How To: Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

Recently, buyout talks between Google and Groupon ended with Groupon turning down Google's $6 million offer.  But with Amazon backing LivingSocial, should they have?  Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing's for sure— Groupon has a great voice, and they're sharing it with the world via their Public Groupon Editorial Manual.

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

Copywriting is everything when it comes to the web.  You can design a picturesque website, but without the right editorial élan, it will fall flat.  And this is especially important when it comes to internet sales.  Great copy is the key to luring customers in.  Nobody is attracted to dullness and banality.  People want spunk.  They want creativity.  They want to know they're getting a deal.  And Groupon is well aware of this.

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial ManualGroupon is considered one of the fastest growing websites ever according to Forbes, and that's probably one of the reasons Google was hunting them down.  But the mighty predator came home with a clean shotgun while the buck's in the field trying to mate— with your money (not Google's).  But we don't care— we want to give Groupon our money, because in turn, they're saving us money.  That's the whole thrill of coupons— saving money.  But those coupons would be worthless without Groupon's creative copywriters, and maybe those dastardly pricks (i.e. antlers, not Google).

They have a knack for making the most mundane services sound exhilarating.  With their amiable, informal writing, we can't help but fall for it.  Even when it comes to Yoga.

Example from a current Groupon offer for Yoga classes:

Though the How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manualdesired side effect of a radioactive-meteorite encounter is the acquisition of super strength, the success of Atomic Limber Larry proves otherwise.  Stretch your connective tissues to superheroic proportions with today's Groupon: for $49, you get one month of unlimited classes at CorePower Yoga, a top-rated studio at the Sherman Oaks location (a $149 value).  Plus, if you are a new student, you are eligible for CorePower's introductory offer good for an additional first week of classes for free; use the week to try out all the different classes, then use your Groupon to stick with your favorites.

That right there makes every comic book nerd on Earth suddenly want to grab a yoga mat and do the downward facing dog.

If you're in the marketing business online, or want to beef up your copywriting skills, then you should probably take a gander at the Public Groupon Editorial Manual.  You'll learn a wealth of information about the value of copywriting.  You might just learn a thing or two.  But more importantly, you'll laugh and want to make others laugh.

The Google document is broken down into 7 main subjects.  I'll list them below, along with excerpts from within, so you get a feel for what kinds of things you can learn.

Step 1 Groupon Voice

Visit Groupon Voice directly, or view the excerpts below.

1. Strategies to Achieve Groupon VoiceHow to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

Absurd images.  Sweeping, dramatic nonsense.  The absurd narrator.

Humankind has been playing with fire for years; now we can harness the bronzing essence of the fiery sun in a gentle mist, proving once and for all our dominance over the weak, inanimate solar system.

2. Narrative Point of View

Write as the omniscient narrator (3rd person).

While using the 2nd person is sometimes unavoidable, the preferred voice you should aim for is the 3rd person, omniscient narrator.  Selling points, information, and humor are all usually stronger in this voice.  When introducing something nonsensical (fake history, mixed metaphors), don't wink at the reader to let them in on the joke.  Don't call it out with quotes, parenthesis, or any other narrative device.  Speak your ignorance with total authority.  Assert it as fact.  This is how you can surprise the reader.  If you call out your joke, even in a subtle way, it spoils the surprise.  Think of yourself as an objective, confident, albeit totally unqualified and frequently blatantly ignorant voice speaking at a panel you shouldn't have been invited to.

3. Taboos that Violate Groupon Voice

3a. Humor Taboos

  • Explaining or calling out the joke (putting it in quotations, parenthesis, adding language that draws attention to the joke, etc.).  Let the reader figure out that it's a joke.

I break that one all of the time!

  • Random for the sake of random, and packing in too much random at once. Let your idea be surprising and strange, but not convoluted.

3b. Traditional Marketing Clichés and Crutches to Avoid

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial ManualRepetitive use of the imperative.  The reader doesn't want to be told what to do, so don't fall into the trap of "try the burger..then try the desert...finish it off with a glass of wine."  Instead, just describe those things without insisting that the reader do anything in particular.  If they like how you describe the burger, they'll figure out on their own that the burger can be enjoyed by drinking it.

3c. Other Selling Points / Details Section Taboos

Avoid running jokes (one creative idea that is repeatedly elaborated upon throughout the write-up).  If a running joke fails, it leaves the editor with nothing to work off of.  Running jokes are generally less effective than a series of unrelated, entertaining, absurd asides.  With each elaboration upon the existing humor framework, the reader is less and less likely to be surprised.  Instead, allow your copy to react on the fly to the selling points as they unfold—take the piece on a varied journey, like experiencing Epcot Center on a segway.

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

I do this one frequently, too.

3d. Offensive Taboos

Massages - don't say anything that can even remotely be regarded as sexual.  Even saying "ooze" will set people off.  Not worth the risk.  It's less "offensive" than it is simply a sensitive topic to massage people.  Likely to result in vendor edit requests.

4. Groupon Thesaurus

  • hands = wrist-mitts, finger-docks, arm paddles, cheek slappers, open-faced knuckle sandwiches, Michigan silhouettes (only use in Midwest), turkey tracers/stencils, clapping utensils (good for events), knuckle wagons, 5-pronged pals, knuckle steaks, shake traps, high-five dispensers, nail farms, finger farms
  • nails = finger shingles, DNA collectors, calcium-rich clipper tips, finger helmets, toe shells, finger canopies, finger awnings, plastic flesh, tiddly winks flippers
  • teeth = mouth bones
  • wine = Type A grape bloods

Step 2 Details Section

1.  Details Section

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial ManualMake an outline.

  • When you've got a compiled list of selling points you've paraphrased & blurbs of copy you've pasted from the site, start to organize them into a loose outline in the order of priority you think they should appear.  You don't have to have a high-school style numbered outline or anything fancy, just give your write-up the beginnings of some form to allow you once you begin writing to focus your energies on excellent wordsmithing.
  • Taking this step may seem unnecessary, and sometimes, for very intuitive write-ups (restaurants, spas, etc.) it may be.  But taking the time to really evalute which selling points deserve the most attention is a critical step.  A write-up that prioritizes the wrong selling points can affect the performance of a deal negatively, while a write-up that quickly expresses the key points can make all the difference for a deal's performance.

2.  Details Checklist

For something like a clothing store, please list the values of a few different kinds of items.  Examples:

  • Purses range from $30 to $100.  Dog purses start at $150.
  • As you describe specific items, quote their value.  The new line of headbands from the Atlanta Hawks catalog ($8 value) is hot, hot, hot.
  • If you can, creating different combinations you can use your Groupon value toward is ideal: a. Use your $80 value towards a dog purse ($15), grill ($40), and grill polisher ($25). b. Or if you're feeling fancy, combine three Groupons and snag the old-fashioned vest & bow tie package by Kibblesmith ($240 value).

3.  Details Highlights

  • If the business itself does not have enough things worth highlighting, play up any unique terms of the deal (i.e. "Good for five locations," "No buy limit," etc.).
  • To maintain brevity, a good trick is to start with an engaging imperative verb.  For example, instead of "Five services covered in this Groupon," rewrite as "Choose from 5 services."

Step 3 Humor Writing

The Humor Writing section has links to various examples of good humorous copy on Groupon.  You should go browse... I'll just take a snapshot of the example called DIY for Lazy People:

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

Step 4 How is Groupon Transparent?

How is Groupon Transparent?

  • We never run deals with "gotchas."  No "minimum bill" requirements or other surprises—we simply won't feature a business if that's what the business requests.
  • The reasonable restrictions that our generous merchants ask for (like, make sure to tip your servers, can't combine with other offers, etc.) are prominently displayed in the fine print restrictions at the top of the site—just below the buy button.  In fact, it's not really "fine" print at all.

Step 5 Fact Checking

This is Groupon's Factcheck Checklist - For Public Use.

  • Price Point and percentage (normal value and discounted price)
  • Vendor name (exact spelling)
  • Address (numerical and neighborhood, if stated)
  • Check against SalesForce
  • Reviews
  • Links
  • Awards and Press
  • Any other facts we assert in the write-up
  • Language

Step 6 Copy Editing Style Guide

This is a must for any copy editor— the Copy Editing Style Guide.

1.  Prepositions

For businesses:

  • 50% off at
  • $_ Groupon to, e.g. $50 Groupon to Opera. Note for services, it should read $50 Groupon for fine cuisine at Opera.

2.  Words

  • ambience, not ambiance
  • couture—don't use this unless you're actually talking about couture, which you're probably not; use design or something equivalent instead
  • hour-long (but prefer one-hour, i.e. "one-hour massage")
  • masseuse/masseur: Avoid; these terms may have unsavory connotations. Instead, "massage therapist" or "licensed massage therapist."
  • Tex-Mex
  • yo' mama

3.  Food TermsHow to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

  • crème brûlée
  • crêpe
  • éclairs
  • mac 'n' cheese
  • whiskey, not whisky

4.  Hedders (yes, that's not a spelling mistake on my behalf)

  • Make hedders as short as possible, e.g. '$20 for a Massage at Spa' is '$20 Massage at Spa'.
  • When a modifier precedes a noun, add "for a", e.g. '$99 for a One-Night Stay at the Omni' or $20 for an Indulgent Facial'.
  • See "Dolla Dolla Bill Amounts Y'all" subhedder for more info.

5.  Numerals

  • Spell out single-digit numbers.
  • If a unit of measurement (not quantity) always use numerals, e.g. inches, feet, age.

6.  Names

  • Entrees: not capitalize, unless it is a proper noun.
  • Drinks: do not capitalize, unless it is a proper noun, e.g. Tom Collins or Bloody Mary versus gin and tonic.
  • Websites: not italicized.
  • Video games: italicized.

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

7.  Reviews

  • If reviews are only from one place, do not list the site again in the attribution, simply list the name after the en dash and link to the review
  • Publication names: See above, in publications in the "names" category. 
  • Blog names are not italicized, e.g. Groublogpon, not Groublogpon.

8.  PunctuationHow to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial Manual

  • Use the serial comma
  • Colons and semi-colons: while it's correct to punctuate paragraph lists with colons and semi-colons, Groupon style is to break up long paragraph lists using periods (if you don't bullet the list).

9.  Regions

  • South Side, not Southside

10.  Values

  • up to a XX value
  • insert values of items after the full item description, e.g. "House specialties include the burger, a half-pound patty piled high with onions, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and your choice of cheese ($7); the lasagna, stacked with homemade marinara sauce, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, and mounds of mozzarella ($10)..."

11.  Exhibits

  • Italicize, not in quotes, e.g. _Ansel Adams: 100 Photographs of the Sky and Mountains_, not "Ansel Adams: 100 Photographs of the Sky and Mountains"

Step 7 File Conversion Instructions for Freelancers

How to Write Engrossing Sales Copy with Groupon's Editorial ManualThe final section, File Conversion Instructions for Freelancers, deals with installing XML File Format Converter for Mac or PC, a handy little application that converts .docx files (Word 2008) to .doc files (Word pre-2008).


Just visit the Public Groupon Editorial Manual document online to see everything here and more!

via 52 Weeks of UX

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