Recognise this?

I can highlight the problem I have with “fill in the blank” style templates with a quick example.

Imagine that on a certain day, you’re rushing out the door when the postman hands you this:

Now… you’re already late for Hopscotch practice with the boyz, so…

… what do you do with the letter?

Stop everything and open it, or… notice that the recycle bin is right there?

If you’re anything like me, you’re 44 years old and spending way too much time watching Fortnite videos on Youtube…

… but, more to the point, you’d bin that sucker, right?

(Despite them going with the heart-warming and not at all terrifying BLACK envelope of death)

Here’s my question… WHY would you bin it before you even opened it?

… for exactly the same reason I’m not a fan of *INSERT YOUR BUSINESS NAME HERE* templates.

(Yes, the irony of that sentence is not lost on me)

The problem with “fill in the blanks” templates is that you end up with an email, blog post or sales page that fits a well-established pattern. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not.

Back to the envelope…

The reason that you’re not going to put your life on hold, sit down, turn the TV off and demand your neighbours be quiet while you carefully open the envelope as Hans Zimmer plays dramatically in the background is that…

… you already know what’s inside. Why? Because you’ve seen this before.

Unless you’re in desperate need of a credit card, you know there’s nothing good waiting for you in that envelope.

We only read something until we know (or think we know) what’s coming. The moment we think “I know what this is…”, we stop.

This “I’ve seen this before” problem happens with templates. 

You read a sales page until you reach a point when something fires off in your brain and you think, “Oh – I’ve seen that before… I know what this is!”

And then you’re done.

With the example above, it’s the envelope. If they had gone with a handwritten, plain envelope, you would have opened it to find out what was inside.

You’d still have got the same result when reading the letter, but the point at which you’d have realised “I’ve seen this before!” changes.

If you’re in the online world (and if you don’t think you are, I’ve news for you – you are!), you’ve seen your fair share of emails, sales pages, blogs posts and status updates. 

You’ve got a feel for them.

If someone uses a template, even one that’s been “personalised” by filling in the blanks, there’s probably a “black envelope” early on that makes you think, “Oh… I know what this is…

… SKIP!”

… and you’re on to the next one.

Of course, templates aren’t totally terrible – they can give you a solid structure, but make sure you don’t stick to them just for the sake of it.

Keep the essential elements, but jiggle them around a bit. 

Write out the whole thing in your own voice. 

That way, you get the best of both worlds – all the essential ingredients of an effective piece of writing, AND it’s different enough so people don’t think, “I know what this is…”.

John

P.S. I got a quite a few emails on Sunday from folk who enjoyed the email prompts, so I’ll make them a regular thing.

In fact, they gave me ANOTHER idea.

You’ll have to click here and use your mighty powers of observation to see what it is though…