The persuasive techniques most copywriters don't want you to know
Updated: Apr 26
Much of copywriting is more science than art. It’s taking proven techniques and applying them towards a goal – whether that’s grabbing attention or increasing sales. And we’ve collected a lot of those techniques over the years.
In no particular order, here are some of the most useful:
It’s not just an opera by Verdi. AIDA is also handy structure that allows us to create bold, engaging copy. Grab the reader’s Attention. Keep them Interested. Appeal to their personal Desires and make them take Action.
Another simple structure with a big impact. Present a Problem – we’re great at scouting out the villain. Agitation – poke at that problem until the reader’s itching for a… Solution. And guess what? Your product or service is the answer.
A classic structure, the grown-up version of the school PEE (point, evidence, explain). Make your Point, show Evidence, Comment. PEC helps us keep copy short, powerful and persuasive.
Benefit-led writing keeps the focus on the audience. Don’t write about features, show people how your product or service will make their lives better and easier.
There are complex algorithms to check how easy your words will be to digest. Lots of business writing is about twice as hard to read as The Economist. But that’s not good enough. Check out our blog post on readability.
Rule of three
Snap, crackle, pop. Beanz Meanz Heinz. Veni, Vidi, Vici. Things that come in threes grab attention. Read about when to use repetition and how to make it stand out.
5 W’s (and 1 H)
If your copy is lacking, you probably don’t have the whole story. Figure out the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How to fill in every gap before you put pen to paper.
CIGAR gives us an effective structure for smokin’ intros. Start with Context, then present the Issue, define a Goal, suggest an Answer and provide a Resolution.
Disrupt Then Reframe (DTR)
Like a boxing feint, this sneaky technique helps us distract the reader, then knock them out with a killer line. Disrupting the reader’s thought process helps us build up a new argument from scratch.
Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow knew that some needs are more important than others. His idea can help us pitch our copy at a suitable level. We know that food is a more basic need than friendship, and friendship is more basic than realising your potential.
Did you know liars often don’t use contractions? You want your clients and customers to trust you. Contractions aren’t unprofessional or “wrong”. They’re a natural part of spoken English and they’re essential if you want to sound honest.
Some types of words will always grab attention. Like God terms (positive words), Devil terms (negative words) and Charismatic terms (observable things). These “ultimate terms” or power words act as psychological triggers to influence our thoughts.
People get defensive if you try to change their opinion with brute force. But if you’re confident on the points you both agree on, people will side with you. Then you can align the reader’s thoughts with your business.
Our brains are lazy. They use simple rules to focus on one thing and ignore anything more complicated. Research some of these mental shortcuts to be able to write copy that people will notice.
Big 5 personality traits
Everyone has different amounts of openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism. Theories like this help writers dig deep into their readers’ minds and understand how to talk to them.
Why are trial periods so common? Because losing something is much more powerful than gaining something. People don’t pay £6.99 a month for Netflix. They pay £6.99 a month to avoid losing Netflix after a free trial.
Newness and novelty
New things make our brains release dopamine. So newness can actually make us happy. Try to look at your products or services in new ways and show your readers something original. But know where to draw the line. Anyone remember New Coke?
Social norms - Conformity and Herd Behaviour
Why is it normal to wear a bikini to the beach – but not your underwear? When we make decisions, we follow society’s unwritten rules. You’re more likely to sell a product if people know that others like them have bought it.
D x V x F > R
Change is a difficult thing for people to deal with. To overcome that Resistance, we have this powerful formula. If people are Dissatisfied, have a Vision of what’s possible and know the First steps to take, you’re laughing.
No one likes to have conflicting beliefs. Like an alcoholic that knows the damage they’re doing, but can’t resist “just one more”. If we help the reader along the path towards consistency, they’ll be like putty in our hands.
Identifiable Victim Effect
Statistics don’t mean anything to us on an emotional level. But we can empathise with one individual. A story about a real person is much more powerful. The effect is especially useful for news stories or charity messaging.
Click, whirr response
Sometimes we can’t help ourselves reacting to something. If someone offers you a hand, you’ll put your hand out without thinking. You can trigger reactions like this with carefully chosen words and themes.
Social media shows that people hate to be left out. It’s a powerful feeling that clever advertising has exploited for years. Uncover the must-haves and can’t-miss-outs to make your copy even more powerful.
We always feel obliged to give something back. Marketing and psychology expert Cialdini explains how reciprocity made Ethiopia provide aid to Mexico after an earthquake, despite being in the middle of a famine and civil war. The lesson? Freebies work.
A classic sales technique – get someone to say yes to something small, then up the request. A big ask can be too much at once. But if your copy can get someone to say yes to something small, they’re much more likely to agree to the next step.
Yale Attitude Change Approach
This is a pretty comprehensive model of how to be persuasive. It includes recommendations like showing both sides of an argument or being physically attractive. Some of the ideas can give a huge boost to underperforming sales copy.
We’ve all seen those videos of people fighting each other on Black Friday. The reason for all the madness? People value things that seem rare or hard to get. We can recreate the effect in copy by emphasising time limits of an offer, for example.