If you follow me on Instagram (which you don’t, because you have better things to do), you might know that I was in Croatia earlier this month.
More specifically, I was on a private island named Obonjan for an event called Baby Bathwater Island.
The best way I can describe this event is “Boozy Entrepreneur Sleepaway Camp”.
It was exactly as awesome as it sounds.
The whole place was infinitely ‘grammable.
My fellow attendees? A group of 150 people whose personal and professional accomplishments make me want to crawl into a dark hole and binge Lucky Charms until I puke.
You name it, they were there: hugely successful ecommerce store owners, agency founders, inventors, philosophers, influencers… all the cool titles you get to choose from if you hang out on the Internet these days.
INCREDIBLY, not only did I get to hang out with these goshdang luminaries, I also got to deliver my all-time favorite talk: How to Be Funny (Even If You’re Not): Comedy-Inspired Copywriting Tips.
(Did I eat shit on the gravel pathway down to my talk 3 minutes before delivering it, you ask?
Yes, yes I did. It was less “slapstick” and more “Fuuuuuuuhhhhhh I’m glad no one saw that. Oh look, I’m bleeding”)
Spending 5 days at Baby Bathwater, listening to talks on things like “hedonic engineering” (by Jamie Wheal), microdosing (by Jack Allocca), crowdfunding (by Roy Morejon), and hanging out with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met gave me a new perspective on work… and life.
I wish there were a non-cheesy way to say that, but there isn’t.
And that’s coming from me, a noted skeptic who figured hey, this event might well be a huge waste of cash.
I left inspired to work harder, give myself permission to be awesome, and focus on doing more of what I love.
So how did the magic happen?
Well, the setting (a breathtaking private island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea) didn’t hurt.
Oh fucking stop it already, sailboat.
And neither did the included wine and cocktails (which, as a native New Orleanian, really made me feel at home. Also drunk.)
But honestly, because BBW is a “no-pitch” zone, the pressure was off — and that’s where I shine.
Ask me to give you the hard sell on what I do, and I can… but it’s not my favorite conversation to have.
HOWEVER. Sit me next to someone I admire, and let me make food puns and nerd out about the psychology and marketing applications of humor… and I will be there ALL. NIGHT.
Here’s what I took away:
I’m raising my rates. Starting with my day rate, which will be going up by 1K for new clients starting September 1. (Want to snag me at my current rate? Book your day now.)
I want to be around these people more. People who don’t cut themselves off from a new idea because it seems hard or even impossible. People who say “Hey, cool, let’s do that thing,” and then DO IT.
I’m finally making a course. One thing I heard over and over (especially from folks who were too hungover to come to my 10am talk, or who rightly wanted to see my new pal Tom Breeze’s excellent YouTube ads talk at the same time) was: “Do you have a course? I’d buy it!” Up until this year, I’ve felt that it wasn’t time for me to build a course yet — that there was more for me to learn, and hone, and who was I to be teaching a course anyway?
And yeah, there’s still more for me to learn… but there’s also a LOT that I want to share.
There are people who I can’t work with one-on-one, whether it’s because of money or time constraints or the fact that they’ve been dead for 80 years (shoutout to my dawg, Claude Hopkins).
A course is the best way to share what I love, what I’m just so deeply into and excited about — humor in marketing — with more people who are interested.
So keep your eyes peeled, because it’s coming.
And if I have my way (which I will, cause like, it’s my course)… it’s gonna be fun as hell, y’all.
Sign up to hear when I launch the course:
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Anyhoo, my inbox was just as inundated with panicked GDPR emails as yours was…
But unlike you, I am a BIG OL’ EMAIL NERD.
So today I’m holding an impromptu awards ceremony for the email copywriters at these companies. Some of whom are doing really honestly fabulous work! And others… others who might not exist.
We’ll start with the BAD, move to the GOOD, and end with the “Come On Now, Y’all”. 🙄
Because who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned ribbing?
(As always, click the images to open the full-size screenshot in a new tab!)
The Bad includes literally every email that looked like this:
HARDCORE SNORE. Sorry, Indiegogo. Not picking on you for any particular reason.
You could play Cliche Bingo with the phrases in these emails.
Mark one X per square every time you see the following phrases:
– “We care about your privacy”
– “Your privacy is important to us”
– “Our commitment to your privacy hasn’t changed”
– “There is no action required on your part”
– “We know you place your trust in us, and we don’t take it lightly”
Special shoutout to Against Malaria, to whom I donated once and promptly unsubscribed one million years ago. They sent me the same email everyone else got:
WHO ARE YOU???
Guys. GUYS. Why did you not segment your list to make sure that you were sending a version to unsubscribers that said something like,
“Hey, you haven’t heard from us in a while, but here’s why.” <– ???!!!
Even some of the other folks in this category managed that.
(OK, sorry for ragging on a nonprofit that probably doesn’t have the resources to know stuff like this. If you want, you can donate to them here.)
This is the part where I give medals, because YES, TERRENCE, EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE A COMPETITION.
What’s good here:
This was the only GDPR email to use a literary/nonfiction quote, and I’m here for it. Airstory uses Arndt’s words to remind people what their software actually does — helps people write — then segues into the boring stuff.
They acknowledge that people aren’t going to read their policy, and tell them what’ll happen anyway. Loving the honesty.
What’s good here:
“Because we don’t want to bore you, we’re going to make this fun.”
AND they’re giving away a swag bundle! Is that legal? Who cares, they did it. Look at Sumo go.
What’s good here:
It’s personal, short, AND includes a CTA that helps Bidsketch make lemonade (new trial users!) from lemons (having to bother people).
Zapier – Bronze Medal
What’s good here:
Instead of taking the Eeyore approach of “We have to do this, bah humbug,” Zapier flips this mandatory email into a boon for subscribers.
They also helpfully remind people of the lists they’re already subscribed to (though mine don’t show, interestingly), and tell them what’ll happen if they don’t click the big orange button.
Fomo – Silver Medal
What’s good here:
This might be the chillest email I have ever seen. Ryan comes across as an animate bottle of CBD oil, he’s so chill.
It’s funny, it’s calm, and it ends on a sweet and upbeat note: “happy selling”. What’s not to love?
Endcrawl – Gold Medal
What’s good here:
Who’s NOT going to open an email titled “Please help us stay out of jail”? No one. Except maybe Trump.
But you, dear stranger, are better than he is.
And Endcrawl is better than all of us. Just look at this lively email, with its casual tone, front-and-center bullet-point benefits, funny and varying CTAs, and — just like Bidsketch — its tantalizing offer, which could turn inactive or clueless subscribers into brand-new users.
Bravo, Endcrawl! U single?
(Hat tip to Alan for bringing this email to my attention!)
Honorable mention goes to Josh Kaufman, whose “New Post + GDPRmageddon” subject line made me smile, and who smoothly rolled a real intriguing lede right into his own policy updates:
THE COME ON NOW, Y’ALL
This category is reserved for businesses from whom I just… expected more.
GDPR emails in this category are basically the same as those in “The Bad,” but I had higher hopes for these companies. And they let me down.
Maybe that’s my fault? … Did I just gaslight myself?
The recent glut of GDPR emails has felt jarring to many readers, because of the change in the normal tone of voice.
If your normal tone is jeans and a T-shirt, don't suddenly put on a tuxedo and expect people not to notice.
I say this all the time to people who don’t spend 16 hours a day staring deeply into the butthole of the Internet:
I believe that software can save the world.
And even if it doesn’t, at the very least, it’ll save us all some damn time and hassle.
So here’s a short list of my top favorite software-as-a-service tools.
I’ve left out a few things like my email service provider (ConvertKit, for the record), and my video call software (Zoom), since people tend to be able to pick these things for themselves depending on their needs.
Most of the below recommendations don’t have referral/affiliate links, but a couple do. I’m lazy like that. 😉
I hope this introduces you to at least one killer new tool that saves you time and makes you feel like a total badass!
How I use it: Following up on project proposals, review deadlines, collaborations, cold emails, you name it.
Anytime I think someone *might* not get back to me, I click a lil checkbox and sit back on my haunches, reassured that I won’t forget to follow up.
—> Looking for something similar but more powerful? Something that can automatically send one-on-one emails in a sequence to multiple people, cue up draft emails for you, and remind you to follow up when no one’s answered? Look no further than Bluetick.io.
(Full disclosure: I wrote the Bluetick site copy and am speaking at the founder’s conference this month. Fuller disclosure: That doesn’t matter, because the tool is fucking rad.)
Telling you about TextExpander is my gift to you for reading this far.
You know all those things you’re constantly having to dig up, copy/paste, or type from scratch? Like…
Canned responses to the kinds of emails you get all the time
Links to your calendar or video call locations
Reminders to send or do something
Links to your past content, favorite posts, or products/services
Short phrases like “How are you?” or “Thanks so much”
TextExpander takes the tedium of typing or copying/pasting your canned responses or links, and replaces it with a short abbreviation.
FOR EXAMPLE. When I wanted to send someone to my Calendly scheduling link in the past, I’d open a new tab, type “cal” into the omnibox, and wait for my oft-visited Calendly link to come up.
If I’d cleared my cache recently, I’d have to go as far as logging into Calendly to grab the right link.
Now all I have to do is type “x30cal”. Voila: the right link, prefaced by the sentence “Any times that work for you here?” loads automatically.
Relax and enjoy.
(The “x” prefix is so I don’t accidentally TextExpand anything I don’t mean to. You can add any prefixes you want. Plus, TextExpander sends a series of helpful emails showing you how to use the tool to its full potential. Love that about them.)
I’ve got whole canned emails preloaded as “snippets” under short labels.
No more copy/pasting. No more just writing new versions of them every time.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not using Zapier to its full potential. It’s the glue that holds the whole Internet together, in my eyes.
But still: having the ability to connect basically any tool I want to any other tool I want? AMAZING. WE ARE IN THE FUTURE.
(I know this isn’t exactly news. If you were looking for a hot take, you may want to look elsewhere.)
You, searching for a hotter take
How I use it: To connect Typeform to GoogleDocs, so new client intake forms are automatically in a Call Notes document before I ever get on Zoom. And in my other business, SNAP Copy, we use it to connect WooCommerce to ActiveCampaign so we can auto-send new clients the right emails.
There are many, many cool ways to use Zapier, and I plan to have my brand-new VA set those up for me (I am more excited about finally having a VA than I will ever be about the birth of any baby, even mine).
Trello is a “card”-based tool that works for a ton of different use cases. Most folks I know use it as a project tracker, and take advantage of the ability to add labels, due dates, and checklists to cards to keep themselves organized.
My actual Trello “CRM” at the moment
How I use it:
As a “light” CRM to track clients, from prospect to proposal to project to post-prandial pinot noir
As an actual project tracker to make sure I check off every project’s component parts
As an accountability tool to make sure my good buddy Amy Harrison and I get the things done that we said we would
Fun fact about The Zone: it’s impossible to get in if there’s someone near you at the coffee shop chewing like a wild animal.
This is the worst sound in the world.
Or someone yakking on the phone to their girlfriend. Or someone with a baby that just CAN’T GET ITS SHIT TOGETHER.
Or… you get the point.
Now, you could pop your headphones in and listen to music. But what music? And what if the music distracts you even more than the chewing noises?
Enter Brain.fm.This handy little player offers three modes of music: Focus, Meditate, and Relax.
The “Focus” mode treats your ears to a thrumming background of music-ish noise that ebbs and flows according to ~*~* science *~*~. Apparently it messes with your brainwaves in some way? I don’t know. I haven’t read the website.
This is what it looks like:
How do I describe the music? It’s kinda trancey, but sometimes there’s piano. Honestly, I don’t know what to call it — because the point is that it works so well you’re not really listening.
Now, anytime I need to enter The Zone, I can pop in my earbuds and get to work, regardless of whether I’m surrounded by noisy chewers, phone talkers, aggravating babies… or some monstrous combination of all 3. That is my nightmare.
Google Apps. All of ‘em.
Google is life. That’s it, y’all. If you’re still using Microsoft Office and exporting files and dealing with “markups,” you’re probably also still driving the same car you had in 1989 and shouting at birds, and I can’t help you.
Yep, Google has all my data. It knows things about me that not even my therapist knows, and I’m cool with that because I have to be.
If you’re not, well, it’s probably time to stop reading this and start building your off-grid survival yurt.
Why I use it: Shareability, free space on my hard drive ‘cause everything’s stored in the cloud, minimal fear of losing everything I’ve been working on… unless Google decides to steal it.
Typeform is a form builder. You probably know of it or already use it.
I use it for my prospect intake forms, customer surveys, and various other formy things. It’s easy to build a pretty-looking form that has a more visually engaging customer experience than other forms.
Pro tip: Make your prospects choose between kitties and puppies, and only work with the kitty people
Typeform also presents questions one at a time, helping cut down on information overwhelm that could keep your forms from being completed.
How I use it: The “Logic Jump” functionality (only available for Pro and higher-level accounts) makes it easy for me to weed out prospects who won’t be a fit, and send them to the right place for whatever service they need.
One thing it’s NOT great for? Creating quizzes. You’re better off coughing up the $30/month for Interact or a similar tool. 🙁
They’re custom-written improvements to existing landing or sales pages that need some love — both on the overall optimization side (think structure, layout, and design) and on the copy side (think tone, messaging, and personality).
They’ve been called “copy wizardry” by happy clients, and “black magic fuckery” by impressed/jealous copywriting peers.
Here’s what my most recent Uppercut client had to say:
Hi L, great job — the more I read it the more I like it! Def got my money’s worth. I really did get a lot of value from this. Specifically, it is a solid balance between humor and professionalism, nice job of cutting the fluff, loved a lot of the rewording as it helped clarity.”
Steal my process! Here’s how I do Uppercuts
Step 1: Structure
The very very first thing I do when starting an Uppercut is enjoy a 15-minute roll on a bed of crisp 100-dollar bills, cackling to myself.
“They paid me! I’m a real boy now!” I crow to my mother, who is confused about how I turned out this way
The next first thing I do is look at the structure of the page.
Does the page meet prospects where they are, and speak to their exact stage of awareness?
Are the messages on the page in a logical order? Do they mirror the progression of thoughts the reader is likely to have?
If the answer to any of those questions is “Lol nah,” the structure needs fixing.
At this stage, I’m doing quick-and-dirty restructuring — cutting and pasting messages where they need to be, and adding placeholder headlines and subheaders. Like so:
If this is too meta to follow, I am very sorry and I did it on purpose.
HOT TIP: If you’re using both headers and subheaders, you’ve probably accidentally hidden the REAL benefits in the subheader. Try swapping them.
Once I’ve got the basic section structure down, I apply the same process to the body copy.
Because people write how they think — and we frequently forget things and remember them later— there tends to be also be some disorganization and repetition in the body copy.
Like I do with sections, I’ll cut body sentences and paste them where they need to be to improve the logical flow of the copy.
Then, I insert placeholders and/or highlight spots where I know I’ll need more information or transitions between sections. Voila:
You’re getting a sneak peek at a blog I haven’t finished yet! Lucky you.
Sometimes, people overlook structure in favor of focusing just on smaller line edits. That’s a mistake. Restructuring can help you take advantage of HUGE opportunities to clarify your offer.
Here’s what another client had to say after she saw the radical restructuring I did to her page:
Oh my. You slayed right through the copy and it looks so different but still using the copy and adding your tweaks to it. I had to noodle it over for a day. The first day, I was in shock (in a good way). The second day when I read over it I understood what you did with the structure. Soooooo, a BIG “THANK YOU” for your feedback and your help with restructuring the copy!
Step 2: Hone Messaging + Fill Holes with Swiped Copy
Once I’ve got the structure of the page all fixed up, it’s time to make sure the copy matches what the prospect is thinking.
Before I start working, I ask my fabulous clients to share me on any qualitative customer research they’ve got — things like survey responses, interview answers, customer service logs, etc.
These sources are a G-D goldmine of insight into the words that prospects need to read in order to identify and trust the copy.
Plus, they’re chock-full of descriptive, “sticky” phrases that can go straight into the copy verbatim.
For example,from research for a mattress manufacturer:
“After a year of playing Goldilocks and trying out beds at every mattress store in the Salt Lake Valley we stumbled on [CLIENT NAME]…”
And from research for a veterinary pharmacy:
“I wish you guys were my primary care and not just for my dogs ☺”
^^^^ These tasty morsels are pre-written copy.
Insert them into the spaces you’ve left open to assuage fears, explain specific benefits, and persuade prospects.
Step 3: Punch That Sh** Up
This is the fun part! After the restructuring and message-honing, it’s time to make the page copy stand out from competitors.
There are many ways to stand out from the crowd. Laser eyes are two of those ways
I punch up copy in two ways: by making sure it has its own voice, and by adding humor where appropriate.
First, give the copy its own voice
“I hate to admit it, Lianna,” you say, glancing furtively around the coffee shop. “The truth is that ‘voice’ is one of those things I always reference, but I couldn’t really define it even if you held a NERF gun to my head.”
I’ll save my darts for the next guy, ‘cause I got you, fam!
I rarely send *just* a GoogleDoc to clients, even if I’ve worked with them before.
Instead, I’ll make a 5-10 minute video walkthrough to explain how and why I’ve reworked the page. THEN, I’ll link ‘em to the GoogleDoc — so they’ve always got context for changes that might not be immediately intuitive at first glance.
Nope, my face is not featured in the videos. Which is fine, because by this point it’s wan, puffy, and haggard, like 95% of the GOP.
Actual still from an Uppercut delivery video, with client name obscured because I am an international spy
Clients love not having to figure things out for themselves. Here’s what the client above said:
“I just watched the video and quickly scrolled through the notes. I’m definitely going to start implementing these starting this afternoon. Great idea with the video response. Thanks for that.”
Congrats! Now you know all my secrets and you don’t have to pay me. Wait… what did I just do??
As for me, after a long day doing Uppercuts for all sorts of businesses, from motivational speakers to sugar-dating profile writers, it’s time to slink back to my bed of Ben Franklins (which is much less comfortable than a real mattress, but gratifying in other ways).
Are you gonna try my Uppercut process? Leave a comment and let me know how it works for you!
Call it whatever you wanna call it — retention, post-purchase, lifecycle.
The fact is that for virtually every online store, revenue growth depends on getting more repeat customers. The work ain’t over just because you got the sale!
And while sending newsletters and new product updates is all well and dandy, there are LOTS of other types of emails stores can send — SHOULD BE sending — to encourage repeat purchases.
I’ve collected 5 recent, real-life example emails from my own inbox, and organized them from most common (the types of emails I see all the time) to super rare (AKA the types I WISH I saw more often).
Take a look.
Then emulate the sh** out of them, because that’s how you up your game, brah.
5. Most Common: The Related Products Sales Email
(Click the image to open it full-size in a new tab.)
FROM: Best Buy Weekly Ad
SUBJECT LINE: Your LG – 43″ Class (42.5″… <— missing parenthesis theirs; it’s either sloppy proofing or sly genius to get people to open the email
Why I Love This Email:
This is one of the most common types of post-purchase emails online stores send–and for good reason. It leverages data about the customer (in this case, a recent purchase) to suggest related items.
This email is personalized to me and my recent order from Best Buy (a TV to replace the one my ex took when he moved out. I’M FINE, DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME).
Notice the encouraging, specific social proof: “Customers who bought your TV also bought…”. Best Buy follows that line with “For your new TV, we recommend…”
4. Common: The Birthday/Anniversary Coupon Sales Email
(Click the image to open it full-size in a new tab.)
SUBJECT LINE: A birthday treat.
Why I Love This Email:
Honestly, who doesn’t need an excuse to buy more shoes?
Stores can capitalize on customers’ goodwill by sending a coupon on any or all of these occasions:
The customer’s purchase/membership anniversary
The customer’s birthday
The store’s own “birthday”/founding date
Here, Nisolo uses its own store anniversary as an excuse to hold a two-day sale.
I love that this email focuses on the founders and their picks instead of highlighting products by themselves. It keeps the focus on the ostensible “celebration,” and directs readers to a cherry-picked selection instead of tossing them onto a generic product category page.
3. Less Common: The Limited Stock Sales Email
(Click the image to open it full-size in a new tab.)
SUBJECT LINE: Retiring Soon: Shale Ribbon Stripe
Why I Love This Email:
Another win for personalization here! Rothy’s (either lovingly or creepily, depending on how you feel about data) knows I’ve added the Shale Ribbon Stripe flats to my cart in the past.
And then walked away, because how many pairs of $125 flats does a girl need? Please don’t answer that.
But this ISN’T an abandoned cart email. Though Rothy’s also sends those.
This is a bald-faced appeal to my FOMO, and I’m lovin’ it. Do I want Rothy’s to retire these cute-ass shoes? I sure don’t!
Am I gonna snag a pair before they get “retired,” a la the Mafia? I SURE MIGHT!
Rothy’s knows I wanted these flats. And they know that the flats might sell out before I see this email*, so they helpfully included two other links to shoes I’ve ALSO expressed interest in.
Touche’, Rothy’s. You might get me to buy another pair sooner rather than later…
* They did. They sold out. God damn it.
2. Rare: The Post-Return or Cancellation Sales Email
(Click the image to open it full-size in a new tab.)
SUBJECT LINE: Just checking in.
Why I Love This Email:
Look, I could write a book about Dropps’ marketing copy. It’s so hit-or-miss! Some of the auto-emails are so great, and some are so meh! Some are still set to their marketing/shipping platform’s default copy!
But for now, let’s zoom in on this email. Which I love.
How often do you see a sales email from a subscription company AFTER you cancel your subscription? Answer: Not often enough.
Dropps didn’t take my cancellation personally. They acknowledged that maybe it wasn’t the best fit for me. And they sent me a cute cocker spaniel with specific alternative product suggestions, then locked it in with a 20% off coupon code.
Remember–if a customer cancels their product subscription but doesn’t unsubscribe from your list, you can still email them! And it’ll be easier and cheaper than getting an all-new customer.
Same goes for non-subscription-model businesses. If a customer returns an item to your store, why not send her an email that says something like,
“Hey, Lianna! Saw that you needed to return that Extra Large Tyrannosaurus Rex Head because it didn’t fit–bummer! In case you’re still looking for something similar, here are a few products you might like.”
In fact… I got a very similar email recently.
It’s the rarest of all ecommerce sales emails: The Post-Return Personal Shopper Sales Email.
And though it’s got a terrible subject line, its intentions are pure gold.
1. Literally Never Saw It Before This: The Post-Return Personal Shopper Sales Email
(Click the image to open it full-size in a new tab.)
FROM: Mott & Bow
SUBJECT LINE: Mott & Bow/Styling Team/Request Inquiry <— yuck, come on, y’all
Why I Love This Email:
First of all, it’s plaintext. It might well have been sent through a platform like Zendesk, but it doesn’t matter, because it LOOKS like a bona fide email.
Second, it’s short and to the point: “I want to help you find the perfect pair of jeans.”
Mott & Bow knows that just because I returned my first pair, all’s not lost. I might be ready to try again–so they sicced Liz on me to personally find a better fit.
Third, it helps Mott & Bow build a stronger relationship with their customers. Not only are they helping me satisfy my #RealNeed for good jeans, they’re collecting valuable customer research while they do it.
If you’re not sending emails like this to your customers who return products, you’re missing out on a HUGE opportunity to turn what was once a loss on both sides to a seriously satisfying win-win.
Hey, you know what I’d LOVE to do?
I’d love to write emails like this for your store. Let’s transform your one-time customers into repeat buyers! All through lil ol’ words! Click the button below to make it happen:
People ask me this a lot: “Lianna, how do you sniff out the GIFs you use obsessively in every piece of content you create?”
I shake my head sadly, and think, Oh, you poor sad slob. If you don’t get it now, you never will.
Then I ride off into the sunset on my high horse.
Look how condescending this horse is!
Obviously, this is a horrible and shitty thing to think or say.
So instead of saying it, I decided to examine the actual thought process I go through when picking a GIF.
And write it down for you. So you never have to hire me. 😭
GIFs are the future
True fact: GIFs (graphical interchange format, for all you acronym nerds) are uniquely hilarious.
Precisely because they’re less immersive — and thus less intimidating or time-consuming to enjoy — than videos, and waaaay more visually interesting than plain ol’ paragraphs of text, GIFs fill a singular role in content.
They ask little and deliver a lot. They’re a low-tech way to entertain, illustrate a point, crack a joke, you name it. Everyone should use ‘em.
I used to pronounce GIF with a hard G. Now I pronounce it with a soft G, like the sugary, salty peanut butter my mom wouldn’t buy us.
I’m gonna walk you step-by-step through picking a GIF for your blog or email, using THIS VERY POST as an example.
It’s so meta that we might both implode, like dying stars or Donald Trump’s colon — but let’s see what happens.
First things first: Decide where you want a GIF
To find the ideal place for your GIF, zoom out and look at the entire structure of your document. You’re looking for…
Walls of text
Spots where you’re hammering home a point
And any other spot where you’d like to lighten the mood or provide a moment of levity
When I finished this post draft, I set my screen to 50% so I could see where I needed a GIF. Here’s what that looked like (META WARNING):
Also, as I’m writing, if I know there’s a spot ripe for a joke, I’ll add [GIF] in brackets so I don’t have to interrupt my flow to go find one.
I’ll also include any notes about what I think the GIF could be, so I don’t accidentally publish without finding the GIF. Like so:
[GIF: how dare you]
Next, head to Giphy.com
(AHEM. Another reason it’s pronounced with a soft G? Because that means Giphy.com is pronounced “Jiffy”. As in, “Find your GIF in a jiffy.” YOU’RE WELCOME.)
Now you’re here on Giphy, and you’ve gotta decide what to search. This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like,
See what I did there?
The secret search sauce
And now, the secret sauce. Consider it my GIF to you. 😉
Read the sentence right before the place you’ve decided to insert the GIF.
Right after you read it, imagine making a SHORT, offhanded, under-your-breath joke to a friend next to you. You’re looking for a two-to-three-word phrase, like:
Am I right?
How bout them apples??!
Then type that phrase into Giphy, and WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.
Depending on how esoteric your search phrase is, you’ll get a page of either directly or tangentially related GIFs. Fair warning: at least 8% of them will contain boobs.
You can also use GIFs to finish a thought, like I did above with the poodle GIF. Advanced users only, please.
So, here I am on Giphy. I’ve decided I need a GIF to finish the sentence “This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like… ”
Because I know that sentence would end with “Huh???” if I were writing it, I search “Huh?” in Giphy.
I get these results:
So many quizzical, bemused faces!!
And I pick the poodle head-tilt GIF, as you already knew.
Why did I pick THAT one? Well, a few reasons…
Lianna’s Very Official, Extremely Important Rules for Picking GIFs
GIFs must be high-res. Unless they’re REALLY good. And even then, use small or low-res GIFs sparingly. Only one shitty GIF per content piece (please tweet this)
No esoteric pop culture or other references. While it’s so, so awesome to use a GIF from The Office because I know my readers love that shit just as much as I do, there’s always a risk of ascribing too much weight or meaning to a GIF that a reader won’t “get”. So aim to pick a GIF that’s funny even without knowing what show, movie, or catastrophic life event it’s from. Like this one:
(It’s from Zootopia, but that doesn’t matter.)
Nothing overly distracting. GIFs that loop for too long run the risk of distracting your reader, so I try to pick shorter loops. I also often eschew GIFs including text, unless the text can conceivably read like an extension of the writing.
Nothing racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive or marginalizing. I tend toward the absurd/surreal anyhow, but if there’s ANY chance a GIF would offend your target reader, it’s better to pick a different one.
Don’t settle… but also don’t overthink it. The first GIF that stands out to you and meets all these criteria is probably the right one.
Pick a few, then whittle it down. Not sure which GIF is right? Open a few in new tabs, and then pick your fave.
If this process DIDN’T work for you, that’s OK. It happens. Here’s how to troubleshoot crappy or nonexistent GIF search results:
Think of a different or related phrase, and search again.
This isn’t as annoying as it sounds, because you’ll find that your first page of Giphy search results will inspire you to make different searches. Sometimes, just a slight phrasing difference (say, from “no thank you” to “no thanks” or even to “do not want”) will turn up the perfect GIF.
Like this one:
Try this method and tell me what happens
Especially if you’ve thought “Garsh, I just can’t pick a GIF to save my life!” Which I’m sure all of three people planetwide have thought.
Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what DSC is doing, what’s working, and what’s not.
What Dollar Shave Club is doing on this page
First things first: DSC is currently using its homepage as a sales page for its Starter Sets.
There are 4 calls to action throughout the page. 3 of those link to a landing page with more options for Starter Sets, and one is a direct Add to Cart link.
There are a few reasons why DSC would choose to treat its homepage as a sales page:
Homepages are overrated and usually poorly executed — “Let’s put everything we do right here on the homepage and make people scroll until they get bored!!11eleventy”
DSC knows most people become customers through the Starter Set, and they want to make that acquisition easier
They know they can more easily show value through their actual service than here on this page, so they’re gunning to get signups/sales as soon as possible.
OR MAYBE IT’S ALL 3! Or maybe there is another Mystery Reason (TM)!
We in agreement? Cool. Let’s check out the page section by section.
Section 1 (Hero: “Experience Butter with the Classic Shave Starter Set”)
The first thing you notice when you land on the homepage is the hero section video, which I ADORE.
It very quickly turns from a standard product shot (a hand reaching for shaving cream — excuse me, shave butter) to a comedic display of what using the product presumably feels like.
AKA riding a creamy Slip N’ Slide to Shave Heaven, where a distinguished older gentleman gently and sweetly blows the beard right off your scruffy face. I’ll take it.
Now, this video is our first clue that DSC is aiming to brand itself with humor.
And it’s our only clue. Because the copy in this hero section is straight-up boring by itself.
Imagine the video didn’t load when you visited this page, for one reason or another.
All you’d see is “Experience Butter [with the Classic Shave Starter Set].” What does “Experience Butter” even mean?
The subhead does a good job of explaining and clarifying the offer — “Get Shave Butter and a month supply of our best razor for $5” — but that big headline is a waste of valuable space.
Regardless of the video or image in the hero section, the copy here needs to be able to stand on its own! And right now, it’s as wobbly as a newborn fawn.
Without even needing to be funny about it, DSC could have easily picked a more evocative headline; say, “Slip Into a Smoother Shave”. (Y’all can have that one. It’s free.)
So why doesn’t Dollar Shave Club go balls-to-the-wall with humor copywriting right away?
Well, because this is a homepage. They’re getting traffic from all different sources here, and not all of those visitors will know who DSC is or what they sell.
It’s better to be clear up front than potentially confusing a significant portion of that traffic — even at the risk of being boring, which the current hero section copy totally is.
Onward, noble steeds!
Section 2 (Offer: “A Starter Set is the ideal way to start”)
This section doubles down on the offer presented up top: Here’s what you get, here’s what it costs, and here’s what you’re signing up for. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Again, there’s a wretchedly lazy header that isn’t working as hard as it could be. “A starter set is the ideal way to start.”
YOU DON’T SAY.
Quoth the Raven, “That shit was real dumb.”
To avoid this repetition (and redundancy), DSC shoulda gone with something like, “Your smoother shave starts here.” Or… “The Starter Kit is your key to a silkier shave.”
Look, I know it’s not Dickinson, but it’s better, OK?
Then we move on to a smaller section — let’s call it 2A — where readers get the deets on the Starter Kit and everything it contains month to month.
I’m not sure why there’s not more info available (like, in a hover or accordion or dropdown) about each of the included items.
Especially the Bathroom Minutes, since I’m guessing not a lot of people can intuit that that it’s a tiny, poop-pun-filled newspaper that DSC sends out with each of its cartridge refills. Why not specify?? It could be a selling point for… some people.
But OK, they want to keep the page as uncomplicated as possible. Sure. Fine. Next.
Section 3 (Benefits: “3 reasons to try DSC”)
Another lazy swing and miss for this headline. Yes, it’s clear. But it’s also soooo boring.
A simple tweak could make this more persuasive — again, without even needing to inject humor:
“3 reasons to try DSC” —> “Why should I try DSC?”
Putting this header in the reader’s voice helps the copy relate to what the user is probably asking him- (or her)self at that moment.
Notice how it’s “Why should I” — not “Why should you,” which is how the original version is phrased (“3 reasons [why you should] try DSC”).
Make it about the reader, y’all
But here’s the interesting thing… this is the section where we start to see some flavor coming into the copy. Not in the headers — that might be too risky! — but in the body copy, right at the end. Just the way you might try to coax a friend into coming to a party when you know she’d rather stay at home in her footie pajamas.
We also get our first real, concrete, funny image: “level 9 yogi flexibility”.
Sadly, this is one of only three such “word pictures” that DSC paints on this page. (First person to find the other two gets a pat on the head from me and a hi-res photo of my cat lying upside down!
Actually, y’all can just have that photo now. You’re welcome.)
Such floof. Much relax!
Section 4 (The we just remembered this was a homepage, so here’s some content, we guess section: “We want more than just your body”)
Readers who have been following the thread of this homepage might do a double-take upon getting to this section, which seems like DSC’s marketing team remembered that homepages are supposed to offer something for everyone, so they threw up a bunch of blog links.
More subpar headline and subhead writing here. “We want more than just your body” is vague, awkwardly phrased, not really about the reader, and doesn’t connect with the subhead below–which is thus given the unfair burden of explaining that hey, DSC also runs a blog.
I do like those intentionally gross blog thumbnail illustrations, though.
Section 4 (FAQ: “So what’s the catch?”)
Aha! LOOK THERE! A headline written from the user’s point of view! Thank glob.
We’ve finally reached the point where the copywriter(s) who wrote this page were allowed to start having some real fun. Either that, or they started drinking.
It’s been about 8 years. Time for another Mad Men GIF.
The way these FAQs are written is the tone we’ve WANTED from DSC, the tone they HINTED at throughout this page, dangled, and then snatched away.
Oh, to savor this major tone shift now, in the expanded accordion FAQ section! So far down the page!
Why? If someone has read this far, chances are they’re open to copy that takes a few more risks in trying to get their attention. Plus, the extra-sassy copy in some spots will feel like a reward to careful readers.
Throughout the page, Dollar Shave Club graaaadually introduces humor into its copy. It gets fully up to its normal, buoyant self by the very bottom. DSC takes the conservative approach to homepage humor, and I get that.
Unfortunately, the last CTA comes in like a wet fart, with an extra line that makes the ‘Club look more anxious than confident. But hey, sometimes all you need is a good editor.
Because I generally prefer to slurp wine, watch The Crown, and avoid building my list at all costs*, I happily shared my marketing knowledge with some crazy-awesome companies this year instead of writing my own blogs.
I also ghostwrote a few pretty great pieces, but if I told you what they were, I’d have to kill you. And I’d rather not clean up a mess right now ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I traveled to 5 countries
First France, then Canada, then Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia! More importantly, my new passport photo is hella cute. Take that, passport control guy who told haggard, 16-year-old, just-off-a-24-hour-international-flight me that “I looked much better now” than my old passport photo. Which, I’ll be honest, was horrific.
I worked with some truly incredible clients
From shilling software to slangin’ ecommerce product descriptions, I got to work on some really big, awesome projects this year. And while that by itself isn’t 100% notable, here’s what was: I remembered why I started doing this in the first place.
To my clients: THANK YOU for trusting me with your voice and your customers!
Thank you for letting me get weird. Thank you for being open to GIFs. Thank you for going out on a limb to make a real connection with your people!
And that’s not even to mention the clients my SNAP Copy business partner, James E. Turner and I, worked with through our joint on-demand copywriting agency. Thank y’all for trusting us with your messaging.
…and I met instant business BFFs
Fun fact: I’ve never been a girly girl. (Please try to contain your shock.)
With few exceptions, I’ve always been the person who said, “It’s just easier for me to make friends with guys. Nothing against girls, but…”
I didn’t realize that I was just waiting for 2017 to meet, like, ALL of the badass women in marketing at once. Holllaaaaaaaaaa.
Look, it’s me with the incredible Claire Suellentrop (#businessbae) and equally amazing Jessica Best!
2017, you were a pile of hot garbage in so many ways… but in other ways, you were just hot. Good on ya.
There is no sweeter sound in the world than the long, sighing groan that follows a truly magnificent pun.
You lay it down. You wait a millisecond (OK, sometimes longer).
And then you get the crinkled-up disgust face and the “AUUUUGHHH.”
Bret is disappointed in you.
But it turns out some humor theorists (one in particular) don’t find that sound so sweet.
Let me introduce you to Charles Gruner, who literally made it his life’s work to argue that fun actually = pain.
I’m oversimplifying a bit, but basically, Gruner’s theory of humor is that jokes are a form of “playful aggression”. With the exception of what he calls “good-natured play,” Gruner suggested that humor is a contest or competition. Meaning every joke results in a winner and a loser.
Basically, Gruner saw puns as a game of intellectual oneupmanship. In this light, a post-pun groan is actually the sound of your “opponent” (or in my case, victim) audibly admitting defeat.
YEP. Sounds like a real fun guy to invite to your birthday, right?
In his excellent textbook The Psychology of Humor, Rod A. Martin explains Gruner’s theory when it comes to a “duel of wits,” like a pun:
Puns in everyday conversation may be a way of “defeating” the listener, but canned jokes in which the punch line is based on a pun are seen as a way of enabling the listener to share feelings of mastery and superiority along with the joke-teller. The ability to “get the joke” gives the listener a feeling of superiority and victory, presumably over hypothetical others who might not be able to understand it, perhaps due to their lower intelligence. Thus, according to Gruner, all jokes, no matter how seemingly innocent, contain a contest, a winner, and a loser.”
Really makes you think about all the dad jokes you grew up with, right?
That was cold. Stone cold.
As interesting as it is, Gruner’s theory isn’t the prevailing school of thought among most modern-day psychologists studying humor.
Many theorists now agree that humor plays a huge number of roles in social interaction, cognition and understanding, and emotional experience—to name just a few of its many sparkly facets.
For levity, it sure does have a heavy job to do!
I heard you groan all the way over here. AND I LOVED IT.
I’ll be writing more about theories of humor and how it affects and influences us in the future. But for now, I just wanna know: What’s your favorite pun?
If you’ve read a single sentence on PunchlineCopy.com, you already know I’m deeply (probably overly) invested in how humor, jokes, and personality can shape conversions and influence consumer decision-making.
But recently, I thought to myself,
“Hey, you know what? Maybe other folks don’t intrinsically love this idea as much as you. Maybe you need to SHOW them how and why humor works so well in marketing.”
So now I’m going around the Internet and finding hallmark examples of brands using humor strategically.
I’m screenshotting those emails and landing pages, annotating them, and painstakingly analyzing them right here on this homely little blog — so you can start to get where I’m coming from.
First up, we’ve got Purple.
Y’all probably know Purple. It’s the super cohesively branded mattress company that went viral with ads like this:
And their landing pages don’t disappoint, either. In keeping with the brand’s zany, carefree style, Purple’s landing pages use humor in combination with tried-and-testing copywriting best practices.
Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what Purple is doing and why it works.
What Purple is doing right on this page
Conversion-focused writers and UX specialists will notice the page design and layout first:
It’s segmented into easy-to-parse sections…
and features not one, but TWO videos showing the product in use.
Bullet points and illustrations abound, making the page easy to take in. No walls of text here.
Plus, the copy asks and answers questions, showing readers that Purple truly understands its target market’s problems and has an effective solution on hand.
Check, check, check.
(As for why there are potentially distracting nav menu and footer links, the jury’s out. My guess? Purple’s analytics showed that without the opportunity to explore other pages of the site, visitors bounced — so they offered ’em the ability to click around and come back to this page when ready.)
Dig a little deeper into the copy, and you’ll notice three seriously strategic ways Purple is augmenting its already savvy presentation with humor.
How humor gives Purple the edge
1. Funny and varied word choice (plus wordplay!)
Did you even KNOW there were so many words for butts in the English language? I didn’t.
In nearly every headline and sentence of body copy, Purple says “butt” in a new and different way: derriere, tail, duff, wazoo…
They also gleefully take advantage of low-hanging joke opportunities like “pain in the butt,” and give their sentences a playful cadence by using alliteration, like “precious posteriors” and “squeeze and suffocate”.
Why does this work?
Using jokes and different words to describe the same part of the anatomy keeps the reader interested, entertained, and reading further — if for no other reason to see how many unique ways you can say “butt” (19 on this page, for the record).
Wow, what a long, boring word for “attributing human form or personality to”.
Purple anthropormorphizes — what else? — the reader’s butt. We see this happen right away in the hero section headline and video, where a butt is endowed with the human emotion of sadness.
It even gets its very own “Sad Butt Diary” to catalog the many injustices that plague it.
A bit further down, Purple suggests that our butts have been “neglected” by uncomfortable chairs (effectively anthropomorphizing those chairs in the process, too).
Why does this work?
By mentally endowing a part of our own body with its own, distinct emotions, we can more effectively empathize with that part.
Only the most mindful among us has the elastic mental perspective it takes to examine our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations from afar — but given a little mental distance from our butts, we just might start to see them more objectively.
And thinking of your butt as a separate entity also makes it easier to rationalize giving dat booty a nice present. After all, you can deal with being uncomfortable. It’s just you (and you’ve probably dealt with worse).
But when it’s your butt that’s bummed? And that butt feels like a “precious” friend whom you’ve been overlooking?
Well, you’d be a monster to ignore your friend’s complaints, wouldn’t you?
3. Strategic deployment of humor
I saved the best for last.
One of the most common questions I hear (after “Is that your natural hair color?”) is, “But where and when should I use humor in my marketing?”
My answer is the same as it is to many other copywriting questions: It depends.
It depends on your branding, your prospect’s stage of awareness of your product, your risk tolerance for pushing the humor envelope, and a whole host of other things.
In general, you want to cut “cleverness” in favor of clarity. That’s a pretty hard-and-fast copywriting rule.
So it follows that you’d want to eschew humor in the parts of your marketing that are closest to the sale.
Look at where Purple is laying off the jokes and just presenting the facts, albeit in the same lively tone:
Why does this work?
By avoiding potentially distracting readers with humor — or accidentally over-easing readers’ anxiety, some of which is necessary to motivate a sale — Purple keeps the focus on its… bottom line.