Just Who Is Writing To Your Customers?

Ask any direct response copywriter and they’ll tell you to focus on the word “you” — and to avoid using the words “we” or “ours” like the plague.

In other words, good copy should be written in the second person tense, reading like a personal letter from one individual person to another.  After all, everything was written by a real person, and everything is read by just one single person at a time.

Or as David Ogilvy put it…

“I don’t write to the crowd. I try to write from one human being to another human being in the second person singular.”

Unfortunately many small business owners, entrepreneurs and even solo freelance professionals are just as guilty as large corporations in using “we” on their websites and sales materials.


My guess is the individual business owner is trying to build his credibility.  They want to look “bigger” than they are, just like a “real company.”

Perhaps they really believe their customers would rather purchase from a huge corporation, complete with layers of bureaucracy and bundles of red tape.  Or they may feel overly insecure about running a small operation.  This is an oddball notion however.  Would you prefer to deal with a company’s owner directly, or with a powerless underling on the bottom of the org chart?

In addition, many small business owners are often guilty of the ultimate copywriting no-no…making the copy about themselves and not about the prospect or reader. (Remember, all sales copy you write should answer this question in the minds of your readers: What’s In It For Me?)

Here are two quick reasons to drop the word “we” from your copywriting:

1) You are Not Fooling Anyone: Give your customer’s credit by not insulting their intelligence.  They know they are not dealing with GM, IBM or The Coca-Cola Company.   Chances are  getting a “personal touch” is exactly why they on the market in the first place.  As an individual you have the unique ability to really care about the welfare of your customers.  Why not leverage this by letting your customers know about it by writing to them personally?

2) Using “We” is Ineffective: To quote Joe Karbo about effective marketing “There are no magic words or phrases… there is only you… talking as best you can, in your own words, about how your product or service can solve the reader’s problem. There are only you and your reader, and if you communicate, you are on the road to success, but if you do not, you have failed.”

People prefer to deal with other people, not with big impersonal corporations or institutions. This is especially true today…think about the reputation of “Corporate America” and “Big Government” in light of the recent bailouts, Wall Street meltdown and BP oil spill.

Further, using “we” is often a tactic used by companies, institutions, governments and lawyers to shift blame and avoid individual responsibility.  For example: During the controversy surrounding the Toyota recall, Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota North America, penned a letter to mitigate the PR disaster. Sending a letter was a great idea from a PR perspective, but unfortunately the letter was filled with “we” and “our” so favored by lawyers — “we’re fixing this issue” and ” we’re doing everything we can.”

How much more effective and powerful would’ve it been if Lentz had written a personal letter about how sorry he was? That he personally was leading the recall effort?  And why on Earth would you want to give any hint of the impression of “avoiding responsibility” to your customers?

Notice how this post is written from me to you?  Would you be reading this far if “we” were writing about “us”? And if all of your competitors are writing in the “we” style, you’ll get even more market attention for taking a different road.

To sum up:  Don’t write from “us.”  Write from you.  To me.  And watch your responses soar!

PS: Here’s more of that money-quote from Ogilvy:

“I always pretend that I’m sitting beside a woman at a dinner party, and she asks me advice about which product she should buy and where she should buy it. So then I write down what I would say to her. I give her the facts, facts, facts. I try to make them interesting, fascinating if possible, and personal – I don’t write to the crowd. I try to write from one human being to another human being in the second person, singular. And I try not to bore the poor woman to death, and I try to make it as real and personal as possible. Incidentally, I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.”

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