Going Deeper Than Sales Conversions

Conversion is a tricky concept, once you begin digging more deeply into it.

You already know the basics: catch them early, preferably with an eye-grabbing headline, and then give them enough red meat to keep them interested, while preferably allowing them the time to establish a sense of identity in your message. Then, at the end of the show, you make your pitch and start passing around the buckets.

Easy, right?  Well, no.  It if were, everyone would be doing it.

Even so, any time that I sit down to start writing marketing copy, I have to begin by asking the Big Conversion Question. What do we want the readers to do, exactly? Download a whitepaper? Call your sales team? Subscribe to your newsletter? Different end goals demand different tactics, and likely also very different flow and pacing to carry those tactics off.  That’s where things start getting thorny indeed.

Before I can get your marketing message all packed up and ready to drive, I need to see that little red circle on the map, on the far end of all those lines and squiggles, drawn around that bold point that reads “Do This.” Only then do I feel comfortable in packing up the wife and kids, tying down the luggage, and hitting the open road with your pitch.

Yeah.  Most of the time, not easy at all.  And the easy ones?  Usually a sign that I’m doing it wrong.

Conversion is tricky, because people are tricky. You’re dealing with human motivation now, and that isn’t a simple creature at all. Desire has layers, and layers, and more layers. Turtles, as the man said, all the way down. And any time you set out to represent your business with the written word – which, let’s face it, is every day – limiting your understanding to the surface ripples of sales conversion is a dangerous game to play. There are much more powerful currents deeper down, forces that could either wreck or deliver you.


When I’m trying to figure out a copy strategy, one set of deep currents I often mull over is that of “powerful discourses.”

My advice, don’t Google it. It’s nothing bad.  But you’ll be hammered by decades of thick philosophical meanderings and be left mentally exhausted but likely not much wiser for it. (That, and there are probably a million philosophers with better educations than I who would be happy to tell me how I’m getting all of this wrong, and I have enough distractions in my life as it is!)

The general idea, as I understand it at least, is that our everyday politics – from the doings in Washington, to the varieties of nonsense happening between the people in your life – all take the form of ongoing dialectic conversations that have socially designated boundaries. Discourses. And many of those discourses are fairly powerful ones, and have languages of their own, terms that we have all implicitly agreed to use in particular ways to advance these arguments.

Example: Gun control in America.

Regardless of how you feel about the topic, you can’t deny that the debate is a powerful one. It draws in issues of safety, personal liberty, social usefulness, popular dissent, constitutional interpretations, and many, many more hot button nerve endings. What the gun control debate does not do, however, is regularly open itself to new positions. We always have the same old arguments, make the same old points, draw the same old conclusions.

The argument itself is a script.

That’s what powerful discourses are: the scripts we live by, that define our important conflicts for us. These scripts, no matter the issue or how strongly we feel about them, all have their own languages and customs. They are sovereign foreign lands, areas within careful borders, and we all know what those borders are. To participate in the debate, we first respect the borders.

We follow the scripts.


So what does any of that have to do with marketing, writing, and sales conversion?

Well, everything, actually.

Any time you set out to convince your audience/customers/clientele of anything, you are walking in the footsteps of countless others who did it before you.

Together, they created the discourse, and set the rules that the discourse is to be governed by. They did that with the power of writing. Not speaking. Not by making a great product, or offering a great service, or delivering that personal touch. They defined the argument by leveraging the sheer awesome power of the written word. They used language to reshape their own discourse in such a way that their business became the common sense solution.

And that brings me back to conversion.

Yes, clubbing them over the head at the end can be quite effective, no doubt about that. And in any case, it is important to know where you’re going with your line of thought, and to give them a cue at the end that points them in the right direction. However, at your conclusion, the conversion tag should be little more than just that: a cue. A formality.

Whether your business is building out a white paper, a case study, website content, or even just a press release or direct mail letter, your ambitions should rise above that of mere conversion. If not, then you’re playing by your competitors’ rules. Your marketing is drifting along the surface ripples, while you are checking the wind and paddling like mad, hoping to reach land.

Rather than trying to convert the reader, work to shift the argument. Use the power of language to widen the playing field, to lengthen out the clock, to change the rules. Reshape the discourse.

Is that easy to do? Of course not.  If it were, everyone would be doing it. In fact, you are lucky that few work with those deeper currents.

That means that you have the opportunity to have others play by your rules.

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