Technique #1: Relevance in Copywriting - Seth Czerepak

Technique #1: Relevance in Copywriting

Relevance in Copywriting – Relevance is the most important principle in marketing. We live in the most aggressively solicited society in history. Human attention is practically an economic currency. If you want to see what I mean, do some paid advertising online. Most platforms will tell you how much money you paid for just a few seconds of someone’s attention. It’s painful to look at these metrics when your marketing messages aren’t connecting with your reader.

Technique #1: Relevance in Copywriting

Article #1 from the series, 10 Persuasive Copywriting Techniques

Topics Covered in This Article

This article on Relevance in Copywriting was last updated Sunday, April 21st 2024.

Relevance in Copywriting

Relevance is the most important principle in marketing. The word is frequently misused by Rubber Chicken Marketing consultants who couldn’t define it in concrete terms, even if you held a gun to their head.

(Don’t try that BTW, kind of illegal).

I’ll give you a useful definition of relevance in copywriting soon. First, let’s talk about the problem we’re out to solve (it’s a big one).

Relevance in Copywriting

The Role of Relevance in Copywriting

We live in the most aggressively solicited society in history. Human attention is practically an economic currency. If you want to see what I mean, do some paid advertising online. Most platforms will tell you how much money you paid for just a few seconds of someone’s attention. It’s painful to look at these metrics when your marketing messages aren’t connecting with your reader.

Before you can persuade someone, you need more than their full attention. You need to connect with them. Otherwise, you’re doing what I call “Pick-Up Line Marketing.” Pick-Up Line Marketing is when you try to grab someone’s attention by being clever. It makes no lasting connection, and you end up paying a lot of money for those few seconds of attention.

It’s like when some insecure young dude sees a pretty young woman standing in line at the bakery. He immediately starts trying to think of something clever to say to her–something that will grab her attention or make her laugh. Finally, after a few minutes of sweaty-palmed brain-storming, he walks up to her with some Rubber Chicken pick-up line like this:

“Hey, one of my buddies and I are trying to settle a bet…do you consider kissing to be cheating?”

Unless he looks like Brad Pitt (in his prime), he probably won’t get far with her. His “opener” is too random, and a little creepy. It’s irrelevant to what’s going on in her head at the moment. He would have done better with something like this:

“Ever tried the blueberry muffins?”

That’s a RELEVANT conversation opener. It relates to her present experience and the conversation that’s likely happening in her head. That’s the big non-sexy “secret” to writing a headline or opener that CONNECTS with your reader. That’s also how you apply relevance in copywriting. You connect with the conversation that’s already present in your reader’s mind. 

Copywriting is all about getting your reader to absorb and respond to new information. Unless you make a connection, first your reader won’t “get” any of the information in your message. They’ll treat it like every other “hey, hey look over here!” marketing message that’s competing for their attention.

People don’t have time to pay attention to every message demanding their attention. Selective ignorance is practically a survival mechanism in the information age. It’s as if we’re all walking around inside our own little bubble.

As writers, we have a simple choice. First, we can try to break this trance. This is a hell of a lot of work, and even if we succeed, we still have to hold our reader’s attention long enough to get the rest of our message into their head. The less relevant our headline or opener is, the harder it is to hold onto someone’s attention once we have it.

The second choice is to step inside our reader’s internal world and become the voice inside their head. We do this by opening our message with something that’s relevant to what’s already on our reader’s mind–or bubbling just below the surface. When we do this, we’re well-positioned to get the rest of our message into their head. 

Pick-Up Line Marketing is for Rubber Chicken Copywriters who don’t understand the difference between getting someone’s attention and making a connection. The difference is Relevance. 

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Examples of Relevance in Copywriting

There are two types of relevance in copywriting:

  1. Semantic: your reader’s internal dialog.
  2. Emotional: the emotional frame of that dialog. 

For example, imagine a parent whose teenager didn’t come home last night. Their internal dialogue might sound like this:

  • “Maybe they lost their phone and ran out of gas!”
  • “I can’t bear the thought of something happening to her.”
  • “She better not be with that boy she brought over last week!”

These are examples of semantic relevance. They match the internal dialog of our worried parents. But, what emotions are behind this internal dialog? What is this parent feeling in their nervous system as these thoughts race through their mind? Fear? Anger? Frustration? This is what I mean by emotional relevance, which we’ll cover in later techniques of this series. Bottom line, if your product or service solves a real problem (most do), you can bet on two things:

  1. Your prospects are thinking about that problem. 
  2. Your prospects are feeling something when they think about it. 

The thinking deals with semantic relevance, and the feeling deals with emotional relevance. You apply relevance in copywriting by matching your message to both.

Relevance in Copywriting: Example #1

Imagine our reader is an athlete. They work out six days a week to keep in peak shape. One day at the gym, they feel a slight pinching pain in the inner elbow of their right arm. They assume it will pass and continue their workout.

When they wake up the next day, the pain is worse. Day by day, it gets more painful. Six weeks later, they’re in so much pain, they have to take a week off of training. After their week of rest is up, they return to the gym. A few days later, the pain is back. 

They try ice packs, pain medications, stretching, and another method that they found watching YouTube videos. Nothing works. The pain seems permanent. Pretty soon, your reader is feeling this biting pain in their right elbow every time they pick up something heavier than a few pounds. It’s devastating to their athletic performance. It’s gnawing away at their confidence.

Then one day our reader is in a book store and they see this headline on the front of a magazine:

“What’s With this pinching pain in my right elbow?”

(NOTE: The example above is relevant to Buyer’s Journey Stage #1)

Would they read the article? You’re damn right they would. Not because the headline is cool, clever, or even interesting. In fact, most people would pass this headline by without a second thought. If you were to write this headline and ask a non-copywriter what they think, they’d probably be unimpressed. 

Yet, to our readers, this headline is pure gold. Why? Because it joins a conversation that’s already happening in their mind. This is an example of semantic relevance in copywriting. This is how we become the voice inside our reader’s heads. Once we’ve done this, our next step is to add emotional relevance to our message.  

Getting back to our example, imagine our reader is an amateur golfer and that their inner elbow pain is so severe, they can barely play anymore. When they do, they’re embarrassed at how bad their game is getting. They don’t enjoy it as much. Friends whom they once outplayed are now beating the hell out of them. This gives us a glimpse into the emotional context of their internal conversations about their elbow pain. 

Now, imagine again that they see the headline mentioned above. They open the magazine and turn to the article, that starts out like this:

“What’s With this pinching pain in my right elbow?”

David loved golf. He played every weekend. Then one day at the gym, he felt a pinching pain in the inside of his right elbow. A year later, he had to make a choice… spend $10,000.00 on surgery, or give up golf for good. 

“It felt like someone had grabbed a bundle of my nerves with a pair of vice pliers. I thought it would go away, but it didn’t. Now, I can barely swing my club. I’m too embarrassed to even play anymore.”

If you love golfing, but elbow pain has taken the joy out of it, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you hear what David is doing now.  

(NOTE: The example above is relevant to Buyer’s Journey Stage #1)

Notice how we’ve applied semantic and emotional relevance. If our article is targeting men between 45 and 60 who love golf but suffer from Golfer’s Elbow, this is our FIRST STEP to getting inside their heads. This is far more effective (and authentic) than the Pick-Up Line Marketing we talked about in the first section of this article. Again, it boils down to the two types of relevance in copywriting:

  1. Semantic: your reader’s internal dialog.
  2. Emotional: the emotional frame of that dialog. 

Let’s dig into one more example before I show you how to master this first persuasive copywriting technique. 

Relevance in Copywriting: Example #2

Imagine our reader is a 52-year-old man who is overweight. He’s not worried about his size though. In fact, he assumes he’s in pretty good health. However, his ankles have been swelling lately. At first, he assumes it’s a passing thing. A few weeks later, the swelling is still there. He’s feeling more tired than usual. Then, he sees this post on a social media website:

Are Your Swollen Ankles a Warning of a Coming Heart Attack?

Look at your right thumb. Now, try pressing that thumb into the soft area just below your kneecap.

Does it feel swollen? 

Try this on both your ankles. Is one more swollen than the other? If so, here’s why you could be in danger of a fatal heart attack…

(NOTE: The example above is relevant to Buyer’s Journey Stage #1)

What are the odds that our reader will finish reading that article? Pretty damn good. It applies semantic relevance by talking about our reader’s swollen ankles. Notice also how it gets our reader involved by having him check his ankles. Then, we take his internal dialogue to the next level with this question:

“Does it feel swollen?” 

The next line then applies emotional relevance by confirming our reader’s fear that the swelling might be a sign of something serious. Again, there is nothing cool, clever, or even interesting about this headline and opening. It simply applies relevance in copywriting, using the simple principles you’ve just learned.

Now, let’s talk about how to apply this first persuasive copywriting technique.

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How to Apply Relevance in Copywriting

The smartest way to master relevance in copywriting is by:

  1. Defining Your Buyer Persona.
  2. Defining Their Typical Day.
  3. Defining Their Internal Dialog.
  4. Defining Their Emotional Frame.

I cover the first of these in our article on How to Create a Buyer Persona. You’ll find a form at the bottom of this page that will help you create your Buyer Persona and define the other three steps above. Once you have your Buyer Persona defined, your next job is to get inside their head. You do this by defining a typical day in their life. 

Imagine your reader’s typical day from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep. Picture it as a filmed documentary or reality TV show. If you could plant hidden cameras and microphones to capture every single experience of your reader’s day, what would it look like?

Keep in mind that they are still struggling with the problem your product or service solves. Think about how they experience the symptoms of this problem. Remember that your goal is to create a copywriting message that leverages both types of relevance:

  1. Semantic: your reader’s internal dialog.
  2. Emotional: the emotional frame of that dialog. 

What internal conversations are they having as they experience the symptoms of their problem? What emotions might they experience as a result of those internal conversations? The more clearly and vividly you define these two things, the more relevant, interesting, and authentic your opening and headline will be. Here are some tips on to uncover the two types of relevance:

Semantic Relevance in Copywriting

Let’s use our previous example of our amateur golfer with elbow pain. As we define his typical day, we discover five moments when his internal dialogue would be about his elbow pain:

  • “This elbow pain seems worse in the morning.”
  • “It even hurts when I open my car door.”
  • “I hate to miss another workout, but this elbow is killing me.”
  • “I couldn’t even open a pickle jar with my right hand.” 
  • “I hope this elbow pain is gone when I wake up.”

Here’s how you’d use these statements to create a semantically relevant copywriting message for your reader:

I Hope This Elbow Pain is better When I wake up

You thought your elbow pain would be gone by now. Instead, it’s getting worse. 

It hurts when you open your car door. You’re opening the pickle with your left hand. You’re missing workouts, which you hate to do. But your elbow is killing you–especially in the morning. 

Worst of all, it’s taken the joy out of playing golf. You used to look forward to heading out to the green with your friends on Sunday. 

All you want is to wake up in the morning and feel better. You want your game back. You want to look forward to Sundays with your friends again. 

(NOTE: The example above is relevant to Buyer’s Journey Stage #2)

Can you spot every place we used your reader’s internal dialog snippets in this message? We used all of them. This is how defining your reader’s typical day helps you apply semantic relevance in copywriting. This is how you get inside your reader’s head and make a genuine connection. The trickier part is decoding the emotions behind their internal dialog. 

Emotional Relevance in Copywriting

Emotional relevance is a simple concept, but it takes practice to learn how to apply it. That’s why we’ll explore this in a later persuasive copywriting technique. For now, read the above copywriting example and ask yourself what emotions are in play. Notice how the final two sentences in this example talk about the personal and social impact of your reader’s problem.

This is how you apply emotional relevance in copywriting. You take the symptoms of your reader’s problem and connect them to their lifestyle impact. Later in this series, I’ll show you the three basic human emotional needs and how to use them to make these connections. More importantly, I’ll show you how to do the same thing when you’re talking about the benefits of your product or service. 

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Mastering Relevance in Copywriting

Nothing will turn you into a master copywriter quicker than the Buyer Persona exercise above. The information you collect during this exercise will also help you apply the other persuasive copywriting techniques in this series. If you start to get impatient, remind yourself that relevance is the foundation of writing great copy. Let me make one final point before we move on to the next technique.

Empathy is the true secret behind this technique. 

You might have read the copywriting examples in this article and wondered why they’re so focused on the problem and its symptoms. The answer is simple…if your reader doesn’t think you understand their problem, they won’t trust you when you prescribe a solution. More importantly, you show empathy for your reader by proving that you understand their problem and the pain it’s causing them.

This is why your first job is to define your Buyer Persona, define their typical day, and gather the crucial information you need for applying both types of relevance in copywriting. This will make your message much more powerful and authentic when you apply the second persuasive copywriting technique in this series. Use the form below to complete this step before continuing to the next copywriting technique. 


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