Let’s be honest about it. Most copywriting has one purpose. To sell.
While content writing is informative and educational, copywriting is all about getting customers to make a purchase—or at least take some form of action that will lead to a purchase later down the line, such as signing up to a newsletter or sharing content on social media.
The art of copywriting is persuading customers to buy something—and to do so without them realising what you’re doing.
The best copywriting speaks directly to the customer, anticipating what they want, and showing them that only you can deliver this. It makes use of certain weapons of influence—tools that help you to engage and convince, but in a subtle or almost imperceptible way.
These days, you have less time than ever to get someone’s attention. Fail to connect and you lose a potential customer. And so you need to hook their attention, convince them that they’re in the right place, and then make them understand why your product or service is the one they need—all in a matter of seconds.
So, what’s the psychology of persuasion? What makes us more likely to be convinced by something? And how can we use these principles in our copywriting?
The Psychology of Persuasion
Psychology studies into human nature give us valuable insights into how our minds work and why we might be persuaded to do certain things or convinced to accept certain opinions.
Here are the takeaways that are most relevant for copywriting:
This is basically the notion that we feel obliged to give back to people who give us something in return. Dr Robert Cialdini included this idea in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, a seminal work in this field. He describes a case study whereby a waiter’s tips increased by 3% when diners were given a mint and 14% when diners were given two mints.
We can use this idea of reciprocity in marketing. Customers who are offered something for free (such as an e-book or an exclusive offer) are more likely to be persuaded to buy something.
We prefer experiences that feel personal to us. According to a study from the University of Texas, personalization gives us a sense of control by making us feel we’re getting something tailored especially to us. And humans love to feel in control.
Personalization also helps reduce our perception of information overload. If we know we’re receiving information that’s customized to our unique needs, it feels more manageable and less overwhelming.
In copywriting, this is partly why it’s so important to write for your unique buyer—not a generic reader.
The concept of normative social influence—or why we like to do as others do—applies to marketing in the form of social proof, aka testimonials and case studies. Demonstrating that our peers also like a product or service can be incredibly persuasive.
From when we are children, we’re taught to respect authority. And as adults, we continue to accept opinions and ideas if we perceive them to have come from a qualified individual or organisation.
Using stats in copywriting can help create this sense of authority, as does the phrase As seen in, followed by a list of established and authoritative publications.
When we hear or read a story, our minds re-enact it as though we were living it. This makes stories incredibly compelling on a visceral level. Just think what it’s like to read a horror story, for example. We have an almost biological reaction i.e., sweaty palms and increased heart rate.
In copywriting, telling a story can make boring information far more compelling. Engaging the imagination is also very persuasive.
Finally, there’s the concept of scarcity. Studies have shown that humans have a tendency to perceive things as more valuable when they’re limited. This is the same principle behind other phenomena such as FOMO (fear of missing out) and playing hard to get.
In copywriting, creating the illusion of scarcity gets customers more interested in what you’re selling.
9 Psychology-Based Tips for More Persuasive Copywriting
Mind control would be unethical—but these techniques are a pretty good substitute.
Focus On Benefits Rather Than Features
The first step in writing persuasively is showing customers what’s in it for them.
Why does a certain feature of a product or service matter? How will it help them? How will it solve a specific problem?
This means talking about benefits—concrete advantages that they’ll experience as a direct result of your service—rather than just discussing features in an abstract way.
For example, if you sell mattresses, rather than just talking about the various materials involved in construction, mention why a certain material is superior. Is it more breathable? Fluffier? Offers more cushioning? Will they sleep more deeply or for longer as a result?
This helps you to treat customers as individuals with specific problems or goals and conceals the fact you’re trying to sell something.
You also want to emphasize your brand’s UVP or unique value proposition. What can you offer that no one else can? This distinguishes you from the competition, making your product descriptions stand out from other people’s, helping customers with the decision-making process.
Make it into a Story
As we’ve discussed, it’s been scientifically proven that stories have a powerful impact on our psyches. We’re drawn into stories and persuaded by them in a way that we’re not by abstract information. We tend to empathize with the point of view of the protagonist and this makes the product or service being described more real and tangible.
To make brand copy more story-like, experiment with phrases like imagine or picture this. Then use sensory language that builds a concrete image of the product. If it’s a food product, what does it taste or smell like? If it’s clothing, what does it feel like to touch?
This is like a virtual equivalent of a test drive, allowing the reader to experience what it would be like to own this product.
Storytelling doesn’t just apply to product descriptions. You can also use it to create a connection between the reader and your company by talking about your brand story. How did you get here? What’s the motivation behind your service? This turns you from a faceless corporation into something more human.
Use Power Words to Appeal to Emotions
Power words are those words that elicit an emotional reaction in the reader. And the most powerful emotions to generate if you want to persuade someone are excitement, curiosity, reassurance, or—on the other hand—urgency or fear.
You can create excitement, for example, by using words that suggest affluence or success, such as luxury, celebration, or glamorous. Curiosity is piqued with words and phrases such as behind-the-scenes, little-known, or miracle. And you can reassure readers with words such as guilt-free or fail-proof. In fact, researchers have found curiosity to be one of the most powerful triggers for viral content.
Meanwhile, last chance, once in a lifetime, and final sale all create a sense of scarcity and urgency that will encourage people to make a decision there and then.
And sometimes it can be incredibly persuasive to create a sense of fear by talking about a potential threat or danger with words such as nightmare, catastrophe, or even cringeworthy.
Don’t overdo it, though. People won’t appreciate being panicked.
Also, you can’t rely on emotions alone. Creating a certain feeling can make your writing compelling and catch the reader’s attention but you want to follow up with a logical justification or argument to drive home your point.
Learn your Customer’s Language
If you want to connect with humans, you need to write in the way that humans talk. You need to use simple words, a conversational tone, and steer clear of jargon.
But it’s even better if you can speak the exact way that your specific customers speak.
To find out exactly what this is, check out forums, reviews, and customer feedback. What tone of voice do your customers use? What words come up again and again?
Build a vocabulary list that you can then use in your product descriptions and other persuasive copy. This will help you to develop a coherent and powerful brand tone of voice and will encourage customers to relate to you by showing you have things in common. You understand them and know where they’re coming from.
Appeal to Experts
We have a tendency to trust the authorities. So you can reassure customers by using statistics, references, and quotes from authority figures to help make your point, whether in a blog article or product description.
If including statistics, people tend to find them more persuasive if they aren’t whole numbers, such as 64.7% rather than 64%.
And if you’re going to reference another publication or authority, make sure it’s credible and reliable.
Appeal to Their Ego
Anything that makes customers feel superior or appeals to their vanity is going to be highly persuasive. We all want to be more attractive, more intelligent, richer, or more successful. So, using language that creates this aspirational tone can be very convincing. Show them why your product or service will make their lives better.
You can also help customers to feel special by creating a sense of exclusivity. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter, promise them access to secrets, sneaky peeks, and insider information.
Mentioning waiting lists and limited sales can also create the feeling that they’re getting special treatment.
Be Playful and Quirky
Humour is hard to get right. But if you manage to make your customers laugh or at least smile, they’re more likely to remember you. Being a little off beat helps you stand out from the crowd.
Anecdotes, jokes, or funny images will all help you to engage customers. In fact, 65% of Generation Z audiences say that humour is the most important creative enhancer of receptivity. In other words, they’re more likely to enjoy an ad and have a positive view of a brand if humour is used.
But only within reason. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to be funny and failing. Plus, controversial or nasty humour is likely to backfire.
Preempt Their Objections
You’re not a door-to-door salesperson and so you can’t overcome customer objections as and when they arise.
Instead, you have to predict the problems customers might find with your product or service and include solutions within your copy.
People are reluctant to part with their money. Your customers are therefore likely to have a list of reasons why they shouldn’t buy your product or pay for your service.
Most often, this comes down to financial considerations (it’s too expensive), a lack of trust (how can they believe your claims?), a lack of need (it’s not really necessary), or a lack of urgency (maybe they’ll get one in the future but not right now).
Overcoming these objections requires you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Focus on what they stand to gain from your product, not the money they will spend.
Use testimonials and case studies to boost their trust (don’t take our word for it!) A money-back guarantee is also very reassuring. And create a sense of scarcity or urgency to get them to act now rather than later.
We trust our peers more than we trust businesses. We don’t want to get left out and we want to be part of the majority.
So, get your existing customers to do the selling. Include testimonials, reviews, tweets, and any other user-generated content to encourage customers to trust you. According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust a recommendation from a peer and 70% trust recommendations from people they don’t even know.
Testimonials are particularly persuasive if they come from similar people to your customers. So, if you’re targeting business professionals, for example, include someone’s job title or business when you use their quote.
5 Examples of Super Persuasive Copywriting
This product description from Adidas starts off with three power words: disconnect, escape, and recharge. All are very emotive and inspiring. And it’s clearly written with a specific pain point in mind: “push farther and hike longer.”
Plus, the description gets you to engage your imagination: “push to the pass, stop at the lake, enjoy every minute.” You can almost feel yourself out on the trail. The result is very persuasive.
Heinz starts off with sensory language. The phrase “deliciously rich, tomatoey flavour” instantly engages our imagination. And then the product description establishes a direct connection with the reader: “But you already know that.”
The use of humour and playful language is also effective: “you know what Beanz Meanz.” It’s fun and memorable, standing out from the crowd.
The danger with copy for a technical product or service such as Virgin Media is that it can become dense and dull. The brand steers clear of this, however, by keeping it short, simple, conversational, and humorous.
Mastercard understands that customers want to read about benefits, not about features. The copy makes every element of the card relevant to the customer, giving tangible advantages to specific features, whether it’s peace of mind in the event of fraud or 24-hour support.
The repeated use of the word “you” establishes a bond with the reader. And power words like extraordinary, unforgettable, and possibilities create an inspiring and aspirational mood.
The John Lewis Nursery Advice page demonstrates that the brand knows exactly what customers are looking for. The tone is friendly and reassuring, establishing a connection with the reader by addressing them directly. The phrase “We’re here to help you find the way, your way” is catchy and plays into the desire for personalized help.
Persuasive copywriting is an art—and a science. It relies on psychological principles and an understanding of how the human mind works. Once you realise what people want from you, you can create a connection. This will allow you to more effectively convince and influence them.
But it’s all about understanding the customer. Who are they? What do they need? How can you help? Persuasion starts with empathy before employing creative and imaginative tools to drive your argument home.
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