We are so thrilled to have Rachel Baker of The Ethical Copywriter sharing how to create copy that converts without manipulation.
Words are powerful and persuasive. They’re how we communicate – and for businesses, they’re often how we make sales.
But as we know, with power comes great responsibility. Language is packed with psychological nuance, and sadly, marketers have historically used that nuance to get people to buy things they don’t need and spend too much money.
As an ethical business, this poses a quandary. You want people to pay for your products and services, but you want to do so ethically. So how do you toe that line?
I’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts for writing copy that helps you sell but doesn’t exploit or pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Say what’s great & unique about your product or service.
You’ve got something amazing to offer, so make sure you tell people about it! Rather than simply listing features, explain why that feature will help your customer. What makes your product different to anything else on the market? And of course, when writing about your product, always be honest.
Use the right tone of voice.
Whether you’ve had professional tone of voice development or you’re doing DIY copy, speaking to customers in the right tone of voice is key. If you’ve got a style guide, stick to it. And if you’re winging it, think about what your brand personality is and how you’d like your customers to feel when reading. Consider how your target customer would speak – and write in a way that echoes that.
Write in the active voice.
Writing in the active voice is a simple way to make your copy sound more engaging and less, well, passive. You can learn exactly how to do this in my blog post on using the active voice, but a good starting point is beginning sentences with “we”, “I” or “you”, rather than a noun.
Use “you” and “we.”
Speaking of which, using pronouns to speak about your company and address your customers directly makes your copy more conversational straight away. The more your customers feel like you’re speaking to them directly, the more likely they’re to make a purchase.
Have clear CTAs.
CTA stands for “call to action”. It’s a direct invitation to your reader to take action – whether that’s subscribing to a newsletter, making a purchase or booking a call. Have a clear action in mind when you write your copy and make your CTA clear and easy to carry out.
Transparency is a core principle of ethical copywriting. As well as fulfilling any legal requirements to declare sponsored content or paid collaborations, adding disclaimers about your intent can increase customer trust and, well, it’s just an honest way of doing business. I love this example from Katie of Little Green Duck, which she has underneath a “Join for FREE* now” CTA:
*A quick note on the word “free”. Whilst this session is free to join in terms of money, I will collect your email address during the sign-up process. Your personal data, and having the privilege to send you emails is still valuable to me, so I’m only using the word “free” in relation to money, and I promise to always be respectful of and grateful for the other stuff.
You love your product, and you want everyone to shout about it from the rooftops. However, be careful to keep whatever you write truthful and avoid exaggerating. For example, instead of writing something like “This product will completely change your life and take all your worries away”, be specific about the actual functions of the product and the problems it solves.
Create false scarcity.
Pretending that there’s only a limited number of your product or service available when that’s simply not true is unethical. If, for example, you really only have one place left on your course and you want to let people know, that’s fine. But you shouldn’t play on people’s fear of missing out simply to get more sales.
Play on vulnerabilities.
In a similar vein, you don’t exploit vulnerabilities or insecurities just to get a sale. There’s a line between identifying a problem, e.g. a musty smell in your home that an air freshener could solve, and making people feel bad, e.g. saying that people will judge them if their house has a musty smell.
Make false or extreme promises.
Much like you shouldn’t exaggerate, you also shouldn’t overpromise. If we use our air freshener example again, instead of promising “eliminates all odours”, you could say “[active ingredient x] kills neutralises common household odours to help your home smell fresh as a daisy”.
Virtue signal (e.g. greenwashing, pinkwashing etc.)
Expressing support for a particular cause without doing the work to back it up is a form of manipulation. It plays on people’s values when, in reality, your company might not be up to their standards. If you really want to support these causes, start by looking at policies you can put in place or money you can donate, then communicate your efforts to your customers after.
Try and force a quick decision.
We’ve all made an ill-advised eBay purchase because of the urgency created by the countdown to the end of the auction. Well, I have, anyway. That’s eBay’s whole schtick because it’s an online auction, but when it comes to selling your own products or services, creating urgency isn’t the ethical way to go. Avoid phrases like “buy while you can” or deliberately creating limited-time offers purely for the purpose of rushing people into purchasing.
Trust your gut.
If you’ve read this post you’re obviously interested in ethical marketing and have a moral compass. At the end of the day, listen to your gut. If you’re writing something and it feels a bit *icky*, listen to that feeling. Take a pause and ask if what you’re writing could be misleading. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask if you’re doing the right thing by them. You got this!
To learn more about ethical marketing, check out The Ethical Move. They’re on a mission to make marketing fairer and more transparent. They’ve got resources to help you out and you can take their pledge to commit to ethical marketing in your own business.
Rachel Baker (she/her)
Rachel, a.k.a The Ethical Copywriter, is a freelance copy and content writer who works with ethical and sustainable businesses, helping them succeed with good words.
In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, walking the dog and settling down with a good book (or reality show…).