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Case study of the difference between copywriting and proposal writing

Just because you hear these claims thousands of time every day doesn't mean you should include them in your proposals


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Customer Perspective

This one page of a brochure contains all of the following claims:

  1. Everybody loves us.
  2. You can depend on us.
  3. You can trust us.
  4. Family owned and operated.
  5. Since 1984.
  6. We pride ourselves on…
  7. Excellent customer service.
  8. We can help with everything…
  9. We’re the most recommended.
  10. Customers love us.

It’s a mixed bag of unsubstantiated claims and claims that fail to pass the “So what?” test when taken on their own. It’s also pretty normal for a brochure where you don’t know who the reader is and you don’t have much space to explain yourself. For a brochure, it’s not bad. Maybe even good. I have no idea how good the product is because I’m not a customer. I have no idea how good the company is because I’ve never dealt with them. I’m assuming without evidence that they’re excellent, because I’m optimistic like that. If they are still in business or even exist. The company isn’t the point. The style of communication is the point. This brochure is just a convenient example to use for comparing brochures to proposals.

For a brochure, these claims may be enough to spark your interest enough to make contact and find out for yourself. That’s the primary purpose of a brochure. However, once you get to the proposal stage, you should no longer be communicating like you do in a brochure. The primary purpose of a proposal is to convince the customer to take a specific action, such as signing a contract. If you want someone to read your proposal, talk about what they are going to get and how it will make them better off instead of talking about how great you are.

If this copy was used in a proposal for water systems, it could lower the win probability of the proposal. Imagine a customer issuing an RFP for water systems. They’d have specifications. They’d skip right over those claims about people “loving us” “depending on us” and “trusting us”. Everybody makes similar claims and proposal reviewers just roll their eyes. The reviewers would look for whether the proposal followed the instructions and meets the specifications that define a quality product from the customer’s perspective. 

If dependability is an issue, the customer might include mean time before failure or related specifications. They might ask pointed questions about how the water systems are built, delivered, installed, and maintained. They might check with past customers as references. If all the customer sees in the proposal are claims like these without the facts to back them up or the details that answer their questions, they might just get annoyed or even offended.

The references to being “family owned” since “1984” are meant to tell a story of longevity and accountability. But in a proposal, they’d fail to pass the “So what?” test. So what if you were founded in 1984? How does that impact your ability to fulfill the RFP requirements? If you don’t say how something impacts what the customer is getting, then it simply does not matter. Beneficial sounding statements that don’t actually matter in a proposal are considered to be “fluff” and can annoy the customer who has to read through the noise to get to the things that do matter.

When a salesperson tells you they have “excellent customer service” and that their “customers love us” or that they are “the most recommended” do you pay it any attention at all? The worst is when a salesperson says “You can trust us” without any substantiation. In a proposal, that can backfire and hurt your credibility instead of establishing it. In a proposal, every unsubstantiated claim hurts your credibility just a little more because a proposal is supposed to prove your claims. Making claims that aren’t provable in a proposal makes you seem untrustworthy.

So pay attention to this brochure. It may be good as a brochure, but don’t write your proposals to sound like a brochure. Write your proposals to prove you will deliver as promised, and earn trust through credibility instead of unsubstantiated claims.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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