Copy minus compassion: three ways to drive your reader away

Mar 26, 2018 | Writing Tips | 10 comments


Several years ago I was walking in York when a ‘monk’ stepped in front of me, thrust a clipboard into my face, said he was raising money, showed me lots of people who’d signed a form pledging £20 each (all with amazingly similar handwriting) and asked me how much I was going to contribute. All without drawing breath.

I said something along the lines of “I don’t like being ordered to do things” and stepped back. He said, “Well I don’t like selfish mean bitches’.

No joke.

I haven’t met many monks in my time, but that didn’t strike me as particularly monkish behaviour.

Why am I sharing this? Because I was thinking about what it takes to get someone on your side. Specifically, how to write compassionate copy, and to build relationships in a kind, mutually beneficial way.

The monk was an example of how not to do that. If you’re trying to get someone on-side, whether it’s fundraising on the street or creating your sales page, here are three things NOT to do:

Compassion fail one: get in their face

People don’t like to feel cornered. I don’t anyway. Generally people like to feel like autonomous beings in charge of their own decision-making. Even if we’re feeling like we need help and direction, we like to be invited to act rather than ordered to.

And first of all we need space to breathe. We want to be part of the conversation, to be acknowledged, to feel understood and heard. So rather than kick off with what you want from them, take the time to show you’re listening.

That’s harder on the page than in the street, but you can do it by:

  • leaving space for your reader to pause and reflect
  • asking questions
  • outlining their situation to show you empathise.

Don’t ask for anything other than their attention first off.

Compassion fail two: skip over why

Whatever you’re promoting, you need to be clear why it’s important. I don’t remember a thing about what the monk was fundraising for, all I remember is being called a selfish mean bitch. Perhaps if he’d approached me, explained what the cause was, explained why it was important I might have had more inclination to support him.

Compassionate copy connects people with what’s truly important to them. Usually that’s a value they live by, or an aspect of their future they’d like to see fulfilled. Think about what vision of their future you can help with: a life where they’re less stressed, more fulfilled, fitter, healthier, happier maybe. Whatever it is, help them see it. You can download my free guide to writing values-driven copy here.

Compassion fail three: shame them into taking action

It’s not OK to guilt trip your reader/target in the street. In fact it’s not ok to shame people at all – Brené Brown says so and she’s a wise, informed researcher.

Even if you’re not calling someone a bitch if they don’t do what you want, there are more subtle ways to make them feel small if they don’t comply.

When it comes to copy, you’ll find scarcity is used a lot:

‘last chance to get this before the price goes up’

‘only three places left’

And there’s a place for all that, absolutely. All of us have been guilty of sitting around knowing we should act then waiting until the last minute. Deadlines and boundaries are helpful.

But bullying people into action is unlikely to work. Implying your reader is some sort of loser if the don’t click through is not a great way to start a relationship. Like me in the street, your reader will just walk away. And even if they do go on to work with you, you’ve set the tone for a combative, power-tussle sort of relationship that they’ll likely come to resent.

So choose your words carefully. Inviting them to work with you/buy from you, being clear on how to do it and any deadlines, without combative language, leaves the door open.

Perhaps they won’t buy this time. If your words have built rather than burned a bridge, there’s every chance they will next. That’s one of the many reasons compassionate copy works over tricking, bullying, or bulldozing your way to a sale.

How about you? Have you ever felt bullied by a monk or a webpage?! What sort of language is more likely to make you want to buy? Do share in the comments!




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Gayle Johnson

Gayle Johnson


Gayle is a freelance content writer, writing mentor and facilitator. She is the creator of ‘Wordspill’ and loves helping people use words to connect with themselves and others. Find out how you can work with Gayle and her services


  1. Bridget Bernadette Karn

    Thankfully no experiences with hard faced, foul mouthed monks. But plenty of horrible call salespeople with patronising attitudes – they can’t possibly do well!
    I completely agree that we do better all round, when we build genuine relationships with people and find out if we can supply to meet their needs, rather than force sell.

    • Gayle

      Thanks Bridget. Yes, I’ve had a few hard sell telephone people too. Just yuck, no thanks!

  2. Louise Mason

    I really like number 3 – knowing when to use scarcity and knowing the difference between FOMO techniques and shaming someone into taking action.

    • Gayle

      Thanks Louise! Yes, scary scarcity is just not helpful! x

  3. Debs

    Great blog. Passionate about making language work

    • Gayle

      Thanks Debs. Yes, words are so important aren’t they?!

  4. Maria Assia

    Really great points. I think you’ve nailed it about the hard sell a d wow! That monk!

    • Gayle

      Thanks Maria! That monk indeed!

  5. Lorraine Pannetier

    Great blog Gayle. Fantastic tips and a humorous story – a perfect combination.

    • Gayle

      Thanks Lorraine! It is a funny story now – was genuinely shocked when it happened though. All good learning – thank you monk 🙂 x


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