It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Copy is all about words. Or is it?

Copy is about using words to describe the benefits of your offer. About using words to paint vivid mental imagery. About using words to stir the senses, press all the “hot buttons” and push the reader to take some kind of action.

But is it really ALL about words? I mean, just words? No.

Some copywriters claim that graphics, formatting and photographs should NOT be added to a salesletter because they distract. They can take the reader’s focus away from the message.

I agree. But not entirely. Here’s why…

You see, it is definitely true that words are extremely important. And the words you choose can make or break the sale. You must describe your offer in a way that gives it sex appeal, a sense of urgency and dose of emotion.

But the cosmetics are just as important, too.

They help to direct the reader’s eyes. They also help to drive important points home. But above all, they help to replace the cues, nuances and nonverbal subtleties that occur in traditional, face-to-face sales encounters.

They are Proxemics, Haptics and, most importantly for us writers, Kinesics.

Proxemics is the science of personal space. The distance between individuals during, for example, a conversation, a meeting or a shared activity.

This is not some metaphysical “Feng Shui-ish” thing. I’m talking about our psychological (and often subconscious) reaction to the distance we  maintain  with other people—such as, for example, during a sales encounter.

For instance, sitting across from someone at a desk may unconsciously convey that the other person is being confrontational. That’s why some sales training programs tell you to sit side by side with your prospect.

Haptics, on the other hand, is the science of touching. Some psychologists have studied the effects of touching during conversations. For example, they tested how people would react when they were told a certain statement.

Here’s what they did.

In some cases, the speaker would simply tell the listener a story.

In other cases, they were told the same story. But at times, the speaker would lightly touch the listener on the forearm for no more than a few seconds, particularly when he was saying something important.

According to the study, subjects in the second test felt that the speaker was more believable. They had higher recall scores. Physiologically, they felt more relaxed and comfortable with the speaker. They felt a certain “connection.”

Of course, there’s more to proxemics and haptics than that. And you can’t really use those in copywriting. But the one type of nonverbal communication you can use (and the one I want you to focus on) is Kinesics.

Kinesics is the science of body language. Nonverbal gestures, postures and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states, and communicates nonverbally with others.

These messages delivered through nonverbal cues, which can be either verbal or physical, can support, emphasize or contradict what is being conveyed.

In face-to-face selling, Kinesics are often used to emphasize key benefits. But they are particularly important because they can drive important points  home—such as by adding emotion to a sales pitch, which go beyond words.

Uncrossing of the arms or legs. Raising of the brows. Rubbing of the chin. Leaning forward. All of these can indicate that you’re interested in your client ó  or  if the client does it, it can tell you she’s interested in your offer.

But verbal cues are usually those conveyed through the qualities of the voice, such as tone, volume, rhythm, pitch, pausing and inflection.

All of these can be interpreted as many things and used in different ways.

For instance, inflection is the musical quality of the voice ó the verbal ups or downs of a part of a word, a whole word or a series of words. In selling, vocal inflection is probably the most often used Kinesic form of communication.

Why? Because it can virtually change  the entire meaning of a message, even when a single word is inflected. Take, for example, the following sentence:

“I didn’t say I love you.”

It’s pretty straightforward, right? But instead, if I said:

“I didn’t say I LOVE you” (where verbal emphasis is placed on the word “love,” as in “ loooovvvve”), then I might be implying that I simply “like” you.

On the other hand, if the word “you” was emphasized (such as “ I didn’t say I love YOU”), then it could imply that I love someone else altogether.

If I inflected the word “didn’t,” as in “I DIDN’T say I love you,” then it could imply that I wrote it, or I said or meant something else instead.

In essence, it’s not what you say but how you say it.

In copy, we’re limited, not by what we want to say but how we want to say it. That’s where cosmetics, formatting and certain “ visual triggers” come in.

Sure, you shouldn’t add graphics willy- nilly. But you should add graphics and photos that support (and perhaps even emphasize) the sales process, and not graphics that could distract the reader from the sales message.

Auction giant eBay reports that listings with pictures outsell those without pictures. While anecdotal, I’ve heard of boosts in bids as high as 400%.

Therefore, if you can add a photograph of your product (or if you sell a service, a picture of you in action with a client), you will likely achieve greater results.

But graphics and pictures aside, the look of the copy is just as important as the the words themselves. That’s why, when I write copy, I usually pay close attention to the cosmetics. I even call it “copy designing.”

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Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is a marketing strategist, business advisor, and certified digital marketing expert. As a marketing consultant since 1991, he helps entrepreneurial professionals grow their practices with his unique combination of branding, positioning, copywriting, SEO, UX, and CRO.

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