The Poison of Predictability

In working with clients, being predictable is an asset. He expects you to be predictably skilled, easy to work with, and fair with him in business dealings.

But, predictability in your writing can scuttle your success.

Here’s why …

Your prospect receives up to 700 marketing messages daily. That works out to about one marketing message every minute and 20 seconds. He’s so flooded with ads, websites, emails, and other marketing messages that he’s developed a built-in filter.

If what’s tickling his awareness seems like an ad, he’s likely to ignore it …

 … Unless he understands your goal is to solve some problem in his life, add to his wealth, make him healthier, improve his status, or improve the world he lives in.

He must feel you want to help him … not that you want to sell him some product.

If you approach your prospect predictably, he’ll know you’re trying to sell him something. And, that you’re not concerned about solving problems. Predictability will kill your promotions.

Let me take a quick side jaunt here. Of course, the success of your promotion doesn’t rest solely on being unpredictable. Your headline must capture his attention. It must cut through the flood of daily drivel battling for your prospect’s attention. It must promise him something worthwhile.

To do this, an effective headline surprises your prospect, jolts him out of his complacency. It uses words and ideas he doesn’t expect to see in a headline.

After opening with an unpredictable, surprising headline, your copy sustains attention with a lead that’s different from other leads. One that keeps him interested in going forward, eager to learn what you have to tell him. One he feels he hasn’t seen before … one that is, of course, unpredictable.

You can’t let copy-killing predictability sneak into your body copy either. Body copy proves your promise and makes it real for your prospect. If the copy is dry and ordinary – predictable – your prospect stops reading.

Even the close – the part of your promotion that asks your prospect to become a buyer – must shun falling back on the predictable.

By staying unpredictable, all of these major components of your promotion work together to convince your prospect you really do care about him. And, that you offer him something to improve his life in some way.

How to avoid copy-deadening predictability …

Nature hardwires predictability into our brains. An infant presented with a large “happy face” image responds to it as she does to a face.

We hear part of a common phrase like, “A penny saved is … ,” and we fill in the blank without a second thought.

We see a large hulking shadow on the road that looks a bit like a bear. We turn and walk the other way. (Like I did at dawn one morning, only to find out later it was a garbage can!)

Predictability makes life easier and safer for us. But, as I’ve said before, it kills your copy’s success. So, how do you overcome predictability? Here are three Predictability Slayers to keep your copy fresh and surprising:

1. Build a strong foundation.

All successful promotions begin with research. Research more than you think you need. Research your product, your prospect, and similar products looking for copy gold.

If you find something that surprises you, then you have a nugget that’ll yank your prospect out of his complacency. If you can’t find that gold, dig for new words, phrases, and ideas to express the benefits and the promise.

2. Shun the common and the cliché.

Avoid clichés in all your writing, not just copywriting. Clichés epitomize predictability. Worse, you’re letting your reader take control of your copy.

Let’s say you’re trying to convince your prospect the importance of teaching her children the value of money. You might feel tempted to quote Ben Franklin and say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” But, that phrase is so worn out, it means nothing.

Instead, surprise her with something like, “A penny saved … is a tiny step for your very young child along the road to financial independence. How can such a small investment …”

3. Reject the outline “straight jacket.”

I learned how to outline properly at the hands of two outstanding English teachers. Their efforts helped get me through college. I’m truly indebted to them.

But, when it comes to writing copy, I ignore everything they taught me. And, you should ignore your English teachers here, too.

When you write according to a strict outline, you’re outlining for predictability. And dull, ordinary copy.

Here’s the type of outline structure you must avoid or risk losing your prospect’s interest and the sale:

  1. Introduction: Give prospect big promise

    1. Promise: You will be richer
      1. Make at least $10,000 more a month
      2. Have great big Lexus
      3. Everyone will envy you
  2. Write a convincing word picture

    1. Vacation
      1. St. Tropez
      2. Sunny beach
      3. Crystal clear water

You get the idea. While this type of outline might be perfect for a college history paper, there’s no way you can build your personal connection with the prospect if you rely on something as plodding and dull as this.

Certainly, you want to follow the proven AWAI copy formula of Promise-Picture-Proof-Push (the Four P’s). But, you do not want to use an outline that walks you, as the writer, and your prospect, as the reader, step by boring step through the entire piece.

Instead, write your copy like a piece of fiction. Let your passion for the product, your respect for your prospect, and your creativity loose. Know what you want to say and where you want to say it. But just write.

I guarantee you one thing. Your first draft will be disorganized and even predictable. But, your first draft is never your last draft. Edit to tame your copy and to abolish the predictable.

I’d love to hear what you have to say about predictability and writing. Do you have any special tricks for making your copy more surprising? Tell me and our readers below.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: January 18, 2016

11 Responses to “The Poison of Predictability”

  1. I love this article, Will.
    Avoiding predictability is critical to stopping readers in their tracks in a day and age where information overload has us all operating in scan mode from the moment we turn on our computer, tablet, or smart phone.
    We have to engage the reader before we can persuade the reader.
    Thank you for the reminder!

    Michael Rhoda

  2. Enjoyed reading your article, Will – well written and useful content. :)

    Introducing a story into one's copy helps to avoid predictability...

    "Story selling."

    Guest (Eldo)

  3. Good afternoon Will, Your article about"The Poison of Predictability" opened my eyes.
    As a new AWAI member, I have tendency to write boring headline and boring content.
    Thank you for refreshing my memory about the Four P's.
    Here is my predictability and writing:
    CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE MUSIC GOD BLESS, JENNIE www dot beautytwee dot com jennieth12 at gmail dot com


  4. Hello, Will. This is the best piece of advice I have received from you. I realize now that some of my copy has been very predictable. I love the idea of writing it as a type of novel or story. I want to become better in this area of surprise.

    Thank you.

    Guest (Kathryn Wenzel)

  5. I'm having a little trouble seeing how avoiding predictability and sounding like a sales approach goes along with the training method of reading and writing classic sales pitches over and over and over. Perhaps that's the strong foundation to start with, but it still seems like quite a challenge to be so thoroughly immersed in standard templates and then build fresh, original, unpredictable ways of telling people you're going to help them by having them buy or do something. Follow-up article?


  6. It is good to be unpredictable, unique, inspiring, a good example, and understanding towards others in many ways. Be your true self to go the farthest.

    Guest (chantal)

  7. Thanks for a very good 'wake-up' call.

    ....Using latent talents will always shine through in the light humdrum repetition. ...We all have them, but the trick is finding the situation that brings them into our creative endeavors.

    Your article, along with your copy; shows you have found a profitable balance of structure and creativity others recognize.

    Guest (FE)

  8. Hi Will.
    Thank you for a great article.
    Could you add a sample of a good outline, the one for this article would be very helpful.
    Thanks again for sharing.


  9. The practice of being unpredictable is a master writers secret for sure. When we surprise the reader's conscious mind with a truly unpredictable statement we are also connecting with their subconscious mind on a much deeper level and in a more meaningful way.

    Hand copying classical sales letters as well as good current sales copy is another valuable secret of the master copy writer. Apparently the mere physical act of writing out the copy triggers a connection with the subconscious mind which over time will have a direct positive affect on your copywriting skills.

    Some fiction writers have been known to hand write entire classical works of authors such as Hemingway inorder to improve their own writing skills.

    Guest (Scott Crosby )

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)