Building Transparency And Trust


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Master Marketing By Actively Listening To Your Customers

In today's digital world, consumers are flooded with advertisements in their inboxes and all over various social media platforms. With the automation of marketing in sales funnels and email chains, many marketers have focused only on selling and lost their personal connection with the buyer in the process.  Consumers are quick to recognize this type of marketing - their defenses rise and brand trust is lost. 

Our CEO, Stacy Jones sat down with an expert copywriter to discuss why now more than ever, it is crucial for brands to start thinking less about selling to their customers, and more about engaging with them. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded explores how actively engaging with your customers builds transparency and trust, with the expertise of Conversational Copywriting's founder Nick Osborne.

Podcast Thumbnail Ep. 124

A Little More About Nick

Nick has been copywriting since 1979 and has worked with major companies including Citibank, Apple, Chrysler and the New York Times, for their sales and advertising materials. He has also worked as an advisor and consultant for a variety of startups, principally in the area of consumer products online. 

Nick has conducted in-house seminars and training sessions for companies including Yahoo, Intuit, Walt Disney Attractions and John Deere, to name a few. He's published hundreds of blogs sharing his expertise and is the author of Net Words:Creating High Impact Online Copy.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: Can you tell us all a little bit more about you, your background, and what got you to where you are today?

Answer: I'm super grateful to have been able to do the same thing for 40 years and still enjoy it, that's pretty amazing. The course of my career really is one accidental move after another. When I first got my job in the advertising agency in London, a week before that I didn't even know advertising agencies existed, I just kind of fell into it. Somebody said, “Hey you should work in advertising it's fun.” And it was. Those were the Mad Men days, and it really was wild and crazy, and fun. I fell in love with it, and I've just kept putting one foot in front of the other ever since.

I did some stints with ad agencies, but principally I've been working as a freelance copywriter that slowly moved into more training work. I have done a lot more training work with companies and individuals. The biggest pivot came when I wrote my first website in 1995. By 1997 I was working online full-time. When the web came along I fell in love all over again. I thought, “My goodness what a wonderful place to communicate and to share messages, and to market oneself.”

It was kind of weird, because in those early days there was quite the backlash against the idea of the internet being used as a marketing platform. I love it as a platform, but it is different. There's old school broadcast copywriting and communication, which is what I originally learned, where you're marketing and advertising through a TV commercial and broadcasting a sales message at a passive audience. They're sitting on their couch, slouched down, eating popcorn, whatever, that have no way of talking back to you in the TV. Traditional media, before the web, was one way- crafting sales messages ad pushing them out to an audience.


When the web came along, my gasping moment was, “Oh my goodness, this is two way, this is a multi way medium. This is a medium where the audience are in fact also creators.” Now we move forward to today, where I look at, as an example, YouTubers. There is an account named PewDiePie, he's a guy who lives in the South of England who has 95 million subscribers. That's pretty much every major media outlet in the US combined, and he's still winning. It's extraordinary. It's an extraordinary medium in that regard.

From a marketing point of view, that means we have to shift our messages, and we have to stop marketing and copywriting, and pitching and selling, as if we were still in the Mad Men days, as if we were still in a world that broadcasts media, because we're not. That's me, that's the very short version of me.

Question: For people who don't understand what copywriting is, can you break it down a little to help them understand what is it that you're truly doing? How are you crafting and working with teams?

Answer: Yeah, so going back to fundamentals, what is a copywriter? Is it's a person who writes words that are, in one way or another, designed to sell. Online we hear a lot about this division between content marketing and then sales copywriting. In fact there's a huge gray border in between, where your copywriting can also be great content, and where your content can be pre-selling. It's a very close relationship between all communication online.

As a copywriter I would be working with a marketing team on a promotional campaign. Or, if I'm working in-house, then I've got my in-house team. If I work in an agency I've got my agency team. If I'm working as a freelancer maybe I'll just be working with a contact person at the company, or maybe they'll get me on group calls like this, with the team in-house. It really varies.

The writers' role is, hey it's so much richer and more complicated now than it was, because again in the old days, if I was writing a print ad, which is what I was doing right at the very beginning when I started out, it was just me and an art director designer sitting across a table, and he did the picture bit and I did the word bit.

product placement guide

Now it can get so complicated. I could be looking at a campaign, a promotional campaign that includes social media and email marketing, and landing pages and automated sales, funnels and sequences, it can get kind of crazy. A copywriter then has to work within quite a complex process.

There's all kinds of wonderfulness to this whole online thing, and then we get into where I think things go wrong. One of the things I look at really carefully these days is the whole idea of marketing automation. You know when you sign up for something that you find interesting, and then the emails start coming, and then you have that moment where you think, “Oh no, I'm stuck in a sales funnel. Here it comes again.”

It's unfortunate because as a company, as a marketer, the last thing you ever want your audience, or your prospects to feel is, “Oh no, here we go again.” All that kind of web and automation, and the complexity and process, it's fascinating to me. People can make a lot of big mistakes with automation. I think the biggest mistake is basically to leave your humanity behind. It's to stop being a person. And that's where I get into my whole conversational rant is, stop selling at people, and start engaging with, and holding conversations with people. Don't rely so much on automation, and rely more on being yourself, on being a person.

Question: If you were to be instructing, leading, and talking with a company about how they could be building trust better, what are the first steps? How would you tell them to go down and toe the line and start taking this more conversational approach that is more, hopefully of higher engagement?

Answer: It depends a lot on the size of the organization. If it's a small startup I'd say to the founders, “Come out from behind the curtain and engage with people, do this, get in front of a camera and talk to people, let them see you.” If it's a midsize organization or larger, I'd say, “Hey trust your people a little more. Bring some of your people in front of the curtain, let some of your people engage with your audience. Show a human touch.”

Then I would go to all of their written materials and give them a challenge. And it's a challenge for anyone listening. If you have a website go to your 'About' page, print it out on a piece of paper, go down to your kitchen, sit in front of your significant other, or neighbor, or friend, look them in the eye and read your 'About' page out loud to that person across the table. They will usually either laugh, say you sound stuffy or overly salesy.


Very occasionally the person across the table will say, "Yeah, that's you, I recognize you." So that to me is always the litmus test, it could be in the About page, it could be an email, it could be a social media update, it could be a sales page. If you don't actually do it in real life, imagine doing it, imagine reading it out loud, and actually yourself read it out loud. You discover all kinds of things ready copy out loud. You discover clumsy, badly written stuff when you read it out loud. I've been copywriting for 40 years and I'll still print out things and read them in front of a mirror. 

Question: That's a really great example reading in front of your mirror. I do this all the time, and it helps. Listening to yourself, it's massive. It's amazing how bad you sometimes actually write. But what is another thing that you could tell our listeners, that would be really good for them if they're working in teams, or if they're working solo. How should they be approaching this process?

Answer: Ask questions, or more specifically listen. I'm not only a conversational copywriter or marketer, I'm a conversation geek. I find conversation fascinating. Every important relationship in our lives begins with a conversation. Your first date with your significant other, the job interview for that job you love, it was a conversation.

How do you make friends and keep friends? Through conversation. It is so integral to our lives, and there's one thing that most of us do really, really badly, and that definitely includes me, and that is we're not very good listeners. Which is a pity because listening is probably the most powerful aspect of being good in conversation.

I don't know about you, but I can think back over my life, just occasionally, like if I'm lucky once every five years, I'll have a conversation with someone, and then suddenly you pop out the other end of it and it's like, “Oh my god it's two hours since we started talking.” Through conversation, you've got to a place that neither of you could have arrived at on your own. This is this beautiful creative, collaborative thing, that conversation can be. Those conversations only work when both parties are truly actively listening.

The web is fantastic place for you to listen. Go to social media, go to your competitors social media streams, listen to the conversations there. Go to Amazon, read the reviews, go to Yelp and read the reviews, go anywhere and everywhere so you have an opportunity to listen to what your prospects are saying. In particular listen to emotional cues. What is it that your customers get excited about? Frustrated about? Angry about? Upset about? Delighted, what delights them? What makes them happy, what makes them share the good stuff?


Listen to those emotion cues, and then listen to the language they use. I build up whole files on this, if I'm talking to a particular audience, I do this research, I don't do formal research, I listen. I go to these places where I can read what my prospects are saying. I'm looking for the emotional highs and lows, because they're going to be powerful messaging platforms as it were.

I'm also listening to the language they use. The bigger the company, the more separated the marketing group becomes from the language of their customers. You get this in-house jargon thing happening of like, and everyone's talking to themselves in this fancy, in-house business language. It's not how their customers talk. It's about a foundation of conversation. Good conversation is to listen, and I can't imagine I'm not right about that, I think we all instinctively know that. We all instinctively know we could improve when it comes to listening.

That applies to marketing as well. Listen to your prospects, listen to your customers, listen to the emotional cues, take note of the language they use, not the language you're used to using internally, they use, and then respond. When you get into conversation you reflect it back, you mirror back to them, what they're saying, what they're feeling.

My job is to actually get out of the way, to listen to what my prospects care about, listen to the language they use, and then mirror that back to them. So they know that I'm listening. And as soon as they know I'm listening, everything changes.

Check Out The Podcast

Want to hear more of this informative information about conversational copywriting and engaging with your customers? Check out the full podcast episode below! 

Next Steps

We have even more content about great marketing! Check out the following blog posts to learn even more about the most important relationship in your business - the one with your customers.

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