My twelve-year-old son Wylie doesn’t suck up to me nearly as much as he used to.
That’s not a terrible thing. Being told only what you want to hear gets a bit boring, even if it’s in return for being kept alive.
This newfound candor comes in handy when I ask Wylie to critique my work.
You may think it’s unusual to have a 6th grader reviewing copy. But after years of
torture guidance with tips like “one idea per sentence,” “use the active voice,” and “‘utilize’ is the Devil’s word,” he’s become a sharp little editor—my own personal canary flying into a document to see if it’s safe to proceed, or if danger is lurking within the prose.
And who needs a fishing trip when you can bond over your shared loathing of exclamation points, right?
The last thing I had him work on was a long-form sales letter. A three-page pitch drenched with so much problem agitation, I thought I might need to break out the therapy puppets.
But he was locked in.
The strange part was that he wasn’t making any of his usual cheeps and chirps along the way. He devoured the entire beast in complete silence.
Then, still looking at the screen, he delivered his verdict …
Dad, that was so … GOOD.
A wave of relief washed over me. I had tinkered with the letter so obsessively that I didn’t know what more I could do to improve it.
“What was so good about it?” I asked, not fishing for compliments but also definitely fishing for compliments.
He hit me with a one-word answer …
“No, you. As in the reader. It’s everywhere. See …”
He started gesturing frantically at the screen with his finger, calling out all the places where I studded the pages with the second-person singular.
We counted 104 times out of 1,097 total words (compared to just 11 mentions of “we”).
Why did this send Wylie into a Pentecostal fit of delight?
Because as much as my clients hate to hear it …
Nobody cares about your product.
They only care about themselves.
So, the more focus you can place—and keep—on your reader, the more likely they’ll do what you ask.
Put the focus on yourself, and the more likely they won’t.
Framing your message around “you” instead of “we” is such simple advice, I almost want to apologize for it. But as long as I keep seeing armies of companies getting it wrong, it’s knowledge worth sharing.
“Your story can include you.
It just shouldn’t be about you.”
That pearl from Copyhackers founder Joanna Wiebe reminds us that your reader is always the hero. And your product, their secret weapon.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting the balance right?
First, grab a piece of your copy. Web, email, ads … anything will do.
Next, circle every mention of you/your/you’re in red, and circle each reference to your company/we/our in blue.
The dominant color will tell you who the attention hog is.
Ideally, you want at least a 3:1 ratio in favor of “you.” Personally, I try to rewrite as many “we” sentences as I can to keep the spotlight on my reader.
Of course, you want to make sure the rest of your copy is doing its job to shepherd your audience toward action.
But that pronoun adjustment alone will make your communications infinitely more compelling.
. . .
So, how’d you do? A little heavy on the blue? Don’t panic. If you’re up for it, just send me an email and I’ll be happy to help.
See you next time. – Matt
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