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Michelle PW : Talk the Talk (and Boost Your Sales)

Talk the Talk (and Boost Your Sales)

By Michele Pariza Wacek

Psychology Today once reported a study about the habits of successful salespeople. It said the best salespeople empathized with their customers. They mirrored the gestures, speech habits and other mannerisms of their customers. By doing this, they created a sense of trust and rapport — subconsciously telling their customers "you can trust me."

As someone who writes marketing and newsletter copy, you too are a salesperson. You create literature and advertisements that sell your company's products and services. Unlike a salesperson, however, you only have words at your disposal — no gestures or facial expressions. Luckily for you, words are extremely powerful.

So, how can you use words to create empathy? First, you need to understand your customers. And one powerful way to accomplish this is by using culture references.

The title characters of the television sitcom "Will and Grace" are my age. How do I know this? No, it isn't how they look (although I do admit that's a big giveaway). I know because of what they say.

In many of the shows I've seen, one of the characters will make some sort of cultural reference — books, movies, other television shows, commercials, music or whatever — to something in the 80s. For those of us in our thirties, the 80s is the time that defined us (otherwise known as the time we were in high school suffering our teen-age angst).

Studies have shown that people strongly respond to culture references they experienced during their teenage years. In fact, many professional speakers use this technique when speaking to groups who are all approximately the same age. By tapping into that sense of nostalgia, they can more quickly build a sense of rapport with their audience. (A side note: People also respond powerfully to their childhood culture references.)

But age isn't the only consideration. As humans, our brains are wired to group things together. We classify people by gender, profession, relationships, hobbies, political beliefs and so forth. And each of those groups comes with its own vocabulary and word phrases. This helps us not only create a sense of belonging within a group, but it also helps us quickly recognize others who belong (or, conversely, those who don't belong).

So, how do you that? Here are some tips:

  1. Go back to that composite character you created. Read it again. And read all the supporting information you have.
  2. Immerse yourself in your character's world. As a writer, I would suggest focusing especially on materials you can read, especially magazines — it will be easier for you to pinpoint words, phrases, writing patterns, etc.
  3. Once you know the culture references, tone, words and language your character feels comfortable with, you can incorporate those details into your own writing.

A warning: If a cultural reference doesn't flow naturally into a marketing piece, DON'T force it in. It won't sound appropriate. Your customers will know it immediately and resent you for it.

Also, don't "copy" what you read; plagiarism is illegal and besides, it won't be effective. Instead, try to capture the essence of the language and presentation style of the magazine articles and use this information as a tool to shape your own topics and ideas. Remember, the magazine is just a sample of what your audience likes to read. So, use the words and phrases your customer is comfortable with; weave the language into your copy in a manner that fits with your individual writing style. Hit enough of the same notes, and chances are that audience will like to read what you write, too.

Let's say you're trying to reach teenagers. Start a file of a variety of the latest and most popular teen magazines. Read them for the language: word choices (particularly verbs and adjectives), repeated phrases and slang. Pay attention to what's out of date ... what's passe. As you build your file from year to year (or look at old issues of current magazines), you'll see how elements of language move in and out of favor. Stay away from "old" slang; nothing will date you faster than language that's not cool. Read and compare articles in competing magazines that target the teen demographic; pay attention to how the articles are paced and structured. Notice tempo and attitude.

Remember, these magazines aren't written BY teens ... they're written FOR teens. So concentrate on publications with the largest readership — the popular ones. Take notes. Soak it all up. Then start writing.

4. Test your writing. After it's written, find a few kind souls in your target market who will read what you wrote and give you honest feedback. Do this even if you plan to do a test run of your advertising campaign. You need to know if what you wrote hits the right notes or falls flat. Use that feedback to pin down exact sentences and paragraphs that need work. •

Copyright 2004 Michele Pariza Wacek. All rights reserved.

Michele Pariza Wacek Michele Pariza Wacek owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting, a writing, marketing and creativity agency. More »

Updated 1/5/14