David Mamet on copywriting that serves your customer

by | Mar 11, 2007

I just finished reading David Mamet’s observations “On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.” Great book. bambigodzilla.jpeg
Before I share with you a few treasures that illuminate marketing a business you love to people you actually care about, you should know that this book is beautifully written. I mention that because I want you to think about the aesthetics of marketing, very possibly a category for reflection that you have never entertained.
On to the intersection of art and marketing.
Why your just-right customers want you to show them where it hurts. Drama and what constitutes it (or not) forms a central theme of Mamet’s book. In the chapter, “The Three Magic Questions,” we are told that no matter what the interest of the writer and viewer, regardless of the cultural and historical context, a drama must answer three questions.
1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What will happen if they don’t get it?
3. Why now?
In copywriting, the order is often changed because the hero of your copy is not a fictional character but your just-right customer, and the way your just-right customer can find out if he or she is just-right is by recognizing their story in your copy.
Start in the middle. In a conversation intended to reveal whether or not your work and the needs of a specific customer are a match (i.e., copy), it is wise to begin with the second question, “What will happen if they don’t get it?”
One reason for this inversion is that, while it is devoutly to be wished that your just-right customers want (or will want) something from you, to wit, your products or services, it is possbile, even likely, that they will approach your copy not knowing, or not entirely certain, that such is their desire.
This being the case, you owe them a reason why they should care, and that means you tell them what will happen if they do not do business with you.
Before you run into the night screaming, think about this. If the person reading your copy is not your just-right customer, they will stop reading when you describe a pain they do not have or anticipate. This is a good thing.
The purpose of writing copy is not to snare the unwary into believing they need something they don’t – who would want to attract customers that won’t be thrilled with what they get? Copy is written for the people who do need what you offer and who will experience some lack, possibly pain, if they don’t know about it.
When you have established what will happen if your just-right customer does not get what they want from you, you can describe who that just right customer is. This answers the question: Who wants what from whom?”
No, no, no. This does not mean cajoling, flattering, or frightening the reader into believing that they need (or should need) what you offer. It does mean describing the just-right customer and how they will benefit from what you offer. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and describe what you offer from their point of view. Once again, if he reader does not recognize him- or herself in this point of view, they will stop reading. And once again, that is a good thing.
Having answered questions one and two, you are well on the way to creating real drama as opposed to hype around your product or service. Your next obligation to your just-right customer is to answer question 3, “Why now?”
You’re busy. I’m busy. Your just-right customer is busy. Even though your offer has thus far been so engaging that they are still reading, it will remain a nice idea unless you move them to action.
Again, put yourself in the position of your just-right customer. Imagine that this customer really, truly needs what you offer. What is likely to happen if they do not take action now?
“Why now?” is a question you answer for the customer who has every reason to act except a sense of urgency. Lacking urgency, he or she will walk away, very possibly thinking that they’ll check out your work at a later date. Your job is to paint a picture of what could happen if they delay.
If you are a body worker, think of the people you have seen who are suffering from limited range of motion or pain for lack of appropriate treatment. If you are an attorney, think of the people who suffer needlessly because they had no idea that they (1) needed a lawyer and (2) could find one they could trust.
Once again, to write compelling copy that connects with your just-right customer, answer these questions:
1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What will happen if they don’t get it?
3. Why now?
I did my best to apply these principles when I wrote the copy for the Authentic Wealth Tele-retreat. Whether or not the retreat is a fit for you, you will find this sales page a valuable model for selling work that you love to customers you respect.