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Intent Is More Important Than Technique

01/02/2012 02:30 pm ET | Updated Mar 03, 2012

My Fling with Macrobiotics

In 1991 I was flirting with a macrobiotic lifestyle. I was attracted to the strictness of the diet, the sense of fixed rules, and the "magic" of the rituals that promised cures from all known diseases and joyful longevity. I read a bunch of books and cookbooks, but so many of the ingredients were unknown to me (umeboshi paste, burdock root, daikon radish) that I found myself tied in knots. There was just too much to take in, and I found myself repeatedly looking up little things like, "When rinsing brown rice, should I stir the water clockwise or counter-clockwise?" So I invited a friend, Nancy, who happened to be a macrobiotic chef, to come over and give me a lesson in simple macrobiotic fundamentals.

Nancy's Macrobiotic Lesson

The first dish we prepared together was steamed brown rice. Nancy started by pouring rice into a pot, then filling it halfway with water and using her hand to rinse and wash the rice. She was silent as she did this, focusing on the water, the rice, and the pot.

I interrupted her: "I can never remember which way to stir the rice. Clockwise or counter-clockwise?"

She stopped stirring, looked up at me, and smiled. "The thing to remember is that you stir with the intent to clean the rice."

Have the Intent to Clean the Rice

I thought about that story this morning, when I received an article about using copywriting "power words." It was a fine article, featuring 20 words that can help boost website conversion. Words like "you" and "can" and "get" and "love" and "results," definitely helpful stuff for anyone who wants to improve the performance of their website.

But technique, no matter how powerful, isn't enough, and isn't fundamental to making sales. I would argue that the more important element of your sales copy is your intent -- not your intent to make the sale, but your intent to serve your prospect. If you truly believe that you have a product or service that can help them, and that you would be failing them not to bring it to their consciousness in a vivid and powerful way, then your copy will be effective. At that point, implementing copywriting techniques designed to facilitate trust and connection and desire all make sense. But without the intent, the words fall flat. They become lifeless technique, and your website looks and sounds like thousands of others whose owners have read the same copywriting memos and listened to the same online marketing gurus.

Cars and Bridges

I once took a storytelling workshop with Amina Shah, then-chair of the London College of Storytellers, and author of several books of folk tales. Most of the participants were struggling to memorize their stories, until Shah explained that memorization isn't necessary:

Do you have to memorize stories that happened to you? Of course not; you just tell them. If you want to be a good storyteller, then every story you tell must have happened, and you must have been there to see it. If you can see it in your mind, you can tell it in an engaging way to others. Don't worry about the words. The words are just a bridge between your head and your audience. The meaning of the story, that's the cars traveling across the bridge. The bridge must be sturdy, but without the cars, the essence of the story, nothing gets transferred, and no one is moved.

Copywriting

So by all means learn to be a skilled bridge builder. Practice writing words, sentences, paragraphs, and articles that cohere, that move, that convert. Spend time on the words, for they are a necessary bridge. But never forget that the words are there just to convey your intent. A heart intent on sustainable and joyful service will always find the right words.

The title of this article comes from Mahan Khalsa's most excellent book on consultative selling, Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play.