A mysterious blog – for discerning readers only
You probably haven’t heard of The Mysterious Package Company. I hadn’t heard of them either, until one of their ads popped up on Facebook. On a whim, I clicked through to their website.
Here are some bits of their writing, and four clever comms tricks you can poach…
Their website copy
This is the first thing I saw on their website. This says we are exclusive. We are discerning. We are people of taste and intellect. It was free to join. So I thought, ‘do I want to be part of a mysterious, discerning, intellectually-exclusive club that is free from the shackles of financial servitude?’. Yes, I do. Please sign me up.
So I entered my email address. And I waited. And I started to wonder whether I was good enough to join a members-only private club. And then, after nearly a week, an email arrived. Turns out I’d signed up to a mailing list.
It is the only mailing list that I’ve ever voluntarily signed up to in my whole life. And there are two clever tricks at play that made me do it.
TRICK 1: Use framing to get the response you want
How would you feel if you’d been sold a debt card rather than a credit card? Not great, I’d imagine. Yet debt and credit are materially the same thing. The truth is, we all respond in different ways to products depending on how they’re ‘framed’.
Meat might be sold to you as 80% lean or 20% fat. It’s the same meat – and the fat content is identical. But the former sounds like a much more palatable option. This framing effect is exactly why muggins here ‘joined’ a members-only private club. That was actually a mailing list.
TRICK 2: Sell your product using your customers’ values – not your own
Here’s the easiest way to think about this one. I promise it’s not a joke:
How do you sell a gun to a pacifist? Tell them they’re taking a gun off the streets.
You haven’t just sold a gun. You’ve sold a reduction in violence, and that tallies exactly with the values of the person you’re selling to. That’s why, when a company tells me that I’m not buying a thing that comes in the mail – I’m buying taste, mystery, intellect, then I’ll buy taste, mystery and intellect. That’s because I think I have good taste and a sound intellect. I’m only a tiny bit ashamed about sharing that with you. Because chances are you think similarly. You may also think you’re a better-than-average driver. It’s called illusory superiority and it’s a proper cognitive bias.
Their subject lines
After signing up to the members-only-private club(!), I started getting emails. They looked like this:
Forgive me the shoddy screenshot. If you’re of an incredibly eagle-eyed disposition, you’ll notice that the subject line always starts with ‘wherein’. It’s a nice touch. Self-consciously archaic. The wordy equivalent of Mark Gatiss having a fully-working Victorian lab in his house. Eventually, ‘wherein’ starts to feel safe and familiar. And I don’t have to read anything else to know who it’s from. It reminds me of when Specsavers trademarked ‘should’ve’.
TRICK 3. Use labels consistently – they’re more than just proprietary
Labelling your emails, products, concepts or benefits consistently is often proprietary – a shortcut to instant recognition from your customers. But thorough and consistent product labelling works harder than that. It reduces cognitive load, so your readers don’t have to put effort into understanding what’s going on.
Imagine you’re a health insurer. In your comms, you use ‘policy’, ‘plan’, ‘scheme’ and ‘membership’ to talk about your product. You might not even notice you’re doing it. But your reader could be wondering if all those words mean the same thing. Or if they’re all different things. They might even be wondering if there’s a latent hierarchy at play.
Unless you get your labelling sorted, they’ll be wondering a long time. And yet, if I had a quid for every time I’ve fixed labelling in product copy, I’d have enough money to buy a reasonably priced package holiday somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Here’s an excerpt from a standard Mysterious Package Company email:
My dearest Clê,
As ink from my pen seeps into the page and captures my thoughts on this hot July evening, two thoughts come to mind. First, the silhouette of trees against a night sky causes me to wonder how darkness upon darkness can create such a mesmerising design. How can something so real also seem so magical?
All their emails read like this. And love them or loathe them, they’re utterly distinctive.
TRICK 4: Get noticed with a distinctive tone of voice
This particular tone of voice – convoluted, archaic, lyrical – is fairly out there. But for every person who hates an out there tone of voice (I’m looking at you, innocent smoothies), there’s a load of people who love it (I’m still looking at you, innocent smoothies). And all those people will sit up and take notice.
A distinctive tone of voice helps you stand out from the competition. That’s really important in crowded markets. Let’s take airlines as an example. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly more or less the same planes, to more or less the same US airports, for more or less the same price. The difference is their tone of voice. This is Virgin: ‘Hey long legs, fancy some extra legroom on your flight?’ And here’s BA: ‘We recommend that you reserve your seat as early as possible to get the one you want’. Huge difference. And for some people, the reason they’d buy one over the other.
The funny thing is, it doesn’t take much to stand out in some sectors. Take financial services. It’s a world characterised by mind-boggling complexity and incomprehensible jargon. It’s also a world that affects all of our lives. So why, when auto-enrolment will be making investors of us all, does the industry talk about funds like this?
‘An investment fund is a supply of capital belonging to numerous investors used to collectively purchase securities.’
On the other hand, here’s how we did it for Whitbread’s auto-enrolment scheme: ‘A fund is a way to invest, where lots of people’s money is put together to be invested.’
You may not like it. But for the sector, it’s distinctive. It sounds like a person talking – and that’s frighteningly rare in regulated industries. It could make all the difference to someone who’s navigating a pension scheme for the first time.
Start stealing the tricks…
The point to all this, is not that every brand has to make itself mysterious, or start its sentences with ‘wherein’, or write emails pondering the mystery of existence. But EVERY brand can find a way to make its offer, its labels and its voice work for them. So:
- Think about your product – how are you framing it? Test it on someone who knows nothing about it, and ask them: ‘How does this make you feel?’ Change up your framing and ask them again.
- Are you talking about the values you care about? If you are, ask yourself whether your customers care about those things too.
- Dig out your emails, webpages and brochures – are you talking about your product consistently across all of them? If not, get your red pen out right now.
- And finally, grab a piece of your comms and take the logo off. Do the same with a few other brands in your sector. Then put them all in front of your colleagues. Can they spot which one’s yours? If not, it might be time to think about your tone of voice.
That’s it! Let us know how you get on.