Strategies & Tactics

How Fake Benefits Fail Both Readers and Communicators

January 3, 2019

[shutterstock]
[shutterstock]

When a hotel soap wrapper tells its user to “Clean your face,” I want to respond: “No, YOU clean YOUR face!”

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of fake benefits messages like these, which sound as if they convey the benefits of using a product but really don’t.
These fake benefits mirror the structure of benefits messages — “if you do this, then you’ll be better in some way” — but not their spirit.

To move someone to buy or do something, you’ll want to avoid them at all costs. Here’s how readers can spot these messages, and how communicators can amend them. 

1. No actual benefits

Yesterday, I received an email with this subject line: “Learn more about New Media Gateway.”

While this looks like an actual benefits statement — it starts with a verb and the implied “you,” after all — it’s really a fake. How do I know this? Its real subject is not the reader, but the communicator’s organization.

Instead of using your verb to point to your product, service, program or idea, write about what readers can do with your product, service, program or idea.

2. Vague, congratulatory statements

If you’re trying to spot a fake benefits message, then ask yourself this question: “Does it feel like I just won an award?”

Rather than tell the reader how their life will improve if they use a product or purchase a service, organizations often rely on vague statements that try to make you feel special for making a purchase:

  • “Congratulations on choosing us.”
  • “Reap many rewards.”
  • “Rely on our 75 years of experience.”
  • “Value the attention we pay to detail.”
  • “Appreciate our dedication to accuracy.”

Though these statements may imply a positive effect, they are hollow. Instead, write about how a reader’s life will be different because they chose you.

3. Use of imperative voice

In high school, we learned that the imperative voice is also the command voice: Go to your room. Make your bed. Take out the trash.

For organizations hoping to inspire action with their communications, don’t command — invite: Save money. Make money. Save time. Avoid effort.

This is because the command voice often involves tasks:

  • “Take our class.”
  • “Stop by our booth.”
  • “Attend our conference.”
  • “Subscribe to our e-zine.”
  • “Sign up for our webinar.”

Rather than tell readers what to do, let them know what they’ll get when they do it:

  • “Learn to double your income when you take our class.”
  • “Get a chance at a free Apple Watch when you stop by our booth.”
  • “Network with peers — and maybe even meet your next boss — when you attend our conference.”

The hardest part of crafting a benefits statement is, ironically, finding the benefit. So, dig in. Think. Don’t be satisfied with a statement like “Get our feature.” Learn enough about both the subject you’re writing about and your target audience to determine what the former will do for the latter.

Remember what you learned in kindergarten: When you cheat, you only hurt yourself. But when you cheat on benefits statements, you hurt yourself, your readers and your organization.

Copyright © 2019 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


Get the Word Out

Would you like to learn more techniques for writing benefits statements that move readers to act? If so, please join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on April 10–11 in Dallas. PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA18. APRs: Earn four maintenance points.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.

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