Write in verbs, not nouns

Your conference name is not a benefit

Remember Verb, the superhero on “Schoolhouse Rock”? He was great because he could do so many things.

Write in verbs, not nouns

Show readers in action Write about readers using your product, service, program or idea — not about the product, service, program or idea itself. Image by Drew Graham

His theme song went like this:

I get my thing in action (Verb!)
To be, to sing, to feel, to live (Verb!)
That’s what’s happenin’
I put my heart in action (Verb!)
To run, to go, to get, to give (Verb!)
(You’re what’s happenin’)

Well, guess what? Benefits are verbs, not nouns. So when you’re writing about things, you’re not writing about benefits.

“Would you rather read a letter labeled ‘Dues Notice’ or ‘Get many new support, educational and marketing opportunities for the coming year’?” asks Jeffrey Gitomer, principal of BuyGitomer Inc.

Your conference isn’t a benefit. Your speakers aren’t benefits. Your product isn’t a benefit. Neither are your services, programs or ideas.

“It’s not about what you do,
but about what I can do after you’re done.”
— Alan Weiss, rock-star consultant and principle of Summit Consulting

What those things will do for the reader is the benefit.

And that takes Verb.

Put Verb in the headline.

The headline writer for this conference ad almost got it right. The deck — that essential one-sentence summary under the headline — is a benefit. How do we know? It starts with a benefits-focused verb:

Revitalize your sexuality
and justify your chocolate obsession

Sounds good to me. But the headline — “Women’s Health Conference” — is a yawner. So is the tertiary head naming the speakers. That’s because the conference and speakers are features, not benefits.

Write in verbs, not nouns

Think verb, not noun Write about what people can do differently — “revitalize,” “justify” — not how you’re going to help them do it (conference).

Here’s a headline that works, from a Recreation Products Insurance brochure:

Rev Up Your Sales.
Crank up volume.
Drive in profits.
Make a splash.
Launch more business.

I don’t know what it is, but I want two. (Hey! Why do you think  Eat, Pray, Love was such a successful book?)

And here’s a headline that doesn’t work, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

2005 Annual Appeal.

But that’s not the worst “appeal” I’ve ever received. Once, when checking into a hotel, I saw a placard at the front desk offering room upgrades and other goodies for a modest additional fee. The headline:

Upsell Offer.

I passed.

Put Verb in the display copy.

Want to get your readers’ attention? Write in benefits, not features — especially in the display copy.

And that takes Verb, not Noun.

(Thanks to Tellabs communicator Ted Meister for reminding me about Verb.)

  • Think Like a Reader

    Move people to act

    It’s counterintuitive, but true: The product is never the topic. The program is never the topic. The plan is never the topic. The topic is never the topic. The reader is always the topic.

    Think Like a Reader in Dallas

    Indeed, the secret to reaching readers is to position your messages in your audience’s best interests. (Most communicators position their messages in their organization’s best interests. Which is fine, as long as you’re talking to yourself.)

    Move readers to act with a four-step process for giving people what they really want.

    At Catch Your Readers — our two-day hands-on persuasive-writing master class on Oct. 2-3 in Dallas — you’ll learn a four-step process for moving readers to act by giving them what they really want. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Take advantage of the formula readers use to determine which messages to pay attention to (and which to toss).
    • Tap two rewards of reading you can use to boost audience interest in your message.
    • Answer the No. 1 question your reader is asking, regardless of your topic, medium or channel.
    • Make a two-minute perspective shift to focus your message on the value to readers — not on “us and our stuff.”
    • Use a three-letter word that magically makes your message more relevant to your readers.

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