Marketing Lessons From My Visit To Japan: Part 3
Japanese Efficiency and Copywriting
The Japanese love to form lines. They form neat, single file lines at checkout counters, before getting on the subway, leading up to the escalator, and beyond. Basically, at any bottleneck, a line will easily form to alleviate the bottleneck and facilitate an orderly passage of people. In America I am used to a mass of people forming a swarm, where the pushiest person makes it to the front first. But in Japan I quickly adjusted to looking for the end of the line, and slipping in quietly behind the last person in an orderly wait for my turn.
One evening, after arriving in Kyoto tired and hungry, our family of five stood in a disheveled mess, suitcases, legs ,and coats thrown akimbo at the bus stop we’d struggle for twenty minutes to find. I looked up after a time and saw a single file line of about 30 or 40 people that had formed behind us. I suddenly realized we were at the front of the line for our bus! And we were taking up about a third of the space allotted with our chaotic Americanism, while the Japanese natives had neatly formed a single file line that curved down the bus platform, leaving nothing about their intended path open to interpretation.
But lines aren’t only common when people are waiting for something. People form single file lines on the escalators, one for those who wish to ride the whole way, and one line on the other side for those who want to walk. Even in the busiest train stations, people generally keep to one side of the passageway allowing the masses to pass by each other mostly unhindered. At checkpoints and busy tourist attractions, visitors are instructed to form several parallel lines, and then wait patiently to be called one at a time through the checkpoint or ticket booth.
The longest line we waited in for our entire two weeks in Japan was outside a highly reviewed Okonomiyaki restaurant in the busy Dotonbori section of Osaka. We waited for almost two hours to dine in one of the twelve seats in this tiny restaurant gem. But even though the wait was long, staff continually came out to count us and take notes of our various group sizes. As we got closer to the door we were given menus and then asked to give our order. Once we got inside our five Okonomiyaki orders were already on the grill. We then enjoyed a full dine-in experience that was kept as short as possible and flowed effortlessly.
At cross walks, almost no one jay walks. The entire group waits patiently at the side of the road for the lights to signal it’s safe to walk, and then everyone progresses across the street together. I can’t speak to the existence of traffic jams in Japan, although I never experienced one during the hours of time we spent on city buses. My guess is that the traffic jams we encounter in the states, which are certainly exacerbated, if not caused altogether, by drivers cutting each other off, thus slowing down progress exponentially, are non-existent in Japan. It seems they understand fundamentally that if everyone tries to get to the front simultaneously, then everyone loses.
To a foreigner who’s never been to Japan, these cultural customs may sound restrictive and annoying. But for those of you who have experienced these norms in person, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s actually one of the most relaxing and comfortable environments to be in. Things simply run more smoothly when everyone knows where to go next, pays attention and follows the same rules of movement. Forming a simple line no matter what the situation, is something I will take home with me and practice in every situation where a crowd is forming. I no longer care about getting to the front first, because if I can relax into a line, the waiting is so much less stressful than anything else I could try.
How does this apply to copywriting?
All this organization and flow of people got me thinking about customers. We need to give our customers the same relaxing experience of orderliness, steady progression, and clear expectations in the way we build our sales experience. This theory could apply to website design, brick-and-mortar set up, e-commerce checkout and beyond. But there’s also a few ways we copywriters can help create a relaxed, orderly feeling with our writing.
First, copywriters need to have a well constructed marketing plan for their copy. From the lead to the sales argument to the call to action, everything should be focused around a singular idea and in service to that one big idea. It’s important to think about the copy as a whole and formulate the structure of the sales page, email or website copy, before you do any writing.
Copywriters also need to be extremely efficient with our words. We need to be picky during the editing process and make sure every word is there for a reason. We need to tighten up our sentences and only use words that help usher the reader to the next word, making the process of reading and understanding as easy as possible for the reader. The way this blog is written is certainly not the best example of this, but since I’m not selling anything with my words here, I haven’t spent as much time cleaning up my sentences in the editing process.
We can also incorporate a secondary flow to our copy aimed at those who like to skim rather than read. To do this we use headings, subheadings, insets, bold lines and plenty of white space to frame important ideas that can be easily captured when someone skims through the copy.
Lastly, we need to create Joseph Sugarman’s “slippery slope” with the way our copy is written. Every sentence needs to slide the reader straight into the next sentence. But achieving that slippery slope is not as easy as it sounds, right? So why not try thinking of your copy like an efficient Japanese line. Every word or sentence is like a person in the line, standing neatly, one behind the other. Nothing should be out of place, nothing needs to be left open to interpretation, every word or sentence moves the reader through your precisely designed marketing plan.
The more orderly and precise your copy, the more relaxed your reader will be when reading your copy, which will help you gain their trust and provide them a sense of enjoyment and eventually lead to a sale.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at email@example.com.