Questions in copy can be dangerous…
Do you agree?
And there you go: my question is answered.
Just like that, it’s all over.
Sorry to waste your time. I’ll speak to you another day.
Wait. What happened there?
Well, I asked a question.
You had an answer.
The transaction ended.
Hell, I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t be bothered to find out why I was asking the question in the first place.
What kind of question is ‘do you agree?’ anyway? What’s the answer matter to you?
See, this is the problem with questions in copy.
And this is why – when understanding how to handle them – you first have to remember your customer is a seriously busy beaver.
Buy my book.
Sorry. That just came out.
But seriously. Do. It’s good.
Don’t take my word for it…
Listen to Leif. He’s the director of ProCopywrtiers in the UK. He’s read it and says:
“Glenn is a master of direct-response copywriting. His book is a highly practical guide to making sales with your words. It’s loaded with techniques that you can start using immediately. Whether you write for traditional direct-response or digital media, there are plenty of ideas to take away from Glenn’s book. If you’re a copywriter – or a business owner – you should get Glenn’s book now and start putting his ideas to work for you.”
Pretty good, right?
And I’m thankful to Leif for reading it and sharing his thoughts. If you haven’t already, please do take a moment to treat yourself and pre-order a copy today.
Anyway, where was I?
People do NOT sit around waiting to be advertised at.
Instead, people have lives.
They have limited time.
They have limited patience.
And they don’t want you asking stupid, pointless questions.
So, whether you’re planning to use one as a headline for a long copy sales letter…
As a slogan for a poster campaign…
Or if you’re using one as a subject line in an email auto-responder series…
Think twice before you do.
Chances are: it’s a mistake.
I’ll use email subject lines to explain why, but the principles are the same no matter what piece of copy you’re writing.
You see, any closed question that can be easily and quickly answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ might not be very effective.
Imagine, for instance, you open your inbox in the morning and there are thirty emails vying for your attention. You’re in a rush to go through them, so you do a quick visual scan.
You spot one subject line that asks:
Are you fed up of being ripped off by the bank?
You’re actually very happy with your bank, so you think ‘no’ and that email is deleted.
The copywriter has failed in their mission.
It’s as quick as that.
Alternatively, in such a situation that you DO feel you’re being ripped-off by your bank you’d think ‘yes, I am fed up’ and then that email is deleted.
It’s as quick as that.
The copywriter has failed in their mis-
Why would you delete the email when you are fed up of your bank ripping you off?
Because even though you agree with the sentiment, the subject line merely asking the question doesn’t do anything to suggest opening the email will help you stop being ripped-off.
Oh, you thought it inherently suggested that?
People don’t have much time for ‘inherent’ meaning.
Most likely readers aren’t going to give you that much thought. So don’t pretend like they are.
As I said before, people are in a rush. You have a matter of seconds to get a reaction and such a generic question won’t work half as well as it should.
Yet this kind of question is used so often in copywriting – for subject lines, for headlines, for so many things.
It’s a real shame.
Don’t add to the back catalogue of failed question copy.
At least, don’t be so damn lazy and generic.
I mean, don’t get me wrong…
There are rare occasions when a closed question that relies on the natural curiosity of your reader will work well.
The fake meeting
One of the best I’ve seen in action is what I call ‘the fake meeting’ question.
It’s particularly effective as a subject line, but the concept can be adapted and used in other copy too.
How’s it work?
Well, when used as a subject line in an email, it’ll look something like this:
Are we still OK to have that chat on Friday?
If the email is from a person, rather than a company name, it’s even more effective, as you can imagine.
You see what’s going on here…
Sure you could answer yes or no to this, but more likely you’re going think: hold on, what chat on Friday? When did I arrange this? Er, I better check…
And bang… you open the email.
But alas, this is a rare exception to the rule.
More often than not, despite your better judgement and despite the fact questions always seem nice and easy and a quick way to pretend to be targeting your customers more directly…
The real answer is…
Where possible you should avoid using closed questions when trying to grab people’s attention. Instead, rearrange your question to form an intriguingly bold statement – it’ll almost always win.
P.S. Still not convinced you should pre-order a copy of my book, The Art of the Click?
Hmm. How about you see what Vikki Ross says about it:
“Glenn leaps away from meaningless jargon and does what all great copywriters do – he writes directly to the reader and as he or she speaks, so you glide through The Art of the Click easily. And you learn along the way with memorable techniques, fun explanations and entertaining anecdotes in what feels like an effortless but brilliant one-to-one masterclass.”
Vikki’s been copy chief for Sky, The Body Shop and Hotels.com – she knows her onions. And she’s among a small bucketload of advance readers who have all written very kind words about the book.
The evidence is mounting that the book is decent and will be useful for you.
I really think pre-ordering now would be a good idea. Go on…