Copywriting Lessons From (Not For) The Holidays

Holiday Copywriting All YearAs we move into the holiday season (and as I realize, with that opening, that this post is not going to be shared after Dec 25), everyone’s going to be talking about how to squeeze more sales out of shoppers.

I’m not going to talk about that…

…I wrote about it last year, though, so you can check that out here

The period from Black Friday / Cyber Monday through Boxing Day is a great opportunity to exercise our marketing and sales skills.

But what can the season itself teach us to boost our marketing efforts throughout all 12 months…

……….even during those brutal post-Christmas snow-covered penny-pinching months of Jan and Feb?

The question I’d like to discuss with you today is…:

How Do We Mimic the Holiday Season All Year…
So We Can Keep Our Virtual Cash Registers Chiming?

What can Hallmark teach us now that we can apply daily?

What can Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick teach us?

What can the twinkle lights downtown, the dizzying displays in the malls and the awesome amounts of red & gold in Starbucks teach us as we write copy and aim to connect with people 365 days a year?

I have 2 answers for you, and I need you to commit to giving them a shot this week:

  1. Keep things personal by sharing yourself with the world
  2. Dazzle people with childlike excitement in your copy

Practically speaking, by the end of this post, you should have what you need to go test a new version of your About Us page – which is one of the most touched pages on a startup site – and where you’ll be prepared to enhance the tone of your copy.

STRATEGY 1: Keep It Personal

WHERE TO APPLY IT: On Your “About Us” Page, at Minimum

The holidays are about personal connections. (Think 1 child on Santa’s lap, not Santa speaking to an auditorium.)

Personal connections start small. They happen one person to one person.

They don’t often happen with large organizations and individuals. I don’t feel a personal connection to Google because I don’t have a personal relationship with Google.

Now, a week or 2 ago, Colin at sent out an awesome email about why you should be proud of being small.

Here’s a snippet that summarizes it nicely:

Copywriting during the holiday season black friday

The story of the underdog is just one type of story that we connect with. There are loads of people who’ve tried to list off the many plot types, as you can read about in this book or in this one (digestible and free!) or even in this one.

Beyond the story of the underdog, we also connect with stories of quest, pursuit, rescue, revenge, metamorphosis, love and adventure.

We connect with stories.

The more personal, the better.

Consider the holidays. The Christmas season, in particular. This period in time didn’t become as highly emotional (and, admittedly, profitable for retailers) as it has by fluke.

Christmas lives in most of us in North America and Europe because of the personal stories associated with it. Stories we’re told on repeat.

Christmas copywriting and Buddy the ElfThe Nativity Story. The story of Santa Claus. The story of Rudolph’s red nose. The story of Scrooge. The story of Cyndi Lou Who and the Grinch. More recently, the totally killer story of Buddy the Elf.

Add to those our own stories of seeing hoof prints in the snow on the roof as children… Or, at the age of 25, of believing for the first time in the possibility of Santa Claus existing because a particularly wonderful mall Santa caught your eye in the crowd, knew you were doubting, and smiled and waved right at you. (That’s my story.)

We connect with stories. Stories with characters. Stories with simple plots that we can relate to.

…So how much do your site visitors know about your story?

Would sharing more of your personal story help people connect with you… and buy from you… on a more regular basis?

What if you came from nothing? Rags-to-riches is a story people relate to.

What if you have a background in art history but love programming? The unlikely hero is another great story.

If it’s your story, tell it. People will be better able to connect with you and less able to reject you once they ‘know’ you.

Certainly one of the main reasons I continue to follow Marie Forleo is because I know her story, which she shares not only on her About page but also regularly throughout her video posts.

About Us - Lessons from Marie Forleo

I once had a client that was a 2-person team based out of a small town in Canada. One of the biggest concerns they had was that people would find out they’re a small startup in Canada.


I’m a small startup in Canada! And I have yet to see anyone react poorly to it.

(BTW, Santa was once just a small startup in Canada. You know you’ve gotta tweet that)

Why are good, average Joes – we’re not talking assholes here – unlikely to give a damn if your client list does not include Audi or Dreamworks?

Because 99% of us come from jack-squat, live in the middle of nowhere, didn’t go to Stanford (or didn’t finish if we started), didn’t freakin’ row crew and just want to be part of a world that feels more like ourselves than like something foreign. The “cool group” is small — but the rest of the population is enormous! Do your visitors need to believe you are a massive company with huge clients and nothing but success in order to buy from you? If not – and I’m betting that, for most of you, it’s a not situation – then why the hell are you worried about people finding out that you’re a small company that’s doing amazing things with few resources???

Because of the power of “social proof”? So what! There are loads of ways to persuade beyond social proof.

Because someone on Hacker News might call you out? Eff them! Haters gonna hate!

I recently had someone working for me who said Copy Hackers was too small for any big companies to want to talk to.

I fired him.

Look at’s About page, which OWNS that they are a 3-person shop… and that their size in no way hinders their awesomeness: About Us Page

Now, beyond the About Us page, let’s take a quick detour – very quick – to talk about this: fake client / customer logos on home pages.

You do NOT need to make yourself look bigger than you are. You don’t. If you tell a compelling personal story and do / have cool shizzle to share, you don’t need to lie to people about your successes. Like this guy, who’ll go unnamed, seems to be doing on his home page:

Faking it on a certain conversion consultant's site

(When you hover on a logo, you can see it points to, which is the theme this person is using for their site.)

If I showed you the whole site, you’d know immediately that this person is totally full of crap about their client list.

In fact, what they’re doing is pulling in logos that come with the theme s/he bought, which you can see by clicking on any of them… which brings you to the theme’s sample page:

Moral: Lying is for assholes. You’re not an asshole. Let yourself be small and tell the story of being a scrappy upstart.

Others might very well appreciate that you’re small.

And lying that you’re kinduv a big deal doesn’t actually make you Ron Burgundy — you’ll need a sweet mustache for that: ‘Tis the season.

STRATEGY 2: Dazzle People with Childlike Enthusiasm

WHERE TO APPLY IT: Sparingly Throughout the Tone of Your Copy

I was reading the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World recently, and in it the authors talk about Steve Jobs’s style and language when presenting the iPod to the masses:

Steve Jobs Platform

Notice the words: way cool, awesome, incredible, magical.

As much as the holiday season – and a great brand – is built on stories, those stories are communicated using powerful words and rhetorical devices.

Consider the powerful, emotional and sometimes goofy / unusual language in these classic Christmas lines:

Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh


The stars were brightly shining


The children were sleeping all snug in their beds
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads


How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!
And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”

No, you’re not writing a Christmas carol. Or a Christmas card. Or decorating a Festivus pole and dreaming up feats of strength.

But you are trying to connect with real human beings.

Real human beings are largely ruled by emotion and are often as drawn to fun-sounding words – and the mental images they create – as a squirrel to a freakin’ jingle bell.

(You already know this is true, but read more about it in this academic piece, this one and this one, if you’d like.)

If you have ever believed that people respond well to swear words in presentations or to natural-sounding language in emails, then suspend disbelief for a moment and consider this:

People want to believe in magic.

People are bored with their lives and need things to stand out and make them feel excited.

People need to see whimsical, emotional words to connect with you and your product.

Your challenge is to use words like these as you develop a consistently magical (but professional) tone that might be worthy of a Steve Jobs speech:

in a trance
like voodoo

Do you have the cajones to call a feature of your product dazzling… or to say your service is magical?

Here are some examples of how that might work… without going overboard:

Non-magical headline on

Magical copywriting

Magical headline on

Non-magical language on (shout out to Dan Shipper!)

Magical copywriting for about pages

Magical language on

Non-magical language on

Copywriting lessons for About Us pages

Magical language on

Tell your story using words that inspire positive emotions or the emotions a child might feel.

(This speaks to Lizard Brain, which we chatted about here.)

Then, use rhetorical devices that string those words together in memorable ways similar to Christmas carols and stories by Dr. Seuss or Dickens. Without getting overly clever and losing peeps. These devices could include:

  • Alliteration
  • Rhyming
  • Onomatopoeia

An example of a headline that might incorporate all 3 of those devices: Tick, Tock! Tick, Tock! Timer+ Is Your iPad’s Clock

…I’m not saying Daniel Yoo should absolutely use a headline like that for Timer+… 🙂 But, if you were to stick with that sort of tone and see it through, it could do for your product and brand what such devices have done for the now-two-month-long-and-growing North American holiday season: entrench it.

And so, to wrap this post up in the great tradition of holiday storytelling:

If you blast your poor list with your half-price promotions,

When the season is through, they’ll have felt no emotion –

Why not dazzle us? Tease us? Always fill us with cheer?

Then you’ll squeeze out more sales each day of the year.

………Um, I’ll stick to copywriting.



Your Action Items:

1. Test a new version of your About page that lets visitors connect with you personally
by getting real about who you are, what you’ve been through and what you want to do

2. Find a headline on your site that could use a little pizzazz… and add some

3. Leave a comment about the actions you’re taking / going to take


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Thanks, Kevin! How cool of you to say. Timbo’s awesome, hey? Best of luck!!

  • Ramsay Leimenstoll

    I think this might be one of my favorite Copy Hackers posts ever, Joanna! This resonated with me so much, and it actually hit home with a big, fuzzy, not-planned-out-but-looming project we’re about to start to revamp our NUX. So I hope to actually apply a lot of these insights (esp. step 1) to elements of the new user experience, like our onboarding emails and more. Thank you!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool, Ramsay, thanks! (Sorry about the broken images. I just saw — we’re working on it.) Good luck with the new UX — and be sure to share it with me / the Copy Hackers community. 🙂

  • So great! I keep tinkering with my site and headlines. Just did this with my About page yet again. It’s a balancing act. Creating copy that resonates and evokes emotion while at the same time being cognizant of having it accomplish what you want it to do. So many people get stuck on one side or the other. Personality and conversions should not be mutually exclusive.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That’s a quotable! “Personality and conversions should not be mutually exclusive.”

  • Love your ideas about “keeping it personal” on the About page; I suggest this to clients often, but have a hard time doing it on my own About page. I recently rewrote mine — a-gain, for probably the 10th time — and it’s still not really what I’m going for. Trying to walk a fine line between being real and sharing personal stuff, and seeming uber-competent and confident when it comes to doing the work. : ) Like one of the characters in “This is Spinal Tap” said, “there’s a fine line between stupid and clever.” Ditto, the line between personal/authentic and oversharing to the point of seeming like a drunk at a Christmas party, to keep on the theme here. ; )

    • Joanna

      “Like a drunk at a Christmas party”! hahahaha! Totally. I think it’s okay to rework your About page until it’s where you want it to be; mine isn’t there yet — not even close — but it really only gets there if you dedicate a block of time and resources to it (which few are ready to do) or you slowly chip away at it, shaping it as you go — like the carved-from-ice martini louge at a Christmas party. 😉

      Here’s an example of an About Us page I came across recently that I’d like to copy — tells a bit about her and then invites you to her personal site for more details:

      • Hey Joanna,

        Thanks a bunch for the example here — I checked it out, and I love how informal and personal it sounds, yet it completely conveys that this person is a skilled professional who knows what she’s talking about. It’s that kind of perfect balance I’m wanting to achieve.

        I’ve been slowing chipping away at all the pages on my site, “like the carved-from-ice martini lounge at a Christmas party” for months now, and will keep at it on all of them until I have something I love. ; )

  • amy

    ps- one other thing- I like that you updated YOUR about page. When I first found copyhackers, I was actually a bit disappointed that the about page wasn’t about you, but about the user benefit. Once I understand what the site’s about, I’m always very interested to learn more about the people behind it. Nice work!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Amy! Like many startups, we know what we SHOULD do, but then we have trouble prioritizing WHEN to do it. This post compelled me to update our own About page… which is probably due for a refresh now, a year later. 🙂

  • amy

    Delightful! I do massage therapy (in addition to some other things) and I’ve been thinking a lot this week about brand, namely how to create a site that better appeals to my market. I’m really trying to incorporate more “East meets West” fusion for holistic health, both because that’s where my passion is, and to get away from the “I’m a massage provider” messaging I have that puts me in the category of spas rather than positioning me as a health and wellness partner.

    One of my goals is to appeal to people’s curiosity and desire for magic, and this gives me some very specific and applicable steps to infuse my messaging with consumer-focused experiential language. Hopefully I can get it done BEFORE the holidays! Thank you!

    • Joanna

      With the word “Heaven” in your brand name, I think you’ve built in the ability to be a bit more “in the air” with your messaging rather than grounded and factual. And when it comes to an east-meets-west philosophy, you can certainly engage in whimsical messaging, can’t you?—-I don’t mean unicorns, obv, but rather some… effervescent yet Zen-style language. Anyway, I hope you have fun with it, Amy!

  • Hey Joanna,

    Just thought I’d let you know that I’ve already used the information in this article to change the headline in a site I’m launching soon. Magical indeed!

    Incidentally, I’m writing the copy for the About page for that site. Couldn’t agree more on the “play the underdog card” advice. That said, I’m finding it a bit hard to pitch a team of…one. 🙂

    • Joanna

      Sweet! I have yet to see an exciting, interesting headline lose out to a boring, dry headline. Spice it up with a little magic — or whatever unusual, exciting word you decide to use. 🙂

      BTW, there are LOADS of teams of one. Wave your single-founder flag! 🙂 Other one-person teams who see that will surely be able to relate.

  • Liked this article, got some great headline ideas for the holidays coming up. And I’ll be reworking our “about us” page this week. Thanks for the advice and great talk on mixergy!

    • Joanna

      Cool, Melvin! “Magical” headlines can work at Christmastime… but they can also work throughout the year. Most everyone loves the idea of being dazzled and experiencing something close to magic — as irrational as that is. The only exceptions are Scrooge and the Grinch, but even they eventually come around. 🙂

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