One mistake that many marketers make with sales copy, is to focus exclusively on the immediately visible elements of the content. It is tempting to think of your copy in terms of headlines, typeface and bullets, because these elements are immediately visible on the page. To be sure, these elements are important: you definitely want your sales page to stand out with visual components that make the key information jump off the page. However, that’s not the whole story. You also want to make sure that your copy sounds good, having phonetic qualities that make your words positively addictive to the ear.
Psychologists have developed an interesting concept to explain how we recall what we hear. The phonological similarity effect stipulates that we will have an easier time recalling a list of similar sounding words than a list of words with synonymous meanings. So, for example, the list “cider, siphon, cyclops” is easier to recall than the list “mathematics, arithmetic, calculus.” The reason for this is that our brain processes language through a mechanism called the “phonological loop,” which zeroes in on sounds rather than on meanings.
So what in the heck does this have to do with sales copy?
A heck of a lot, actually!
Copy that is adorned with rhythm, alliteration/assonance and repetition, will win out over bland, boring copy every time. Here is how you can use these four tools in your copy to make the words leap straight off the page.
In writing, as in music, rhythm is about pacing. However, unlike music, written content should never have a repetitive rhythm. In fact, you should purposefully give your content a dynamic rhythm by writing sentences that vary in length. Never combine short, straightforward sentences one after the other, as in the following example:
“We are offering our extra absorbent “SuperTowel” for sale. Tests show that it absorbs 10% more water than any other towel. This is why we offer a complete 100% money back guarantee on the towel.
The rhythm in this sentence is too monotonous to catch attention. A better example would be something like,
“Can’t find a towel that gets you dry fast enough? Head on down to your local drug store and ask about the SuperTowel, the new towel that absorbs 10% more water than any other cloth, towel or shammy on the market. We’re so confident in its precision-engineered absorbent fiber, that we offer a 100% money back guarantee in the event that you’re 100% satisfied with the towel.”
Note that the middle sentence also uses a triad (“cloth, towel or shammy”), which is in itself another great way of creating rhythm.
2. Alliteration and Assonance
Alliteration is a term that refers to the repetition of sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence. This device is used by copywriters to create sentences that “jump off the page” by evoking images that “come to life,” and to weave turns of phrase that bounce around in the phonetic loop like a basketball.
If you look at the names of very successful brands, you will notice that a lot of them use alliteration. Coca-Cola is one brand that uses alliteration in its name. I’m not going to flat out say that because Coca-Cola uses alliteration in its name, it is able to outsell its main competitor (Pepsi), even when blind taste tests suggest that the latter has a more appealing taste. I would suggest, though, that the stories of successful brands like Coca-Cola, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, point to the power of this particularly poetic tool. In case you haven’t noticed, another example of alliteration would be the title of this blog, “Constant Copy.”
Remember back in the section on rhythm, when I said it’s important not to be repetitive in your copywriting?
Well, that wasn’t completely true.
While it is very important to make sure your rhythm is not repetitive, it can actually be valuable to have a little repetition in your choice of words. Repeating brand names, slogans and other key phrases can create an imprint on your readers’ minds. However, it is vitally import that you vary your rhythm while repeating your key words and phrases. A good example of repetition would be the following:
“I love shoes. Shoes keep my feet warm in the cold. Shoes show my sense of style. Shoes help me stand out from the hoardes of others, who are too lazy to wear anything but sneakers. God, I’d be lost without my shoes.”
A bad example of repetition would be:
“I love shoes. Shoes are good. My friends wear shoes. Shoes are comfortable.”
As you can see, when repetition of key words and phrases is combined with an interesting rhythm, it can have a powerful effect. But when combined with monotonous rhythm, it falls a little flat.
Copywriting is all about balance. As a rule, artful copy is better than bland copy, but that doesn’t mean your sales letter should sound like some 18th century lyric poem. Going too far with some of the devices mentioned above can make your copy sound flowery. And when you’re trying to tell someone an e-course on how to make money, or to solicit a donation for a political fundraiser, flowery is not what you should be going for.