Don't be afraid of your audience, and don't avoid telling them the truth.
You might read that sentence and ask, "What do you mean?" or "Why would someone be AFRAID of their audience?"
Those are understandable questions, but let me tell you a story to highlight my point.
A few years ago, I picked up a freelance copywriting job, and on the first day I visited the office for a welcome meeting. I don't think it was a dark and stormy night, but let's just say it was. As I was touring the building, we walked past a group of employees that made up the copywriting team.
I couldn't help but ask, "If you have a copywriting team...why do you need freelance copywriters?"
The answer (that might have been given with an Igor-like voice) was - "We just need some FRESH ideas." (Dun, dun, duuuuun!)
After successfully completing some simple projects, I began to realize what that really meant. You see, they were one of these companies that offered people something for FREE online. However, in this case, before you could get it (THUNDER CLAP), you had to enter credit card information. That information was then used to loop you into a subscription service that gave you several online tools. (Reaction)
So, the reason they needed "fresh ideas" was because they gave their copywriting team an impossible task - develop content that would make people more comfortable with sharing credit card information after being told they were getting something for free.
A few days later, I was brought into a creative meeting to give some feedback on their new website design. The preview site showcased pictures of nice looking business people and customer service reps. This was meant to humanize them in a way that would make people comfortable with giving credit card information (after saying something was free). There may or may not have been some maniacal laughing.
It makes me think of My Cousin Vinny when Vinny asks his girlfriend what pants he should wear to go deer hunting. She tells him to pretend he's a deer who's taking a sip of water out of a clear brook. Then, BAM he's been shot and the scene turns totally gruesome. She then asks if at that moment WOULD HE CARE ABOUT WHAT PANTS THE HUNTER WAS WEARING?
I went home and thought it all through. I even did some research and found a blog post about this company that said it couldn't understand why they weren't upfront about their paid services because there was value in them. A post like this could have a reader ask - "What are they hiding?" (Dun, dun, duuuuun)
So, I bravely went back and asked them why they weren't more transparent about having to input card information to pay for these services.
Their answer - Because all of our online ads (PPC, etc) say FREE, and connecting the pay stuff will ruin that or scare them away. So, instead of figuring out a way to effectively communicate everything...they needed copywriters to come up with FRESH ideas on how to sucker the public. They were trying to brainwash creatives into evil lying zombies!!!!! (Reaction)
Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
So, I went home and wrote/produced a video for them. This video showed that people were still getting something for free, but explained the value of the paid extra features. I also reached back into my on-air fundraising messaging days and developed verbiage that showed the audience just how little they were paying a week for these conveniences.
The company wanted no part of it.
Finally, I told them that their competition would likely take advantage of this by exposing the deception. Despite blowing that warning off, I later saw an advertisement doing that very thing. This commercial made a it a point to tell their audience that they will NEVER ask for credit card information.
What a twist!
Here are some valuable takeaways from this story:
1. What does it say about your organization that your content strategy is focused on fooling your audience? How confident are you in your services if you're afraid of your customer's reaction? Is that the type of company you want to be?
2. You audience is not stupid. They're not going to feel better about getting hit in the face because you wore nice pants to the fight. Customers that search for products and services online do their research, and they're armed with what their peers, friends and relatives say. Plus, user-generated content (like the blogger's commentary about the company) is one of the ways people learn about you.
3. TRUST is an incredibly important factor in generating business online. You are much better off being honest about what you're doing and why you're doing it than trying to hide half the story. In this case, the company still could've offered one thing for free and explained why the add-ons were worthwhile purchases.
Finally, don't send the wrong signal to your talented copywriting team by hiring freelancers that can come up with "fresh" ideas. It's an especially bad practice when you've giving them the impossible task to effectively fool your customer.
If you are having challenges sending the right message to your target audience, I can help. You can email me or contact me HERE.