Pamela Wilson

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How to Use Uncomfortable Truths to Write Persuasively

Write persuasively

Sometimes you have to make your customer feel uncomfortable before they will trust your marketing content.

I’m not talking about agitating their current problem or pain point, but by being upfront and saying:

The solution I have won’t work for everyone.

To illustrate, I want to use an example that I call the TripAdvisor Test.

As with any review site, trying to find out what a product, place, restaurant is really like can be time-consuming and confusing — there are so many conflicting reviews!

Let’s take an imaginary sample of reviews for a restaurant:

Customer A

“Absolutely love this restaurant! Great value for the money, really friendly staff, and the food was delicious. Would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a great place to eat downtown!”

Customer B

“Terrible! Got there and they didn’t even have our reservation! Food was awful — basically a plate swimming in gravy which completely spoiled the meal. And much much too loud. It was like eating in a nightclub — will never return.”

Customer C

“Given a warm welcome, though as we reserved through a 3rd party it took them a few moments to find our booking. Can recommend the steak pie but if you’re not a fan of gravy ask for it on the side or not at all because they give you a lot! Also worth noting if you come on a Friday try to eat and finish before 8:30 pm as they have live music and it does make it difficult to hear each other.”

People trust straight talkers

Even though the first review seems positive, it’s weak in its persuasive powers. It doesn’t tell us anything specific about the venue and it’s hard to imagine that every single thing about the place is as good as the claim.

The second one gives us a few more details: too much gravy and loud music. However, I tend to be wary of a review that complains about everything! I tend to wonder if the reviewer is just a cantankerous grouch who loves to moan.

The final review is balanced and specific. It highlights honest shortcomings about the place (it took them a few moments to find the booking), and also includes elements that may put other people off (gravy and the music).

Because of this, we feel as though we are getting a trustworthy appraisal of the venue and are better positioned to make an informed decision about whether we want to dine there.

This is one of the most important techniques to use when you want to write persuasively.

Uncomfortable truths = invaluable insider tips

The final review is also doing something else that the first two fail to do — it’s providing tips for other customers to get the best possible experience:

  • Confirm your booking if you book with a third party
  • Get gravy on the side if you’re not a fan of having too much
  • Eat before 8:30 pm on a Friday, (or go after 8:30 pm if you enjoy live music)

In short, the “uncomfortable truth” reviewers are saying:

  1. Not everyone will find success with this
  2. This is what can hold people back
  3. Here’s what you can do to make it work for you

Why is this persuasive?

When you take a straight-talk approach like this in your writing, a few things happen:

  • It increases trust: by baring all, customers don’t feel as though you’re hiding anything or that you’re only putting a positive spin on things.
  • It overcomes objections: your customers may have false assumptions about why your product or service won’t work (imagine if potential diners only ever read customer B’s review above). Here you have a chance to acknowledge and counteract those assumptions.
  • It builds confidence: you know that people who do buy are well-informed and have accurate expectations of what they will receive or experience.

How to use this in your marketing copy

The first step is to identify what can go wrong in your customer’s pursuit of results. This may sound counter intuitive because why would we focus on the negative possibilities rather than the positive probabilities?

The answer is simple:

  • Your customer might already be thinking about this
  • If your competitors aren’t talking about it, you have an advantage by bringing it up first

Let’s say you sell juicing machines and your marketing talks about the healthy aspects of juicing as well as how easy your product is to use to make tasty healthy drinks in minutes.

Your customer may be thinking:

Yeah, my friend had a juicer but got bored with the same old drinks and now it’s gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere …”

The uncomfortable truth here is that there is always a chance good-quality equipment is relegated to a lost corner of a cupboard somewhere. Knowing this lets you build a case for why this doesn’t have to happen to your customer.

You might explain that while most juicers only give you a basic recipe leaflet which can get boring pretty quickly, you include 101 different recipes all with easy-to-find ingredients.

It’s about building a conversation in your marketing that says:

  1. Not everyone will find success with this
  2. This is what can hold people back
  3. Here’s what you can do to make it work for you

In the above example, the uncomfortable truth is that many people who buy expensive juicing equipment don’t turn their lives around and suddenly live healthy lifestyles. They get bored, stop using the juicer and go back to their old habits.

And if you’re the only one in your industry acknowledging this (and offering a solution for it), your offer is going to sound much more appealing than the competition’s offer.

What’s your uncomfortable truth?

Are you acknowledging your uncomfortable truth in your copy and showing how your customers can have a better experience? I’d love to know in the comments!

Pamela Wilson

I want to help you take the next step. Pick your free workshop topic and let’s do this!

11 thoughts on “How to Use Uncomfortable Truths to Write Persuasively”

  1. What’s my uncomfortable truth? Great question.
    Amy, your guidance allows me to make a list with quiet knowing confidence, as opposed to evading my uncomfortable truth or approaching it with dread. I get to BE real as I present my offerings to the world. Thanks. dawn

    • Being real is some of the best marketing you can do Dawn. That way you know you’re attracting clients that will truly love not only WHAT you do, but HOW you do it. 🙂

  2. Good points Amy.
    So much copy focus’s on the features/benefits formula, and why you just have to proceed with a purchase.
    While uncomfortable truths can discourage a skeptical buyer, they do offer a great chance to hit a home run
    with a new customer.

    • It’s easy to assume that your customer is closer to the sale than they actually are when you write your copy. Taking a step back, acknowledging that people have doubts, and then adding validity to those doubts can sound very different and fresh to a lot of marketing out there. Thanks for commenting Barry!

  3. Hey Amy — good to see you here, and great post! Timing is perfect for me, I actually just did a post aimed at sending away a segment of my customers because they’re not fluent enough in English. It got nearly 200 comments!

    I think people love the tough-love, ‘this may not be for you’ approach.

    • You’re right Carol. Also, if you are open and honest about those who are not a good fit, it makes ideal customers more confident. In your case: “Well, I am fluent in English, so this sounds right for me!” Thanks for your comment.

  4. This is great. Now I’m going to add 2 lines to my best-performing article on LinkedIn. Thank you so much.

    Hey Carol, I’d say people “don’t mind” “tough love” if it’s calibrated. The creator of The Webby Awards (Tiffany Shlain) basically said in 2013 that the tough love approach goes much further if you begin a critique with something positive *first*, to disarm the person/thing being critiqued and then proceed with the tough love and stay true to it. And as Bob Burg said, sometimes people focus too much on the “brutal” in “brutal honesty.” P.S.: Loved your article about ESL. You were voicing what most people are too polite to say

  5. Great article.

    This reminds me of the job interview question where you identify greatest weakness.

    (You know the one where we all confess to being either a perfectionist or a workaholic.)

    Honesty in advertising is so rare, I can see going against the grain working quite well.

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