Marketing, copywriting and the instinct for balance

by Tom Albrighton 22 July 2009 Copywriting

Once political parties have been in opposition for a while, they inevitably start campaigning on a ‘change’ agenda, almost regardless of policy. It appeals to our instinct for balance. Things have gone too far; they must be brought back into equilibrium. In the last US election, this was exploited by Barack Obama with his ‘Change we need’ and ‘Change we can believe in’ slogans.

Obama and Bush both know how to exploit our instinct to balance things out

Obama and Bush both know how to exploit our instinct to balance things out

This instinct is a double-edged sword for marketers. On the downside, it can lead to losing business if your customer decides they want a change. During my stints at a contract publisher and a design agency, we often found that long-standing, apparently satisfied clients would suddenly switch to another supplier ‘for no reason’. Of course, there was a reason: they fancied something new and different, and there was nothing we could do about it.

For B2B service providers, this is a very real hazard. First you identify what works (or what the client likes). Then you repeat it, refining your approach and maybe delivering economies of scale. But then, after a while, you come to be seen as staid, uncreative or inflexible. You’re their best friend, but they’re looking for a bit of romance. So you’re left weeping softly while they ride off into the sunset with a dashing new supplier.

But the same thing works for you if you’re drumming up business. The marketing copywriter can provoke, cultivate and exploit the customer’s restlessness simply by positioning a product or service as an alternative to something: the customer’s current choice, the default option or the market leader.

In NLP this is called ‘contrast reframing’: asking the question ‘what if things were different?’ or ‘how could they be different?’Your product (you say) is great; theirs (you imply) is dull, outmoded or inferior. Simply by offering an alternative to what has become familiar, you can generate interest in the reader’s mind.

For example:

Ordinary kitchen roll is great for little spills. But Soakitup is completely different. It effortlessly mops away just about anything, from juice and wine through to sticky stuff like oils, sauces and even ink – without leaving a stain!

The alternative you offer needn’t even be better, just different. Many people will still respond sympathetically, as George W. Bush knew when he suggested that US students should ‘hear both sides’of the science v intelligent design debate. The urge for balance can be stronger than reason.

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