The Story Economy Blog

Writing Web Copy That Converts is Almost Exactly Like Drinking Coffee

My whole life, I hated coffee. I mean, of course I drank Frappuccinos and the like. But the stuff inside actual coffee pots at home? Bitter. Battery acid. Ick.

And then I had a kid. My go-to drink for morning wake up—water—wasn’t cutting it on those sleepy mornings when the baby had kept me up the night before.

My first cups of real coffee were almost painful (more cream and sugar than actual coffee). But with every sip, I was becoming a coffee drinker.

And now, I can’t do without the stuff. I’m a ghost in the morning without my first cup of coffee, and a sad little puppy at 2:00 in the afternoon if I don’t have another.

You could look at this as my dark road to caffeine addiction.

But I see it as the bright road to conversion.

Conversion is the biggest buzzword in copywriting these days. And everyone who writes about it and studies it has a theory: It’s the headline! It’s about using psychology! It’s about dropping in one of the five most persuasive words in the English language! It’s about doing A/B tests! It’s about leveraging urgency! It’s about creating value!

The word “convert” itself seems to have magical conversion powers. As in, “Hey, copywriter person: can you write me copy that converts? If so, I’m converted. You’re hired!”

So it’s a pretty risky thing to say that while I believe it’s all of those things—good headlines, the right word choice and word placement, urgency, value—I don’t actually know what converts people.

That’s right, I don’t know.

Like infinity or the reason The Bachelor stays on the air, it’s unknowable.

So why did I start drinking coffee?

Because Any Given Day is Fleeting

The number one reason coffee converted me is that I had a need. I was tired. Really tired. I didn’t know what would solve my tired problem. But there was this story out there about drinking coffee in the morning. So I tried it. At first, I was skeptical. “There’s no f@&$ing way this cup of crap is going to wake me up,” I said. I hated drinking it for a few weeks.

But then I began to see examples of it working. I was awake and able to work at 7 a.m.! I started adding my own mythology: “I wrote the best article of my life after drinking those two cups of coffee!” Slowly, the taste seemed . . . good. The weird bitterness seemed . . . appealing. It became bigger than the need to wake up. It became a thing I looked forward to, even after a good night’s sleep.

There is a whole complex interior world brewing in a person between the time they realize a need (or a marketer creates a need) and the time they do something about it.

A marketer who wants to convert has to discern all of that. Cut through it all to enroll.

Is a headline really going to do that?

No way.

Except it might.

But only if you’re primed.

As in vulnerable and desperate. (I will do anything to stay awake!)

Or curious. (I wonder if this will work? Hmm?)

Or cheeky. (I think, just for fun, I should try something totally out of character!)

Or adventurous. (I am ready for something new and different!)

Or about 42 other states of being. Which have everything to do with your spouse’s snippy comment, the shoes you’re wearing, the weather, how dehydrated you are, what music you’re listening to, or the fact that the water bill was $30 lower this month. And very little to do with the marketer.

You don’t know what will get someone on any given day. Just to be clear: No. One. Knows. This. No matter what kind of psychological insights they say they have. States of being are fleeting and unreliable.

But being around for the long haul isn’t.

As my own research, I just asked a client who just signed with me: Hey, uh, quick question: why did you hire me? (That he immediately called me to tell me why was a reminder of how cool my clients are.)

They had a problem with their marketing, he said. They were saying the same thing over and over again, and even though they kept trying to change the writing style around, they eventually realized that the problem was the message itself.

He started reading my newsletter about five months ago (passed on to him by a friend; thank you, curly-haired girl: you know who you are). At first, my articles didn’t click that much, he said. It didn’t seem like it had that much to do with the organization he was trying to market (and in the meantime, he was talking to other copywriters).

But over time, it felt more and more . . . right. Like the coffee that started to taste good. And then, one week, an article really resonated with him.

Now, when a marketer like me hears something like this, the temptation is to plead: for the love of all that is holy, tell me which one so that I can churn it out over and over again!

But luckily, he doesn’t remember. And the thing is, it doesn’t matter. And I wouldn’t do it anyway.

Because it’s not about the one thing. It’s not about the any given day. Not really.It’s about the totality of the thing. The message over time.

In other words, it’s about staying in front of your people in a way that matches what your brand is about. My brand is about telling stories as a way to connect. So I better be telling stories pretty regularly. I have no desire to manipulate what’s going on in someone’s interior world. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of it on a regular basis.

So when people ask me: Can you write me something that converts? I respond by asking: Can you stay in front of people with good stuff? Because really, what are we doing here if you can’t?

Don’t worry so much about any given day. Instead, focus on giving the best you muster, as often as you can.


PS.¬† I know you’ve been wondering this whole time about the five most persuasive words in the English language. Here is what Copyblogger says. I made it sound cheesy, but it’s actually a pretty good little piece, kept in context.

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