Warning: These copywriting techniques will own your reader’s brain. Use with caution.

This is a guest post by Jamie Cassata, a direct response copywriter, consultant, and author.

I’m a master’s-level philosopher who betrayed the “love of wisdom” for the love of cash. I said goodbye to my philosophy PhD scholarship and pursued direct response copywriting instead. As a philosopher, I was fascinated by the idea of free will; now—as a freelancer—I’m concerned with how to take others’ free will away.

(…yes, I’m an only child).

How to reduce (or eliminate) your reader’s free will

To get better at sales copywriting, you have to forget about trying to appeal to your reader’s sense of rationality. If that’s what you’ve been doing, stop immediately.From here on out, you have to make your copy correspond with the way your reader’s brain actually works. And that means checking out the science involved.

Here are 4 science-based copywriting techniques to own your reader’s brain:

Technique #1: the brain is a friggin’ fanatic. Give it the certainty it craves.

In his book What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo makes the case that the brain takes irrational shortcuts to eliminate ambiguity and create certainty. The amygdalae (our centre for emotions, emotional behaviour) treat uncertainty as a threat. After all, if you don’t know what’s lurking around that corner, there’s a chance it could murder you.

So the brain craves certainty—and does whatever it can to eliminate the feeling that it’s in danger.

Here’s why this is important for you: Offer easy, simple solutions to problems. The solution must not be nuanced, subtle, ambiguous, or otherwise uncertain. It must be the ONE, simple answer to their problem—without a trace of confusion. The one road to salvation.

Technique #2: give your reader’s brain a new lover every night.

Neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, in his book Keep Your Brain Alive, writes about molecules in the brain called neurotrophins, which promote brain health. Novel activity patterns in the brain produce greater quantities of neurotrophins. Long story short: new, different kinds of experiences stimulate and captivate the brain.

Here’s why this is important for you: Is your writing vanilla? Are you writing in the same way everyone else is—and saying the same kinds of things? Then you’re killing your reader’s brain cells.

Your reader’s brain craves novel experiences. Show them something different, something unique. And keep doing it. These days, with the amount of competition out there, you have to work hard to stand out. The answer is to allow some personality to shine through. The days of corporate-speak and propriety are coming to a close.

Technique #3: You’re a focused reader who reads through to the end. Or, the power of labelling.

Multiple studies have found the effectiveness of labelling to influence behaviour. In one study reported by Robert Cialdini in Yes!, interviewees told they were good citizens with a high likelihood of voting were 15 percent more likely to vote in an upcoming election than those not so labelled. Cialdini also reports that when teachers labelled schoolchildren as the kind of students who care about having good handwriting, the children spent more time practising their handwriting, even when they thought no one was watching.

Here’s why this is important for you: Exploit the principle of expectancy. Write your copy in a way that expects your reader to do what you want. Don’t write as though you’re expecting they’ll do something else. People are highly influenced by the labels that others attach to them, and they strive to be consistent with those labels. Use labels—then make requests in keeping with the label.

Technique #4: bringing up commonalities with your readers bonds them to you like crazy glue

Multiple studies have shown that when people perceive they’re similar to us in some specific way, they’re more likely to comply with our requests. Similar names … similar political beliefs … similar hometowns … and so on. There’s more trust. People are less likely to treat us with scepticism, as they make the irrational leap that we’re trustworthy because… well hell, we grew up in the same little town. We’re just like them!

Here’s why this is important for you: There’s the old saying that people do business with those they know, like, and trust. And this is absolutely true. The brain detects any kind of foreign entity as a risk. By showing your similarity with them—your affinity—you reduce risk, and they’re going to be more receptive to your message.

Do not overlook this vital principle, which will give you unlimited power. Consider it for your prospecting, too: don’t contact just anyone—contact prospects based on specific similarities.

Let’s not forget… the message itself is only one piece of this copywriting puzzle.

Features, benefits, USP, etc., are important—but just as important, if not more important, is the context of that messaging … all the circumstances in which you’re presenting your message. These hit your readers on the level of the lizard brain.

This game is not a pure cost-benefit analysis for your readers; this is, as Dan Kennedy puts it plainly, a psychological manipulation game. Accept it. Embrace it. Use it for good or evil—but let’s hope you use it for good.

I could keep going, but… my cat Lilly is destroying my couch cushion. She knows how to get what she wants. And in this instance, she wants me to stop typing and go play with her. Incorporate science-based techniques into your copy and you’ll be like Lilly: you’ll get what you want.

8 Responses

  1. What a fabulous piece! I totally agree on labelling your readers. It makes them believe the label/compliment and stand up for what was given. Human tendency? Lovely read 🙂

  2. Interesting points, but some actual real-world examples of the techniques would’ve been super helpful.

    But hey, that’s ‘free content 101’ – give them the ‘what’, not the ‘how’.

  3. Great article. It seems like most people are out there looking for that magic silver bullet copywriting hack instead of learning fundamentals about how the brain works and what makes people tick. Cheers!

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