Sales pages: those beautiful tools to guide your potential clients or customers through the wonderful things you offer, all the way to a inviting Call To Action where they shout ‘yes!’ and input their credit card details.

So many sales pages are inclusive, uplifting, and trust-building. Empathetic, responsible marketing is on the rise (hallelujah).

But prodding at people’s pain, shame, and anxiety has been part of ‘successful’ sales copy for a long, long time. Shame marketing is subtle and sneaky.  It can creep in to otherwise lovely copy – you may even find its sticky tendrils in mine, though I really hope I’ve weeded any suckers out by now.

Whenever I’m considering signing up to a course or programme, one of the very first things I look at is the ‘Not for you’ section. You know those bullet-pointed lists that are a standard feature of the modern sales page? I’ve found some real life examples that I’m itching to re-write.

See if you recognise any of these 6 statements, find out why they’re a problem, and see how we could re-write them for the better.

1. “This course isn’t for you if: You aren’t willing to take your business seriously”

If you sell to business owners, your website copy should address visitors as equal professionals.

Wait, if you sell anything to ANYONE, treat us as equals. Safely assume that all of us are taking our lives and businesses as seriously as we possibly can, and speak to us on that level.

Doesn’t the example above give you that awkward, scolded feeling? Swap ‘business’ for ‘coursework’ and you’ll see the power dynamic: it’s the kind of language teachers or parents use towards unenthusiastic teenagers.

It’s also bit bizarre to suggest that someone who’s right now at this second reading your sales page might not be taking business seriously. How on earth did they get here otherwise? Chances are, they’re super serious about it, looking for ways to learn and grow, and considering your course to help them do that.

If what this statement really means is that the course is for people who’ve been in business a while and are moving to the next level, rather than someone just starting out, say exactly that:

“This course probably isn’t for you if… you’re still in the first two years of business/ you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to this topic.”

2. “This isn’t for you if: you don’t want your business to be successful”

Statements like this set up a false choice: either buy my thing, or have a rubbish business. If you don’t sign up now, you’re choosing failure. One or the other.

If we’re feeling vulnerable (and we’re living through a global pandemic / economic recession / societal unrest / all of the above) this vibe can take advantage of our uncertainties… so you may get the sale in the end, but is it worth the icky method? (I don’t think so.)

Or if we’re feeling fine, this could be the point we bounce straight off the sales page. We all feel bad when someone goes coldly for capitalising on our need for security, belonging, and a hopeful future.

No offer can be the ONE THING that creates business success.  I can’t really re-write this one positively. Let’s take it out.

3. “This isn’t for you if: You don’t want to see amazing changes in your life”

I’m so confused when I see these statements in sales copy. There are a hundred valid reasons why someone may not invest in a course or programme, and I would guarantee none of them are: ‘I’d hate to have an amazing life, no thanks’

Thinking the best of everyone, I wonder if writers are trying to acknowledge some sort of imposter syndrome or trauma history: maybe your reader genuinely feels like they’re unworthy, that they don’t deserve amazing things. There are lots of ways to address this with compassion and nuance, and speak empathetically to people through your copy. It’s just that a one-liner like the one above can’t possibly achieve that.

This is another one I’d leave out completely. Instead, use the rest of your sales copy to positively showcase how your programme or product brings about those amazing changes.

4. “This isn’t for you if: you’re looking for a quick fix”

This one isn’t totally terrible, but there’s some shameyness to it. If you described a friend as ‘always looking for a quick fix’, that’s not a compliment.

There are underlying accusations of not being hardworking enough, cutting corners. If you don’t want to buy, the logic goes, then it must be because you’re unmotivated or lazy.

If the focus is on a ‘quick’ result, a better statement could be something like:

“This course isn’t for you if you need this expertise in your business ASAP – perhaps outsourcing to an expert is the right fit for now.”

5. “You aren’t willing to take a chance on your ideas and dreams and go all in”

Again, let’s just assume that people are following their dreams. When I read this one in a sales page, I was tempted to send a little snarky email: “Hey, I LOVE what you’re offering! I almost signed up to your course! But, then I realised I truly hate following my dreams, so clearly it’s not for me.”

Plus, this one demands a sort of aggressiveness commitment – you have to ‘go all in’. Whereas we know that this may not be an option for so many reasons: time, income, life commitments, health, systemic inequality. There’s a multitude of ways to run a business, and I’m 100% convinced of the huge potential to succeed at our own pace, in our own sphere of genius.

Is this sales page is trying to address the potential objection that investing in the programme could feel like a scary financial stretch? Or that it needs a significant time investment? Cover this proactively in the rest of your copy.

6. “You don’t want to commit to showing up for other women or receive their support”

Oof, this one surprised me. The use of those emotive words ‘commit’ and ‘support’. Hitting the deep fear of not being one of the girls, the bad woman who doesn’t care for the group. In the midst of an otherwise supportive and empowering page, it was literary whiplash.

What it seems to be addressing is that the offer is a group programme – so let’s say that instead:

“This isn’t for you if you’re looking for 1:1 support or coaching in this season of your business.”

So how do you write a great ‘Not for you’ section for your sales page?

Speak to us as equal rational adults, capable of making the right decisions for our lives or businesses.

Your sales messaging is a caring service, giving us the information we need to make those decisions. Emotional connection is wonderful, but step away from fake choices, teacher-authority dynamics, and any whisper of shame.

Have you noticed that almost all the examples I’ve shared are in the negative? You don’t, you won’t, you aren’t. Aside from creating convoluted grammatical constructions, they’re much more emotive, scary and confronting. Which is why they’ve worked in the past, and why we’re rejecting them now as we move towards marketing with compassion and nuance, responsibly and joyfully.

If there’s a double negative in your sales copy, give it a second look. Can you word it so that the second half is in the positive?

If you’d like to know more about empathetic copywriting, drop me a message with your questions!