Dispatches from the frontlines of the business of making software.


Get Over “The Locked Room” Copywriting Fallacy

You’re writing the copy for a startup website. You have a new idea, or your old idea is undergoing a bit of a pivot.

You need to explain your idea on your website.

You need copy. Snappy, persuasive copy that will make people want MORE.

More signups, more shares, more investors.

Your concept is great, so you want your website to drive home the concept of a bacon subscription service so nobody can deny its inherent, bacon-y goodness.

What do you do?

Why, open a Google doc, and start writing out the value prop of your bacon-as-a-service business.

“Succulent, thick slices of grass-reared bacon hand-delivered by men with mustaches and gentile manners every Friday in time for the weekend”

There it is in all its glory. A sentence that grabs what you do and puts it out there for the world.

But then some says that the men-with-mustaches gives the wrong vibe, and the sentence is far too long, anyway. People don’t read on the web, DUH!

Now, you have go back and start writing again.

“Bacon-as-a-service. Home Delivery. Delicious.”

Hurrray! It’s short, snappy and everything copy should be.

Right? Time to publish!

Wait, what’s wrong here?

The assumption that people don’t read on the web.

That’s just plain wrong.

People don’t read things that don’t speak deeply to them. When I use general, generic words to describe a highly specific THING, you aren’t going to be interested.

But when you deeply understand your audience, when you know them better than they know themselves and when you know how they speak and think, you can write copy so targeted that they can’t help but pay attention, clicks and cash.

Hell, if I saw that grass-fed bacon hand-delivered by hipsters was on the cards, I’d be sticking my credit card into Google so fast my French banque would be having a heart-attack.

But here’s the rub: startups are generally characterized by not having a great understanding of your audience. You barely have any customers, and your own grasp on your own product is thin, at best. And you might change the entire concept radically overnight.

Something as simple as changing your “Go to Market” strategy might mean you’re talking to a whole new audience.

Oh, and the usual time-frame for a website is, “Up by yesterday would be great, if you can stretch on it”.

So, if you’re in the position where you need to write copy fast, and you don’t have the time or even ability to talk to existing or potential customers, mull over their words and generally soak up the vocab of your target audience, whadda ya do??

Get a first draft out there.

No amount of hours of thinking about how to say the heading succinctly will make it better.

You don’t have to be a great writer to write great copy. You just have to understand the hopes, fears and dreams of your target audience.

But if you need a website fast, you’d be best to write it fast, give it a fairly superficial edit to make sure it reflects your value proposition as you currently understand and put it live in a very simple (think: cheap) design.

Keep the copy short if you want.

Now, your website is live. The big launch is DONE.

Just ship the thing.

The real work can now begin. It takes time to convince your target audience to get on the phone for a chat, so you can start understanding them. Putting up a survey on your site will take some time as well to gather responses. Building up a picture of how they talk and think isn’t going to happen overnight.

The software world gets this. They ship their minimum viable product. Something so small its value is almost nothing. And then they get over the fear of shipping, and they keep shipping every day, refining and expanding until it’s a full-blown work of art.

You should do the same.

Ship your message, and refine it weekly.

That’s how you write copy for your startup.

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