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How to avoid desperate copywriting

Marketing copy should connect with people in a persuasive and positive way, not sound like begging. To avoid that pitfall, there’s a simple question you should ask yourself constantly as you write and edit. To illustrate what it is, I want to share an unusually desperate marketing e-mail I got this week from a technology company.

Here’s the context. Recently I tested a new analytics program for this site. It was fine, but the features weren’t right for a blog, so I never finished setting it up. A few days later I got a follow-up e-mail from the company. (I’m omitting the name of the company because they don’t deserve a public shaming over this.) Take a look:

Hi ,
I noticed that you signed up for an account on **** about a week ago, but never sent any data to us. I was wondering whether it’s that you were having trouble integrating, are waiting for the right time, or just decided for one reason or another that **** wasn’t right for you. I’d love to be of service if possible, if you need any help figuring out what types of events to track or anything else. I’d also love feedback on anything you like or don’t like about ****. Anyway, feel free to reach out at any time,

I hope you have a good rest of your day.


First, let’s talk about all things this letter does well.

  • It knows its audience. (Tech customers usually respond well when you frame your communication as a dialogue between them and you.)
  • It’s short.
  • It’s polite.
  • It asks the reader to do one easy, specific thing (in this case, send feedback by e-mail).
  • It’s written in first person and it’s signed with someone’s name.

Yet even though this e-mail is a fine example of a casual, friendly customer message, when I read it I actually felt bad. It felt as if a nerdy kind had invited me to a party, and I wanted to be nice but I was pretty sure nobody else was going. The company sounds desperate.

Why desperate? First, the company appears too concerned about a fairly commonplace event—somebody failing to finish signing up for a free online service. Second, receiving a highly personalized e-mail from a company with which I had almost no relationship with made me read between the lines and assume they have very few users. Finally, the letter contains too many mealy phrases that indicate a lack of confidence: “for one reason or another,” “if possible,” “or anything else,” “anything you like or don’t like,” “anyway.”

Desperation is about the worst emotion to have associated with your brand. We’re social animals, and we’re attracted to success and popularity.

I think this company genuinely wanted customer input, and wrote the most honest, sincere e-mail they knew how to write. It’s by complete accident that they sound so desperate. They could have avoided this if they had asked themselves, or someone they trust, one simple question. It’s a question you should always have in the back of your mind when you’re writing:

“How does this make me sound?”

Good answers to that question include: clear, persuasive, confident, polite, respectful and friendly. But if you sound pleading, desperate, begging, insistant or wishy-washy, go back and rewrite. Otherwise you could be turning off people who might otherwise be on your side.

Image © lukaszfus/Shutterstock

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Copywriting, Technology

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