Updated: Dec 9, 2020
At the core of things, good direct response copywriting relies on psychological manipulation.
Yep, you read that right.
Guess what: We emotionally and psychologically manipulate people every day, even those we love. It’s part of being human. We say certain things and behave in specific ways in order to reach our goals, and a lot of that requires compelling other people to act in our interests as well. What I want you to do is remove the negative connotation of the term “manipulation,” and simply start thinking of it as negotiation for mutual benefit. And as long as you only write copy to sell things that you believe in to people who would benefit from them, there’s absolutely nothing shady or slimy about what you’re doing.
That said, in this article we will discuss 6 techniques (or principles) you can incorporate into your sales copy that will better help you to speak to your consumer’s most primal needs and desires to paint a clear picture of how your product or service can change their lives.
It’s Just Good Communication
Let’s say you’re the guy who invented the GPS system for cars. This amazing technology is hands-free, convenient, and communicates via satellite to provide highly accurate data. It can analyze traffic flow, alert you of accidents, show you the quickest routes, reroute automatically, and more. In short: It blows using a traditional map out of the water. You know just how awesome your invention is, and you know this revolutionary technology will help automobile drivers everywhere get to their destinations quicker and safer. The only problem is that the average consumer has no idea this technology exists, let alone how it works, how it will help them, and how they can buy it.
This is where your copywriter comes in.
Good copywriters will take that thing you’re passionate about selling and present it to consumers in a way that speaks to them. It’s all about communicating effectively, and that’s a positive thing. Good copy will never be dishonest — instead, it will be honest in a way that is so compelling, consumers won’t want to resist your offer. So the copywriter who is tasked with selling the GPS will appeal to the consumer’s emotions, fears, desires, and most primal biological needs in order to show them how this new technology will help them survive and thrive.
But how exactly does one pull this off? Many copywriters incorporate one or more of the Six Principles of Influence.
The Six Principles of Influence
The Six Principles of Influence were coined by a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini. Dr. Cialdini is a renowned social psychologist, best-selling author, and master of influence marketing. His life’s work is conducting scientific research on what makes people say “yes” to things. These principles of persuasion and influence hinge upon the idea that people are more likely to go along with something if you give them good enough reasons as to why they should. The six principles are:
Familiar with the phrase “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”? This is an example of reciprocity. People are more likely to do you a favor if you do something for them first.
Acts of reciprocity are more likely to be successful if what you offer is 1) valuable, 2) personalized, and 3) unexpected. Examples of using the principle of reciprocity include:
Offering exclusive content in exchange for subscribing to your email list.
Buy one get one free.
Free samples or free gifts.
A potential pitfall when using reciprocity is failing to offer enough value for the consumer to feel like they “owe” you something in return. The goal is for the customer to be shocked that you would offer them something so valuable, entirely free of charge. This totally subverts the stereotype of greedy salesperson. You must find that sweet spot between maximum value and maximum return.
People want what they can’t have. The more exclusive something appears to be, the more desirable it will be in the eyes of the consumer. When you want to apply subtle pressure to act quickly, this is the principle you want to lean on. To do this, you will need to highlight the unique aspects of your product or service to set yourself apart from the competition. Then, you paint a picture for the consumer of what they stand to lose if they do not take advantage of your offer in that moment. Examples of using the scarcity principle are:
Indicating a limited inventory to signal exclusivity.
Setting a time frame to take advantage of the offer.
Utilizing phrases like “ending soon”, “only 2 left in stock”, “lock in your discount while there’s still time”, etc.
Building trust is key to selling anything. No one wants to give their hard earned money to someone whom they perceive is lying to them or being deceptive. People are also more likely to put their faith into those they see as experts and leaders. It’s one thing to tell consumers that you know what’s best for them, but they’re not going to believe you unless you give them reasons why. This is why long-form copywriting really shines when it comes to making sales, because you have plenty of room to demonstrate your knowledge on the subject. Ways to build credibility include:
Scientifically-backed evidence and data.
Finding ways to weave in any accolades, experience, awards, etc.
This isn’t your commitment to the consumer, but rather their beliefs about personal consistency and commitment. Humans have an inherent desire to be consistent with their morals and values, and we want to stay true to our commitments. Copywriters can tap into this desire by making small requests of the consumer that lead to much larger requests. It can begin with asking them to subscribe to your email list, which is a relatively insignificant task. Following that, asking them to make a purchase won’t seem like such a great leap but rather the reasonable next step given that they’re interested in what you’re offering. Not only that, but getting them to take that first step will solidify their role as a “customer” in their mind.
Whether or not consumers like you will have a big impact on your ability to sell to them. This is why honesty is so important in copywriting. Lying salespeople are pretty easy to spot these days, and no one likes those guys. You want to position yourself as one of the good ones. And if you’re selling something that offers value to the people you’re selling to, that automatically makes you the good guy. You just need to demonstrate that to your audience.
There are 3 important factors when it comes to being liked:
Similarity. People feel instant connections with those who they feel can relate to them on a personal level, who can validate their feelings and concerns. This is why you always want to address your customer’s problems and assuage their doubts. Doing this will help them realize that you’re someone who actually cares because you’ve been there yourself.
Compliments. People like receiving compliments, duh. Your audience is smart, which is why we have to work so dang hard to convince them to buy stuff. Make them feel like purchasing your product or service is a smart move on their part, one that will make them the envy of everyone in their life.
Cooperation. We like people we can work with, people who are agreeable and helpful. Be agreeable, be helpful, and show consumers you want to work with them to achieve their goals.
Human beings are social creatures so we don’t like to make decisions on our own. We like to model our behavior off of those we view as successful, happy, and so on. Put simply, we want what others have. We also want the validation that comes along with following our peers’ recommendations. As copywriters, we can demonstrate social proof by talking about how other people have benefitted from using the product or service we are selling. Examples being:
Storytelling/real life examples.
Using influence to communicate
So yeah, maybe the term “manipulation” should be retired when it comes to copywriting. In truth, to become a copywriter is to understand the human psyche on a much deeper level than most in order to communicate in a way that resonates. At the end of the day, a sales letter is a line of communication between two people: one offering something of value, the other standing to benefit from that offer. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange, and your job as a copywriter is to help the reader see that.