A 3-Part Copy Formula To Explain What You Do

When it comes to quickly explaining what you do or what your product does, it's hard not to fall into one of two camps: oversimplifying to the point where you don't say anything truly compelling, OR saying so much you overwhelm your customer and lose their attention.

There’s a better way!

I call it honing your before/after statement.

A before/after statement quickly explains the transformation journey that you take customers on. It paints a picture of how you leave them better than before and it's a must-have element of any brand messaging toolkit.

Here’s the easy 3-part formula I use to write before/after statements for my clients:

Customer’s Problem + Client's Unique Solution + Customer's “Happy Ending” = Before/After Statement

Want to see the formula in action? Right this way...

Key: Problem SolutionHappy Ending

Example 1

70% of Main Street families live paycheck to paycheck. To end the cycle, they need easy tools and solid financial advice to help them keep more of what they make. Our budgeting app not only helps them track their money but also connects them to knowledgeable coaches that don't sell financial products so they get the on-demand tools and no-strings advice they need to be financially free.

Example 2

Infant development studies show that babies' brains benefit from high-contrast color environments, so we design graphic, black and white nursery decor that's chic and super stimulating  for babies in their first months. Parents like our minimalistic designs but what they really love is knowing that they're creating extra healthy spaces for their babies to thrive in.

Example 3

It's not enough to have a big vision. Your brand needs a clear message for customers, partners, and employees to buy in wholeheartedly. My program gives you the language tools you need to clearly and consistently talk about your products, services, and difference so you can grow


Now it’s your turn! Spend an hour this week honing your own before/after statement. It might take a few iterations before you get it right but it's totally worth it. Besides making for killer web copy, you'll find this messaging super handy in sales conversations or for the proverbial "elevator pitch."

As long as you’re pointing out the right problem and you’ve got the right solution, selling becomes 10x easier once you have your product's own before-and-after in the bag.

For more brand language tips, sign up for Starknotes, my e-letters filled with brand, writing, and entrepreneurship wisdom you want.

Brand Crush: Draper James

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to learn about Reese Witherspoon's new southern lifestyle brand, Draper James, via PureWow. While my fashion preferences lean more towards modern silhouettes and bohemian touches, I was quite taken by the launch of this decidedly pretty and preppy brand. Reese and her team are doing a wonderful job of using brand language, savvy copywriting, and storytelling to carve out a solid positioning in the upscale women's sportswear category.

Draper James is a well-funded, celebrity-backed outfit, but that doesn't mean that you can't apply some of their swift branding moves to your own small business. To prove it, I've rounded-up four brand language ideas to inspire you straight from the Draper James playbook.

Brand Crush: Draper James

1. Get a clear brand essence.

Just a moment on the Draper James site is all it takes to capture what this brand is all about: a celebration of the South.

I consider a brand essence to be a punchy and powerful phrase that summarizes everything a brand stands in just a few words.

Draper James, the home of grace, charm, and monograms!


Homepage 2

"Celebrating the South" seems to wink at you from every corner of the Draper James homepage -- from the monogrammed logo, to the sky and navy blue brand colors, to the "Grace and Charm" tag line, to the sweet tea in Reese's hand. Emblems of the American South are everywhere.

As if that weren't enough, the brand essence is also beautifully summarized on the About Us page. Check out these last two paragraphs.

About Us

Pinpointing a brand essence is one of the fundamental things I do with clients in Stark & Splendor's Articulation Intensive. The purpose of this processes is to give their brand a "north star." All branding and content decisions flow from there. It is a critical step to developing a strong brand, and Draper James has clearly nailed it.

Do you feel like your brand has a north star or essence? If not, consider what two-or-three-word phrase you might use to describe everything your business stands for.

2. Share a personal narrative.

While skimming through the website, you get the sense that Draper James is more than just another celebrity fashion project. Instead, you feel like it emanates from an authentic love and respect for the people, places, and customs of the South. How did Reese and her team manage this?

I think it has a lot to do with storytelling.

Reese's personal narrative on the About Us page lets us in on the inspiration for the brand -- her grandparents.

Reese and her grandma, Dorthea, the Draper in Draper James.

Through old portraits, cute family anecdotes, and a heartfelt video, Reese does a great job of telling the story of her romance with the South.

Check out the video here:

Reese Video

How can you use storytelling to inject heart and authenticity into your brand? Start with the "About Page" but don't limit yourself to that space only!

3. Use clever colloquialisms.

Try reading the Draper James site copy aloud without inserting your own coquettish drawl.

Betcha you can't! 

That's because the brand's copywriters have done a wonderful job of using colloquial language to make us feel like we're a part of their big, happy Southern family.

Here's some examples of how Draper James has used informal language to infuse the brand with real grace and charm.

Love, Reese


Southern Sayings


Southern Social


Hush Y'all

Notice, that using slang and colloquialisms doesn't mean sloppy copywriting or writing exactly how you speak. Instead, this style of writing borrows key phrases and imagery from spoken language to add meaning and emotion to otherwise polished copy.

Would using regional slang, a relaxed tone, or informal language help you better connect with your audience?

4. Give your audience reasons to believe.

WWD reports that 40% of Draper James' line is manufactured in the South. The company partners with artists and makers in Charleston and Savannah, amongst other Southern cities, to produce items such as homeware, silver and stationary. By doing so, Draper James shows that it's not just appropriating Southern culture, but it actually celebrates the South by investing in the economic and artistic vibrancy of the region.

This is a prime example of how branding has more to do with what companies do, then what they say. Draper James gives consumers a solid reason to believe the brand essence.

Made in the South

What can your business do, operationally and concretely, to live the brand essence? How can you better share what you are already doing with your audiences?


Now I'd love to hear from you. What brands are you crushing on these days? Who's doing a great job of using language and copywriting to elevate their brand?

Draper James Graphic Pinterest

In this post, I mention Stark & Splendor's Articulation Intensive. It is a first stop for clients that are fuzzy about what their brand stands for or how to communicate that to the world.

Are you confident that your brand has a unique and compelling identity? Do you have trouble talking about your services or products because you don't know the best words to use to communicate your uniqueness? Perhaps you have a logo and visual branding, but you still feel that your online presence is all over the place and you need clarity and consistency in your comms.

The Articulation Intensive addresses these common issues and so much more. It is ideal for small businesses, creative entrepreneurs, and consultants preparing to grow. Email me at steph@starkandsplendor.com for more information.


6 Web Copy Mistakes Start-Ups Make

  6 Web Copy Mistakes Start-Ups Make

When it comes time to write the web copy for your new site, it can feel more than a little overwhelming. Staring at a blank screen, trying to decide what to say, how to say it and in what order — it’s enough to send anyone running (or at least, running for our Articulation Intensive).

There are a lot of things to keep in mind while trying to craft clever and compelling web copy and we’ll continue to offer advice on this blog. But for now, we’ve put together six common mistakes start-ups and entrepreneurs make when drafting the wording for their sites.

1. Using generic language

Is your product "innovative and unique"? Great, so is everyone else’s. Using generic or jargon-y terms to describe your product or service won’t do you any favors. It won’t help you stand out from your competitors and won’t get potential customers excited about your brand.

Instead, think of the truly unique aspects of your brand and use that language to describe it. And once you’ve drafted a version of your web copy, go through and highlight any words that seem generic or off-brand. Take some time to consider alternatives that speak more authentically to who you are and help differentiate you from the crowd. The thesaurus is your friend here, since it can help you find words with similar meaning to those generic terms but that speak much more strongly to your brand experience.

2. Not including your "why"

Talking about the products or services you provide is fantastic, but it can also be hugely helpful to explain why you launched the brand you did. What makes you so passionate about this industry? What are you hoping to accomplish? What struggles got you to this point?

All of these "whys" help paint a clearer picture of your brand and let customers feel like they know you. If they can relate to your passion or struggles it creates a connection, which in turn makes them more engaged clients and brand evangelists.

3. Making it all about you

That said, while you definitely want to include information about yourself and why you created the company you did, your website copy shouldn’t be all about you and what you do. You also want to address why your customers should care about the product or service you provide.

What’s in it for them? What benefits (whether financial, emotional, physical, etc.) will they receive from buying from you? Make this as clear as possible so customers can feel confident in their purchases.

Web Copy Mistakes

4. Trying to be all things to all people

We get it, you want as many people as possible to buy your product or service. But trying to appeal to a wide, general audience is generally a recipe for disaster. It forces you to water down your language (and remember, we don’t want generic) or bounce around from idea to idea, trying to cover all your bases. Neither tactic gives audiences a clear vision of what you can offer them. There’s a saying: "In trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one." Keep it in mind and focus on writing web copy specific to your target audience only.

5. Word vomiting on your homepage

It is important to let people know what you’re all about, why they should buy from you, etc. But loading up your homepage with massive blocks of text will only scare people away. Think of your homepage like a trailer for a movie. You don’t want to give away all the good stuff, but you do want to entice people enough to keep scrolling or clicking.

A smart tagline that clearly conveys your brand, a short paragraph or bullet point list that explains what you’re about and clear instructions on how to learn more is a great starting point for the top of your homepage. And if you do want to include more text, just be sure to break things up visually with photos, bullet points, icons and more to keep readers’ eyes moving down the page instead of glazing over.

6. Keeping things too vague

On the flip side, if your homepage or website in general doesn’t clearly convey what you’re offering and why people should buy from you, then you need to keep working.

Some start-ups merely give a brief overview or show a flashy-but-unclear video and then ask potential customers to contact them for more information. And while this might work with some people, most will simply move on to another website that doesn’t make them work for information.

Remember that there are an endless amount of sites out there and you have competition no matter what industry you’re in. So make your site quick and easy to read, and make sure you web copy clearly conveys who you are, what you do and why they should care. Doing so helps ensure that your customers stay on your site and don’t head elsewhere out of frustration or boredom.