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The Psychology of Copywriting: Appealing to the Lizard in All of Us

We are all after a rule of marketing that everyone can use that will have customers beating a path to our door. I’ll just come out with it, I don’t have it, but science has come up with some interesting ideas on how to help encourage a certain mindset. Welcome to the realm of marketing…

gecko marketing psychology
Who, me?

We are all after a rule of marketing that everyone can use that will have customers beating a path to our door. I’ll just come out with it, I don’t have it, but science has come up with some interesting ideas on how to help encourage a certain mindset. Welcome to the realm of marketing psychology.

Once you have identified your key markets and figured out a tone of voice, your mind wanders to creating your copy. In the interest of self preservation, I should state that professional writers are available should the task be too daunting for you, but many smaller establishments choose to create their own copy to keep costs down. That’s fine, I don’t judge – it’s actually how I got started! But I digress.

Marketing Psychology: No Lab Coats Required

All good sales tactics come down to a lesson in psychology. As it is with supermarkets strategically placing crisps and chocolate at eye height within key places; so it is with crafting immediately engaging copy.

Some of you may have heard about the “reptilian brain” and buzz words like “neuromarketing” and “nudge theory.” Your reptilian brain is a colloquial term for a very fundamental part of the brain (actually called the triune brain) which formed early in our evolution, most likely when we were still fish or reptiles, as theorised by neuroscientist Paul MacLean during the 1960s.

Now what has all this got to do with the practical applications of good copy and sales practices? It may start to make sense when I tell you that this very fundamental part of the brain is responsible for snap decision making; basic feelings of fondness, aversion and curiosity; instinctive reactions; our fight-or-flight instincts; as well as basic functions required to keep us alive.

There are a few interesting ways in which you can stimulate this part of the brain in your readers. I discuss some of the core ways here. This is a totally non-exclusive list, so if this is something that interests you, I strongly suggest you look into it further, it’s fascinating.

Egocentrism in Emotion, Poetry in Motion

I hate to break it to you like this, but we humans are egocentric and very fundamentally self centred. We are averse to loss and risk, and are always out for number one on a very crucial level. It sounds bad, but it is true, it’s an upshot of our self preservation instinct. So answer your readers’ most pressing question – “What’s in it for me?”

You can visualise this by really getting into the skin of your readers. Imagine your ideal customer reading your copy, their pupils contracting and a smile playing across their face. What could you offer them to evoke that reaction? How could you put it in the most emotive and persuasive way?

Try and feel what they are feeling. Use empathy. What do they really want? How can you help? Just like fiction writing, good copywriting can invoke certain emotions. What do they most want to change about their situation? How would your product or service alleviate that? Why choose you over the competition? What doubts might they have due to past experience or the misgivings of other similar providers? What risks might they foresee? All great questions to ask before putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard.

Just turn on the TV during the ad breaks for some great examples. Chances are that you will be influenced to feel a certain way. Perfume and cologne adverts are the best at this. Because tastes are subjective, they can’t say that theirs is nicer than the others. They can’t spray it at you through the TV (yet). So what do they do? They produce a short film to instil feelings of confidence, sexiness, flirtiness, empowerment and so on.

Sounds kind of high falutin’ for toilet water, but it works.

People justify purchases in strange ways due to emotion. A great example from daily life is found at garden centres. Many would much rather buy a pressure washer or a circular saw than just rent one for the task at hand. Now this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is a great example of self-deception. They convince themselves that they will use it far more than they actually do (especially immediately post-purchase) and extol the features (“It spins at 5800RPM!”) rather than the actual tangible benefits (“I need this to saw stuff”). Chances are that owning this piece will make them feel a certain way, an emotional element that cannot be explained with regular logic.

Put simply, people will rationalise the most irrational of purchases. If it’s something they really want, they will probably end up getting it. Tap into their emotions before you even think of touching upon the rationality.

Be Bold, Be Bizarre

Be honest, who looked at this article’s title and went “whaaaa…?” If you have heard of neuromarketing before now, you may have figured what I was aiming at, but if not, it made no sense whatsoever. This instinctively triggered further investigation. And here we are.

People react well to curious turns of phrase or an interesting way of looking at an issue. Contrasts, surprise and slightly jarring prospects create a certain dissonance in the mind of the reader. This hook instantly instils curiosity that needs to be satisfied.

Think of all of the “clickbait” articles there are online using lines like this one “Dramatically improve x, y and z in just 10 minutes a day with this one weird tip?! It’s easier than you think.” It’s cheesy now it has been overused, but it tricks many people into thinking “I have 10 minutes a day to spare, my x, y and z could do with some attention, and I want to see just how weird it really is.” A smattering of novelty doesn’t go amiss either; rhyming, assonance, repetition, acronyms; as long as you remain professional, the sky is the limit.

A great example can be taken from the email campaigns sent out by Barack Obama’s marketing team. Using short subject lines they encourage you to open them to find out what could possibly be going on at the White House. Examples such as “Hell no,” “This is potentially devastating,” and “Meet me for dinner,” all coming from the office of the man touted as the leader of the free world. This instils a certain amount of curiosity in even the most logical of us. Though he (or rather his team) are in a very unique position using his name as extra leverage, they provide a valuable lesson on emotion and curiosity in marketing.

Touché, Obama’s marketing department, touché.

Active Language Provokes Active Behaviour

Use active language.

Not sure what I mean? Look at that sentence again. Then compare the one below:

Active language should be used.

First lesson of copywriting, use direct and active language! A passive approach gives more of a “you can but you don’t have to” approach. Now this doesn’t have to be bossy – the approach I prefer is “approachable, but advisory.”

Equally as important is to get the customer to do what you want them to do by making the process as easy as possible. Make each step as guided and painless as possible. Walk them through the process step by step, like you would a friend. Don’t be afraid of using chatty language either, it can work incredibly well in your favour, instilling trust and a certain we’re-in-this-together camaraderie. Don’t dumb down or be too chummy, but don’t be afraid to get colloquial. Again, this tickles the emotional centres in the brain and generally sets the tone for a positive customer relationship.

Provoke decisions soon: the longer a decision is left to hang, the less likely it is to be made at all, or at least not in a direction that you want. You aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but it may be worth considering incentives for “acting now.” This also appeals to the primal, loss averse fear of missing out.

The End Bit

Hopefully you have learned a bit about how the reptilian brain plays into sales writing and how to hijack that, without putting too many professional writers out of pocket, of course.

Form the core of your calls to action and copy around human psychology and you can’t go much wrong. You may even pick up an iguana or two along the way.

[bctt tweet=”Marketing your copy to the reptilian brain!? Jenii Lowe speaks with fork tongue.”]

Image Credit: User heyerelein over at Pixabay.

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