After nearly 2 months of prep and execution time, Joanna and I just wrapped-up the final A/B test for our brand new ebook, The Copy Hackers Great Value Proposition Test, where we ran headline-only tests on a wide range of websites – 11 in total. And what a fun, worthwhile experiment it was!
The adventurous souls who took part in our grand experiment agreed to let us develop new value-propositions-as-headlines, even though some were very bold departures from their existing copy. It’s a good thing, too, because our most insightful learnings came from those bold moves. Here’s a big thank-you to our 11 fearless participants!
As part of our experiment, we had the opportunity to challenge some web conventions. One of those conventions states that web copy needs to be clear, and not clever.
Copywriters Love To Pick Fights
If you’re an agency or in-house copywriter, you’re likely familiar with this controversial topic. If you’re more of a generalist at your company, or you wear many hats in your role, here’s the gist of it:
In one corner is Clever Marketing. Have you ever laughed aloud while watching a TV commercial but struggled to identify the product being sold? That’s him (at his peak weight). At his optimal weight, Clever does pretty well for himself, most notably between plays at the Super Bowl – creating millions of fans and generating a ton of revenue for advertisers.
In the other corner is Clear Marketing, who fights using a very different style. He’s not there to dance or dazzle. His strengths are messages that make immediate sense to customers, and he packs a mean punch when it’s time to close.
Everyone loves a good fight, and these two heavyweights of the copywriting world have been pitted against each other since people started selling stuff over the airwaves.
But off the airwaves, and on the web – especially of late – Clear Marketing has been the clear fan favorite. Clear websites may not deliver a first-round knockout, but they sure can convert. And unfortunately for Clever’s fans, the most commonly referenced web-based interpretations of clever have turned visitors off.
Isn’t it possible for both to exist on a well designed landing page? Can we get clear with our website visitors and then apply some creativity?
There seems to be a mistaken assumption by many CRO copywriters that clear writing and clever writing are by their very nature mutually exclusive – that clear writing is for the web and clever writing is for print. Hmm.
The Copy Hackers team doesn’t believe that clear and clever are mutually exclusive, and so we decided to put it to the A/B test.
Putting Copy Hackers To The Test
For all 11 tests in our new ebook, we used a scoring system to determine the potential for our test headlines. We scored each proposed headline (as well as the default, or existing headline) across 5 attributes: Unique, Desirable, Specific, Succinct, & Memorable. Each attribute received a score from 1 to 10, with 10 being a perfect score.
Being clear helps the Specific and Succinct attributes score well (and on the other 3 attributes, too), but there is definitely room for some clever on Unique, Desirable, and Memorable. As such, we decided to introduce some “clever copy” into 2 of our tests… 1 of which I’ll share with you now…
JCD Repair offers while-you-wait iPhone screen repair services in 4 US cities. On their website you can book an appointment, then show up to their shop with your cracked screen, and walk out with a just-as-new repaired iPhone in about 45 minutes. JCD Repair is not only customer-focused but also super-fast – two great ways to differentiate.
Their ideal customer is an image conscious person (or parent of an image conscious teenager) that has a cracked iPhone. These people tend to be more affluent, but not so well off that dropping $500 on a new phone doesn’t matter.
JCD’s top customers include college grads with a professional career or middle class parents of teenagers that are simply hard on their stuff. Some customers like to have fun, too, because a lot of phones come in after the weekend. St. Patty’s Day is like their Black Friday!
Here’s the default copy:
We scored the default copy 30/50.
The default copy is very clear. Visitors will quickly understand what JCD Repair offers. The service itself is obviously very desirable if you have a cracked screen. And there is certainly nothing wrong with making a nice promise to customers.
But beyond clear, we didn’t see any of the personality of this company come through, and yet they’re all about the people (i.e., their customers and employees). We saw an opportunity to make visitors feel something about the problem they’re trying to solve, thus making the copy more memorable and the service even more desirable.
Here’s Variation 1:
It’s also very clear, but with improvements across several attributes, this test variation scores 37/50 on the Copy Hackers scale.
In Variation 2, we’re trying to trigger a more emotional response in visitors about the iPhone repair service. If people are in fact embarrassed about walking around with a cracked screen, then this version should perform well.
Score = 39/50.
This is the more clever variation. We’re still trying to elicit an emotional response – but this time, a smile. We decided to go in this direction based on the background information JCD Repair provided us… that St. Patrick’s Day = Black Friday for them. In other words, people have a few drinks; they drop (or worse) their iPhone; and they wake up the next morning with more than a hangover.
Score = 41/50.
Based on our scores, we expected Variation 3 to perform the best. Our friends at JCD Repair weren’t so sure. Here’s what Matt McCormick of JCD Repair had to say about Variation 3:
“I didn’t like the Hangover version of the headlines at first. I thought that one might prove too offensive. But that’s testing, so I had no problem seeing how it would do.”
And The Winner Is…
You probably guessed it — clever takes it. Variation 3 delivered a statistically meaningful 18% lift in conversion:
… which means 18% more visitors clicking the “Schedule Repair” call to action:
We’re glad Matt was open to the “offensive” version – and we’re pretty sure he is too!
In the end, the two variations that tapped into visitors’ emotions performed best, but focusing on “embarrassment” was not as effective as using some light humor.
Making Sense Of Clear & Clever
There is a happy medium.
Your landing page visitors need to understand (1) where they are, (2) what they can do on your site, and (3) why they should stick around. If you’re at all unclear about any of these things, you’ll lose credibility and the visitor.
But once you have the essential messages in place (and as clear as Voss water!), it’s okay to have some fun and let the creative juices flow. Chances are that if your message makes your target audience smile, you’re more likely to be remembered. And in a sea of Google search results, being memorable is a very good thing.
To be clear, we’re not advocating clever for clever’s sake.
It’s always tempting to be clever. It’s all too easy to let all that creative genius take over and muddy your message – so be aware of the line and when to cross it. If you’re not sure exactly where that line is on your own site, let your favorite split-testing platform help you figure it out.
Do you have examples of where clever failed miserably? Perhaps where it succeeded?
Do you stand firmly on one particular side of the debate?
Tell us in the comments below – we always love to hear your thoughts!