Do your words hold the power of a strong stallion? A million-man army? An atomic bomb? Or the odor of old fish?
Metaphors are shortcuts you can use to create vivid pictures in your reader’s mind. These literary devices multiply the value of your screen and print space by instantly inserting new images into whatever you write.
In direct sales copy, the right metaphor can intensify your prospect’s desire for the solution you offer. The wrong metaphor can send your reader running like a cat pursued by a gaggle of 7-year old girls with a bag of baby doll clothes.
We all learned about these in school, right? And we see them everywhere, although most of the time we don’t stop and point them out.
For example, you might say “time flies” without ever thinking this:
Here’s a quick review …
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (online), a metaphor is:
1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
2. A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.
The word comes to us from the 15th-century French word métaphore. And you can trace it back even further to the Latin metaphora and Greek μεταφορά, which means ‘to transfer.’ When you use a metaphor, you transfer meaning from one word – or set of words – to another.
You Can’t Afford to Waste These …
Author Anne Miller, in Metaphorically Selling, points out that we can’t afford to waste words in sales.
A good metaphor enriches your sales copy with a wealth of meaning. You don’t bog down your reader with lengthy, low-value prose. Instead, the precious space on your page communicates powerfully and effectively with fewer, well-chosen words.
Now, I’m not about to concede that sales pages can now be 300 words long. You still need to display and dimensionalize the full benefits of whatever you sell. However, a metaphor will help you unite your copy with a theme, make a compelling big promise, or write an engaging sub-headline.
Metaphors quickly set your product apart from the competition. You’re presenting your offer in a fresh way.
Think about it. How many brands of bathroom cleaner can you find on the grocery store shelf?
Now, which is advertised as an army of little scrub brushes that glide all over your tub? (answer: Johnson’s Scrubbing Bubbles)
And Prevention Magazine advertised a subscription bonus gift that promises to tell its readers how to “Turn your body into a fat-burning furnace.”
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand
Metaphors allow you to attach visual elements to abstract ideas.
World champion public speaker and bestselling author Craig Valentine recommends using visually-based words to create killer keynote speeches.
For example, you can share 5 new ideas with your audience members in a speech, OR they can pick up keys, climb steps, and gather tools that will help them accomplish a goal.
You can also help your listeners visualize your speech as a journey. They will anticipate of unlocking each secret as they track your speech’s progress (following a road map you provide).
In sales copy, metaphors keep your readers engaged along the buyer’s journey.
Imagine melting away pounds and inches.
Picture Yellow Tail wine as an actual kangaroo: “We believe your wine needs to breathe … you should take it outside for some fresh air …”
And look at the results of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg’s search for the perfect metaphor:
Martha: “T-Mobile is everything … unlimited data, taxes, and fees included”
Snoop D: “You might even say it’s all that and a bag of …”
Martha: [everything from purple cushy throw pillows to a can of bisque]
They finally settle on a hand knit “smartphone sweater that keeps your data cozy.”
Wasn’t that great fun?
Now compare that with the following headline from the website of a major national insurance brand:
“More than just car insurance”
While it may be an effective ad, the words don’t paint a picture.
Finally, metaphors create images that attract and repel. Anne Miller recalls Steve Jobs persuading John Scully to leave Pepsi and become the CEO of Apple:
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?
Well, when you put it like that …
Another example using negative metaphor appeared recently in Inc. Magazine:
“In the course of six years the innovation of ride-sharing has spawned multiple companies worth over a billion dollars and one, Uber, close to $70B”.related to
The verb “to spawn” refers primarily to a frog, fish, or mollusk releasing a large number of eggs.
The use of this word instantly communicates a subtle negativity about the future of commerce in an article that ultimately offers hope. It matches and strengthens the tone of the first paragraph, which also refers to the “disruption of retail.”
While these examples work, it’s easy to make the wrong choice. Remember to look at the positive and negative connotations of each metaphor you use. For example, using the word “explode” instead of “skyrocket” to describe sales may conjure up the wrong image. Picture each outcome.
How Far Will the Magic Go?
Just to clarify, you don’t actually want to put the whammy on your readers. Good selling means helping people by giving them the products, tools, and services they want. The magic you need is to find the words that get your best prospects to read the dang copy, so they can make informed decisions.
These neglected gems are the perfect vehicles for making your copy sparkle and shine … so you catch the attention of your perfect prospects.
And to mix metaphors, a little fairy dust to help keep your readers on the page can work wonders.