Give Prospects a Reason to Act!

Welcome back!

Last week we talked about some elements we can employ to help make our web copy sell. Specifically, we mentioned the emotional investment, the credibility factor, the power of one, and the need to write conversationally.

Most likely this wasn’t the first time you’ve heard of these copywriting sales tools. In fact, if you’ve gone through AWAI’s “Accelerated Course,” you know that a good chunk of real estate is devoted to talking in depth about each one of them.

But this week we’re going to talk about something most of us might not be as familiar with. They are the elements less recognized and less utilized … psychological devices, if you will … that will help your sales copy do its job and transform readers into buyers.

Now before I go any further let me say right up front that I’m no psych major … never was, never wanted to be. The psychological motivators that we’ll be talking about over the next couple weeks comes from simply reading about my craft and riding the rails of that ever-present learning curve that we’re all on. Let me also say that because psychological devices are most often unperceived by a reader, while they can be quite powerful, they can also be a bit dangerous if used inappropriately.

Remember, employing psychological devices should never be about manipulating people into doing something against their will, or conning them into spending their money. The process should be about making the buying decision painless and enjoyable. And besides, you can employ all the psychological motivators in the world, but if you’re not addressing the needs of your target audience you can have Houdini waving a watch in front of their face and your copy still won’t convince someone to buy something they don't need. (Chia Pets and Tiddy Bears notwithstanding.)

However, if you employ psychological devices with discretion and use them responsibly and ethically, there’s no reason why they can’t serve as a powerful tool in your toolbox of copy techniques.

So without any further ado, let’s examine the first psychological motivator, the “Reason Why” device:

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, who retired from academe in May of 2009, was the Regents’ Professor of Psychology and W.P. Carey Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Arizona State University, where he has also been named Distinguished Graduate Research Professor.

His books, Influence: Science and Practice and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, reflect his years of study into the reasons why people comply with requests in business and other settings. Together, they have sold over a million copies and have been translated into twenty languages.

In the latter book, Dr. Cialdini discusses an experiment conducted by Harvard social psychologist, Dr. Ellen Langer, where she demonstrates that people like to have a reason for doing something.

The experiment was simple and ingenious:

People were waiting in line to use a copy machine at a library. Dr. Langer employed a colleague to ask those waiting in line if she’d be able to cut in front of them by asking, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

Surprisingly—in my opinion, anyway—94% of those asked complied with her request. (I tend to think I would’ve said, “Back of the line is that way!” while thrusting my thumb behind my shoulder, but that’s just me.)

The experiment was repeated with a second group of people waiting to use the copy machine. This time, however, Dr. Langer’s colleague simply said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

This time, those willing to let the colleague cut in front of them dropped to 60%.

Bottom line: When the person requesting to jump to the front of the line didn’t offer a reason, there was a significant drop in the number of people willing to comply.

The experiment was repeated yet a third time.

This time, the colleague said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make some copies?”

Now is this a very compelling reason to give up a space in line? Definitely not! After all, everybody in line had copies to make, right? Yet, 93% of those asked said ‘yes.’ Why? Because the connection to a reason for making the request was introduced by the word “because” and that was enough to persuade practically everyone in line to comply.

The lesson here for you and I as copywriters is to always offer strong calls-to-action by telling our readers why we need them to do what we’re asking them to do. It can be as simple as, “You must act now because this limited time offer expires at the end of this month.”

Take a look at some of the projects you’re working on and identify areas where you can employ this powerful psychological motivator. I’d love to hear about some of the areas you identified and the changes you came up with.

Make sure you stop by next week because we’re going to take a look at another psychological device that you can employ to motivate readers!

(Notice how I seamlessly slipped in that psychological motivator in that last sentence?)

Until then … and as always …

Good health and good writing!

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Published: August 26, 2009

2 Responses to “Give Prospects a Reason to Act!”

  1. Good stuff, as always. In terms of the ethics of it, I just think that you can't really make somebody buy something they don't want to buy, but the job of a good copywriter is to make someone feel really good about buying whatever it is. I know that that works on me. I might want something, and then I need the copy to convince me that I won't suffer buyer's remorse if I pull the trigger. I want the product, but I want the bonus of feeling really good about buying the product that good copy supplies. Make sense? It works the other way, too, though. if the copy is too cheesy, it can ruin a sale that was in the bag.

    ChrisAugust 26, 2009 at 9:14 pm


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