How to Build Credibility Into Your Copy

How do you break through the walls of disbelief and make your copy credible and persuasive?

It can be done, with some effort. Trouble is, too many copywriters take the easy path. And the results show it. I often see copy that’s vague and unspecific and filled with anemic generalities, empty promises, transparent boasts, and undocumented claims. Is it any wonder that such copy doesn’t sell?

Here are some of the techniques I’ve employed to boost credibility:

  • Use specifics. “Concretize” each claim. Every selling point should be bolstered by a specific. If that element is absent, jab your finger at the offending passage and utter the two magic words: “For example?”
  • Incorporate real names and numbers: people, companies, dollar amounts, dates, percentages, statistics.
  • Cite proof, evidence, documentation, such as research studies from external sources that are perceived as objective and impartial. Example: For an audio course called Conversation Confidence, I wrote this paragraph: “Never underestimate the value of conversational skills! In a recent study, Stanford University MBA graduates were surveyed. What factor predicted success? Not grades. Instead, the most successful individuals were those who were comfortable and confident talking with anybody!
  • Relate a success story or case study. A real-life anecdote or experience, well told, has an unmistakable ring of truth. Caveat: Don’t make it up!
  • A story or case might serve as a testimonial for the product. But remember that narrative testimonials are more powerful than mere superlatives (“Sensational!” “I use it every day!”). And vivid details help make a testimonial sound authentic and plausible, so the reader won’t be suspicious and wonder if it’s fabricated.
  • If relevant, supply the credentials of the advertiser. But beware of “manufacturer’s copy” that’s only about the company and communicates no selling value.
  • Of course, a strong guarantee can help make an offer persuasive.
  • It’s often overlooked that the tone of the copy itself is a credibility booster. If it sounds authoritative, readers are more likely to believe it.

Finally, you might consider admitting a fault or mistake. Yes, it’s a bit risky. But claims of perfection invite skepticism, and this tactic can help overcome that obstacle.

Way back in the 1920s, a copywriter named O. A. Owen wrote: “We seldom believe a statement which is an unqualified catalog of excellences …. Wouldn’t it be friendlier if [ads] admitted an occasional drawback? … The wise advertiser may safely ‘give himself away’ if only to be believed in the main.”

Here’s an example of how to do it:

Stock-market newsletters traditionally boast about their accurate predictions. On one occasion, when I wrote a direct-mail package for such a publication, I had the editor concede:

Yes, I’ve made a few bad calls. I once bought what seemed to be a promising medical-equipment company. But I made a mistake. It immediately dropped 17%. I promptly recognized my blunder and sold, minimizing damage to the portfolio.

The advisor’s admission that he erred (while quickly noting how he skillfully extracted himself!) made the accompanying claims of success and profits more believable.

See if your product has a minor imperfection to which you can “confess.” Caution: Don’t go too far … or you may lose the sale!

More generally, always remember that many people today are cynical, skeptical, and mistrustful of advertiser claims. So be sure to build into your copy as many of the above credibility elements as possible.

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Published: July 28, 2008

5 Responses to “How to Build Credibility Into Your Copy”

  1. I especially appreciate the tip to confess a mistake, and what was done to correct it...of course, my change must be relevant to the product or service.

    M M Wagner

  2. Great article Don! Some very valuable insight here.

    Guest (Jonathan)

  3. Creditability is sort of like having great creditability with friends, associates and your bank.

    Sara Millard Dieffembach

  4. I absolutely agree with the tips here.....THANK YOU!!


  5. Great list of things to be mindful of when writing Copy.

    Thanks for this great article Don!

    Ketan Shukla

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