What is it that stops us getting what we want? If you’ve been reading my posts here for any length of time, you’ll know this topic comes up often. There’s a very good (and blindingly obvious) reason for this – what we want determines what we buy (who would have thought!).
As copywriters, it’s our job to get to the heart of what our customers (and our client’s customers) want, and that is to find the right angle to get their attention, then write copy that excites them enough to take action.
If this were easy though, we’d all be doing it, but alas, it isn’t. So this week’s post starts the beginning of that exploration.
In the west, our general culture veers towards egotism. We tend to see ourselves as the most important thing on the planet, and we expect life to revolve around us.
Yet, it’s also something we love to deny because (for most of us) our upbringing and peers tell us it’s not good for us (how dare they!).
We’re told we’re arrogant, or big-headed, or selfish, or any of a number of other shame laden labels. As a result, we often live in an internal state of contradiction (yet all the time, the very people telling us this are doing the exact thing they condemn – ego, ego, ego).
Compare that to eastern cultural philosophies such as Buddhism where ego is seen as pointless (the idea of meditation is to free the mind from internal views and start to feel at one with the universe).
Yet despite all this, commerce is (more or less) the same wherever we go. Someone decides they want something and goes in search of it, and whoever has that item for sale and was the first to get their attention with a good offer tends to get the sale.
So what has ego got to do with it? Pride is one thing. If our copy hurts someone’s pride in some way, the kick back is (almost) impossible to undo. If someone wants something but is “not in the mood” at that moment, they won’t take action either.
If we start our copy with, say, a question: “Ever wondered why others lose weight, but you keep piling it on?”, our innocent question turns into an inquisition (which gets the response – NO – meaning “of course I do, but I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of knowing that – or buy your crappy products”).
Our ego jumps in to protect our pride and that’s that. Ego is our self made protection mechanism to stop bad things happening to us. But it’s a fiction developed in our brain. I don’t exist just because “I think, therefore I am”. I exist because other people see me – “and I’m going to do my damnedest to make sure they do”.
Let’s go deeper…
The ego is there to protect us, or at least that’s how we interpret it. In reality, the ego is there to protect itself. Why would it want to let go of the power it has over us?
If you’ve ever decided something is right, then you will do everything you can to hold on to that belief. As has been said before, most people would rather die than be proved wrong, so you can see that the ego represents us at our most closed (if that isn’t a good enough reason for getting over our egos, I don’t know what is).
Therefore trying to convince someone of something they fundamentally believe is wrong is a fool’s game (yet most of us do it all day long with every argument we ever have).
But there is a way – be that fool. The first documented evidence of fools used for this purpose goes back to the 12th century (and you thought I was making this stuff up – ha!).
Enlightened kings knew a little more about themselves than the average power hungry dictator, and employed fools (aka jesters) to help lighten their days (some of our current day dictators would be wise to heed their lessons).
As a fool, you get to play the cards other people daren’t. And when you do that, you change people’s minds by starting with their mood.
This is easiest done in live conversation, but can be used in written material just as effectively. Some of our most successful email copywriters (and bloggers) have become so expert at it, we play along gladly no matter which side of the fence we’re on.
But that fool is no fool at all. They understand that to stand out, they need to be seen, and when they are seen, they get all the attention they could ever need or want.
There is of course another side to this…
A specific part of our brain is the interpreter of everyday things at the most granular level. It comes up with explanations (made up or imaginary) for everything we ever think about.
Throw out some question, and it spontaneously kicks into action and starts thinking up answers (or answers as to why we are unable to think up answers).
It can dream up any excuse on earth (and frequently does). If you’ve ever blurted out some excuse as to why you’re late (or anything else you felt uncomfortable about), that’s that specific part of your brain in action (but don’t blame it, it’s just trying to stay safe).
On the other hand, there’s another part of our brain that sees the “big picture”. It sees right through the minutia and takes the 30,000 foot approach to life (this is often referred to as left/right brain thinking, but it’s not so black and white according to some researchers, so we’ll stick with the notion of ‘parts’).
If we can figure out which parts of the brain are dominant in the people we talk to from their reactions, we can start to put together words that make sense to them.
How does that relate to copy? Imagine your prospect is a forensic accountant. They are interested in detail, and not just any old detail, precise detail.
Inquisitive people love engaging questions. They’re more into digging deep than glossing over the detail. They love finding answers, and their egos love it too. They’re not particularly interested in the big picture other than getting a specific result.
They also recognise ambiguity and contradictions immediately, so any copy that tries to blind sale them will be treated with the contempt it deserves.
This is great to know because it means we don’t need to mess around with our copy. We can say it like it is, and as long as we have real proof, they will lap it up.
For example: “New, fully compliant forensic software tracks email threads to their origin no matter what the source” is a fine headline, whereas a headline such as: “New forensic software lets you spy on friends, family, clients and competitors” will, most likely, end up in the spam bin to these types of people.
The counter to people who like detail are so-called “blue ocean” thinkers. But first, a little more on the topic of mood.
If we’re in the mood to do something, there’s a good chance we’ll do it, but it doesn’t take much to change that mood and ruin a deal.
Likewise (and more to the point here), if it really doesn’t take much to change a mood from good to bad, then it follows it shouldn’t take much to change it from bad to good. But is that true? Is it easier to go from good to bad than from bad to good?
It’s actually much harder. The problem copywriters have is not from bad to good but from uninterested to interested through a whole variety of objections and negative beliefs (it’s not a single step conversion).
But here’s a question, do people buy things when they’re NOT in a good mood? The not obvious answer is they do, but it’s rare and only works when the need is urgent and there’s no other choice.
Our giant corporations know this well. They understand urgency and scarcity like no other. They know they can get away with sloppy customer service, automated (or non existent) phone lines, and exorbitant pricing if they dominate the market (by becoming monopolies).
Governments and authoritarian regimes know it too. If we vote in a government with a large majority for 4 or 5 years, we can expect (and usually get) a mini dictatorship. This is what we’re buying into whenever we vote (even though we’re sold it on the promise of democracy – government by the people for the people etc.).
This is the real reason unique selling propositions (USPs) work. It’s not that we necessarily have something unique, it’s that we have a monopoly (even if we only own that monopoly through a careful choice of words).
Let’s jump back to the brain again and the notion of ‘blue ocean’ thinking – people who prefer looking at the big picture rather than the minutiae.
You might think these people are more optimistic (after all, when people talk about ‘blue ocean’ or ‘big picture’ thinking, it’s usually done in a positive way). But you’d be wrong. Neuroscientists say that detail oriented people hold the monopoly when it comes to optimism.
This is because they’re more capable of using their brains to figure out solutions to problems. For example, if a dominant big picture person is fearful of an Armageddon style future, it will start to dominate their thinking, and depression will follow.
Whereas detailed thinkers will go through a series of logical thoughts to figure out how to escape it (or what to do if they can’t). From there, they (or their colleagues) can engage big picture thinking and figure out a strategy to get there.
What has all this got to do with copywriting? It tells us we need to be mindful of our prospect’s behaviour. It tells us we’re going to need different words depending on how they think. Do that and you’re up another step on the ladder to success.
PS. You’ll find more on this in my book COPY.