psychology hacks for compelling copywriting that converts

8 psychological hacks for creating compelling copy and content that converts.

books in library

This was a section of books at a local library.

Among them, there was a particular book that caught my attention as my eyes were randomly gazing, just to take a break from my mobile.

Guess which book was that?

If you guess it’s China in ten words, BINGO!

A few minutes later, I realised how I was influenced to make that selection among the other books in that section. Even though I was mindful of my attention, I was still influenced by this simple yet powerful setup!

In reality, this might just be a coincidence. 

In business and marketing world, the principles behind the influence can change the way you engage your audience, turning them from passive prospects into raving clients.

A lot of our decisions and choices were influenced by these underlying psychological forces, mostly at a subconscious level.

Let me dissect what happened.

Heuristics and cognitive biases

How do we make decisions in a world of information overload and speed?

Our brain looks for shortcuts. Also known as heuristic, they are helpful mental shortcuts that allow us to make judgment and decision quickly and efficiently. If we were to consciously think about every decisions we have to make, we will be overwhelmed. Moreover, nothing much gets done as we will be overthinking every choices.

At the same time, they can also lead to cognitive biases.

That said, it is not a bad thing after all because we need to strike a balance between efficiency and accuracy.

Knowing that we are all run into cognitive bias since we are human beings, why not use heuristics to our advantage?

You see, your prospects, just like any human beings, face distractions and obstacles everyday that pull them away from what they truly want in their life.

Any content and copywriting will only work well if they abide by this law: your solution is truly useful and helpful to your prospects, with regards to their challenges faced.

Presuming what you offer is of value and help to your prospects, your role would then be to lead them to a better place. And by understanding the cognitive bias and using them ethically to lead their attention, you can then be of true service for your clients.

Needless to say, if you are faking it till you make it and trying to use these hacks as a smokescreen, it will be a matter of time that you’ll be exposed.

The book caught my attention through the primacy and recency effect. Simply put, we remember things better at the beginning of the list (primacy) and as well as things that appear at the end or near the end (recency).

In this case, it was the recency effect that worked on me. The book is located near the end of the stack while my eyes were scanning the section, from left to right.

The next two laws of copywriting and content marketing helped to enhance this cognitive bias.

Communicate from the context of your prospect’s world

Do you notice a difference between this book that gotten my attention (there’s another book with the similar element) and the rest of the books in that section?

Yes, the title is written in a vertical format (top down).

In my case, my mind literally skip those books whose titles are written in a horizontal format because I’ll have to tilt my head to read them!

So what’s significant about this?

Think from the context of how your prospect is going to experience your message.

In this example, think of how books are displayed in bookstore and libraries. Exactly. They are displayed in the way as shown in the above image.

That two books at the ‘recency’ effect zone helped me to interpret what the book is, easily, because their titles are written in vertical format.

That is why mobile-friendly web experience is one of the major UX factor in search experience optimization (SEO). It is coming back to the context of how users are experiencing online content and copy on their mobile devices.

When you communicate from the context of how your prospect is going to experience your message, you deliver it at where they are. Your prospects aren't going to do the work trying to figure you out.

Later on in this article, I’ll highlight a common mistake made by many businesses that violates this law.

The next law is what helped me rule out one book over the other.

The power of presupposition

Everything you see, hear, felt and experience has several layers of meaning and messages behind.

In this case of book titles, each title presupposes something behind what they title says.

When I compared the two final book winners that stood out for me, the first one didn’t quite got my interest. It sounded to me like a history and lecture sort of book.

The second book was what hooked me. The title uses a contrast principle well. It is short and simple, yet packed with a bold promise. My impression of China is that it is BIG and has a long history of development. To be able to sum China up in ten words is an incredible feat. That was how I felt about the underlying message (presupposition). On top of that, the framing of the title gives strong weightage and importance to those ten words through the use of association; China = ten words. In my mind, I was saying to myself, “I want to know what those ten words are!”

In fact, it was so compelling that it got me to stand up from my seat, walk towards the shelf and pick up that book! Isn’t that what all businesses want; to be able to get a direct response from their prospects not only to be interested, but also to get them to trust and take action?

Curiosity and intrigue only work if they fulfil the criteria of the second law. If you look closer into the selection of books in that section, there is another book that has an interesting and intriguing title as well, Tiger head snake tails. The reason why it didn’t got me interested is that I have no clue and reference what it means at all, so my mind literally bypass that.

How long does this process took?

Only a few seconds! Similarly, that is all it takes for prospects to decide one provider over the other. In just that split second, your prospects could have already made that choice, subconsciously.

With the following 8 psychological hacks, it'll increase your ability to create irresistible copy that converts and compelling content that motivates your prospect to act.

#1 “Too good to be true” reversal.

If you have something that is so fantastic, that delivers great results, people would rush to it right?

That’s what most people think.

In reality, most of the time, we may get the opposite effect.

Here are some screenshots of people’s responses to a few Facebook ads that I saw several years ago, on selling online training and workshops/courses.

resistance comments 1
resistance comments 2

Why are there so many harsh remarks attacking the post?

Notice these remarks are focused on a particular aspect of the copy; the credibility of how much money the owner has made in his or her business.

While it looks like a transparent declaration as a social proof of how good the methodology is, it creates resistance.

In the minds of these people, they were probably thinking that it is too good to be true. They aren't buying in. People are rebutting the claims because they go against their beliefs, even if these results are real and true. These sort of comments aren’t uncommon online. We see them a lot.

Instead of arguing with your audience, proving and justifying yourself, be cautious about what beliefs your clients and prospects have.

You want to meet them where they’re at, by highlighting what they already know and understand.

In your copywriting and content, start by introducing ideas and context they already understand and agree with. Once you gain their trust, you can progressive lead them to new concepts and pivot their beliefs.

I have detailed the process of this reversal strategy here.

#2 Give your prospects what they want, not tell them what they need.

In the online space, we aren’t short of advices. What happen when someone rant about their situation in social media? You’ll find a lot of unsolicited advices, isn’t it?

In copywriting and content marketing, it is the same. It won’t be difficult to find a lot of opinion pieces “telling” people what they should do.

In fact, it is so common that it becomes a common mistake we made as entrepreneurs. We tell our market what they need from us.

Not only will they not listen to these advices, it create irrational resistance that irritates them.

For instance, a friend comes to you ranting about the conflicts and disagreement that happened at her workplace.

  • “I simply can’t understand why my staff don’t listen to my initiatives and suggestions. I am doing all these for their own good in their career, but they simply can’t be bothered to upgrade themselves.”

How would most people reply to such rants? We start giving our advice on what they need to do that sounds like the following, looks familiar?

  • “You want your staff to listen to you, but have you really listen to them? Perhaps, you need to change yourself first as a team leader, before trying to change your staff?”

Ouch, truth sound so blunt and it hurts. Another advice on top of an advice and this vicious cycle continues.

Before you continue, this friend might respond sarcastically, “sounds like another me speaking!"

In the coaching industry, there is an unspoken axiom, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

The problem with that is before prospects become your client, they might run away in silence. This can hurt your business in creating the impact you’ve always wanted to see.

Is there a better way to this?

What if you put across your message this way?

  • “Hey, I recently created a series of webinar trainings on how team leaders can create irresistible influence and gain buy-in from their team and even from other departments. Not only will this helps to build high-performance teams, you'll also be recognised as an asset and a true leader in the industry. Would this be of interest for your situation?”

By communicating your message based on what your prospects or market want, you’ll have higher chances of getting their foot-in-the-door, instead of rejecting you upfront.

In this second instance, you are still delivering what they need; change in themselves as a leader. This time round, it is framed as a module on self-mastery and how that creates an irresistible presence in front of others. That way, it becomes a stepping stone towards what they ultimately want - to be seen and recognised on a deep level. More importantly, they are valued. They feel fulfilled as someone who is able to make a positive impact on others.

#3 Embed motivation in your copy and content.

As an avid reader and learner, I got something to admit.

I have purchased a lot of books over the years, but only finished a small fraction of them.

This is a common behavioural pattern in consumers. Probably you can resonate with this yourself. For example, you might have clothing items that you seldom wear and they are still hanging around in your cabinet.

As an entrepreneur, you wouldn’t want that to happen to your clients.

Thus, when writing your copy and content, embed motivation, especially after your prospects become your clients. Remind them why they made that investment in the first place. This will minimize refunds and generate happy clients.

For example, if you are a sleep therapist, you could embed motivation by saying…

  • "Recharge and renew 10 - 100% method - This simple method will help you fall asleep in less than 10 minutes everyday. Not only will you wake up feeling refreshed and energized with only 5 hours of high quality sleep, you’ll find so much joy, excitement and drive to live your day as well as having the clarity of mind and mental focus you need. It only take less than 3 minutes for you to get into your sleep mode, naturally.”

To make this work, introduce the element of micro-commitment. What is the small step that your clients can take to see initial results, which will then convince and motivate them further?

#4 Use yourself as a case study.

This is useful if you just started out and do not have clients yet to give you testimonials.

Let’s say you are an education consultant. You can use yourself as a case study to create credibility on how you have helped your child get into the top cohort in the university and as a student leader using your teaching and developmental strategies.

By showing (not telling) how you met certain obstacles, failure and overcome these flaws, not only will you come across as more human, you will be perceived as more trusted and credible.

In this case, write from a first-person tone, narrating the journey, emotions and struggles you went through and how you rise above them. By showing what’s real and your vulnerable story, it makes your message more relatable to your audience without sounding arrogant or authoritative.

#5 Use a story hook.

use story hook in copywriting
piano copywriting case study

This is a classic story hook that taps into the human emotions and desires through stories by John Caples.

Instead of starting from the beginning of the story, Caples hooks readers in with the social pressure of proving naysayers wrong.

It begins at the highest tension point of the story or the defining moment. From there, it illustrates the story from the man’s perspective, before changing to the school’s voice.

Here’s how to map out your story hook.

  • Narrate and illustrate the journey or process that is related to the theme or topic of your content.
  • Next, outline the journey in point forms. Include the sensory details - what you see, hear, felt and what happened.
  • From the outline, identify the highest tension point or the defining moment. Expand on it and use it as your story hook to lead the content.

#6 Introduce metaphorical association.

How do penguins build businesses? Huh?

This was the hook used by Danny Iny, Founder and CEO of Mirasee, an online business coaching and training company for small business owners.

He uses three different types of animals, as a metaphor, to describe the attitude, mentality and approach of the different kinds of entrepreneurs in today's context.

In fact, he branded his new training program as The Penguin Profit Method.

Not only does this helps his audience to master his content, it also creates an empowering identity to build his tribe.

Here are the steps to create your own metaphor.

  • Identify the story around the content or topic of your niche.
  • Outline the details of the story for you to create an association. The details can include a person, an object, a character, a movie, a colour, a song, a book, an animal, an event and so on.
  • Decide on the particular detail you want to use as a metaphor to create an association. Isolate the detail, leave out the context and craft a subject line or title that links it to the benefit of the topic.

    Using the above mentioned example, "how do penguins (the metaphor) build 6 or even 7 figures scalable businesses (the benefit of the topic)?"

#7 Getting your prospects to act now rather than later.

If your prospects continue to feel comfortable and good all the time, then they aren’t going to move. They’ll stay put.

Comfort can actually be a dangerous place for anyone to be in. It is the death of growth, improvement and transformation. Yes, you want your clients to be empowered, feeling great, fulfilled, understood, safe and belonged, but not comfortable.

The way to inspire and motivate your prospect to move is by getting to the heart of your audience’s pain points.

I get it. We all don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable by talking about their pains. It just don’t feel right.

That’s why many business owners write their copy that feels good for their market. Something like this (using non-profit organization as an illustration)…

  1. "Donate to help keep children safe from war zone and be able to go back to school."

For UNICEF, they go a level deeper in articulating the pain points of their beneficiaries. They don't water down their message. In fact, it gets visceral.

This is one of their materials to call for donors and support.

As you can see, they don't hide the real pains and shocking truth of what their beneficiaries are going through on a daily basis. This isn't really about guilt-tripping the audience. They did this elegantly without coming across as disturbing. The copy covered how UNICEF is able to support these children through public's contribution.

The call to action for the latter version is so much stronger compared to the former "aspirational" piece.

A feel good piece is treated as good to have, not must have. Which means, there is always a tomorrow to act upon it.

In business, making your prospects aware of their pain points is the most ethical thing you can do for them because it motivates them to act. Leaving them as they are can be cruel.

#8 You are not a better version of your competitor. You are a game changer.

Ever find yourself getting compared by your prospects and you find it frustrating to convince them on why you are different from your competitors?

Being seen as a commodity alongside with the rest of the players out there can feel insulting, especially when you have something extraordinary that no one else can deliver.

The thing is, this will continue to happen if you position your brand as a better version of your competitor.

When your service is an improved version of what your competitor already has, you'll still be referred to as a commodity, no matter how good that improved version is. In prospect's mind, they can't tell the differentiation. Faster, cheaper, bigger, smaller, higher, more variety, better service quality are all comparative to the original version.

The only way out of this trap is to be a game changer. And you don't have to be a game changer in a big and loud manner. You don't have to be a disruptive unicorn startup to be a game changer.

I used to have a lot of resistance and fear when it comes to chiropractic care until I met my local practitioner, Dr Ashley Liew.

Before knowing him, my impression of chiropractic is that of painful manipulation. I also came across more negative reviews and cases of severe effects than what practitioners claimed.

So what's game changing about Dr Ashley's clinic?

His team of doctors uses a system that is gentle, safe and effective that doesn't involve any twisting or "popping and cracking". They employed a comprehensive protocol of spinal analysis to identify, locate, correct/release areas of blockage, distortion, subluxation, interference, stagnation and other stresses in the body/mind. Their emphasis is on working on the patient's unique root cause, to get them back to optimal health within the shortest possible time, not on providing pain relief or to alleviate the symptoms like most clinics. As such, they don't sell packages. I also like how his team customizes the treatment to the client's condition.

His clinic serves people of all ages, including children, pregnant women, elderly as well as athletes (Dr Ashley is also a marathoner himself) looking to raise their sports performance through chiropractic care. That itself is a strong testimonial of the clinic's differentiation. As a result, his clinic grew through strong and consistent referrals.

Here are some questions to uncover your differentiation.

  • 1
    Landscape - What is the current reality and context in your marketplace?
  • 2
    Identify - Identify the bottlenecks, constraints, fears, concerns that are inherent or unaddressed as a result of the system in place in the industry or target audience groups.
  • 3
    Pivot - Not every problem is worth attacking first. Among the list of bottlenecks identified, which one would create the highest impact or would give the greatest leverage?

Back to the analogy of the books, it can be disappointing to be like the rest of the books that get buried in the sea of options and noise, especially if you have immense value and expertise to share.

These 8 psychological hacks empower you to be like the above-mentioned book 'China in ten words.' In addition to being that choice in your prospect’s mind, they'll also take the next step forward with you.

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