Copywriting

Why “Save Time & Money” Is Lazy-Ass Messaging

Save time and moneyYou’ve heard me bitch a lot about the most overused, meaningless marketing message of all time:

“Save Time & Money”

I go on and on about that damn phrase.

My ebook readers have heard it.

My email subscribers have.

And my clients sure as hell have.

The most overused, waste-of-space, daring-to-be-nothing-at-all, piece-of-garbage, lazy-ass message on earth is Save Time & Money.

Everyone says it.

It’s a claim almost every business can make.

From Jewelry.com to QuickBooks to the electric car to Wal-Mart.

When people ask why I hate that message, I tend to give the easy, obvious answers:

Everyone can say it
Everyone has said it
It’s a summary statement
(the best, most convincing messages are
specific)

But there’s another reason I loathe it.

There’s another reason I want – no, I beg – you, dear copy hacker, to banish “Save Time & Money” from your copywriter’s toolbox…

…And that reason has a lot to do with some reading I’ve been doing on the subject of time vs money, excerpts of which go like so:

When You’re Paid by the Hour, Every Hour Spent Is Money Spent
“Once you’re paid by the hour, you start placing a monetary value on that hour. The opportunity costs of not working become clearer. People gravitate toward things that are easier to evaluate, and it’s easier to figure out the value of a paid hour than it is, say, the value of an hour spent in leisure activity. So they chose work over play.” – Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer in this article

We All Have Just 24 Hours a Day – But Some of Us Have More Money (to ‘Buy’ Time)
“Higher-income consumers exhibit a greater tendency toward saving time than lower-income consumers. Marketing managers need to be aware of the relative importance of saving time versus saving money to online shoppers while selecting the product assortment to be made available online.” – Girish Punj in this article

Time Has Emotional Associations Not Common with Money
“Time activates a more emotional mindset, compared to the economic value mindset activated by money. This is because spending time by definition means having an experience and experiences are invariably accompanied by emotions that are usually more intense than those associated with material goods.” – Sanford E. DeVoe and Julian House in this article

Time Is a Scarce, Non-Renewable Resource
“Ultimately, time is a more scarce resource [than money]—once it’s gone, it’s gone—and therefore more meaningful to us. How we spend our time says so much more about who we are than does how we spend our money.” – PhD candidate Cassie Mogilner in this article

Are you seeing where I’m going?

People do not value time and money equally.

People either prioritize their time over their money or their money over their time.

If you message both equally, you are making a rookie mistake. You’re getting sloppy.

Yes, you – extremely productive and overworked you – are guilty of being lazy. But we’re going to put an end to that today…

Gregory Ciotti’s post on Shopify last month speaks
to this point, so check it out here >>

“Save Time & Money” Is Lazy Because People Want One or the Other

Have you ever made a decision by whipping out “paper rock scissors”?

Paper-rock-scissors is also known, to my Japanese friends who’ve completely mastered this game, as “Janken”. Let’s call it that. ‘Cos it’s shorter. And ‘cos Japan freakin’ owns the game, so they deserve to name it.

Janken Pyon!I don’t think I need to explain much here, but the basic rules of Janken go like so:

  • Paper trumps stone
  • Stone trumps scissors
  • Scissors trump paper

X trumps Y. Y trumps Z. Z trumps X.

This is very important in copywriting.

As human beings, and as consumers in particular, we prioritize our wants, our needs and even our values.

Something always trumps something else.

For the people on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing”, saving money is waaaaay more important than saving time. (Irritatingly so.)

For unprofitable startups, saving money may be more important than saving time, hence the DIY culture bubbling under the lean startup mindset.

For profitable startups, saving time by renting skills, rather than pissing away hours learning skills, means everything. Just check out the success of services like App Design Vault, where app developers pay for app designs, to see what I mean.

For successful freelancers, professional service providers and consultants, saving time – or not having to spend time – is way more important than saving money. With big opportunity costs on the line, we’d rather outsource work, like cleaning our houses for $30/hr, than spend our time on it.

Even busy moms, who are short on time and, in most cases today, on money, prioritize one over the other. And it may not be the one you think. It just takes digging a little deeper to find out which is more important – or, at least, to hypothesize which is. For example, this paper (free to download) on time, money and career-oriented women could offer some insights into how such women prioritize time and money… and will respond to messages about time or money savings.

Now, why is it important to separate time and money in your messaging?

Why can’t we just lump them both together and solve for everyone?

Here’s why: There’s more to time and money than meets the eye.

The idea of saving time isn’t alluring simply because we want more [intangible] hours available.

The idea of saving money isn’t alluring because we all want to grow our savings accounts.

There’s much more to it than that.

Studies (Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2006; Liu & Aaker, 2007; Liu & Aaker, 2008; Pfeffer & DeVoe, 2009; Mogilner, 2010) have shown that, when you message time, you trigger more emotional responses – such as the joy of spending time with friends, the nostalgia of childhood events, the happiness of donating your time to a bottle drive for your child’s school. Compare that to messages associated with money. As soon as you mention money, you trigger colder, less emotional responses, particularly those associated with working for pay.

Time-related messages stir up warm-n-fuzzies.

Money-related messages appeal to our more practical sides.

When you combine the two in that sloppy “Save Time & Money” message that you think solves for everyone and everything perfectly, you combine oil and vinegar. Hot and cold. English and Swahili.

…Is that mish-mash a good thing?

Whom do you think that will work for?

Is your audience the one and only audience on earth that responds better to confused messages slapped together than to distinct, clear messages that directly reflect their real wants, needs, motivations and values?

Now, back to the Janken analogy: is there a third “high level” value? Is there a missing stone to go with the paper and scissors we’ve identified?

We talk endlessly about time and money savings… but does nothing ever trump time and money as high-level messages?

Let’s consider luxury items.

You would almost never message “save time” or “save money” when talking about luxury cars, designer clothing, one-of-a-kind jewelry or expensive art. What motivates the people that buy luxury items? What message trumps time and money for these sorts of products and markets?

Let’s also consider apps.

How many “Show HN” posts have you seen on Hacker News where a developer creates some cool web or mobile app and shares it with the HN community, along with the website s/he’s selling it on, only to have people respond with:

“I could build that myself!”

“I just built that, and you can all download it free here! No sale for you!”

The folks that spend the time copying an app only to give it away – taking money out of the pockets of developers they don’t even know – are motivated by something very different than time or money.

They are motivated by the same things that luxury item fanboys ‘n’ girls are motivated by.

Ego.

Look at what I can do!

Look at what I can buy!

Look at what I have!

In some cases, ego trumps time and money.

The game of Janken that you should be playing to better understand what messages to put in front of your unique prospects includes time, money and ego.

Or, more practically, here are the questions you should ask as you develop your high-level messages for your website:

What is at an absolute premium for my target market or niche?

Between time and money, what do they value most?

What, if anything, do they value above time and money?

Now, if you answer those questions and you find that your niche values money-savings above time-savings and ego-stroking, that doesn’t mean your new home page headline should read, “Save money!”

That simply means you have a strong idea what the key benefit in your most prominent message should be.

You know the ‘what’.

The ‘how’ – how you express that message – is the next step.

But, please, dear copy hacker, don’t write “Save Money”. You can do better than that. Much better.

Much, much better.

…And if you’re not sure that you can, it’s time to buy Book 3 and Book 4. So that you can turn these high-level summary messages into specific, targeted, high-converting messages.

~joanna

 

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copy Hackers"

  • Lili Gyor

    Maybe http://tweio.com/ would help with time saving. this app is cool and need no real effort to help managing my day.

  • Jasper Oldersom

    Hi Joanne,

    Totally showed up to the party after everyone left years ago, but i just read this post and i wanted to let you know that it totally made sense to me after reading this 🙂

    People want to save time OR money, not both. Specific sells, generic does not.

    I like your teaching style. Bought all of your e-books, guilty of not having read all of them (yet). Finished the first 3 though…I loved the one on headlines. Thought i knew quite a bit already but your techniques are real copywriting gold 😉

    – Jasper

  • Robert Campbell

    Maybe we can come up with a whole new approach: Saves you time, so you can make more money.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Speaking of lmao…

  • ZM

    I have to admit that I got distracted, reading this, at the paper-rock-scissors part. Everyone in my neck of the woods (Southern Ontario, Canada) and the handful of people I’ve met on my travels in Alberta and in B.C. call it “rock paper scissors.” (I’m in my early 20s, if that helps with context, with friends a decade younger and 5 decades older than me, so it’s not just my cohort.) Do people actually call it paper-rock-scissors where you are, or did you call it that for this article? (This is actually not rhetorical; I’m curious!)

    I’m now caught up with the idea of trying to figure out which geographic regions of the world call it “rock paper scissors” or “paper scissors rock” or “scissors rock paper” or such variances. Is there a most common usage? Is there any relation to the presence of boulders in the landscape, or the amount of paper or scissors used in the culture, that prompts the succession of paper vs. rock vs. scissors in the name?

    Regardless of my brain bouncing off on this tangent, thank you for posting this article! It’s a good point about people wanting time /or/ money, and a good reminder about being specific. I love your stuff, and your personality that shines through 🙂 (particularly the “like that segue?” in your Oct 9th email)

    • Joanna

      This should blow your mind: where I grew up — in BC’s Okanagan — we actually called it “paper scissors stone”. Egads!

      That “paper-rock-scissors” thing is probably just the result of me hearing it called so many diff things. Hence my request to call it “jenken” and be done with it. 🙂 Perhaps a study could be done on who calls it what based on the primacy of paper, rock or scissors in their environment; Taiwan may put scissors first… while people in Colorado put rock first… and the Dunder Mifflin folks put paper first. TBD.

  • Jacob

    Joanna… yet another great post. I think any time you can focus and be specific, regardless of what you’re talking about, you will be more compelling. I really like your thoughts on time being warm and experiential vs money being cold and transactional. I need to remember that as our services revolve around money (financial advising), so it’s sometimes easy to only focus on the numbers.

    By the way, you need to have a talk with the folks at http://www.appdesignvault.com – they say “saves you time and money” right on the homepage (bottom left). 🙂

    • Joanna

      Funny you mention appdesignvault.com. I am a bit in the know with the happenings on that site, and, at the risk of telling someone else’s story, I’ll say that Tope is currently running a split-test on his home page… and you can expect to see updated copy on that very site soon enough. Not that I’d know anything about that. 😉

  • Hey Joanna,

    I discovered your blog when Patrick McKenzie recommended it on his blog and he was right – you are most definitely worth reading. Thanks for the great copy you’re always hacking together for us amateurs.

    A question for you: I run a small business that fixes iPhones and there are two huge reasons people come to us – it’s way cheaper than going to Apple and we fix it while people wait. In other words, we do save time and money. I talk to a lot of my customers and it’s a pretty even split between which of those two (time or money) was the reason they came in.

    So my question is, do I have to pick one or the other to really promote? Or should I promote both on the same page but just do it in different sections?

    I guess that’s my question: If your product/service really does do both things and it’s not just marketing speak, is there a proper way to promote both things?

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

    • Joanna

      Yeah, Matt, if I were you, I would promote both the time-savings and money-savings on the same page… but not together. Most businesses truly do save people time and money, but 1) they save more of one than the other and 2) their customers value one over the other. You can still use both messages; just break them up and sort out which takes priority.

      If your customers are indicating that saving time and money are both valuable to them, we’ve seen loads of evidence (do a Google Scholar search and read the abstracts alone [and shell out the cash for the best matches]) that messages about saving time bring up a lot of positive emotions. So you could test a headline about time-savings against whatever your control is and see if time really is compelling for your visitors.

      • Thanks, Joanna. I love the advice and will put together some type of A/B/C test on our site to try it out. (Test A would be my current page design, B to emphasize Time, and C to emphasize price). I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  • Tope

    :-). I can bet my website says save time and money in the same sentence and in more places I would like to admit. Gotta fix that.

    Thanks for mentioning App Design Vault:-)

    • Joanna

      It won’t say that for long! 🙂

  • Love this Joanna! Those darn coupon-ers drive me nuts too 🙂 It’s interesting because in my niche (business coaching/consulting), lots of my peers focus on “by working with me, you’ll save $x amount of trial and error” or “I spend over $100K to learn what I’m gonna teach you” — but I’ve totally found that the more I focus on saving time and optimizing the time spent in your biz, the more my ideal clients (who are all mama-preneurs) respond. Now I’m gonna dive into that a bit more!

    • Joanna

      Thanks, Racheal. I’m a big fan of your business and the way you market yourself — and, based on what I’ve seen of your [very engaged] audience / niche, it makes sense that the time-savings message would resonate more than money-savings. The emotions associated with time-savings are very powerful; it’s hard, the more I think about it, to imagine when money-savings ought to trump time-savings — perhaps largely for sales / promotions / flash discounts.

  • Stephen Somers

    Joanna,

    Fantastic post as always. Totally agree on everything you said above. One can always acquire more money but not time. I especially can identify with your example with building an app. I used to try to take on everything but in reality, it’s a complete false economy. We could all do with heeding this advice and delegate tasks that don’t contribute directly to the goals we’ve set out for ourselves or our messaging strategy.

    Also I love your new pricing model – think it’s something I’ll most certainly be looking at in my own business. Great advice for freelancers or anyone in the service biz who wants to save time (there it is again) by simply giving the client the pricing up front. Sort of along the lines of Michael Gerber i.e. systemize the business, make your outcomes more predictable (in a good way). It’s really interesting – I’m already developing this as we speak.

    Thank you for all the value you give on your site and for being an all round great voice online.

    Steve = )

    • Joanna

      Thanks! 🙂 Glad to give you an idea for your own business, Stephen! So far, people are responding really well to these ‘productized services’, which are, in themselves, a case study of ye olde time-savings vs money-savings question. Productized services save my customers/clients time (in that they don’t have to wait 3-4 months on a waiting list) and money (in that they don’t have to sign up for 100 hours of my time). But what do my customers care most about? I’ll definitely be doing surveys + phone interviews to find out.

      • Stephen

        Yes Joanna it’s great – I’m glad to hear you’ve got a good response. It’s just one of those things…picking up the phone, emailing or using Skype are all time for the customer, they know they’re gonna have to spend time to get a price etc etc – this solves all of that, lets the customer plan out how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take. They can just “Add To Basket”, let us know what they need and we’re set. Hope you share the results on your interviews – would be very interested to hear that = )

  • Tyler S

    I’m pretty sure I just said this today (save time + money)… back to the drawing board! 🙂 Nailed down exactly what is the absolute premium for my niche and also how time and money would factor in.

    • Joanna

      You’re definitely not alone, Tyler. 🙂 Everyone I’ve ever worked with – except maybe Lance – has, at some point, said, “Why don’t we just write Save Time and Money? There! That takes care of everyone and everything.” Good on you for going back to the drawing board! Would love to see where you end up with this message.

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