085 Raise the Stakes! 13 Writing Ideas That Really Work

Never forget that the formula for writing for the web is simple: it must be clear, concise, and compelling. We’ve covered how to make it clear and concise. Let’s look at what it really takes to make it compelling.

Yesterday we saw how you can make copy compelling by raising the stakes with cancer and death (!!).

Today we are going to expand on that with a total of 13 tips. But ultimately every single one of these tips boils down to this: show your reader something she wants — and then threaten it.

In this 10-minute episode you’ll discover tips like:

  • Threaten their lifestyle
  • Threaten their security or privacy
  • Torment their vanity
  • Put public safety at risk
  • Drum up impending doom
  • Spook them with a headline
  • And so much more!!!

Raise the Stakes! 13 Writing Ideas That Really Work

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Demian Farnworth: Howdy, and welcome back to another episode of Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

The web writing formula is simple: clear, concise and compelling.

Last week I showed you what it looked like to make copy compelling by raising the stakes with cancer and death.

This week we are going to expand on that, but ultimately boils down to this: show your reader something she wants–and then threaten it.

Let’s go.

1. Threaten Their Lifestyle

Threaten their home with the pool and five acres, their freedom to roam and crash anywhere (think of the new nomad), the parties they get to have with all the cool kids.

Show them how if they don’t do X then life as they know it will come to an end. Amp it up: fail to do X and then you could be shunned, you could become an outsider. No more parties with the cool kids for you.

2. Threaten Their Security or Privacy

On the one hand, think door locks, car alarms or self-defense classes. On the other hand, tell them someone is prying into their lives–their secrets–and privacy and that threatens to blow their cover.

Microsoft used this strategy with their “Are You Scroogled?” ad, suggesting that Google is looking at your emails to generate relevant text ads–text ads that might get you in hot water.

3. Torment Their Vanity

Take a shot at their manhood like Tough Mudder. Take a shot at their intellectual prowess like Mensa.

Or suggest that someone else might take their glory if they don’t do X. Threaten their job–a promotion, the corner office that they feel they deserve–with outsourcing or some punk upstart who did Y before them.

4. Put Public Safety At Risk

Think toxins in the drinking water, rising sea levels, extinction of animals. This could be about terrorism. A meth problem spiralling out of control. Out of control government debt that could lead to bankrupt police forces and roving bands of ruthless thugs who want your daughters.

5. Drum Up Impending Doom

Not like the end-of-the-world type doom–although some marketers will want you to feel that way about a coming catastrophe. This is a ticking time bomb, the thought that we can’t go on like this. If we don’t prepare for X–which will come because my research proves it–then bad things will happen.

This could be as subtle as the encouragement of getting a flu shot or other vaccines (if you don’t then we might experience another flu epidemic like 1917). Or it could be as dramatic as a religious overthrow or the collapse of an entire generation because of educational failure.

6. Spook Them with a Deadline

This sweet deal closes at midnight. I need to hear back from you by the end of the business day or I’m giving this project to Billy. Her train leaves Friday afternoon.

7. Entice With an Impossible Journey, Huge Pay-off

You see this tactic at work in shows like The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, American Idol, or Survivor. Only one person can be crowned–only one person will survive the unfathomable quest–but the rewards are massive. This doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be mental, emotional.

8. Do X Now–Or ELSE

If you don’t quit that job in time–you’ll remain a miserable cubicle cog for ever. If you don’t lose that weight you’ll get diabetes, be shunned at the beach and die in a casket big enough for a John Deere tractor.

9. Introduce the Higher Stakes First

The law of the web demands you get to the point fast. You grab their attention–and you do that by presenting an undeniable and irresistible situation. That’s done when you introduce the higher stakes. The higher gets them in the door. The lower solidifies the threat.

10. Leak in Lower Stakes to Agitate

Once you’ve got the reader hooked, now you can agitate the problem and raise the stakes to a more personal level. You focus on their demographic, age, and income. You show them how their marriage is at risk. Their job. Their lifestyle. Just see points 1-9.

11. Threaten the Life of Someone Innocent

This is the arena of social justice. Of providing fresh water to rural villages in India. Homes for orphans and former child soldiers. You are not personally threatened. Your family isn’t threatened. But your conscience is. Can you sleep at night knowing that woman are forced into sexual slavery–right here in the United States?

12. Present an Opportunity to Fix a Past Wrong

Guilt over our past can grind away at us. Show your reader how she can apologize to a boyfriend she has betrayed and win him back. Or complete that degree that life seems to keep at bay. Or that depression that dogs them.

13. Resolve the Stakes

If you get them excited, you have to satisfy them. In the business world this means rolling out the solution–your product. Make sure, however, that your product will solve their problems. Make sure your product is actually the answer to eliminating that looming threat. And make sure it does it one hundred percent. No short cuts for short-term gains. Tone down and stick to the believable.

Bottom line: the stakes must be meaningful. They must be personal. And they must hit close to home. You might catch a little hell, but that’s how you raise the stakes in your copy.

Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter. Brutal and all. And if you haven’t yet, drop me a rating or review on iTunes. I would love to hear from you. And it’s a great way to support the show.

And until next time, take care.