Copywriting Friday: Do not think about a zebra

Published: May 2024

Copywriting Friday highlights the tools and techniques of creating persuasive content. Enjoy.

In this Copywriting Friday article, we discuss a crucial element for most business websites—the guarantee.

The bad news is your current guarantee may actually suppress sales. The good news is it’s easy to fix. You can even turbo-charge your guarantee, so it stands out in your industry. We’ll see an excellent example of that.

A photo of a zebra.
You probably thought about a zebra, so you might as well see one.

One of the key concepts we use at Conversion Rate Experts is to identify what we call qualified non-buyers. Some visitors may be on your site to write a research paper, or they may have landed there by accident. They’re not qualified to buy what you have to sell. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have already bought from you. They were qualified, and you made the sale. Congrats.

But what prevented other qualified visitors from buying? It can be many reasons, but a frequent one is the perception of risk by the non-buyer:

  • “What if I get it and it’s not as they described?”

  • “What if the description is accurate, but it doesn’t work for me?”

  • “What if it stops working after a while, or my needs change?”

  • “What if I buy it and discover a more suitable solution elsewhere?”

A strong guarantee is an effective way to address these concerns—and ones you haven’t even thought of.

Of course, sometimes a guarantee is not possible. It might be because of laws against returning certain products like undergarments or over-the-counter medications. Let’s assume that your product or service can be covered by a guarantee.

Four principles to maximize the effectiveness of your guarantee

Few companies craft their guarantee for maximum effect. We talk about guarantees at some length in our book, Making Websites Win, but here are four ways to make your guarantee more persuasive.

Principle 1: Word the guarantee in positive terms

This is where our “Zebra Effect” comes in. If you’re told not to think of a zebra, you think of a zebra. With that in mind, just look at how the typical guarantee is worded:

If you get our widget and don’t like it, you can return it for a refund.

It’s almost as if the writer is predicting the likely outcome of receiving the product. It’s an injection of the negative outcome. If we are going to predict an outcome, why not choose the one that we both would prefer? Compare that negative wording to:

You must love our widget, or you can return it for a refund.

Principle 2: Use your guarantee to restate your offer and expand upon the benefits of moving forward

You can make the guarantee even stronger by “future pacing” what it will be like to own the product:

Bring our widget home and put it through its paces. See for yourself how easy it is to switch between all four modules. You must agree that it’s the easiest to configure and use that you’ve ever experienced. Otherwise, just send it back to us for a full, fast refund of your entire purchase price. We’re that confident that you’ll love it.

Principle 3: Know your numbers so you can experiment with stronger guarantees

Some guarantees are written in a way that leaves visitors feeling almost worse after reading them:

  • They require “prior authorization.”
  • You’re charged a restocking fee.
  • The guarantee period is so short it makes it feel redundant; and
  • They insist that the product be unopened.

If you have some of these “fine print” conditions, it’s worth removing them in a test to see if any increase in returns is more than offset by a revenue increase. You won’t know until you measure.

Principle 4: Think about how you can use a guarantee as part of your value proposition

You might test making the guarantee longer, similar to Patagonia’s, or stronger so that you can announce that yours is the best in the industry.

For more, see our article: Three techniques to improve your value proposition.

Taking guarantee language to another level

Are you the adventurous type? Would you like to see a guarantee taken to a level that few companies dare? Look no further than SpyFu. It’s a company that provides historical and competitive data in order to improve your SEO and paid ads.

They have a guarantee that’s worded negatively, so there’s room for improvement there. However, look at how they focus on how easy it is to cancel and get your money back:

The SpyFu Guarantee reads: 30-Day Money Back Guarantee. If for any reason SpyFu doesn’t live up to your expectations, or maybe you just want to keep your money - really, it doesn’t matter why - just let us know at any time in the first 30 days.

Few companies draw so much attention to exactly how easy it is to cancel for fear of somehow encouraging that behavior. But notice how SpyFu’s focus on cancellation does the opposite: it comes across as a confident, bold statement of their value. You’re left feeling like they understand what a pain most guarantees are and how they’re the opposite. What a great element to have on the pricing page, where people are making the decision.

It gets better. Watch the video about “SpyFu’s Cancellation Policy”. It contains a bit of salty language, but is fitting for its audience.

You don’t see companies using that language every day. Let’s recount what that video accomplished:

  • How super easy and quick it is to cancel, with no strings attached.
  • You hear directly from the founder, who has a rather unusual mission statement.
  • You find out that “Our corest of core values is to make sure we’re creating value,” which comes across as entirely believable. You can see it in his face.
  • The founder describes how he hates it when it’s difficult to cancel a service and how they’ll never do that.
  • The video ends with a funny example (1m 59s) that might even make you share it with friends.
A SpyFu team member shows how easy it is to cancel a subscription… from a rave in Acapulco.
Yes. You can cancel SpyFu from anywhere.

Rise above your competition

Most companies have a weak, poorly worded guarantee, if they have one at all.

If you have a great product, you can rise above your competitors by enhancing your guarantee into something that’s boast-worthy. You can use the CRE Methodology to determine if your enhanced guarantee will increase sales.

The best part? Testing a guarantee is often easier than you might think and can yield impressive results.

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