Copywriting rule: good news first

Smiling guy

LessAccounting is an online, web 2.0-type of application that allows small businesses to track income, expenses and invoices. Since I am always on the lookout for tools that will make my small business life easier, I signed up for the beta and was therefore informed of the launch via email.

The website has a clean look and feel to it, and the following introductory text:

Things We Aren’t…

  • We choose not to function, act or even smell like Peachtree or Quickbooks.
  • Wesabe is great, we just aren’t anything like it. (But we do import from it!)
  • Freshbooks or Blinksale: we invoice, just no robust calendar time tracking functionality.
  • Not a robust CRM by any means, just check out Highrise by 37signals.
  • If you need a sales management component that is built for a large sales teams, try Salesforce.
  • We’re not an address book or a check registry.
  • No Calendar here, try iCal or Google Calendar.

On the one hand, I can see what they were trying to do here. They wanted to take a different approach that would get our attention. It got my attention alright – It made me wonder why all these other applications are better than LessAccounting, and what I would be missing out on by using LessAccounting. This is especially the case since I actually use one of the services they mentioned above: Highrise. I love Highrise, so if LessAccounting isn’t as good as Highrise in the CRM department, it makes me wonder what they’re lacking in the other departments. And they keep saying they’re not robust! Why? We want things that are robust, not half-baked!

Basically, a move to differentiate themselves by saying what they aren’t will probably leave many potential customers wondering why they should bother with them.

LessAccounting can save themselves by taking the above and making it into a table with two columns labeled “Things We Aren’t” and “Things we Are.” Then they can say “We aren’t anything like Peachtree” in the first column, and then explain their advantage in the second column, which could be something like “LessAccounting is a lightweight, online application that won’t weigh you down with a zillion extra options or features you don’t need.” Then the user can see exactly why they’re not like Peachtree – it’s not just because they can’t be, it’s because they choose not to be. And they need to say that they are robust – it’s just in their own useful way. (I never used their service, but if they’re trying to sell it, I’m assuming/hoping it has its strong points.)

Tom Chandler over at The Copywriter Underground explains how this principle is not just effective in the world of writing, but also in everyday life. He describes an incident where he had to report an injury to someone’s wife, and he foolishly started off with the bad news. My kids teachers’ are all very aware of this principle, and if they ever call in the middle of the schoolday, they start off by saying, “Don’t worry, so-and-so is alright.”

Bing Crosby knew what he was talking about in his song “Mister In-Between”:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

It was true then, and it’s true now! Use positive words that exude benefits when talking about your product so that people associate it with good things only. Sound confident that your product is useful and that people will benefit from buying it. Don’t be negative, and don’t even be half-baked – watered-down text that is In-Between can cause you almost as much damage as negative words.