ... bit of a cliche there. How about - all and one ;-)

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