I have a confession to make…
Today’s post is a little different.
It’s about the time I murdered my cousin Jim with my bare hands, when I was just 11 years old.
Ok, of course I didn’t.
I made up that shock confession to demonstrate something called a Pattern Interrupt…
See, most readers of this blog don’t come here to read about my (fictional) murderous childhood.
(Those who do tend to be sorely disappointed, and don’t return (seeya, psychos!))
Haha. Anyway, point is:
That surprise intro demonstrates how the unexpected can grab your reader, and connect with them in a powerful way.
And copywriting is really all about connecting…
It’s not about ‘wordsmithing’, or ‘mysterious NLP hacks’ or other such deluded puffery.
No connection = no sale
Ouch! One-way ticket to Bounceville.
But when we’re just a little surprised – like when you read that confessional second paragraph – our synapses start firing…
…our hearts beat faster (not dangerously faster, unless the surprise is of the gun-to-head variety)…
…and our attention is instantly focused.
Suddenly, what’s for lunch and what’s chatterin’ on Facebook right now get pushed to the back of the mind.
The message in front of us becomes much more interesting.
This is good news for marketers, and it doesn’t have to be hard to surprise your reader at some point in your copy.
You can use a Pattern Interrupt at some point in your message, sure…
If you do, use it early on – when it’s likely to reach more of your readers.
But it doesn’t have to be ‘shocking’, or ‘controversial’ – you simply want to break your prospect’s pattern of expectations.
Creating simple, effective Pattern Interrupts
One way is to ask your reader a direct, personal question – as if you were speaking to them in-person.
If it’s a compelling enough question, it’ll be hard for them not to quickly answer it in their head.
Then you’ve got a little more of their attention – they’re more involved in your message.
Another way is to make a criticism of your product or service.
They won’t be expecting that…
Just be sure to quickly explain why it’s offset by an even more important benefit.
Or you could use a visual element…
Something unexpected but which triggers a sense of recognition – like how Unbounce often include screenshots from popular TV shows in their blog posts.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this, as I’m a grumpy old bugger and don’t like having to watch the same shows as SEEMINGLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FREAKIN’ WORLD (yes I’m looking at you, Breaking Bad.
Ok, I get it, it’s brilliant, yeah yeah.
I’ll watch it one day, promise.
When I get through watching all the other stuff I’m ‘supposed to’ watch. Dammit.
Ok, rant over.)
But a lot of Unbounce’s target market feel differently… and you gots to write for your target market, right?
So those Heisenberg, Walking Dead and GOT memes work.
They draw the reader in, and make a connection.
Thicken the plot
There are other ways to surprise your prospect, and keep ’em reading…
And other ways to use surprise to communicate something important that helps your message hit home.
Think about surprise moments in fiction and movies, and how powerful they can be.
Unexpected plot twists that stick with you – like in The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects. Or shocking moments like in Michael Haneke’s Hidden, for the movie buffs.
(Wow, there’s a surprise moment in that film you’re unlikely to forget…)
When your mind is primed for one thing and it gets another, a deeper imprint is formed by the memory.
And ok, you may not be looking to create Oscar-winning entertainment in your sales message, but it is possible – and effective – to leave your mark on a reader’s mind, and draw them a little closer to you.
Skip the cheesy ‘predictable surprise’
Ok, by a good ‘surprise’, I mean something that’s actually going to surprise your reader…
Hey, I didn’t think this amazing money-making widget would work, but then – surprise! – it did, and now, amazingly, I’ve got so much money I’m using $100 bills to wipe my ass…”
That’s just a formulaic humble-brag surprise that won’t convince anyone. We’ve all been to ClickBank and seen it done a hundred times.
We roll our eyes and move on.
So don’t do this to your prospects – they deserve better.
Stay the right side of believable, and make it specific
Check your feedback records for instances of customers telling you what they found surprising about using your product or service.
Maybe it helped them make an unexpected breakthrough…
Perhaps there was an interesting side-effect of the main benefit.
Or, think back to that moment of entrepreneurial discovery, when you put two unlikely components together that – weirdly – worked well, and BOOM: your product was born.
If you’re a service provider, how about the lightbulb moment when you first proved you could do what you do better than – or differently to – anyone else.
Look, you can call this engagement, or branding or any fancy marketing handle you want really…
Truth is, it’s really just a simple way of connecting your message to your prospect’s brain.
Not all copy connects – however hard we try, however long we waffle on about the product.
That often means you’re talking to the wrong audience…
Either that or you’re just talking “obscurantist blatherskite”.
But when a connection is made, it jolts your reader to attention, and can even stick with them after they’ve finished reading.
We all have the power to surprise…
But we don’t use it enough.
Especially in marketing, where we’re told to follow formulas, or repeat what’s proven to work, or stick to an established format.
So imagine if you added an element of surprise into your next sales page or email copy…
Would it hurt your conversions? I’m betting not.
The likely worst case scenario (unless your surprise is “Hey! I’ve sold your credit card details. Surprise!”)
…is that nothing happens, and conversions stay as they are.
But then, even if you don’t see a lift, you’ll probably have the consolation prize of better engagement:
More people see more of your message.
Which, in the long run, means they’re consuming more of your content and getting more familiar with your style, and your offer.
You’re still making a connection.
Think about it next time you’re crafting your sales copy…
Hey, can’t hurt to test, right?
You may even be pleasantly surprised.