Back in December, in High School English vs. Marketing Copy that Sells (Part 2), I touched briefly on the importance of using “you” when communicating the benefits of a product or service in your marketing copy — regardless of what your high school English teacher taught you.
(In case you don’t remember anything your high school English teacher taught you: first person = I/we; second person = you; third person = he/him, she/her, they/them, it.)
Recently, the second-versus-third-person issue came up in one of my projects, an e-book I was editing. The client, who happens to be both an excellent writer and a savvy marketing professional, asked if I thought we should avoid references to “you” to sound more professional.
My answer was an emphatic NO.
The project in question is a business how-to book that will be published as an e-book, and I feel passionately that the warmer, more personal, arm-around-the-shoulder, “you-can-do-this-and-here’s-how” tone created by the use of the second person is essential to a book of this type.
But what about business-to-business websites, corporate brochures, or product marketing literature? you might ask.
Okay, those aren’t, on the surface, quite the same as a how-to book. But when you think about it, they have something in common.
The whole point of your B2B marketing communications is — or certainly should be — to communicate the benefits of your products and/or services to a potential customer.
It stands to reason, then, that the driving theme behind the copy ought to be a how-to message to the prospective customer. How to: save time, save money, increase productivity, improve safety, reduce risk, do their job better, become the hero of their workplace, or whatever other benefit you can reasonably assure them they will reap from using your product or service.
After all, business people are still people. And generally speaking, they’re busy, so you don’t have much time to capture their interest.
The use of “you” engages the reader faster and more effectively than hearing about what your products or services do for generic others referenced in the more distancing third person.
In fact, it’s been suggested that the word “you” in marketing copy serves psychologically as a substitute for the reader’s name, and that’s why it’s so effective. And if you’ve ever paid close attention to a good salesman’s technique, you’ll have noticed that they always make sure to address you by name when they’re talking to you.
Of course, if you pay attention to salesmen, you’ve probably also noticed the ones who take a good technique and go way overboard with it by using your name three times in every sentence, so they come across as phony, smarmy, and just plain irritating.
Don’t be that guy in your copywriting.
All good things in moderation, including the judicious use of “you” in B2B marketing copy!