The Pronouns of Online Marketing
by David Leonhardt
October 20, 2018
The Pronouns of Online Marketing

Pronouns get confusing these days. I have two teenage daughters, and I hear what young people are calling themselves.

Girls want to be called “he”. Boys want to be called “she”. Many want to be called “they”. There are homosexuals and heterosexuals, trans-sexuals and pan-sexuals. There are multisexuals and asexuals and multidimensionals and extraterrestrials and who knows what else. Even they can’t keep up.

Pronouns are easier in marketing. You have three basic choices:

  • first person
  • second person
  • third person

These are called “points of view”, or POV in the literary world. Which one you choose for your website depends largely on what type of writing you are doing. I explained earlier the three types of writing for the Web:

  • sales copy
  • storytelling
  • task-oriented

In a nutshell, you want to write sales copy and task-oriented text in the second person, as much as possible. That means using the pronoun “you”. Occasionally, you’ll want to use the first person, which is “I” or “we”.

Storytelling is a little more complicated. You would usually use the third person, which is “he” or “she” or “they”. But not always.

Let’s look at each type of writing a little closer…and I have a surprise for you, as well.

Sales copy

As any sales pro will tell you, selling is all about meeting the needs of the customers, whether those needs are real or perceived.

Sales copy is about the customer’s problem. It’s about the customer’s pain. And it’s about the solution to the customer’s pain. When you write sales copy, you are writing to the customer. It’s all about the “you”. The customer doesn’t care about you, so don’t use “I” or “we”.

There are exceptions, or course. All second person writing involves the first person, too. Picture a conversation between two people. You need both people to have that conversation. I can’t talk to you, if I am not involved.

And there are times when I have to switch the attention to me. For instance, when I make a commitment. “I guarantee…”. “As soon as you sign up, we will send you…”

The goal, to be as effective as possible, is to limit the first person to as few instances as possible.

Task-oriented text

Sometimes people come to your website for something that does not involve buying. For instance, they might want:

  • to learn how to do something
  • to find out who you are
  • to understand your industry
  • to contact you
  • to apply for a job

Whether informational or transactional, the visitor has guess who in mind? That’s right – themselves. They want information to use. They want a transaction for their own benefit. The more you can keep focused on the reader and the reader’s needs, the more the reader will keep interested in your content.

Once again, there are exceptions. The main one is when you need to explain what you do or will do for them. And again, the more you can keep that focused on the reader and not on you, the better you will communicate.

Another exception is when you are explaining a process a third party will follow: “They will process your information…” And once again, the more you can bring it back to the “you”, the better: “You should hear from them…”

Storytelling

Unless you know your visitors better than they know themselves, you are unlikely to tell a story about “you”. Most stories are about a third person, or several third persons. Think Harry Potter. Think the Da Vinci Code. Think Peter Rabbit.

A story might be about a customer. It might be about a supplier. It might be about someone else.

But it could be about you. Motivational speakers often tell stories about themselves as much as about people they’ve met. If you are trying to build your own credibility or show your own vulnerability, you might want to tell a story in the first person: “I recall a time…”

And once again – I bet you already know what I am about to say – the sooner you can bring it back to the “you”, the better. Make the link. Draw the connection. Make sure that the readers see themselves in the story you write.

I promised a surprise for you. Here it is. People don’t like the second person for calls to action. Consider these two:

  • Get your free report
  • Send my free report

Guess which one gets a higher response rate? Against all logic and popular assumptions, the first person works better, converting over 25% better. When speaking to your readers, speak to them: “You”. When you want them to speak back to you, give them a button that’s all about them: “I” or “me” or “my”.

And so, on my query form, the heading reads “Get your free quote now…” But the button at the end of the form reads: “Get my free quote”

Understanding the different between first, second and third person is important to connect to your users. Understanding when and how to use each is critical to your website’s success.

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