The grandmother principle: improve your copy with a simple trick
Want to know a little trick that will make you write better copy? And how you can apply it to your content marketing and strategy? Senior copywriter Pieter relies on something he calls the grandmother principle. In this blog post, he'll tell you all there is to it, how it works and how you can apply it to your work.
The grandmother principle is very simple: Imagine you have to explain the contents of your text or strategy face to face to your target audience. Being directly confronted with their reaction, forces you to carefully consider both your goal and the way you’re working towards it.
For example: you need to convince your grandmother of hiring a household help.
Getting a household help would be a huge change in your grandmother’s daily life. If you want to convince her, you’ll have to tread carefully when picking your words and consider her way of speaking and thinking.
Bring up the wrong arguments and you’re done. Chances are your granny is not that eager to let a stranger into her house. You’ll have to come up with airtight arguments. Just like you have to when writing a piece of copy. And you’ll have to do so through a personal conversation. Forget sending her an email. Not to mention a WhatsApp message.
Six steps towards effective copy
Below are the steps you would undoubtedly take when trying to convince someone face to face. Which are exactly the same steps you should consider when writing your copy. Steps you might be forgetting about. An overview:
- Always keep your goal in sight.
- Know your audience.
- Convince using tailored arguments.
- Anticipate obvious questions.
- Take prior knowledge into account.
- Use the right tone of voice.
Always keep your goal in sight
Before you start writing any text, you have to know where you’re heading. What is your ultimate goal?
Getting your target audience to subscribe to your newsletter
Selling a product
Showing your brand exists
Once you start playing your cards, your target audience might drop out at any given time. That’s why each and every detail of your wording needs to be carefully crafted.
Your aim is to convince your grandmother that hiring a household help is exactly what she needs. If she says ‘no’, it’s a definite ‘no’. Once you’re past that point, you know how hard it is to change someone’s mind. Irrelevant arguments and inaccurate voicing will undermine your reasoning.
Know your audience
The better you know your audience, the easier it is to make your words push their buttons. What keeps them awake at night? What makes them happy? And what scares them shi.. a lot? You might already be using buyer personas. Those tailored client profiles might come in handy. Visualise your audience’s triggers and traits. It will make it easier to keep them in mind while you’re writing.
A colleague of mine once witnessed the best sales pitch ever. This is how it went:
Client: ‘We're looking for a good camera’
Salesman takes a camera and says: ‘This is a good one'
Client: ‘We'll take it!’
That one opening sentence was all the salesman needed to know what type of client he had on his hands. Someone lacking prior knowledge who puts his faith into the salesman’s hands. There’s no sense in throwing them off track with details on shutter speed and aperture. Writing is no different, but you don’t notice because you can’t see your audience’s reaction.
Let’s assume you know your grandmother inside and out. You know what she’s like and how she thinks. That’s why you can easily gauge which words and arguments will push her buttons. You’ll go about it carefully.
Convince using tailored arguments
No one will care about your copy if you don’t provide airtight arguments. Coming up with the wrong arguments at the wrong time feels strange and is counterproductive. Whether you're addressing your grandmother or a potential client who was on the verge of buying your product.
A few examples of arguments that might convince your granny of getting that household help:
- The place will always be tidy when the little ones come by for a piece of apple pie.
- Say goodbye to that lower back pain keeping you awake at night.
- You’ll finally have some time to knit that scarf and solve those crossword puzzles you like so much.
Anticipate obvious questions
Did you forget to include an answer to obvious follow-up questions? That severely increases your chances of losing your audience's interest.
Your grandmother won’t hesitate to throw ‘Household help? On my teeny-tiny pension?’ in your face. Always ask yourself which obvious questions your audience will have, and make sure you answer them. (Tip: Google your main subject and take a look at the suggestions)
The answers to their questions are the very reason your content exists in the first place. This is where you make the difference. It’s the principle of inbound marketing: focus on helping your clients, rather than wanting to sell them your product at all costs.
Prior knowledge: the importance of the customer journey
The amount of prior knowledge your target audience possesses, determines your reasoning. Come up with old news and you’ll come across as anything but an expert. The more you’re aware of the customer journey stage your audience is in, the easier it is to tailor your copy to their state of awareness.
Are you stuffing technical knowledge down your audience’s throat when they are not even sure which product actually suits their needs? You’ll put them off. Or are they on the verge of buying your product? Then quickly push them towards your call to action. If you don’t, any additional distracting information will push them away from your goal.
Your grandmother and the customer journey
Does your grandmother even know what a household help is? Someone from her bridge club might be very satisfied with hers and told her all about it. Why would you go and tell her there’s a service that would take over all of those strenuous chores? She already knows. Show her the service you found suits her needs perfectly.
If your grandmother is like mine, she’d rather sell her favourite statue of the Virgin Mary than letting someone else cook her dinner. She’s just worried you’ll take her to a nursing home if she can’t take care of herself anymore. This is where you tell her she can simply stay at home and that it gets even better: she doesn’t need to worry about a thing. Quite the opposite.
In a conversation, anything that feels even a tiny bit strange, distracts you from the essence. That's why it's so important to talk your audience's talk. When and however you engage with them. You'll need the entire company to be on the same page.
Just for the heck of it, address your grandmother with ‘madame’. Doesn’t it feel strange? Take your apple-pie argument and put it in the trash. Or mention a ‘janitorial solution’. I’m sure the expression on her face would make for a memorable picture.
Speak her language. She’ll feel supported and much more willing to accept your arguments.
Using the right tone of voice will instill confidence in you. You’ll gently show your target audience that you understand them and know exactly what they are feeling and thinking.
Buyer persona’s vs. the grandmother principle
Buyer personas are an element of the grandmother principle. Persona’s 2.0, if you will. A persona is a defined concept of a target audience with very specific interests and character traits.
The grandmother principle goes beyond a buyer persona. It's a thought experiment in which you directly confront your target audience with your copy, strategy or e-mail. Using your empathy you'll imagine their reaction. You’ll immediately know which arguments and words stand a better chance of pushing their buttons, and which don’t.
Many copywriters out there get to work without really considering an immediate reaction of their target audience. Which makes them - more often than not - use arguments, words and references that don’t have any impact on those specific people.
Increase the impact of your entire marketing strategy
The grandmother principle’s area of application goes far beyond copywriting. Use the above thought process for any newsletter, social post, SEA ad, campaign … you’re about to make. You’ll increase the impact of anything you do.
Do you have any questions about the grandmother principle, arguments that reduce it to utter rubbish or any thoughts on copywriting and content strategy in general?Contact me