I have just started reading Roald Dahl’s books. I don’t mean for the first time. But my daughter is upgrading her reading preferences from That’s Not My Duck to stories like The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me. Hurrah!
I bought the entire Roald Dahl collection before she was born, and I’m excited that she’s (almost) old enough for us to enjoy them together.
But, I have a confession.
A lot of the stories are new to me.
I mean, I’ve read many of them. The BFG, The Twits, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches for example. But, there are a bunch of Roald Dahl books that I’ve never even heard of. Esio Trot*? It means that when I’m reading the stories aloud, it’s the first time my eyes have traversed those words.
And you know what? Reading these books is so damned easy. I never stumble. I’m not stuttering or taking a moment to read ahead. The words jump off the page and out of my mouth.
That’s brilliant writing if you ask me, and exactly what we should be striving for in our business copywriting. So, this is the Roald Dahl Guide to persuasive copywriting.
He writes for his audience
His children’s books are for… children. Surprise! More often than not, kids are the main characters, the smart ones and the heroes. Grown-ups are often the villains or just plain stupid. His stories aren’t patronising or preachy. He speaks the language of his readers, in all its silly, wonderful glory.
Speak to your target customers in the language they use. If your audience uses specific jargon, use it too! If they don’t, then don’t. If you’re not sure how they talk, pay attention to the words they use on social media and in online forums. Note the language they use to express their pain and their joys.
It’s important that the copywriting tone of voice connects the brand voice and the customers’ voice. And be sure it’s consistent.
He uses simple language
One of the biggest misconceptions about simple language is that it’s dumb. I’m not talking about dumbing down. Even though Dahl’s books are for children, he treats his readers with respect. He just doesn’t use overly complex language because he doesn’t need to!
Simple does not mean dumb. It means straight-forward and easy to follow. Ten-dollar words do not make your copy sound more ‘professional’. Unnecessarily complicated language alienates readers. No one likes to admit that they don’t really understand a word or sentence. They just quietly click away, never to return.
The big challenge you have as a copywriter is convincing clients to leave that kind of language out of the copy you’re writing. How? Simply explain that your goal is to make the copy as easy to read and understandable as possible. No more, and no less. When you do that, the words flow into the customer’s brain without a second thought.
His tone is very conversational
Dahl’s stories are written to be read aloud. Even when you’re reading them to yourself, you can hear a story being read to you.
A conversational tone of voice uses short sentences, contractions, exclamations and real language. It’s easy to read and understand, and it strikes a more intimate chord because it feels like a real person is talking.
A conversational tone of voice isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to copywriting. There is a lot of range, just like our own styles of talking. At one end of the spectrum, you have hyper-conversational and chatty. At the other end, you have a slightly more formal and deliberate tone.
The key to nailing it is imagining the right person talking.
He doesn’t shy away from bad stuff
One of the things I had forgotten about Dahl’s stories is that horrible things sometimes happen in them. Parents die and kids are sent to live with scary relatives. People are not who they appear to be, and uncertainty is common. But without these things, great endings aren’t possible.
One of the many reasons the Pain-Agitate-Solve (PAS) copywriting formula is so effective is that we pay more attention to negatives than positives. The more vividly you can paint the pain, the more you demonstrate that you understand. As people read your description, they feel like you’re tapping into the conversation going on in their head. And that’s a fast track to trusting you.
He empowers his readers
In Dahl’s stories, the kids are usually the heroes. They figure out what’s really going on and save the day with their smarts and their hearts. And, we root for them! When children read those stories, they believe they too have the power to save the day.
I know that because that’s how I felt when I read these stories as a child.
Whether you’re writing for a financial advisor, a software provider or an events company, try to empower the audience to feel in control of the decision they’re making. Let your copywriting be a helpful guide along their journey to meeting their challenge.
Here we are at the end. I’d love to know your thoughts. And your favourite Roald Dahl story. I’m reserving judgement on my favourite until my daughter and I have worked our way through them all again.
*An awesome story about a pet tortoise. And love.