This article takes a look at the role science plays in successful copywriting – tips, tricks and all.
What does science have to do with copywriting?
Turns out, everything.
But let’s back up a step: A marketer’s real job is to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
In this case, the crowd is the 4,000-10,000 advertisements consumers are exposed to every day. Of that number, only about 100 will make an impression on the average consumer.
Becoming one of those 100 is where the science comes in.
A basic understanding of human psychology can transform your content from average to out-of-this-world in your customer’s eyes.
And it all starts with emotions.
How Emotions Affect Decisions
Think buyers’ decisions are based on rational, thought-out decisions?
A few years back, neuroscientist Antonio Demasio ran a study focused on individuals with damage to the area of the brain where emotions are generated.
He found that not only did they feel a lack of emotion, but each struggled with making even the simplest decisions.
That’s because people’s emotions are directly related to how they make decisions, which has a major impact on the way we market.
It means that rather than focusing on the facts and logic to sway consumers, we need to focus on the feelings we want to elicit.
This may sound like advanced voodoo marketing, but injecting emotion into your messaging is easier than you think.
Thanks to science and psychology, we have proven methods of tapping into our audiences’ emotions and persuading them to keep reading.
Below are a few of our favorites.
1. Present Something Unexpected
The Science: People are more likely to take notice when presented with something they don’t expect.
Psychology Today breaks it down like this:
“Memory for anything is dependent on how deeply it is “processed”. People have to notice the ad, pay attention to it, understand the central message of it and integrate it into their personal “knowledge bank and system”…. The more the advertisement catches your attention and interest the more you are likely to devote energy and capacity to processing it and the stronger the memory trace will be.”
How to Use it: To elicit the feeling of surprise, you’ve got to push the right button.
Mark Hughes, author of Buzz Marketing, identified six topics proven to get people talking, liking, and sharing, regardless of your business’ niche.
Allow me to emphasize that this doesn’t mean it has to be taboo in the most shocking sense; word choice alone is enough to make this concept work.
Ramit Sethi’s “Watch Me Take a Bath” headline is a great example.
While it’s not actually leading to anything racy or NSFW, it draws clickthroughs because it still triggers the impulse.
We’re all suckers for the unusual.
Anything that challenges the norm is something that will gain attention, which is exactly why you should try to incorporate it into your copy.
This goes right along with unusual, only it’s so far from the norm that consumers need proof to believe it.
Which makes it an ideal way to entice consumers.
No brainer here. People like funny things.
Use it for brand awareness, but don’t expect it to sell the product.
Traditional marketing doesn’t always cut it.
That’s why Seth Godin wrote an entire book on it, called Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.
While being remarkable may be easier said than done, these brands may be able to give you some inspiration.
These obviously don’t have to be earth-shattering secrets.
But something as simple as implying that you have a secret to share can entice people to read.
(Hint: see this article title.)
2. Scare Tactics
The Science: Sometimes negative messaging can have a positive impact.
In a study of 65,000 headlines, Outbrain found that “the average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives (never or worst) was a staggering 63% higher than that of their positive counterparts.
This is what psychologists call a “negativity bias” theory, which states that things of a negative nature have a bigger impact on our psychological state.
As the theory goes, we’ve evolved to react to potential threats and adapt to protect ourselves from danger.
How to Use It: Obviously, you’re not trying to scare your audience away from your product.
Instead, identify possible weaknesses that your company can fix.
We’ve all seen posts like:
- Why You’re Doing Social Media Wrong
- 10 Copywriting Mistakes to Avoid
- The One Thing Savvy Marketers Never Do
These work with the negativity bias because it taps into our instinct to adapt and change what we’re doing wrong in order to thrive.
3. Start Headlines With an Action Verb
The Science: We call these power words. And they directly stimulate a little part of our brains called Broca’s Area.
Now, we could get pretty technical about this, but for our purposes we’ll simply define it as the part of the brain that processes language.
It’s stimulated by the unexpected and startled by power words, and it’s what compels people to keep reading.
How To Use It: Use your verbs. Wisely.
The right power verbs give life to your words. They paint pictures and inspire action, and they stand out to readers.
If you really want to capture attention, try moving the action verb to the beginning of your sentence.
Because saying “You should run,” when a swarm of bees approaches may get someone’s attention, but yelling “RUN!!!” will get them to act. Fast.
4. Create an Information Gap
The Science: We call it a tease. And while it may be somewhat insufferable, there’s no denying that creating an information gap works.
That’s because it creates curiosity.
Carnegie Mellon’s George Loewenstein developed the “information gap” theory, which states that curiosity stems from two steps.
Initially, some situation uncovers a gap in our knowledge (the headline.) Then we feel the need to fill the gap (that’s the click through.)
Loewenstein notes, “Such information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation labeled curiosity. The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”
How to Use It: An information gap doesn’t just apply to headlines.
It can be used in opening sentences, sales copy, advertisements, etc.
Upworthy is the reigning king of the curiosity gap. They frequently post this type of headlines, and generate about 75,000 Facebook likes for each article.
Their most popular headlines as of 2013 look something like this:
- This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular. Pageviews: 17 million
- See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds. Pageviews: 11.8 million
- Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced. Pageviews: 7.8 million
- 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact. Pageviews: 6.3 million
They routinely utilize the information gap approach. And routinely, they see great results.
5. Use Numbers
The Science: This one’s pretty simple: people like predictability.
Take the psychology of waiting lines, a study that found that people experience time differently when they don’t know long something will take.
Given a wait time of 30 or 45 minutes, people could cope and deal with the wait. But when presented with an indefinite amount of time, most are unable to relax.
People like to know what to expect, and posts with numbers deliver just that.
How to Use it: Again, one of the simpler science tricks.
You’ve probably noticed the abundance of list posts on the internet. It directly correlates to consumers love of numbers.
Make the effort to turn your blogs, articles or newsletters into lists.
Many sites are even including estimated reading times in their posts. So next to the blog title, you’ll find “3 minute read.”
It’s a direct link to the findings in the waiting lines study, and sets the clear expectations that consumers love.
6. Make it Scarce
The Science: This builds on something called the scarcity principle.
The scarcity principle “describes the urge to purchase, gather, or obtain something that a person feels that they may not be able to get in the future.”
We value what we think is rare or that which we can’t have, and its scarcity alone makes it more desirable.
How to Use It: You’ve undoubtedly seen plenty of examples of the scarcity principle at work.
Take Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes. It’s a limited menu item that’s only available seasonally, and the demand for it is off the charts.
Or, if you’ve ever searched Expedia or KAYAK, you may have noticed that by each room description there’s a message that says “only 1 room left!” Also the scarcity principle.
Invitation only platforms also use scarcity by making services harder and more exclusive to obtain. Spotify used an invite-only method to entice customers when it first launched, as did Google+.
Offering a time limit, limited space or one-time offers are all effective ways to create value around your product.
7. Start Using Science Today
Mastering the art of copywriting is easier than you think.
All it takes is a little science.
These psychological tricks work across the board, regardless of your industry, and can be employed seamlessly into your marketing strategy.