The Unofficial Shopify Podcast: Entrepreneur Tales

Comedy in Commerce: Help Customers Love You More

Episode Summary

Boost conversions with humor in your marketing copy (especially email!)

Episode Notes

In this episode, Shopify merchants will hear how they could be better using humor in their marketing copy (especially email!) to improve conversions.

Lianna Patch is a conversion copywriter and comedian whose greatest dream is to make your customers pause, smile, and click (in that order).

She’s written copy for Freshbooks, Manly Bands, LifeStraw, and The Contract Shop, among other delightful clients, and regularly speaks at ecommerce and software conferences around the world.

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Episode Transcription

Kurt Elster: Welcome back to The Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I’m your host, Kurt Elster, and today we’re gonna talk about humor. Well, no. We’re gonna talk about conversion rate optimization. No, copywriting. Actually, they’re kind of the same thing. So, I know you don’t want to hear it, but the number one conversion rate optimization tactic, strategy, hack, whatever you want to call it, is not an app. It is not a certain colored button. It is the words you put on the screen. That’s going to be the most persuasive thing. That’s going to be what makes or breaks a person’s purchase decision when they’re on your site.

And in this episode, you’re gonna hear how you could better use humor in your marketing copy, especially email, to improve conversions. So, joining me to talk about it is Lianna Patch, a conversion copywriter and comedian, whose greatest dream is to make your customers pause, smile, and click, in that order. She’s written copy for several of my clients, FreshBooks, Manly Bands, I worked with them, their site’s pretty cool, LifeStraw, The Contract Shop, they just won an award from Bold for best website of 2019 or something to that effect, and other delightful clients, of course. Lianna regularly speaks at eCommerce and software conferences around the world. Not sick of hearing about her yet? Great! Stick around. We will learn how to conquer campaigns with Liana from Punchline Conversion Copywriting.

Okay, Lianna. That was a halfway decent intro, but in your own words-

Lianna Patch: Cool. Thanks.

Kurt Elster: Who are you and why should I care?

Lianna Patch: I am a goofball and you shouldn’t. End podcast.

Kurt Elster: All right. Good work. Pack it up.

Lianna Patch: Oh, God. I am just a person who cannot handle being fake, or stilted, or corporate, and so I decided to see if I could codify being a jokey, hopefully fun person to be around into the conversion copy work that I was already doing.

Kurt Elster: Okay. How did you get started with that?

Lianna Patch: With the comedy stuff or with the conversion copywriting?

Kurt Elster: Which came first?

Lianna Patch: Oh, the chicken. I think the comedy actually came first. So, I basically had just went to an open mic in my neighborhood and I was watching people go up, and as you do, if you’re kind of competitive and horrible, you’re like, “Wow! This sucks! I could do better!” Which is what I said. And so, I just started going up, and at first I thought you had to write a whole new open mic set for every week, and I was like, “Wow. This is really hard. I don’t know how people make time for this.” And then another comic clued me in that you actually just practice jokes, and write a few at a time, and hone those, and so things got easier.

And then I started doing improv, and I was really loving that, but I wasn’t loving my work, and I joined a mastermind and got the advice to… Basically got permission to combine them. And I was like, “I wish I could just do comedy copywriting.” And Joanna Wiebe was like, “Well, why not?” I was like, “Oh my God.”

Kurt Elster: Oh man. Joanna Wiebe was in your mastermind?

Lianna Patch: She led the mastermind. Yeah. It was in her first copywriter mastermind.

Kurt Elster: That’s sweet.

Lianna Patch: Yes. She’s amazing.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. I’ve spoken to her several times at conferences and heard her speak and was always very impressed.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. She’s the OG.

Kurt Elster: You mentioned masterminds. For people who don’t know, what is a mastermind and why should they consider joining one? Because I’ve been in several. They’ve been instrumental.

Lianna Patch: Yeah, so a mastermind, the way I’ve best heard it described, is a group of people either in a similar business or at a similar stage of business growth. Usually it’s small, like 10 to 15 people, and you talk regularly, and you share problems, and you help each other figure out how to get to the next level.

Kurt Elster: It’s unlicensed business therapy in a group format.

Lianna Patch: I like that. Yeah.

Kurt Elster: And a lot of business, a lot of business coaching really is business therapy, and you even touched on it with, you said, “Well, hey, they gave me permission.” A lot of it just is permission setting. It’s where-

Lianna Patch: Oh, for sure.

Kurt Elster: You already knew what the right thing to do was, but you needed someone else to go, “Hey, you could go ahead and do that.” And we even see this in like… I’ve got this Facebook group for Shopify merchants, and a lot of the posts it’s very clear, like the person knows the right answer. They need that sanity check. They just need their peers to go, “Yeah, do that.”

Lianna Patch: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: They’re like, “Oh, wow. Thanks. You’re brilliant.” I didn’t come up with it. You did. I just told you it was okay to do it.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. Expensive validation.

Kurt Elster: Yes. Well, my Facebook group is free, so that-

Lianna Patch: Oh. Word.

Kurt Elster: So, good ROI on that. So, your focus is from the beginning, from early days, was to add humor into copywriting. Why humor? Why did you see the importance there? And it’s clearly like you felt it was so important you needed to go get permission from someone else to do it, because it felt that weighty in your mind.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. I just was really enjoying performing comedy, and really loving exploring like how jokes work behind the scenes, and how improv frameworks help you learn to see the world in just a more fun way, and then I would sit down to freelance every morning and was like, “What am I doing? I hate all the work that I’m doing. I haven’t found a niche. I haven’t figured out who my perfect client is.” And so, I was kind of struggling, and I just thought that it wouldn’t be possible to combine these things, but it is, because there’s so much that good comedy and good copywriting have in common already.

Kurt Elster: Such as?

Lianna Patch: Such as the rule of three, for instance, is the first thing that comes to mind. So, for some reason, humans just love things in threes. They just feel satisfying and complete, which is why you’ll have a series in copy that is three things. So, the way to make that funny is just make the last thing different or unusual. And it’s a nice surprise. It’s kind of a reversal of expectation. There’s some humor theory that comes into it, like incongruity resolution theory, where your brain is expecting something, and you give the brain something else. But for instance, you might say like, “I’ll take you out for tacos, beer, and the best night of your life that you won’t remember,” or something not tacos or beer-like. This is a terrible example, but you know what I’m saying?

Kurt Elster: I thought that was a false premise joke. I know very little about comedy. There’s a term I knew, so I could throw that out. Sound smart.

Lianna Patch: I actually haven’t heard that term, but I think a lot of these things have different names based on people like me, who are like, “I don’t know. Let’s just call it something new and call it what I feel like calling it.”

Kurt Elster: I dig it. All right, so when we say… You’re talking about hey, we should use humor in our copywriting, and I love your website, There’s the plug.

Lianna Patch: Thanks.

Kurt Elster: The headline says, “Laugh all the way to the bank. Knock, knock. Who’s there? A shitload of money!” So, what is it about unfunny copywriting. You specifically mentioned that stilted prose, and I’m well familiar with this, is when we first start writing for our own business, or for ourselves, we start to treat it like homework. You start to write like you did for a high school paper. But with probably the addition of a lot of exclamation points, like you’re selling tickets to the circus. And so, it makes this very unnatural, inauthentic, stilted prose that’s not going to inspire anyone to spend money with you on your website.

That has been my feeling about it. How do you feel? Why do you hate the stilted prose?

Lianna Patch: Chiefly because it’s so boring and it’s happening because we see other people’s websites and we think, “Oh, that looks good. That sounds professional. Maybe that’s how it should be.” And I think there’s just been this long domino train of people writing “professionally” because they think it’s what they need to do, and they haven’t ever taken a second to think about how they actually act in person, or how they act on sales calls. You know, it’s such a cliché, but people buy from people. You buy because you build genuine rapport with someone, and humor is a shortcut to building that honest relationship, making people feel more comfortable. It’s actually been shown to reduce tension and anxiety. If you’ve ever been in a group situation where nobody wants to break the ice, and then somebody makes a joke and everybody laughs, and there’s that palpable release of tension.

So, like why wouldn’t we put that to work strategically for us in our copy and in our marketing efforts as a whole? Why not use what’s already at our disposal as human beings?

Kurt Elster: Can you think of any examples of a… Like, “This sounds stilted. This sounds natural and possibly humorous.” I like the idea that hey, humor is the shortcut that makes this sound authentic and natural.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. Actually, I can pull something up. I have a “bad swipe file” in my email for cases just like this, and I just got an email from… I think it was my eye doctor. Let’s see. I’m not gonna call him out by name, poor guy, because I’m sure he didn’t write this himself. Okay, so the email subject line is, “Lianna, it is time for your appointment at,” and then they have the doctor’s name. Lianna-

Kurt Elster: It sounds a little ominous.

Lianna Patch: It’s amazing. It’s like what are you gonna… Are you gonna remove my eyes when I come in?

Kurt Elster: Well, how else will they work on them? I don’t understand.

Lianna Patch: It’s just more efficient, Kurt. It’s just what they do. Just don’t worry, we’ll bring them back. They say, “It’s time to see you again.” Like, oh, that’s an example of how not to use humor, because it’s like is this a joke? That’s not how your jokes should make people feel.

Kurt Elster: I like when they just don’t use contractions, like they’re commander data. That’s my favorite.

Lianna Patch: Well, and that’s… Okay, so if you want to get into how you can go through your existing copy and just punch it up, there are so many easy edits that you can make like that. Contractions are one of them, right? Just go through everywhere you’ve written we are, or you are, or there is, and make a contraction. That’s how humans talk. You can go a step further and replace thins like going to with gonna, should have with should’ve, things like that, depending on how casual you want to get.

Kurt Elster: And it’s because that’s how people talk naturally. You would think someone is weird if they spoke the way a lot of business websites do.

Lianna Patch: Exactly.

Kurt Elster: I’ll give you my pet peeve, is you land on the website and the headline or somewhere on the homepage above the fold, it says, “Hello, and welcome to our website.” Like what are you, is this Moviefone? What are you doing?

Lianna Patch: Yeah, what a waste.

Kurt Elster: The other one being a lot of exclamation points. I always joke, I’m like, “You selling tickets to the circus?” But I use that joke because then clients remember it. They’re like, “Oh, am I using too many exclamation points here?” Like that is the advantage to using that humor and that joke is like, “Okay, now they get it.”

Lianna Patch: I personally love exclamation points, but I use them mostly in my emails to clients and prospects, because I’m a naturally effervescent, excited person when you give me caffeine.

Kurt Elster: And yet-

Lianna Patch: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: On your homepage, I just did control F. Your homepage has a single exclamation point.

Lianna Patch: Yes, because in copy it’s more important to-

Kurt Elster: It follows money, as in a shitload of money.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. It’s important to be sparing.

Kurt Elster: Good. Okay. So, how did people go from writing stilted to doing the high school academic version of copywriting, to the proper, natural sounding copywriting. Are there shortcuts? Is there easy way to work around this? Do I have to go to copywriting school? How do I get better?

Lianna Patch: You do not have to go to copywriting school. One of the first things that I tell people to look for, not even humor-related, but just good copy-related, is to read through your copy and see where you’re using we instead of you, because that means you’re making it about yourself and not about your reader, and that’s one of the easiest switches to make. So, instead of, “We believe in transparency and high-quality products.” You say like, “It’s important to you that you know what your service provider is doing,” or whatever. I don’t know. I have no example company in mind, so all my examples are vague.

But that’s one thing that’s so easy to do, is just go through and flip first person to second person. So, stop talking about you and talk about your readers. And another thing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention doing research. If you start writing copy just thinking you know what people want to hear, then you’re just not gonna write the best way. So, if you have done any qualitative research, and you probably have, because if you’re an eCommerce store, it’s in all of your reviews, it’s in your competitor reviews, it’s on your Facebook pages and other social media groups, the way people talk about you clues you into the kinds of objections they have that you might need to address in the copy, and sometimes it even gives you these little nuggets that you can lift and put directly into your copy itself, so you have to do less writing, which is a win all around.

Kurt Elster: I love all three of these. So, the first you talked about a thing that we lovingly refer to as I-arrhea, when you land on a site and it’s just, “I, I, I, I, I.” Here’s the thing. If I’m on your website, I’m just sitting home alone on my couch looking at your website, I am fully a narcissist at that point. I don’t care about you. I browse, like I am a guest on your website. You’re trying to convince me to give you money. You need to frame everything as to how it relates to me. So, you’re right. That is like the number one easy conversion rate copywriting hack that we do is, “Okay, let’s make this entirely you-focused, as in you, the customer.” So, we would go from I to You, and we cure our bad case of I-arrhea.

You then mentioned research and voice of customer. I think initially, like if you don’t have… You’re just starting out and you don’t have access to customer voice, and you can get it by going through, figuring out what your customer’s watering holes are, like maybe there’s a subreddit they all hang out on. You can look at reviews for similar things. You can start to figure it out. But like if you just want to try and figure out the brand voice on your own, the way I broke the habit of the academic business prose was I used the speech-to-text dictation on my phone and just dictated to it, and like suddenly… Yeah, you’re going to need to copy edit that, but suddenly it sounded a lot more natural. And so, if you don’t have… if you’re intimidated by research and you’re still struggling with just not writing stilted, I think that’s a good hack.

So, talk to me about research and voice of customer.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. I love that, by the way. I do that all the time, too, because that reading into your voice dictation app and then having it transcribed, you’ll notice that you end up with sentence fragments, and that’s another way to get away from that academic style of writing, where every sentence has to have like a subject, and a predicate, and a direct object. Because we don’t actually talk that way. We can start sentences with prepositions, and we can be incomplete, so I think that’s a really awesome shortcut.

So, as for the research, something that helps you… One question that helps you get inside your customer’s head is what was going on in your life that brought you here today, and that comes directly from Joanna, the OG, because it’s a shortcut right to their stage of awareness. By which I mean, and this is like me digging deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, but you want to know what brought somebody to you and what pains they were experiencing that caused them to look for something like you, and now you’ve got them, right? And you have to match that understanding of their pain. So, what was going on in your life that brought you here today is a great way for them to be like, “Well, I was trying to change the bag in my litter robot litter box, and I wanted to be more sustainable, so I Googled this and I was looking for litter liners.” Or whatever.

And this is an example I just pulled from my real life, because this is something I just did.

Kurt Elster: Oh, this is… There’s a litter robot and our customers want to be more sustainable.

Lianna Patch: Yes. Exactly. And so, we’re like, “Okay, we know that that’s where we need to meet them.” So, when you’re writing that product description page, maybe you say like, “Hey, we’re just like…” You don’t say hey, we’re just like you, but, “Hey, you’re looking to be more sustainable in your household goods. You’ve changed your soap to a reusable, refillable bottle. You’ve changed your shampoo to cruelty-free. You’re very conscious of how much waste you put out. Now it’s time to find more sustainable bags for this giant space robot that cleans your cat’s poop.”

And they’re like, “Oh, that’s exactly how I feel. Amazing! Bye.”

Kurt Elster: So, when doing the voice of customer research, what’s the process? What are the tools you use? Is it a one-on-one phone interview? Is it an email survey? How do you go about getting this information?

Lianna Patch: Okay, so for eCommerce, there’s so much of it already. It’s in the reviews. It’s often in the reviews. In support chat transcripts. In emails that you might get from customers, where they write to you and they say like, “Hey, I loved this aspect of the product, or I’m having trouble with this thing.” So, usually there’s this huge database of open-ended qualitative feedback already to pull from, and if you go through that and you’re not finding the same messages repeating, or any copy that you can swipe, you can also send out a quick email survey if you have an email list, or if you sell a higher-end product, sometimes it’s better to get people on the phone and do a quick 20-minute interview, and I find people tend to open up a lot. Give them five minutes, make a few jokes, and then start asking them about like, “Hey, what were you thinking? Maybe what did you search to get here? Who were you comparing us with and why did you choose us?”

And if you give them an opportunity either in text or on the phone to explain their decision-making process, and their emotions around that process in their own words, you invariably end up with really useful stuff to frame your copy and even populate it with words. Populate it with words is what I call writing.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, I don’t know that I’ve done the one-on-one phone interview, truthfully. I have done… I have paid people to do it for me. And I’ve done… I do the email survey a lot. And we never incentivize it, because you’re right. You just end up with a bunch of garbage. Like I need… If I get 80 legit responses, that’s more than enough info than if I got like 500 garbage responses.

So, I like those a lot. And I’ll tell you my favorite question to ask is to what kind of person would you recommend this. And it’s-

Lianna Patch: This-

Kurt Elster: This being like the product, service, brand, whatever it is. And they’ll say… What they end up doing is unknowingly describing how they see themselves.

Lianna Patch: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Because if you go, “Well, hey, tell us about yourself.” I’d be like, “Well, I’m a dad. I got three kids.” That’s very different than if you had said, “Well, what kind of person,” it gives you you seeing yourself as an avatar unknowingly. It’s kind of a clever way, if you reframe some of the same questions to third person, you get interesting results.

Lianna Patch: I ask that same question in a different way, like who do you see using this product, or who would this product be best for? And so, even if it’s not them, like if we’re doing some sort of messaging research and there’s a total misfit, like occasionally clients will be like, “My customer is a soccer mom,” and the customer is actually a 45-year-old spinster. Just kidding, spinsters out there! I’ll be alone too someday. That helps the people who it’s not right for tell you who they think it’s right for, so it can identify some mismanagement of your own messaging, because if you think you’re targeting soccer moms, but everybody sees you as targeting spinsters… I really wish I hadn’t chosen that as an example, then you have some adjustment to do.

Kurt Elster: And when we say, like there’s a category of research called, within this industry, called voice of customer research. That encompasses things where we could potentially lift key phrases and see like, “This is how the customer is talking about the product in public.” So, that’s probably also how they’re searching for it and how they’re thinking about it, right?

Lianna Patch: Yep.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Lianna Patch: Sorry. What I was going to say is that so, when I’m analyzing these chunks of raw feedback, there are two things that come through. There’s that repetition of the messaging. Like you said, 80 to 100, and if possible 150 responses with open-ended text, you’ll start to see the same messages repeating over and over. And that kind of helps you structure a page or structure an email, knowing what points you have to hit in order of importance, in order of how much they show up. And the other thing you get from going through this raw feedback, this raw text, is those phrases, like the way that you never would have thought to describe something, but customers do.

And this has been really useful for me, especially in the bed in a box space, because I think I’ve worked with like four of those companies now. I’m like, “Spoiler alert, they’re all just mattresses.” I’m not supposed to say that. But the way that people describe them, honestly, is very different. And so, I had this one client, we were doing this research, and somebody said, “I want to die and be buried on this mattress.” And I was like, “Cool. That is a landing page headline.” I’m just pulling that right out and putting it on the page.

Kurt Elster: Well, and that’s one of the great things about doing the voice of customer research, is sometimes they wrote the stuff for you. Like when I do… We’ll do the customer surveys to just inform a UX audit, so we’re doing it for conversion rate optimization, but we need to understand the customer first. Often, I will pull out key phrases and be like, “Hey, based on what we’ve gathered here, combining those, here’s a positioning statement that may inform your marketing and become the cornerstone of that messaging.” Or, “Here are some key phrases that you could use as headlines you should test in marketing copy, like your Facebook ads.”

So, that’s always helpful. I think people’s fear of humor is that they might offend someone. What do you say to a client who is scared of being funny?

Lianna Patch: I say two things. First, that there’s a range of humor. You don’t have to go like balls to the wall right away. You can start very slowly and gently and innocuously. There’s some universal humor tropes that no matter what culture you’re from, no matter what industry you’re in, we all find funny. For instance, like cute animal videos.

Kurt Elster: You said there’s some universal things. What are some of those?

Lianna Patch: Yeah. The universal things, the way that I like to advise people to joke about themselves or to joke are either observational humor, so like making fun of something that exists in the world that you and your reader can both see and appreciate, or making fun of yourself as a brand or as a person. Because no one can get mad at you for either of those, so you neatly sidestep the risk of offending someone, because you’re not making fun of them. You’re making fun of something else or yourself, and that doesn’t give them any ground to stand on.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. I think certainly self deprecating is the automatic win. I remember I wrote a newsletter to my own list and I was just making reference to my house and I said, “Yeah, it’s 1993’s finest McMansion, so it’s mostly brass and glass.” And I did not realize like how many people would relate to that, because they had grown up in a house that was built in the early ‘90s, or they owned one, and that’s one of the highest reply rates I ever got to an email was me making fun of my stupid house.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. I get a ton of replies to my emails, too, where I basically only make fun of myself, and people are like, “I feel like I know you already.” I routinely get emails that are like, “I know we’ve never met, but I feel like we’re friends already.” And I’m like, “That’s exactly what I was trying to do is make you comfortable and make you feel like you know me.”

Kurt Elster: I got goosebumps when you said, when people tell me they feel like they know me. And that’s one of the nice parts of a medium like a podcast or a personal newsletter, is if you make it… If you have a strong personal brand, it shortcuts that relationship. It makes it this one-to-many thing, where people are… They don’t just feel like they know you. They’re comfortable with you. Like I get emails from strangers, they’re very casual, and I’m like… I just assume I know that person. It’s because they feel comfortable. They feel like they know me. So, that’s part of the advantage of being authentic, of being yourself. That’s where you’re trying to take people instead of like the, “Welcome to our website. At Acme Corp, we believe…”

Lianna Patch: Yeah, and then when you do ask them for something or you do say like, “I have this cool product,” or, “I have this new service that I’m doing,” they’re much more inclined to give it a chance. And because they’ve built this camaraderie with you, they’re much more likely to say, “Yeah, take my money. I like you.”

Kurt Elster: That’s how they escape writing funny copy without fear of offending people, is stick to either these commonalities, these safe spaces, or make fun of yourself, your brand. You don’t make fun of the customer directly.

Lianna Patch: No. Not usually. That would be like on the far end of the humor scale, like things like Cards Against Humanity and Pit Viper are doing, where they’re just like incredibly abrasive, lots of all caps, lots of like, “BUY THIS, YOU SUCKER.” Or like just ridiculous, balls to the wall kind of personality. But most brands using humor are not going that far.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. Cards Against Humanity is… They’re in a league of their own. The stuff they do, everybody loves it. They manage to go viral like every Black Friday. I still got a can of Prongles in my house.

Lianna Patch: Amazing.

Kurt Elster: Once you pop, that’s great. I mean, that’s just so brilliant and funny. It’s part… Cards Against Humanity’s Black Friday marketing, they made a crappy off-brand Pringles and sold it. That’s nuts! I like Chubbies a lot. I’ve often used that as an example. You should sign up for both of their newsletters, to see what we’re talking about. Are there any others that you look to, that you’re like, “These guys get it. They nailed it.”

Lianna Patch: Someone actually just told me about Shinesty.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Lianna Patch: Have you heard of them?

Kurt Elster: Yes.

Lianna Patch: Yeah, it’s an apparel store, and they have that similarly goofy, disarming kind of approach, where you go to their website and they say like, “Join our email list. It’s amazing. It’s not like all the other crap.” And then I think the call to action button was something like, “Save me from my inbox.”

Kurt Elster: We’re talking about examples of brands that benefit from humor, that do well with it. Are there red flags? Are there situations where you know like, “Look, humor’s not for this brand.” Where like a client approaches you and says, “Yeah, we want to do it.” Obviously, you don’t blindly go into it. Who is humor not right now?

Lianna Patch: It’s very rare that I come across a brand that humor isn’t right for. It’s really just about that permission, like we talked about, and being ready to try something new, versus just stick to the old stuff. That said, maybe if you’re in the funeral industry, or the medical industry, humor’s not right. There’s definitely some legal stuff that comes into play when you’re selling supplements and you make it a hyperbolic claim, so I kind of… I personally tend not to work with medical clients or anything that would put me in that legal gray area anyway, regardless of whether I was using humor or not. But usually, it just comes down to whether people or willing to try it.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Lianna Patch: And I can encourage them to start slowly.

Kurt Elster: So, if I’m selling LASIK or breast implants, I probably don’t want to start trying to make jokes about it. But outside of that, most brands it’s going to be fair game.

Lianna Patch: Yeah, and honestly if anybody does LASIK or sells breast implants and wants to try humor, I’m game, because those are so ripe with amazing joke opportunities. One way that I have been teaching brands to get around any potential snafus in terms of making claims with humor is by using humor not to describe your product attributes, but rather to describe the pain that people are facing. So, for instance, you wouldn’t say, “Our energy drink will turn you into a 6’4” astronaut who bangs Heidi Klum on the weekends.” But you might say, “Hey, are you tired of waking up feeling like you got run over by a dump truck? Here’s our energy drink.” So, we’re using it to describe the problem that they’re approaching with, and not the actual benefits of the product.

Kurt Elster: And how would a brand know that they’re succeeding with humor? Let’s say they’ve adopted it. They’re using it for six months. How do they know it’s successful? That it’s not something else. That the humor is what’s driving sales?

Lianna Patch: Well, obviously you know if you’re running an experiment, only change one variable at a time. But if you’re seeing more sales and you’re seeing more anecdotal engagement, especially replies to emails, and maybe shares if you’re using humor on Facebook ads, organic shares, then you know. You’ll get a sense like, “Oh, not only are we making more money, people seem happier.”

Kurt Elster: So, it’s about… It’s looking for tone and attitude, like if my customers are approaching me and they suddenly seem more jovial, it’s because they’re taking a cue from the humor in our email copywriting.

Lianna Patch: Probably, and they’ll write in and tell you exactly what they like, and you kind of have to adjust for people who aren’t happy, because obviously there’s both ends of the spectrum, and there are people who are gonna be very vocally excited that you’re joking around with them, and then there’s gonna be people who write in and say like, “Please make your marketing professional.” Or like, “This was offensive in my inbox.” And you have to kind of control for the loudmouths on either end, because they don’t represent the majority.

Kurt Elster: They sound fun.

Lianna Patch: Yeah, they sound really fun.

Kurt Elster: You want those people at your dinner party.

Lianna Patch: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: So, one of the things you specialize in is email marketing and email automations. What are some of the common missed opportunities in email marketing automation?

Lianna Patch: Oh, man. Well, my favorite place to write is actually transactional emails, because I feel like we spend so much time and energy getting people to that sale, making them feel welcome, branding heavily, and then once we get their money, we send like the Shopify default transactional emails, like no one takes the time to go in and rewrite those, so that they’re pleasant and that they reinforce the good decision that people just made. So, like order confirmations, shipping confirmations, delivery and tracking updates are some of my favorite things to write, precisely because nobody expects them to be awesome. It’s just another opportunity for people to show like, “Hey, we paid attention to this and we actually care about you.”

And it has the effect of helping boost lifetime retention and diminish time between orders, because it’s building that relationship, right? People want to come back and buy again.

Kurt Elster: I’ll give you a great example. I like to buy seasoning. I like very seasoned food. It’s gotta be in your face extreme. And when you get into some of those seasonings and those specialty foods, for whatever reason, that industry is well-

Lianna Patch: Well seasoned?

Kurt Elster: Yeah, well seasoned. They’re very into their humor and their brand voice. It’s interesting. I don’t know how that occurred, but it did. And one of these brands is Casey Bard from Tacticalories. That’s like my go-to. Love Tacticalories. And the last time my order shipped, he had changed a single word in this email, and it made all the difference. The first thing in the subject line, the first word, it just said in all caps, “INCOMING,” triple exclamation point, and then, “Your order has shipped.”

Lianna Patch: I love it.

Kurt Elster: Other than that, I think it was just, like it was branded, had logos and colors, but the only copy change was, “INCOMING!!!”

Lianna Patch: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: And it was on brand, and it was fun, and it was funny, and I remembered it, so literally a single keyword was all it took to personalize and make that email memorable, so like you don’t have to write a giant monologue in your shipment confirmation. It could be one-word changes that make the difference.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. And it sounds like that one word matched your state of excitement about this thing coming to you, so if you just put yourself in your reader’s shoes or your customer’s shoes, and try to match their emotional state of mind at various stages of the transaction, you cannot go round.

Kurt Elster: Absolutely. So, what do I do if I’m not funny?

Lianna Patch: Oh. Weep. Start a podcast.

Kurt Elster: It’s the devil’s tool, the podcast.

Lianna Patch: So sorry. There are ways to fake it. We talked about a few of them, like fragmenting sentences, using contractions, using emojis and GIFs is another way to both add visual space into your copy, because I find that when we’re sticking to that academic writing, we tend to chunk up our paragraphs and it’s very hard for the eye to skim, especially on mobile. So, you can add some visual white space with GIFs, and that’s like a shortcut to humor that you don’t actually have to be funny to use, as long as you pick the right GIF, and there are some great ones out there. And don’t use anyone that shows somebody getting hurt, obviously. Don’t make a reference that’s too arcane. Don’t use a GIF that’s too long. I have a few rules of thumb for using GIFs.

You can also play on common associations with an industry, and expectations, and flip them on their head. So, I was just talking with another great humor copywriter. His name is John Buchan, and he sent an email on behalf of an accountant that was like, “Hey there, I’m not very good at words, I prefer graphs, so here’s a graph for you.” And it was like a pie chart, and it was like when people make an accountant, and the whole thing was labeled, “When held at gunpoint.” So, the association is that we hate seeing our accountant. So, like what associations or stereotypes might people have about your industry or store, and how can you refute those in a playful way? That’s a great jumping off point.

Kurt Elster: I like that a lot. And again, you talked about it, like hey, make it self-deprecating. The accountant is telling you no one wants to see him.

Lianna Patch: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Trying to convince someone that that’s a good idea to send as a marketing email might be difficult, but when you’re on the receiving end of it, you know like, “Wow! That’s brilliant. I relate to that.” And it’s very engaging and disarming. So, I’m sure it was successful.

Lianna Patch: I think it was for him, yeah, and for that client. For me, it’s just like even if you’re not like “ha ha” funny, there are absolutely more ways to incorporate delight into your customer touch points, and that’s really the foundation of this. That’s my goal with everything I’m writing, is how do we delight the person reading this? Because delight is one of those positive emotions that translates into higher sales.

Kurt Elster: How do you know when you have reached the right level of delight? It’s subjective. That’s a tough question.

Lianna Patch: It is. Yeah. You know, often a client will say, “I think this is it. I’m excited about testing this.” And then it remains to be seen whether their customers also feel the same way, but because we’ve started with that research process, there’s a pretty good chance that things will resonate with the customers, too. The end customers.

On a larger scale, if you have a ratio in mind of like angry emails to positive feedback that you want to achieve-

Kurt Elster: Oh no.

Lianna Patch: Yeah. No, I mean you’re always going to have somebody complaining, whether or not you try humor, so it’s something that I have just learned to disregard. And it happens very little, honestly, or at least clients don’t write back and report like, “Hey, this didn’t go over well,” because we aim not to offend. We aim not to say anything that can potentially be taken the wrong way, or poke at a sensitive issue. Write very inclusively as a rule, and then when we do make fun, don’t direct it at the reader. So, it’s pretty safe I think.

Kurt Elster: I have always enjoyed and had good response to using humor in my emails, but there will always be that crank. My favorite, my favorite all-time, just terrible email I got from someone was… I don’t even know what I sent out, but they replied to it, and I had opened the email with, “Heya.” I don’t know. I don’t want to use hi, hey, hello. Just trying to do something different, so sometimes use howdy, sometimes I say heya, which I say howdy in real life.

They replied, “Kurt, I unsubscribed as soon as I saw heya.” So, literally the first line. “Because anyone who says heya has a room temperature IQ.” And then my favorite part was below that, it just said, “Sent from my Boost Mobile phone.” I’m like, “Look, I’m not the one who’s got the default email signature from my carrier in here, guy.”

Lianna Patch: Oh, man.

Kurt Elster: I mean, it was just such a ridiculous thing to say to someone that I thought it was funny and it stuck with me. But like-

Lianna Patch: Room temperature IQ.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. That’s a good line.

Lianna Patch: I’m stealing that.

Kurt Elster: So, like if your fear is… Or if your goal is offend no one, well, just give up now. There’s always gonna be someone who’s looking, who’s actively looking to be annoyed by something, and like you stepped out of line a little bit by just being funny, and so you’re going to be the target of their wrath. So, I think you’d like… Those people you didn’t want as a customer anyway.

Lianna Patch: Exactly.

Kurt Elster: Can you imagine the complaints that you would get from someone like that, who’s offended by heya?

Lianna Patch: Yeah. I have to return this. Why? Because I ordered the wrong size. No, I don’t want to pay for return shipping. That’s that person.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. Yeah, you get that guy. Okay. You have a freebie for us, a kit. The VOC research kit. Tell me about that.

Lianna Patch: I do. Yes. Okay, so in my other life… Just kidding. In this life, I also co-run a copywriting agency that does smaller on-demand work, and we put together this voice of customer research kit to help people come to us with better qualitative data. So, basically it’s a set of Google Docs that you can copy and make your own, and we have recommended survey questions to help you get into the head of your customers. We have an email template that you can use to send it out, so you don’t even have to worry about, “How do I get people to click through to the survey?” We wrote that. We have scripts for doing interviews with customers.

And then we finally, the piece de resistance is this giant guided template where you put in all of those nuggets that you’ve gotten through your research, and we teach you how to analyze, and like what to look for. So, each section is like, "All right, put a quote here. Put your giant quote in context. Don’t try to pick out any important pieces now. Put everything in that left-hand column. Then go through all of these and see what messages start to get repeated over and over and distill those into the simplest iteration that you can.”

So, for like this mattress client, it was basically like, “Neck and back pain,” over and over and over. And there were a couple other ones, but neck and back pain was a really big one, so we knew we had to address that immediately on the page, on the product page. We also do things like, “Hey, what objections are people coming up with over and over?” And then at the end of it you have this summary of what your actual customers are coming to you with and complaining about, what they’re looking for in their own words, and then you have those gems that we were talking about that you can swipe and put directly into your copy. So, basically a start-to-finish kit to get more valuable qualitative research.

Kurt Elster: And it’s free.

Lianna Patch: And it’s free!

Kurt Elster: That’s my favorite price, and if you don’t like it, you get a full refund. Correct?

Lianna Patch: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Okay, good.

Lianna Patch: Just don’t email me about it.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. No, they can process it on their own. I love it. I have done enough of these surveys with our own clients to know if you have not gone through an exercise like this yet, do it. It could potentially be one of the most valuable marketing exercises you do for the next three years. Try it. Don’t be afraid of it. Yeah, you’ll get a few crank answers. They’ll probably be funny. And the rest will just be valuable insight. Until you have asked, everything you think you know about your customer is a best guess. So, verify it. Do the survey. And one of two things will happen. You’ll either be… You can say, “Wow, I already knew all that.” Great, you’ve confirmed how smart you are. Or you will get valuable insight. So, try it. Promise me you’ll try it. Just try it.

Lianna Patch: Just try it. Just try it!

Kurt Elster: Really, that’s how much I believe in this, because we have done dozens of these things now, and no one has ever been like, “Well, that was worthless.” I mean, genuine insight comes out of these, even for years-old brands with thousands of customers. Okay.

Lianna Patch: Often with those, I think, just because you get so entrenched, and people keep joining on the marketing team, and it’s like, “Okay, well, this is who our customer is.” And no one, especially any new person, raises their hand and says, “Well, when was the last time we actually checked?”

Kurt Elster: Right. It’s very easy to unknowingly fall into it, and then to engage in confirmation bias, where you’re just only looking for the data that agrees with how you think your customer is. Whereas when you see all of this, even if you get 50 responses, that’s more than enough to start to put together a picture.

Lianna Patch: Yep. I love it.

Kurt Elster: Okay. Where can we go to learn more about you?

Lianna Patch: You can go to or, and if you really want to learn very personal things about me, mostly me complaining about bad copy that I find in the wild or talking about my cats, I am on Twitter @punchlinecopy.

Kurt Elster: I will be following you immediately.

Lianna Patch: Yay! I already follow you, but no big deal. I’m not sad or offended that it’s…

Kurt Elster: I mean, I already followed you is what I meant to say.

Lianna Patch: Awkward! Oh, right. Okay, great. Yeah, sure.

Kurt Elster: For a long time. I love it.

Lianna Patch: Definitely not logging in to Twitter to check on that now.

Kurt Elster: Well, I’m also… Yeah. No, you can check on it now. It’s good. Well, we’ll leave it there. Please, if you’re on your phone, tap or swipe up on the show art. It will bring you to the show notes, and in there are four important links. Punchline Copy, SNAP Copy, Lianna on Twitter, and of course, her free voice of customer research kit, available from

Lianna, thank you.

Lianna Patch: Thank you so much! Thank you for having me. This was awesome.