Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Power of Specifics

How much would you be impressed if your telephone or cable company said they’d be “on time” for your home service appointment?

Well sure… it sounds okay. But it’s so vague; your eyes would probably glaze over.

“Whatever… I’ll probably end up sitting home waiting half the day.”

Now suppose instead they said “Your serviceman is currently scheduled to arrive at 10:43 AM”.

I bet that would catch your eye!

It sure did mine.

During a recent trip to Maine I saw that promise made in a commercial for “Bob's Discount Furniture Delivery”. Type your order number into their website and you’ll get a very specific message such as…

“Your furniture is currently scheduled to arrive at 11:34 AM”.

Wow. That got my attention, even though I wasn’t the least bit interested in the commercial and certainly not in ordering or receiving furniture.

Now who knows, it could just be a lot of hot air. Maybe they are late as often as any other company.

But if the goal of an advertisement is to snap you out of your everyday somnolence, as copywriter John Carlton has said, this one worked.

It’s a testament to the power of specificity.

General numbers and phrases imply lack of real knowledge… hedging… maybe even bluffing or lying.

“We should be there in a couple hours.”

Translation: Yeah, right.

Roy H. Williams, in "Secret Formulas of the Wizards of Ads" says, "The simple truth is that nothing sounds quite so much like the truth as the truth, and most people seem to know the truth when they hear it. The truth is never full of loopholes and generalities. The truth is made of specifics and substantiations. It's solid. That's why it's easy to spot in a world full of paper-thin lies, half-lies, and hype."

If you’re writing about a stock advisory service, don’t say “Our service produced impressive gains last year.”

Say “Between February 12 and November 23, 2007 we picked gains of 78%, 143% and 353%”.

If you’re writing about improving health, don’t say “Our program will make you feel better.”

Say “With Acme supplements, you’ll hop out of bed smiling at 5AM… you’ll be able to lose up to 15 pounds in 12 weeks or less… and you’ll love the new vitality you’ll enjoy from our 18 unique and fast-acting ingredients.”

Of course, your product or service has to deliver on those promises. If it doesn't, you might make the first sale, but you'll immediately lose credibility. And even if customers don't return it for a refund, they won't buy from you again.

And adding specific details is more work. You have to dig deeper. Spend more time. Make a bigger commitment.

But just think about what kind of payoffs it can bring you. You could double your response rates to your sales promotions. Your pay-per-click ads could attract thousands more visitors to your site. You could increase your email list size by 25%. And all that could mean hundreds of thousands - even millions - of dollars in extra income for you or your clients.

Side benefit: You'll get a kick out of seeing your writing really coming to life!

Who knew you could get all that just by adding a few specifics?


Fort Collins, CO - AKA Fort Fun. said...

I definitely get and agree with your points about specifics, but there are potential gotchas. Will your delivery guy really be there at 11:34? You can get someone's attention, but can you meet or beat the expectation you set?

Charlie Byrne said...

Hey Fort Fun,

You make an absolutely valid and important point. You can't just make up the specifics. You have to have solid proof behind them; and live up to the expectation.

This actually usually requires hard work - harder than making vague or general promises or statements. THis is often a sign of rushed or lazy writing.

But if you have the research or performance to back up your specicis, your message becomes much more believable and thus powerful.

(Note that I violated this rule myself in the Tweet how this could make your copy "147.2% more powerful")... but here, of course, I was just making a point.

If that was an actual headline for say a copywriting service, I would need to show specific proof that one technique I used actually (for example) improved response by that percentage.

Thannks for your comment.

- Charlie