Don’t send your readers to sleep with pigeonhole copywriting.

piI’m going to begin by giving you an illustration of what this post is all about.

Here are two ways in which a company might communicate the availability of its customer service agents.

Example #1: We are available to take your call between 8:00AM and 6:00PM.

Example #2: We’ll leap at the chance to take your call between 8:00AM and 6:00PM.

If I were to give you a brain scan while you read those two lines – and if I knew the first thing about brain scans, which I don’t – I might see zero brain activity while you read the first example, and a sudden spark of activity while you read the second.

How come? Because the language in the first example is so familiar, so expected and so simple, you really don’t need to think at all. Your mind recognizes the vocabulary, and sees that it’s all put together in a way you have seen and comprehended a hundred times before. No cognitive activity is required.

In the second example, the brain wakes up when it comes to the word “leap”.

It’s a like a WTF moment for your brain, because the appearance of that word is totally unexpected when talking about the availability of customer service agents.

All of a sudden your brain has come to life, is paying attention and working to extract the meaning from what I have written.

Well, as writers and copywriters we really, really want our readers’ brains to be paying attention. If they are not, they’ll daydream their way through to the end of our content or copy.

You have doubtless experienced this many times when you get to the end of a paragraph or a page and suddenly realize you can’t remember anything from what you were just reading.

The brain of your reader is either in coasting mode or attentive mode.

One way to understand this difference is to think of pigeonholes, like the ones in the photo above.

The very first time you come across a new phrase, like “content marketing”, you have to think about it and figure out what it means. Your brain then scribbles a note to itself and tucks that slip of paper into a pigeonhole. The next time you come across that phrase, your brain doesn’t have to think about it again. It simply refers back to its pigeonholed notes.

As a result, when you write content and copy that use predictable phrases or language in a familiar way, your readers don’t have to pay attention or think at all. They simply draw old notes from existing pigeonholes. Once again, no cognitive activity required.

Put simply, if you want your writing to jump off the page, you have to avoid any pigeonholes that already have slips of paper in them.

This doesn’t mean you have to get weird and crazy about how you write. You can break up a familiar phrase with the simple addition of an unexpected word, like “leap”.

You can see this in action in these two taglines I took from a couple of freelancers’ websites.

Tagline #1: Autoresponder copywriting for companies selling to women online

Tagline #2: Engage, excite and seal the deal, in the buying woman’s inbox

The first version is pigeonhole copy, from start to finish. It’s all familiar.

The second version kicks your brain into gear and makes you think. There is nothing about that line that already has a pigeonhole. Not the use of vocabulary, not the phrasing, not the flow and rhythm. Nothing is familiar. It’s wake-up time.

For myself, I always proof my copy on the lookout for pigeonhole copywriting.

And when I find it I change it.

Actually, I leap at the chance to change it.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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