Write to Persuade Do’s and Don’t

Commercial marketers call it “deep product knowledge” and it’s essential to persuasive  messaging.

Your test shouldn’t be whether you have just enough info to write this message. It should be whether your understanding is complete enough to recognize every opportunity to persuade and avoid every pitfall.

Here’s how story coach Lisa Cron puts it “Feel first. Think second … “If I ask you to think about something, you can decide not to. But if I make you feel something? Now I have your attention.” 

Leading with emotion and backing it up with facts works. Leading with facts and trying to add in emotion later – doesn’t. 

Here’s a critical part of strategic messaging: Identifying obstacles standing between your reader’s general sense of support for your cause and the specific decision to take action. Find the barriers and devise a way to navigate through or around them.

But whatever you do, don’t bring up a barrier that you can’t dispose of. All that does is raise doubts.

People receive the messages we send as personal communications, not works of art. In most cases, beautiful turns of phrase, poetic imagery and stunning prose can defeat that personal connection.

A more down-to-earth, conversational writing style is almost always the right choice. It protects the authenticity and emotional power of the story you are telling. And that’s the whole point. 

It’s good to report back. Tell your audiences about work they helped move forward and progress they helped achieve. But, if you stop there, you have a cultivation message — one likely to make the recipient smile with contentment, not a motivating message likely to drive immediate response.

Make sure you’re conveying future-facing details about “can’t wait” work that lies just ahead.

People donate, sign petitions, volunteer and vote as ways to express who they are, what they believe, and how committed they are to acting on those beliefs. Asking someone to take an action as an expression of their personal identity will almost always strike a deeper chord than simply inviting them to take a momentary action.

Why now? The more connected a message is to a specific moment in the world and in the life of your reader, the more likely it is to be effective. 

And, in the inverse, the easier it is to defer the request to a later time, the more likely it is to actually be deferred. Before sending it, review your message and see if you’ve done all you can to answer the “Why now?” question. 

Neuroscientist Matt Johnson proposes this formula: “A good experience + surprise = a great experience.”  The same is true of the messages you send. The element of surprise can be sparked by providing your reader with new information, unexpected news or a unique angle of vision.  

It can elevate the emotional impact of your message and increase the likelihood that it has the desired impact. Find ways to break through from predictable to surprising.

The use of details can be a double-edged sword. Providing clear, compelling details can bring your message to life and make sure it is received as genuine and authentic. But too many details can easily break the rhythm and emotional energy of your message.

Best to remember novelist Elmore Leonard’s writing advice: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” 

One way to check: the name change test. Substitute in the name of a similar organization and, if it fits like a glove, you’ve written a generic message, not one suited only to your organization.  

Techniques like matching gifts and fundraising deadlines can play a powerful role in support of a strong message. But relying on techniques to carry the day alone is unsustainable over time. Don’t disguise the powerful message behind the technique you’re using to convey it.

There was a time when many donors made gifts out of a generalized appreciation for an organization’s overall body of work. For the most part, that time has past. Most donors today
are searching for ways to have an immediate impact at a key moment in time.

Craft your messages to tee up gift of excitement opportunities for your audiences.

Every message you send should do two things. First, of course, offer emotionally engaging arguments for the reader to act on the specific task at hand. But just as important, deepen the reader’s understanding of and connection to your group’s core narrative. 

Make sure your copy serves both of those imperatives. 

One Comment

  1. Hey Frank,

    So great to read all of this. I feel like I was schooled by the best and still reflect on all your words of wisdom, EVERY time I write copy (or eat a banana at my desk). Look forward to reading more …

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