Being a good copywriter is like having a superpower.
You may not be the real-world Charles Xavier, but you can certainly influence and manipulate thoughts and emotions much better than the average person.
I first realized this when around five or six years ago I got a client who was in IT. Their service wasn’t very interesting, they were dealing with hosting and domains.
We talked about their strategy and came to the conclusion that if they want more leads and more people to trust them, they have to position themselves as experts in their field.
Now, being a former tech/science journalist, I was terribly enjoying myself, because I could write about cyberwarfare, the Domain Name System, the history of the internet and so on.
I was enthusiastic and I noticed that these articles got more responses and more positive reactions than my previous ones which I less enjoyed writing. Because my enthusiasm influenced them.
Later on I learned about how I can use words to influence people more: to get them to register to services, buy products.
Now you may be thinking about can this be ethical? Well, it is certainly a dangerous talent to have, and there are countless people abusing it. That is why I always make sure the products I help to sell are actually making the lives of our clients better, and I advise you to do the same.
Now I am going to place my trust in you and share some of what I gathered over the years so you can make your email copy better. To help you become a better writer.
My email copywriting series is nearing an end with this piece on Chamaileon.io for now, but don’t worry I have plenty of tips and tricks for you in the previous articles. Check them out later too.
What emotions are you aiming at?
Positive emotions usually work better than negative ones. A description of the desired after-state can be much more effective than only a description of the consequences of failing to take an offer.
But they work even better when you create a story and communicate them one after the other.
Let’s say you provide a service where you deliver groceries from a shop to the house and your target audience are mainly suburban families. In this case one of your buyer personas will be a father who drives the car to and from the store, who packs the groceries and all together doesn’t like the whole ordeal.
You will sell them the convenience of your service: you will describe how nice it will be to just relax at home, acquire everything on their list with no effort, enjoy the sun, spend time with their wife, play with the kids in the garden and so on. We will get to exactly how you should phrase this in a moment.
If you describe this after-state effectively enough, they will become emotionally invested in it. They will picture themselves in that desired situation and want it even more.
Now those who are still hesitating at this point to order your service may need a little extra push. And an emotionally charged description of the consequences of failure may provide that.
So: primarily always aim for the positive emotions, on the improvement in the lives of those who you want to be your clients. But think in complete sequences, longer stories. A proposition, a simple offering will not be as effective as an entire sequence where you get the chance to give everyone exactly the right amount of motivation.
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Emotionally charged words and phrases (and how to use them)
I could actually provide you a list of example words and phrases which can activate the different senses, but I won’t do that because there are dozens of such lists with hundreds of words a googling away. So what I am going to do is tell you the different ways you can activate the brain of your customer with these words.
Most consumers make decisions based on emotions rather than logic. Decision-making should, in theory, be a purely logical process, but it is far from it.
This actually causes quite a trouble for marketers, because the connection between areas of the brain responsible for logic and speech are stronger than those between emotion and speech.
However as we mostly make decisions based on our emotions, our impressions, when we speak or even think about the reasons, we start to rationalize.
You may say you like a certain kind of cheeseburger because there is more mustard or a different kind of cheese in it, but in reality, you simply make your decision based on how the visuals of an advertisement or flavors of the meal triggered your brain.
This is why it is not so easy to determine what exactly drives a decision – but the other way around it works much more effective.
There is a very basic thought experiment to demonstrate this and you most likely have come through it before: imagine that you are holding a lime.
Close your eyes and imagine the rough texture, the zesty smell, its weight. And than imagine you bite into it. Feel how the bitter fluid reaches your tongue…
You probably noticed that your mouth starts to produce saliva – just because the lime was described in a way your mind could create it realistically based on your previous experiences.
Words and phrases like “zesty smell” and “rough texture” do the job.
Strong imagery can help you reinforce the words that you type. Visuals are easier to process than text itself, that’s why we created 1000+ predesigned blocks in our email template builder for you to reuse in your responsive email templates. You can access and modify them here for free.
fMRI scans actually confirmed that simple neutral words like “key” or “chair” only activate brain areas responsible for interpretation of speech and language (mainly Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area).
Other words however like “lavender” or “cinnamon” also activate brain areas responsible for smelling.
At this point I would suggest you open up my previous article about storytelling, because I included some more details about how you can leverage this there.
Don’t use a dictionary, use your imagination
My problem with the endless lists of words that can be emotionally effective is that they basically list synonyms. They might work for you when you want to create a short but striking subject line, but as far as storytelling goes, you are better off if you just imagine the things yourself.
If you are selling insulation, you have one of the most boring products in the world.
But you can also write about how it will prevent the family of the reader in the winter from rooms being so cold just walking into them gives you goosebumps. That they won’t feel that little but very uncomfortable cold breeze in the bedroom that won’t let them sleep. They won’t shiver in the morning on their way to the bathroom. Instead, they can finally enjoy their home, feeling as if they were under a warm and soft blanket even on the harshest nights of the winter.
I have given you this advice before, but I cannot stress it enough: no matter how many templates or techniques I show you, what makes a good copywriter is empathy. You have to be capable to put yourself in a given situation in your mind and then describe it so vivid your reader will feel the same thing you did.
This is actually backed up by science too.
Uri Hasson of the Princeton University showed that a phenomenon called mirroring actually happens when we share stories in a way the listener can understand and experience. Our minds become synchronized to put it simple.
You can make them feel what you feel.
And I am not the one telling you this but neuroscience.
Scarcity, fear of missing out and other methods
Negative emotions play a big part in getting your target audience to act. They may be ready for your solution, but you have to give them that last push as I have described earlier.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) is one of the most often used techniques in direct response copywriting. This is when you tell a prospect that they can be a part of something – a community for example -, but there is a limited time to do that. Or you are accepting only a certain number of people.
A team of marketers I have worked with previously have an inner club for their clients. It is subscription-based, and they give a lot of value to their subscribers. Articles, downloadable checklists and so on.
But here is the trick: the club is positioned as very exclusive, so they don’t accept new members anytime. They only open registration for two weeks a year.
This may seem counter-effective, but it is not. People would line up like it is Black Friday would this not be an online service. Because the audience is bombarded with messages about how good it is to be a member, samples of what they could get access to, testimonials and so on.
In email you can leverage FOMO if you emphasize how great it is to join your community, or be your client or whatever you want to achieve.
“Last chance to be a part of the experience…”
“See how you can become an expert”
“Did you hear about our keynote speaker?”
These subject lines imply there is something you are or may be missing out on.
Take a look at this DigitalMarketer newsletter:
Of course it goes on to explain the offer a bit more, but this opening is simply great. And the subject line it came with was:
[LAST CHANCE] 90% off ecommerce marketing plan ends TONIGHT!
Or look at this other email from the Content Marketing Institute:
The opening question instantly tells me there is something I should know about, so it makes me curious.
Scarcity works in a very similar way. You present an offer that is limited by time, actual physical scarcity or some other factor – say, you only accept a certain number of people to subscribe for your course. The DigitalMarketer is also a great example for the use this.
But how exactly does fear work?
In their book, Age of Propaganda Pratkanis and Aronson describe how a campaign based on fear works. They say
“All other things being equal, the more frightened a person is by a communication, the more likely her or she is to take positive preventive action.”
But there are four conditions for it to work:
- The thing you describe is truly frightening for the target audience.
- You offer a specific solution to help lower or eliminate the danger.
- Your offer seems to be efficient.
- Your target audience feels they can actively do something.
The last part is very important. As Pratkanis and Aronson say:
“Fear appeals will not succeed in altering behavior if the audience feels powerless to change the situation.”
What you have to do is:
- Create a connection with your target audience, so you can describe their fear in a way they feel is genuine.
- Describe it and your solution objectively.
Here is a great example for a fear-appeal campaign:
As you can see, fear is effective only if it is used to describe an existing problem – if it is already there somewhere in the mind of your audience. So let’s talk about this a bit.
Create or exploit emotions?
After all this you might think you should create emotions in your clients – you have all the tools to do that.
But in most cases, you are better off spotting and exploiting emotions that your prospects already have.
Given that your products solve a pre-existing problem, your target audience has certain emotions already connected to situations related to that problem.
Some of them are negative – frustration, fear, annoyance.
But some of them are positive you can build on, because they have experienced a problem-free period in the past and want it back, or they already have some kind of the desired after-state in mind.
They want to be carefree, pain-free, comfortable and so on. So, you have to know exactly what they want.
Back to empathy: if you know who your target audience is, imagine what it would be like to be them.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a fellow copywriter who had to rewrite the website copy of an insurance company. I asked her how it was going and I got the answer: “for the last 3 hours I made myself believe that I am a 60 years old granpa nearing pension. I almost actually believe it by now.”
That is how it works. You imagine the life of your prospect. How their problem affects it.
For example if I was selling cheap business cards as an entry-level product, one of my buyer personas would certainly be a young entrepreneur just starting his own company.
He works every day constantly, trying to make his services better, to get trustworthy employees and get noticed. Get noticed by others in the industry, by potential partners and clients. So he organizes meetings, goes to networking events, conferences, tries to actively build valuable relationships.
He needs a lot business cards because he is throwing them at anyone who might be a little interesting, so he needs a constant supply – but he doesn’t have a lot of money, because any profit he gets he invests back into strengthening his newborn company.
So he might feel frustrated and awkward when he runs out of cards during an event. Uncomfortable, when he gets to a meeting and can’t give a card to the other party.
On the other hand, if he could afford a greater quantity of quality business cards, he would feel more confident. He would be a bit calmer, because there would be one less thing to worry about.
Now we are talking about a minor problem here, and certainly not intense emotions – but they are existing emotions and therefore you can leverage them.
Never abuse the power of manipulation
As I have said: the ability to control emotions through words is not something you should overuse and abuse.
You should use it very subtly and only when there is a good reason for it. Fear of missing out or scarcity are everyday tactics, but for example, if you want to instill fear, you should be very careful.
This is also true because you can very easily mess it up. If your audience even senses that you try to manipulate them, you won’t be able to.
Use the above mentioned methods in storytelling, insert emotions into your story so your audience can connect to it.
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