Here’s a tip, better copywriting

“First time seeing this at restaurants…,” posted Mrs Monroe, “way to guilt customers to spend more”.

Commenters added: “tipping is a sham”, “servers don’t really get that money”, “I hate seeing this at…”. Some suggested subterfuge, a special and spiteful $0.01.

It’s too bad, and a chance for good copy.

There are many restaurants because there are many restaurant jobs: fast, casual, formal, status, and so on. Diners want to feel good.

Broadly, businesses like restaurants, sell two things: steak and sizzle. The tangible, measurable, structural aspects are the steak: how fast, how good, how much. The intangible, spiritual, and attitude components are the sizzle: how nice, how friendly, how fun. Intangibles can be measured, though not as easily (so we often don’t).

Part of a place’s sizzle is their copywriting, even when it’s time to pay.

The good. ‘Good’, ‘Great’, ‘Wow!’. Translating feelings (this service was good) into actions (tip 15%) helps customers. People, like rivers, follow the least resistance. Make it easy. Also good are the calculated tips.

The bad. (1) Misuse leads to dislike. One commenter claims their local Taco Bell uses this same interface – tips and all. That’s fine, I guess, but doesn’t jive with the TB strategy. Hence the frustration.

Also interesting is why Mrs. Monroe feels guilty. Was this a serve-yourself place? Family style? Buffet? There’s a disconnect between her expectations and experiences.

(2) People like choices. There’s technically thousands of tip amounts, but we only see six. Especially with money, people do not like to be told what to do. Better would be a slider like for a phone’s brightness, or a knob like for a stereo’s volume.

(3) ‘Best Service Ever!’ is a twenty-five percent tip? Whoever programmed that has not (or forgot about) eating out with kids. Best ever deserves more. Setting this upper amount also frames the range a customer sees.

(4) ‘Skip’ could be ‘Skip and speak with the manager’. This forces diners to match their words and actions. Was it bad, or just a bad mood?

The confusing. None.

This image lacks context: the quality, service, and kind of meal, the representativeness of the commenters, the individual’s profile. None of what’s written may be a solution. But thinking through the options might get to one.

Good copy sits within the broader bucket of communication which sits within strategy which works best when the sub-actions align.

Copying the Inflation Buster

I don’t check my home equity every day, goes a joke among the Vanguard-Buffett-DCA crowd, why should I check my stock portfolio? It’s a riff on the availability heuristic: if I think it, it’s important.

‘Home’ is super available. Vacation rentals, of someone’s home. A chunk of net worth is home. Neighbors move. During Covid we were stuck in our homes. People began to work from home. After Covid the home market exploded. After that rates ran up. ‘Home’ is everywhere. 

Good copywriting, said Bob Bly, “enters the conversation people have in their mind.” Let’s look at a good Rocket Mortgage ad.

Transcript: “Buying a home? Rocket mortgage will cover one percent of your rate for the first year at no cost to you, saving you hundreds even thousands. With Inflation Buster that means more mini-vacations, a lot more lattes, and more date nights. Now imagine if rates drop within three years of your home purchase. You get exclusive savings when you refinance at that new lower rate. It’s more cash in your pocket. Save when you buy today and refinance tomorrow. Visit inflationbuster.com to get started.”

The good. Rapid fire: It’s not a house, it’s a home. One percent is a nice whole number, and worth more (psychologically) than 0.99999999%. First year… appeals to our myopia. More mini-vacations… highlight the opportunity cost. At no cost to you, and if rates drop… avoids our ambiguity aversion. Visit… as a call to action. 🧑‍🍳 😘

The bad. None!

The interesting. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this video is good. 

We’ve tracked ‘average’ monthly home payments (1971-2022). On a four-hundred-fifty-thousand dollar home, Inflation Buster saves about $200 a month. Put another way, it’s a year of payments on a four-hundred-thousand dollar house instead of the more expensive one. None of that factors into this ad. It’s not the customer’s language. 

Interest rates and home prices are not the important metrics. Only monthly payment matters. That’s the conversation in this ad.

Bad sales

When Labor Day Sales are bad.

All actions are homeotelic or heterotelic.

Good business strategy is homeotelic, single actions work toward multiple goals. Aldi has a good strategy. Dominos has a good strategy. Trinny of London has a good strategy.

Good strategy balances what’s made, how it’s delivered, and how it’s communicated: product, placement, promotion. Aldi uses private labels to control the product, small footprint stores to sell from, and focused promotion. Those fit. 

What does a business do well and what do customers want well done? Organizations answer these questions and the best organizations do so in a homeotelic way. This is an example from my local pickleball store: 

For today and the next two days only (ends Wednesday 9/7)…we are offering a special Labor Day 20% off sale on Bags & Apparel and 10% off all paddles (and receive a FREE Paddle Cover with your paddle purchase).

Go to our website by CLICKING HERE.

For Bags and Apparel, use discount code LaborDay20 at checkout

For Paddles, use discount code LaborDay10 at checkout and receive a FREE paddle cover too.

NOTE:  You can only use one discount code at a time, so if you are buying bags/apparel and a paddle you will need to place two (2) separate orders.

If you know what you want and want to go directly to the page, here’s the quick (direct) links:

Bags > CLICK HERE

Apparel > CLICK HERE

Paddles > CLICK HERE

Any questions, email 

The good: Scarcity drives urgency and attracts attention. For the I’ve been thinking about this group, this email drove sales. The free paddle cover is good too. 

The bad: (1) Discounts are heterotelic: more sales less brand value. All value is perceived value and premium products – like these paddles – shouldn’t be discounted. Price is a proxy for value. Here it is lowered. Freebies, gifts, ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ maintain the core product value and have other benefits – see below. 

(2) Why buy? Here customer language shines. Buy a bag and we will send three balls because you’ll have the room. Or, when you miss-hit at the end of the day your paddle is too heavy. Or, summer is winding down, get a long-sleeve shirt while they last. There’s nothing in this copy other than CLICK HERE TO TRANSACT NOW. As outsiders we don’t know the customer’s language, but a business owner should. 

(3) Hats, shirts, and towels retail for thirty dollars. These lightweight packable items are perfect for shipping, have good margins, and are an easier part of profitability. But they are also a form of CAC. Reducing profitability per item raises the revenue, a homeotelic approach. People pay to be walking billboards. These items are great thank you gifts, with the purchase of a premium paddle. Gifts also seed new product lines and delight consumers.

The confusing: CLICK HERE. Multiple discount codes. 

Labor Day Sales (like this) raise revenue but reduce brand value. Labor Day Sales are superficial and reactionary. Labor Day Sales are heterotelic, not homeotelic. Labor Day Sales should follow, not precede, Alchemy

Here’s an excellent example, received around the same time. 

Ridge speaks the customer’s language visually: my wallet is too fat. Why buy? Does it carry my cards and cash? Oh, it does. It’s the best way ever. Not ‘best’ via test, but ‘best’ is expert language, like someone judged wallets and this is indeed the best. Don’t CLICK HERE like a child, instead shop our wares like an adult. There’s no sale, but there are premium products (good, better, best) and because value is relative, ‘good’ appears discounted to ‘better’ and ‘best’.

Outsider commentary is a challenge. It’s another perspective, unaffected by sunk costs, and angled away from the status quo. However it’s also ignorant of successes, goals, and pesky problems like ‘oops we made too much’. Broadly sales are bad unless they are baked into a business’s strategy (like Domino’s Pizza).

Homeotelic, introduced here, applies everywhere. If someone learns to cook at home they save money, eat healthier, and gain skills. If someone joins a gym they meet new people and get healthier.

Hello Fresh Copy

We were HelloFresh customers. The food is good enough. The recipes are simple enough. The logistics are easy enough. Is the copywriting convincing enough?

(Received August, 2022)

The good. This card has two goals: get our attention and convey ease. The ‘$155 OFF’ attracts attention and interest. The ‘3 surprise gifts’ is good too. Gifts are better than discounts because they are a CAC Trojan Horse, seed additional purchases, and delight the customer. Businesses undervalue gift giving. 

The bad. ‘Packed schedule?’ & ‘We’ve got your back.’ & ‘…more time around the table with fam this fall!’ Terrible copy. There’s no story. 

Persuasion is about ease. One form of ease is the story we tell ourselves. I’m a busy mom/dad and about to be busier because school is back/holidays are coming/ summer camps and vacations and need help to make food that is cheap/quick/tasty/easy. Help me tell myself this story. It’s like mad libs.

One idea:

Erin, back to school? We’ve got your supplies. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time eating your favorite foods with your favorite people. 

Or: 

Erin, back to school, back to the office, back to the store for more folders, then candy, then gifts. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend more time at home with the family than at the store getting their groceries. 

Or:

Erin, what’s for dinner tonight? Something Quick, Easy, and Healthy for the whole family? Remember how easy it was to have everything delivered, prepared, and ready to go? Come back to Hello Fresh and save $155.

Surprisingly there’s no indication that we were customers. People are customers for a reason. HelloFresh must find the JTBD and use that language for good copywriting.

The interesting. That QR code. Tools work best in the right conditions. Restaurant menus could be great for QR codes. It’s interesting here. Getting the app must be a point of friction, this may solve that. 

Good copywriting begins with curiosity. Businesses must talk to customers, identify their priorities, create prototypes, get feedback, and work out the kinks. Then they can use the customer’s words to present a solution. 

It’s hard to crique copywriting without knowing the goal. Maybe this works. Maybe the ‘$155’ is the most important thing. Maybe – but maybe not. 

Remember Rule #27:You can’t sell anybody anything, they must discover they want it.

Sweet words

Successful copywriting uses the customer’s language. Find out what, how, when, and why the customer thinks – and the words they use.

One accent of customer language is certainty. We dislike not knowing. Not knowing feels risky. It’s why this bag of sugar is so sweet: 30 calories per serving. Diets are trends. Eat this or that? Now or later? Are health bars actually healthy? Is sugar bad for me? It’s too much! But this simple bag of sugar puts it in the customer language: calories, and not that many. 

Road construction is another example, only inverted. Fines doubled when workers present. I don’t know how much, but I certainly don’t want it to be doubled! In this case, the natural dislike of the unknown is magnified and aids in the messaging to slow down. 

This hook helped Jaws (1975) set the mold for summer blockbusters. It was a difficult movie to make, in part due to “that sonofabitchin’ bastard rig” (the shark) which kept breaking down. The footage was such a mess that during editing Steven Spielberg used barren shots of the water along with John Williams’ score. That was great because rather than seeing the shark, audiences imagined the shark, a worse fate. 

Organizations can remove or introduce anxiety in their customer communications. How much depends. On what? On what the customer thinks. 

We talked about Jaws’ role in the evolution of the movie business model in this post, Batman BATNA. Contact too:

Start with No (book review)

In his 2016 book, Never Split the Difference Chris Voss suggests Jim Camp’s, 2011 book, Start with No

To Voss, ‘no’ is progress. Too often ‘yes’ is said for appeasing purposes and ‘maybe’ means we haven’t clarified what’s important. But ‘no’ is firm, it’s progress. 

Camp explores this idea deeper. He, like Voss, dislikes win-win negotiations. First, they lead to unnecessary compromises. In an effort to let both sides ‘get something’ negotiators compromise too much and on the wrong things. A 10% discount in exchange for a longer contract is good only if it’s important. Too often, Camp writes, people compromise on things which don’t matter. 

Second, win-win is considered fair. Who judges what’s fair? There’s no master evaluator. There are ethics though. Camp’s model is analogous to sports. Prepare, train, and play as hard as you can within the rules for the full period of time. Once the event is over, shake hands and respect your opponent. 

Third is the idea Voss runs with, a ‘no’ is progress, it’s “a decision that gives everyone something to talk about.” 

If ‘no’ is so important, why write a book? This coulda been a tweet. 

Well, no. There’re better ways to get to ’no’. And this book is really about something else entirely.

Our second house was a for sale by owner. A nice family with a nice home. We sniffed around each other like dogs with our initial questions and when asked about his timeline for building their next house the owner said, ‘I’m in no rush, I’ve got a house now’. 

That was good. He conveyed un-neediness. Being needy is Camp’s first warning. Do. Not. Need. A. Deal. Both Camp and Voss frame themselves against the classic negotiation book, 1981’s, Getting to Yes. Their books, they say, highlight what GtY gets wrong. Fair. But Getting to Yes presents the BATNA: best alternative to a negotiated agreement. That’s essential to un-neediness. 

The heart of un-needines, and of good negotiations is the secret message of the book. Start with No is really about our ego

Being needy is ego. Camp’s second rule is to act like Columbo. Disarm the adversary. In other words, put ego aside. Don’t try to be impressive, smart, or IN CHARGE. Don’t elucidate and don’t use words like elucidate. Camp warns about trying to be liked (chapters 2, 3), to be smart (6), or only talking about your side (4, 7, 8, 9). 

It’s hard to Start with No when you start with yourself.

The role of ego varies in size and scope. A successful negotiator finds the right balance of their own and their adversary’s point of view. This is the root of Camp’s system. It’s also the heart of copywriting and JTBD

Good negotiations are difficult and rare, Camp writes. That makes sense! To be a successful negotiator (according to Camp) we have to check our ego – a problem humans have been dealing with for hundreds of years. 

Camp tells a lot of ‘me’ stories. They’re about his big deal big deals, his awesome son, his business. It’s a little much (Voss’ stories are better). But hidden in those is a wonderful exploration of our ego and what we can do about it. 

Ego is tricky because like picking our nose, we don’t notice. It’s part of us. But when someone contrasts another way it makes us pause and consider that. For instance, “the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop is your ability to ask questions” or “The self-image of the individual in the selling role traps him or her in a neediness mode and often leads to bad deals.” That frames our behavior and leads to questions like do I ask enough questions or am I needy because I want to feel smart, impressive, helpful, or whatever?

Camp’s book introduces his perspective, and that’s a good start to good negotiations.

Glad, not sad, well clad dads and grads

I do not like these words and frames, I do not like the discount games, I do not like the way this stands, I do not like this ad’s brand. 

Apologies to Dr. Seuss, but this dad and grads ad from Twillory in the Money Stuff newsletter is just sad. 

(I’ll stop now)

The problem with a ‘Dads & Grads Sale!’ is that people don’t really want to save money on these gifts. Father’s Day and graduation are special. There’s nothing people get for their dads that reflects their role. A coffee machine or picture frame or dress shirt doesn’t say ‘Thanks, I love you’ for all the conversations, miles, and smiles of our lives. But we try. 

Except deals. Dads and grads shopping is a ‘you get what you pay for situation’. Reframe it. If Mother’s Day flowers were half off would you still do it? It’s different, right? 

Unless they’re a deal finder (Hi Uncle Frank!) there’s no utility in the discount. Discounts do push action – but there’s already a deadline, Father’s Day! 

The wasted space on ‘discount’ should focus on value. The Twillory reviews have good wording for this: breathable, my old suits don’t cut it anymore, my new favorite work shirt, most comfortable shirt I’ve ever owned, great for road trips, stretch and comfortable, these products now dominate my wardrobe.  

That language is what the ad should say. 

Follow the link and there’s a two for X sale. That’s good. It could have been the messaging: buy for you and dad. That’s a way to rewrite the ad. Another:

October 27, 2021: @Twillory amazing customer service.  Performance pants I ordered were too short. Within a day, and before receiving my return, you shipped out the new size. No company of any size has ever done that. Always told I need to wait. Trust your customers like Twillory!!!

Just copy a tweet. This uses the language of the customer and reduces hesitation about a new brand with a new fabric. Or:

Sponsored Content: Father’s Day is June 19. Dads and Grads need help looking good. Don’t buy whatever polo and pants – buy something nice. Whether for the graduate’s first job, internship, or six weeks backpacking Europe or for dad’s round of golf, Sunday service, or dinner with mom – buy something nice. Order by June 24th for free shipping on orders of two shirts or more. 

The angle here is that the customer is not the consumer. Also, the discount shouldn’t be for the merchandise directly. Free shipping or socks or gifts work better because they retain the product’s value. 

All of the parts of the ad are true, but they could be better (copy)written. Second consider the ‘job’ of the gift giving (don’t be cheap, buy something nice) and of the gift (wear this in these circumstances). Happy early Father’s Day to all the dads out there. 

This could be wrong. Their strategy may suggest this copy. But it feels inferior and stiff unlike their shirts.