Ad and marketing creatives

Use "Belief Builders" to Improve Marketing Copy

I wish all advertising, publicity and marketing communications were truthful and not deceptive in any way. But, alas, that just isn't the case.

In fact, the bestselling author Seth Godin even titled one of his books "All Marketers Are Liars." It was an in-joke because the book was actually about using storytelling techniques in marketing, and not about lying. But the fact that he joked about it on the cover of a major book shows there is a problem.

People are very skeptical when they read marketing materials.

And who can blame them? Prospects and customers are constantly being bombarded by spam, hype, exaggerations, inflated claims and -- dare I say it? -- lies.

So when you, as a marketing writer, make a product claim that is not substantiated, there will be, unfortunately, a nagging element of doubt. Many prospects and customers just won't believe you.

Here's an example:

Say you're putting together a sales brochure for an industrial pump manufacturer. And you write this in your copy:

ACME industrial pumps cost less and last longer than the leading pump brand. You save money. And reduce downtime!

The claims made here are "cost less" and "last longer". Hmm. Some readers may believe you. But many more will raise their eyebrows in suspicion. They're thinking, "Do your pumps really last longer? Who says so? Why should I believe you?"

You must address this skepticism in your copy. How?

Take a look at this rewrite:

According to tests by the Industrial Fluid Handling Association, ACME pumps last longer than the leading brand. This reduces your downtime. In addition, our catalog price is 22.3% lower by comparison, so you save money as well.

I think you'll agree that this rewritten version is more believable -- and, consequently, much more persuasive. And all the writer did to accomplish this was to add in a few "belief builders."

A belief builder is, of course, any copy element that helps the reader trust what you're saying.

Here are some of my favorite belief builders:

  • Testimonials
  • Endorsements
  • Product reviews
  • Performance statistics
  • Independent studies
  • A personal pledge by the company owner
  • Publicity
  • Guarantees

Using specifics, rather than generalities, is also an effective belief builder. Some people may trust that your courier service offers "prompt overnight delivery". However, a lot more people will be convinced if you say, "overnight delivery by 8:45 a.m."

But the most effective belief builder of them all is: Tell the truth. Readers have an uncanny ability to sense deception in marketing copy. Just one exaggeration, dubious claim, or hyped up promise and your marketing piece will lose all credibility. People will not buy in droves.

So when writing or reviewing copy, put yourself in the reader's shoes and ask, "Why should I believe you?" If the copy doesn't answer that question convincingly, you have some belief building to do.

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Steve Slaunwhite is a marketing consultant, award-winning copywriter, and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. He works with professionals who need better results from their websites, e-mails, sales letters, ads, and other marketing communications. He is also the editor of His professional home on the Web is Click here to read more articles by Steve Slaunwhite.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday December 25th 2007, 9:17 AM
Comment by: Kitty S. (Brooklyn, NY)
Another aspect of this issue is convincing your copywriting clients that hype shuts off their customers. I build websites for singers, and every one of them wants to say that he or she is "critically acclaimed" - so does that now mean anything? It doesn't mean much to me! When I get a postcard announcing a show that says "Mary brings her critcally-acclaimed show back to the Sing Barn" I simply ignore the phrase. When I suggest banning this phrase from clients' publicity they respond that "everyone does it - if I don't do it, people will wonder if I'm so far down the heap that not one critic has had one nice thing to say about me."

I suppose the cure is to indicate somehow WHICH critics, and WHAT acclaim. Then the question is, what do you quote and how many triple dots do you use - is the result any more believable? And how do you get around the fact that copy that proves the point is more dense - not as snappy and eye-grabbing - as a quick hype phrase?

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