Laconic phrase made the Spartans the world’s most fearsome copywriters.
The Spartans were living breathing badasses. However, it was their Laconic phrase that made them immortal, at least in the history books.
For those of you who don’t know, Laconic phrase (or laconism) is a concise, blunt, pithy style of communication, made famous by the Spartans, that focuses on using as few of words as possible to make one’s point.
Spartans would wield it during times of war to taunt and strike fear in their enemies.
One of the most infamous examples of the Spartans showing off their Laconic Phrase was when King Phillip II of Macedonia was launching a campaign against Greece.
He had a messenger deliver a note to Sparta with the following warning…
“You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”
The Spartans responded with but a single word…
Neither Phillip II nor his son, whom you might have heard of, Alexander the Great ever attempted to capture the city of Sparta.
If Laconic phrase was powerful enough to intimidate one of the most impressive empires the world has ever seen, I imagine it could probably be used today to sell like hell with the written word.
(The Spartans being total badasses in battle probably didn’t hurt, either).
Mastering Laconic phrase in marketing, copywriting and communication.
While many believe the Spartans developed Laconic phrase due to their lack of education, brilliant philosophers like Socrates thought differently, calling them some of the best in philosophy and speaking…
“If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.”
This style of communication was something instilled (or forced) in Spartans from a young age… children who gave too lengthy of an answer to one of their teachers were reportedly at risk of having their thumbs bitten.
While the thumb-biting eventually stopped as Spartans entered into adulthood, practicing and eventually mastering Laconic Phrase was viewed as an art form; not unlike copywriting.
In a world full of verbose sales emails, long-winded landing pages and blog posts that seem to go on forever… Laconic Phrase is something we marketers, entrepreneurs and copywriters desperately need to master.
Perhaps, the closest example of Laconic Phrase I see today is in UX writing (or microcopy) where designers and writers are forced to say more with less given the tiny space on application and software windows.
But, even this style of writing lacks the bluntness, chutzpah and pithiness that Laconic Phrase was so famous for.
So, the natural question is… how does one go about writing Laconically?
How to integrate Laconic Phrase into your copy.
I’m no expert (says the guy who is writing about Laconic Phrase)… but I think mastering this art form comes down to studying… Ernest Hemingway.
He, in my opinion, is the closest thing we’ve seen to Laconic Phrase since the Spartans.
Hemingway was famous for writing in short sentences, primarily with one and two-syllable words. Additionally, he chopped away most of the fatty flowery language that many writers, like myself, enjoy using.
The result was brevity in the truest sense –– it was punch like the world had never seen before.
Let’s see this in action with a brand whose copy I very much appreciate –– Typeform –– I want to use them as an example because I think they’re already writing killer copy.
But, with a little bit of Laconic Phrase, you’ll notice their copy can improve, drastically.
Before we begin, I want to give you a bit of background. Typeform is a Barcelona based software as a service company that specializes in online form building and surveys. In other words, they make it super easy for anyone to build beautiful forms and surveys.
Now that you have a little background, let’s begin.
Below, you will find the first bit of copy you’ll see on Typeform when you hit their site.
We are going to focus strictly on this section because it is the most important copy on a website. Most visitors will make a run for it within seconds of landing on your site, so it’s important you yank them in from the jump.
While “Forms & surveys for the people” is concise, it lacks the punchiness of Laconic Phrase. It’s a bit dry, in an unappealing way.
I would revise this too…
“Forms & surveys… that don’t feel like forms & surveys.”
Additionally, I would add a period.
While this is a stylistic choice that varies greatly depending on the copywriter, I always always use a period in my headlines.
Headlines without periods to me feel too open, too ambiguous and unsure of themselves. Whereas adding a period showcases confidence with a punch.
If Spartans were living working copywriters today, their headlines would utilize periods.
Additionally, the… “that don’t feel like forms & surveys” but I used to replace… “for the people”… adds some pithiness to Typeform.
In not so many words it says…
“We’re not like all the horribly boring surveys and forms you’ve filled out a million times before… we’re interesting.”
Now that we have a punchy headline, let’s jump to the sub-header copy. Does this make you want to press any buttons?
“The most important online interaction for a business is the exchange of information. Don’t leave it to chance.”
This is clunky, slightly ambiguous writing that doesn’t seem to take a stance.
Important, interaction and information are three and four-syllable words that don’t say a whole lot. And, I would argue “Don’t leave it to chance” could be removed entirely.
Here’s how I would write this, adding in some Laconic flair…
“Your customers know things you don’t. Things that could lead to massive growth. Is it time to ask some questions?”
While this is right around the same length as the original copy… I think it says a lot more with the same amount of words.
Most importantly, it makes a connection –– Typeform, surveys and forms can lead to growth (a.k.a more money).
And, finally, we have the buttons.
Button copy is notorious for sporting some of the most boring copy the world has ever seen. Just the other day I got into an argument with a marketer I was writing copy for because he felt button copy should be straightforward like “Buy now” or “Sign up” or “Subscribe”…
I told him that I average about 10% on click-throughs in my emails with out-of-the-ordinary button copy and unless he is averaging higher than that… it wouldn’t hurt to give my copy a go.
Here’s the deal. Folks are sick and tired of seeing “Buy now”. Get clever with your button copy.
For Typeform, instead of writing… “Sign up free”, they should try…
- Sign up (it’s free).
- Make forms that don’t suck.
- Forms folks wanna fill-out.
Contrary to common belief, button copy doesn’t have to be two words. While I understand this is slightly contradictory to the brevity we’ve been discussing… here it’s more important to focus on the pithiness present in Laconic Phrase.
Anyway, here is Typeform’s copy… Laconicified.
I think it’s pretty f*cking good. But, I am biased, obviously.
Anyway, we’ve reached the end of today’s little perusing and exploring and what have you. So, just a few housekeeping items…
Remember… Laconic Phrase is about being clever as hell and doing so with as few words as possible.
Also, remember… We still talk about the words Spartans would say thousands of years ago, so they were onto something.
Also (also), remember… Perhaps, Laconic Phrase can help your customers talk about you the way we talk about the Spartans (or at the very least remember you when it comes time to buy).
By Cole Schafer.
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