Can the Can ... a tiny, yet vital, copywriting tip

Back in 1974, American songwriter, Billy Swan, released his only hit. I've a sneaking suspicion that, as he penned the lyrics, the last thing on his mind was pitching for business. Yet, the title of the one-hit-wonder seems to be used by almost every business in almost every marketing pitch. And the song is - I Can Help.

Here are the opening lines -

"If you've got a problem, I don't care what it is
If you need a hand, I can assure you this
I can help, I've got two strong arms, I can help"


You Can't Catch a Canary in a Can*

So - what is it with the phrase 'I can Help'?
The first problem is that you see it, hear it, read it everywhere. That alone should be enough to make us think twice about using it.

The phrase or its variants, appear in

- web page copy (repeated time and again)
- email newsletters
- direct mail
- ads
- networking pitches

Wherever businesses promote their services, you'll read or hear

"I/We can help you ..."

So what's the big deal? Aren't businesses supposed to address the challenges or, to use marketing-speak, the 'pain-points' of their potential clients? Yes, you're right. That is the aim. We're not supposed to bang on about ourselves and our services or products. The idea is to talk or write to and for our clients, addressing their issues.


Where there's a Will ...

'So what's the problem?'

It's this. The expression 'We can help' is simply sooo modest.

It generates a feeling of 'maybe', 'perhaps', 'could be'.

You've barely begun and already, you've knocked the wind out of your own sails.

What should be a big, warm, smiley and confident pitch starts off as a shy, semi-apologetic, 'aw shucks!' moment.

Why say,

'With our accountancy services, we can help you to reduce the time you spend on tedious paperwork.'

when instead, you can confidently declare,

'With our accountancy services, you will reduce the time ...'

See what I mean?

OK - no-one is saying you should make bold claims you can't live up to.

But stop hesitating. Don't be shy.

Pull those shoulders back, stick out that chest and tell your prospects about what will happen when they take you on.

Substituting that one little word for another can - whoops! - will make all the difference.

I guarantee it.

Thank you, Suzi Quatro

The last word lies with a more memorable 70's pop icon, Suzi Quatro.

Remember that 1973 hit? No, of course, you don't. You were barely thought of!

Can The Can.

Take it away Suzi.


*Don't go looking up this expression for its origins. You won't find it. This is its first outing. Do you think it could catch on ;-)


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May 12, 2020
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