How To Simplify Your Copy and Inspire Action

“Michael always says, ‘K-I-S-S, keep it simple, stupid.’ Great advice. Hurts my feelings every time.” – Dwight Schrute

If you’ve watched The Office, you know that Dwight’s plans were anything but simple. Always overdone. And almost always failed.

As a naturally long-winded writer, I feel Dwight’s pain. However, if your objective is to secure user response relatively quickly, then you have to remove yourself from the urge to elaborate. Working in the branding industry (fortunately) taught me that simple is better. Direct is key. Otherwise, you risk losing your audience.

When condensing your copy, knowing what to say can be incredibly challenging, especially when you only have a few seconds to make or brake your case.

2013 study claims that the average human attention span is only 8 seconds! That means every precious second is critically important. Compelling copy (welded with complementary design, of course) is part of the equation. Directional text, a strong tagline from which to build supporting text, and good, old-fashioned A/B testing just might be the winning combination.

Tell ’em what you want to tell ’em

Last week, we talked about goal driven design. What’s the most important takeaway for your audience? What is it exactly that you want them to do? If your website provides too many buttons to click or too many drop-down menu items to sift through, visitors will get lost and, get confused, and/or or get annoyed and leave.

The copy you include contributes directly to whether a user is pushed to act or retreat. For instance, when creating opt-ins, you don’t always have to limit yourself to a one-word command, but the more succinct the better. Consider the following example of a recognizable call to action that works much better when compressed.

Option 1: Please click here if you would like to donate.

Option 2: Donate.

At Proof, we see a push for something closer to “option 1” more often than you’d think. Clients are afraid of being too direct. But here’s the thing:

[Tweet “Your audience is unconsciously begging you to tell them what to do.”]

Generally, brands are warming up to an increased usage of action verbs, which express something that the direct object (you) can do. You’re not saying “Donate now, fool!” (though that would be perfect for a charity chaired by Mr. T). You’re really giving your audience what they want – simplified, direct instruction. The niceties can precede that action verb within, preferably, just a few lines.

Rely on your brand’s slogan

If your brand has a slogan, lean on it as a guide. If not, consider creating one, and if your current slogan doesn’t fit your organization’s overall objectives, consider revising it. Your slogan (or tagline) should be able to serve as the backbone to the majority of your copy. If it’s a good one, it encompasses what your company stands for and what it promises to do. Tropicana actually chose a site design that leads with one feature – its slogan and a brief 54-word, 300-character description of just exactly what “100% Pure Squeezed” entails.

When the creators behind the Tropicana slogan pieced those words together, they chose to highlight the promise of the brand – that every last drop would be, at least initially, squeezed from fruit. If you buy Tropicana, you’ll see it on the label, and on the website, this promise receives equal importance as it is the first thing visitors’ eyes will see. From there, they’re free to explore products, additional health benefits, and other menu items. But before they venture off, they walk away with an understanding of the brand’s identity and objective.

Never (ever) stop testing

Think you’ve got the perfect, condensed but motivating copy in hand? Maybe. Maybe not. Even if you’ve done extensive consumer research, reviewed internal data, and assessed competitor strategies – all of which should part of routine project legwork – you still might miss the mark. How can you bridge the gap? Testing.

Incorporating A/B testing into your content (and design) strategy is critical to assessing the behavior of your audience and discovering their preferences. It’s not worth not doing it if one little tweak (e.g. swapping out the action verb in your “call to action” button) means the difference between the audience opting in or leaving. Recently, we’ve been conducting simple testing for our blog tweet copy.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 4.13.25 PM

The tweet above linked to a post on hiring based on potential. While that post received significant attention, the tweet including “[NEW]” returned zero interactions from our followers. We’ve been using that inclusion in “publish day” tweets regularly, and are seeing, for the most part, the same results – it’s just not compelling. So, what’s the best copy strategy in this case? Results are inconsistent. And that’s just it. You may not always see jaw-dropping, eye-opening results with every testing cycle. The only way to know what works and what resonates most with your audience is to test, iterate, and innovate.

Keeping it simple isn’t simple.

It’s complicated, and takes work, perseverance, and the ability to adapt to new trends and patterns of behavior. The hardest part is sloughing off what you thought would be a slam dunk to try something new. Take a note from Dwight – encourage yourself and your clients to leave personal feelings at the door. You’ve got an audience to catch.

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