Tuesday, 6 July 2010

How England’s World Cup failure could help your business

By Jon Ryder

It’s the World Cup semi-finals tonight, and England aren’t there because they’re too tired.

That’s not to say they’re missing it because they fancy an early night.

The reason they won’t be playing is that, according to their manager, they didn’t have the legs for international football.

After being hammered by Germany a couple of weeks ago, Fabio Capello must have been asked a hundred times: “Why have England crashed out of the World Cup?”

For the first 60 or 70 times, he would have said the reason was that the players weren’t good enough.

A valid answer, but that’s not going to wash with the dirty newspapers. The reporters probably kept asking over and over, hoping for a quote they could do something with.

So eventually, Capello cracked, and said maybe the players were tired after a long domestic season.

The next day, the papers of course screamed: ‘Fab’s Pathetic Excuse: Rooney Was Tired.’

He was forced into making excuses, then hung out to dry for doing so.

It may actually have been worse.

A journalist could have asked him if he thought the England players were tired because they play longer seasons than other nations. He said yes, because that’s the only answer he could give, and the headline wrote itself.

This isn’t a football blog, so it doesn’t matter if Fab was a flop.

But it’s interesting, because with your business, the way you ask your questions makes a big difference to the answers you get.

And this is particularly true when it comes to web testimonials.

Customers are more likely to buy your stuff if they can read a quote from another happy client on your website.

But most of the time, you’ve got to ask for these testimonials.

So to get the best ones, copy those journalists. Ask recent customers for a sentence or two, but be specific.

If you ask them if they like your Gizmo, you’ll get:

“I liked the Gizmo, so I bought one.” Hopeless.

But ask them why their new Gizmo makes them feel safer on horseback, and you could get:

“I’ve tried lots of other things, but the Gizmo is by far the best, and makes me feel safer on Peaches than ever before.” Much better.

Be careful though, because the way people tend to repeat your question in their answer can backfire.

Don’t ask them if the Gizmo provides them with an unrivalled ergonomic-equestrian delivery system, boosting their past-time satisfaction quota immeasurably.

They may just parrot all that back, and nobody’s going to believe that’s a genuine quote from a real customer.

People will think you’ve written it yourself, because, well, you have.

So don’t copy journalists exactly and force words into people’s mouths, but remember that if you don’t ask specific questions, you don’t get.


Jon Ryder of FullStopNewParagraph is a freelance copywriter who has spent the last 12 years crafting words for a living.

He has worked for the public, private and third sectors, both online and on paper. His clients include the NHS, government, and design agencies, as well as individuals who don’t have a big business to promote, but do have something important to say.

Today is the second of his guest posts for Mission Imbloggable.

See his site at: newparagraph.co.uk

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