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]โ€”once it’s gone, it’s goneโ€”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