Don’t Say That

Mar 09, 2014 2:22 PM  By

Herschell-Gordon-Lewis-200A quick question whose answer should pop into your mind within three seconds:

What benefit does “but” have that “however” lacks?

You’re putting a commanding finger on an almost-invisible way to add or lose power in a 21st-century email solicitation. Check this out:

It’s impossible to smile while saying, “However.” That damage doesn’t apply to “But.” So what? you ask? So this: we need rapport to maximize response. Formality, especially formality that transmits an unasked-for assumed superiority, is the sworn enemy of rapport. Hey, we’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century, and the marketing philosophy behind email permeates all sales messages.

Maybe (not perhaps) you have an even easier way to grasp the difference between “however” and “but.” “But” slides past easily; “however” draws attention to itself, and attention should be drawn to what our subject is, not the means of describing it,

How about this next one?

What’s wrong enough with the word “utilize” that you should avoid it in direct response copy?

Time’s up, because you were looking for something dramatic. Copy-tweakers don’t have to be dramatic. If one word is one-tenth of one percent more conversational, you may be generating a response that wouldn’t be there with a word that’s even slightly pompous.

So OK, you’ve got it if you recognize that qualifying phrase “wrong enough.” “Utilize” is a perfectly sound Anglo-Saxon word. But being sound and being effective as a selling weapon can be light-years apart.

So for us, as direct marketers, sticking “utilize” into a selling argument is a stopper, not a goader. You might reject “use” instead of “utilize” because “use” is just an ordinary word. That’s exactly the point. “Use” doesn’t draw attention to itself as a word.

Expand that concept outward to embrace force-communication and you’ll see why “doctor” comfortably “outpulls “physician” … why “about” happily doesn’t issue a stop-and-comprehend order as “approximately” does … why “reply” is a harmless and non-threatening surrogate for the too-common “respond.”

Hold that last notion for a moment. “Respond” implicitly implies a commitment; “reply” implies total latitude, a classic example of child psychology applied to adults, because the use of “reply” doesn’t alter what you’re asking for – positive “response.”

Easy tweaking

What is more basic, more primitive, and more likely to survive even the tightest combing for a word change that might result in a tiny improvement in readership … and then, because of improved readership, tiny improvement in response?

Right. The word “and” tied to its cohort punctuation.

We tend to overlook “and” because it’s basic, primitive, and survivable. But here, in a laboratory circumstance, our examination transcends superficial glances.

So we stop and get ready (not prepare) to replace “and” in this circumstance:

You’ll get two complete sets, and two digital controls, and the special container, and even free shipping.

By replacing the comma with an ellipsis we add significance:

You’ll get two complete sets … and two digital controls … and the special container … and even free shipping.

But (not However) we haven’t struck home yet. So we advance our tweaker another notch:

You’ll get two complete sets … plus two digital controls … plus the special container … plus even free shipping.

Better. But no cigar yet. An ellipsis is a grabber, well beyond a comma, but well behind what we might employ:

You’ll get two complete sets. Plus two digital controls. Plus the special container. Plus even free shipping.

Attention is a force-communication demand here. (Note, please, this is just a sample from an existing direct response communication. Each case is a separate challenge, with separate elements on trial within your own sales-sensitive mental courthouse.)

Primitive psychology at work

Opinion: “Laundry lists” not only are too common as email subject lines; they also are less effective than a more emotional subject line might be.

Do you object to email subject lines such as…

Buyer’s Guide: 4 Steps to Choosing a Business Phone System


6 Steps to Develop a Succession Plan


10 New Contact Center Metrics That Matter


10 Best Practices for Using Microsoft SharePoint

or the terrifying

11 Diseases You Can Get from Your Pet

Or the “Take a week off to read this”

25 Features Your Business Can’t Afford To Do Without

or how about

9 Great Benefits of the Cloud-Based Small Contact Center

… all of which compete poorly against a single chosen benefit?

Each of these appeared, with undoubtedly a host of others, the day I’m writing this.

So what would have been more salesworthy subject lines? You can envision the easy answer, a choice of one of the more forceful benefits or one built around “grabber” words such as “The shocking truth about…” or “Disgusting behavior” or “Are you as sick of this as I am?” or “Just plain stupid.”

Oh, sure, these are adjectival, and that’s a common landing field. You’re reading this commentary, though, which means you’re on the prowl for a higher rate of openings. And accepting a grabber word doesn’t mean settling for a generic such as “Unbelievable” or “Save” or the venerable cliché “New.”

Don’t look for a dramatic defect you’d find in lower-level student work. You’re adding power to professional copy that just isn’t as stirring as your replacement. Two quick semi-scrutinies have the capability of replacing ordinary wording with motivational wording. One is a one-to-one effect. The other is projection of benefit without lapsing into shrillness.

An absolute prediction: employing primitive psychology to engender word replacement gets easier as you get used to it.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Pompano Beach, Florida. Author of 32 books, including the recently-published Internet Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics;Catalog Copy That Sizzles;On the Art of Writing Copy(fourth edition recently published);Asinine Advertising; and Creative Rules for the 21st Century, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide. Web address is