Building a better mousetrap


If you write copy for advertisements or social media in-house, you may have sometimes struggled to create content that both tells people what you do and persuades them to act.

It’s easy to tell people what we do, but it’s a whole other matter to make them care or want to buy from us.

Why? Because we usually speak in terms of our own interests. We say why we’re the best, or what we do differently, or that we treat our employees better than the competition. But these things rarely inspire action.

It’s like describing your dreams to another person — it’s so personal to you that it’s obviously interesting. But it’s so personal to you that the other person doesn’t care.

In their terms

We have to speak in terms of what our audience wants and cares about. As Dale Carnegie said, “the only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants.”

He went on, “There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it. Remember, there is no other way.”

There is no other way.

But that’s easy to say. How do you do it? First, follow Claude C. Hopkins’ example and adjust your proposition until it’s more appealing.

He said, “Ask a person to take a chance on you, and you have a fight. Offer to take a chance on him, and the way is easy. I have always taken chances on the other fellow. I have analyzed my proposition until I made sure that he had the best end of the bargain. Then I had something people could not neglect.”

Convincing others

Advertising legend Albert Lasker had a technique for getting what he wanted out of people, illustrated in this anecdote from The Man Who Sold America. Lasker wanted William Wrigley Jr. to buy him out of his stake in the Chicago Cubs:

He offered to pay Wrigley $200 a share for his interest in the Cubs—or he would accept $150 a share from Wrigley for his own holdings. When Wrigley began objecting to the $150 purchase price as “too steep,” Lasker reiterated his offer to buy out Wrigley for the steeper price. Trapped by Lasker's logic, Wrigley agreed to pay Lasker's asking price.

He would successfully use this tactic several times throughout his life, proving the power of considering the other person’s interest, even when trying to pursue your own.

Making a better offer

Your current challenge may be that your offer isn’t strong enough. In fact, you may not have an advertising problem, you might have a product problem. As a marketer, it’s within your purview to make the offer better, even if that means changing the product. Just because the product landed on your desk complete doesn’t mean it’s ready to see the light of day. Insist on a compelling offer first.

Once you have the offer, speak about it in terms your customer cares about.

As John Caples said, “The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!)”

Finally, remember that you can’t get someone to do something they don’t want to do. You have to give them reasons to approach you, reasons to care, and then the space to make a decision. Leave a piece of the puzzle for them to fill in.

As Howard Gossage said, “when baiting a mousetrap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.”

How can you leave room for the mouse? Here are just a few quick tips based on things we see often:

  • Avoid stock photos of people — they aren’t relatable, they repel.

  • If someone wants to learn more, let them — always have more info about your product or service on your website than you include in your ads or marketing material. Reward the interested with more information.

  • Write to individuals, not a mass of people. As Albert Lasker said, “The group we call ‘everybody’ is actually a collection of individuals, each mainly concerned about him- or herself. We must get down to individuals. We must treat people in advertising as we treat them in person.” Bob Levenson suggested writing “Dear Charlie” at the top of your ad (or, in today’s age, social media post), writing your content to appeal to that individual, and then erasing “Dear Charlie.”

  • In general, avoid photos of people on social media — the odds of an individual in a photo representing even a fraction of your total audience is slim. Let people imagine themselves in the photo by getting the other people out of it.

  • Internally, when bringing stakeholders into a project, leave at least some part of it undecided that they can provide input on. No one likes being told that something is happening that requires their involvement but not their advice.

  • Appeal to self-interest by sharing news, interesting facts, or easy-to-implement tips or solutions that will engage your audience and make them want to learn more. As Doc Searls said, “There is no demand for messages,” but as Hugh Macleod sagely responded, “The market for something to believe in is infinite.”

We hope these tips are helpful, and give you some ideas or inspiration for creating persuasive offers for your audiences.

Ready to do more marketing in-house? Get in touch if you’d like more support!