Have you tried the black cab exercise?

Alice Hollis

Alice Hollis Ltd. - More than words®

Here’s an interesting exercise that I was asked to do recently. Grab a piece of paper and spend five minutes writing down everything that comes to mind when you think of a black cab.

You might have things on your list like comfort, more space, iconic, safe.

Now divide these things into categories according to whether they’re features of the cab or an emotional connection with it. If I categorise my list, it would look like this:

  • comfort – emotional
  • more space – feature
  • iconic – emotion
  • safe – emotion

Now take a look at the features on your list and consider whether they really are features, or if there’s a deeper emotional connection. For example, I’ve said the cab has more space when compared to a bus or the tube. But, emotions-wise, the extra space makes me relaxed and very happy that I don’t have to spend my journey pressed into someone else’s smelly armpit.

You can substitute ‘black cab’ for any aspect of your product or service. The point is taking the time to pull out the benefits that help clients and customers make an emotional connection to a product or service, instead of pushing a features-led pitch.

People buy based on their emotions

As a rule, if you feel something you do something. Make me angry and I’ll probably vent on Twitter. Make me fall in love with a gorgeous pair of glittery shoes and I’ll buy them. So when you’re writing about your product or service, you need to make the reader feel something.

I was recently reading Contagious by Jonah Berger, a fabulous book about how to give your content the best chance of going viral.

In one of the chapters, it talks about emotion. Specifically, if you want people to share your content, you have to induce a ‘high-arousal’ emotion, such as excitement, awe, amusement, anger, anxiety – anything that gets their blood pumping and gives them butterflies in their tummy.

So, if you want to achieve extensive brand awareness, you have to drop the features-led copy, and instead, opt for something more engaging that hooks people in, and compels them to share it with others.

Don’t be a ‘me-too’

“We’re a trusted partner.”

“Our experienced consultants.”

“A first-class service.”

“Working as part of your team.”

“We’re different.”

Any of those sound familiar? I often have a feeling of déjà vu when I read phrases like these, and it’s because, after a while, it sounds like everyone’s started speaking the same (dull) language.

They all pump out the same jargon and technobabble thinking it makes them sound authoritative, different, or even unique. But, in reality, adopting this corporate façade only makes you sound exactly like everyone else.

People buy from people

I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times before, but who would you rather buy from:

“At Black Cabs Ltd, we offer a first-class service that gets you from point A to point B.”


“Take an iconic London black cab and Dave will show you the sights in comfort as you make your way to the West End.”

Be human. Be honest. Just be you.

Practising what I preach

When I started freelancing five years ago, I went under the name ‘Copy & Cupcakes’. I put up this corporate shop front, adopting an authoritative tone and style – but it just wasn’t me.

So after having my second son Oscar, I returned to work as Alice Hollis. I told people my story, shared my experience and stopped treating people as clients.

The way I see it, if people want to work with me, it’s me they want; if they wanted corporate, they’d go and find a suitable agency.

What do you think?

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