Secrets of Copywriting: How to Pull the Reader’s Psychological Strings

Do you know how to pull psychological strings?

Do you know how to pull psychological strings?

Words move us.

Whether we hear them or read them in a novel, a song, a poem, or on a sales page, words have the ability to excite, motivate and influence us because they arouse our emotions.

And we all have emotional responses to factors that are playing out in our lives whether they’re dreams, goals, responsibilities, or our own identities. Often, we’re completely unaware of these responses so we can be persuaded, even manipulated, without us knowing.

We’re like string instruments with each string representing different needs, wishes, joys and sorrows.

When our strings are plucked or pulled—when we’re reminded of those needs—something in us resonates, and we respond, usually without thinking.

A writer’s job is to pull on the psychological strings of readers to arouse their emotions. This is true no matter what kind of writing it is, but it’s especially applicable to copywriting.

I recently wrote a sales page for  WTD Chief Editor Mary Jaksch, and I followed a process I often use to find the right psychological strings.

This four-step process will help you avoid some of the most costly mistakes people make when they write to sell. 

The mistakes aren’t about how the copy is written. Instead, they’re about the psychological strings that need to be woven into the copy.

Remember, the purpose of sales copy is to persuade people to make the decision to buy. The best way to achieve that goal is to pull on the strongest psychological strings you can find.

Step 1: Get in bed with the reader

Who would you rather sell to? People who won’t benefit from your product, people who could benefit from it, or people who definitely will benefit and have great reasons for buying it?

Surprisingly, most people who try to sell something target the first two groups. They think if they can convince the most unlikely buyers they’ll also persuade the more promising prospects.

But that’s just not true. Persuading someone who doesn’t need a product to buy it requires a very different approach compared to influencing someone who actually has good reasons for becoming a buyer.

You should focus only on the third group—likely buyers—simply because they’re the easiest people to persuade. To do that, however, you need to know them as if you sleep with them.

If you don’t know your readers, you can’t influence them.

As a copywriter, becoming intimately acquainted with the details of the readers’ lives is the most important thing you can do. That includes understanding their problems, frustrations, goals, motivations, beliefs, biases, weaknesses, habits, spare time activities, loves, longings, and hurts—their emotional strings.

To better understand those emotional strings, I have a long—a really long—list of questions I go through for each piece of sales copy I write. The sole purpose of that list is to make sure I understand the readers and how, as well as why, they’re likely to use the product.

After considering the reader carefully, I’m able to assemble a fairly accurate buyer portrait. I know what they value the most and what they want to change in their lives. I also know what kinds of persuasive tactics are likely to slip through their defenses, and how to earn their trust.

What I have at this stage isn’t by any means an accurate description of all potential buyers. In fact, I’m sure no one matches each and every item in my list. However, it’s likely that everyone who buys the product matches at least some of the qualities.

Here’s a small sample of the thoughts I had about the reader when I wrote the sales page for Mary’s mentorship program:

  • They hope to have more quality time with their friends and family
  • They’re overwhelmed by the number of things they could do with their blogs and lives
  • They’re frustrated with themselves because they feel they should’ve gotten better results already
  • They wish, often subconsciously, that someone would tell them what to do

It’s unrealistic to know exactly what each reader is like, but by creating a “mock-up” of the person you’re writing for, you have your raw material for the second and third steps.

Step 2: See the offer as the reader sees it

Just like the first step, this step is all about the reader. The product or service itself is almost insignificant in this process.

You’re looking for:

  • Ways your product can help the readers get from where they are now to where they want to go
  • Aspects of the offer that matter the most to them
  • Traits in your competitors they don’t like
  • Past experiences they’ve had with similar products
  • Objections they have to buying the product
  • Questions they’ll have about the product and you (or the company selling the product)
  • Other concerns the buyer might have such as risks in purchasing the product

Forget yourself and your thoughts and forget the product’s features. For now, you’re only interested in what the reader thinks and believes about the product.

For example, the readers of Mary’s mentorship sales page might think they shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to succeed with their goals. Money and a product’s perceived value is a big emotional string for many people.

They might also believe “they’re capable of great things if only they could figure out what they need to do”.

These are the types of concerns any sales page should address.

After this step is completed, you’ll have a long list of things you know about the readers, their opinions and their beliefs.

In the next step, you’ll turn those ideas into the psychological strings of the copy.

Step 3: Classify, simplify, extreme-ify

Now you’re going to smooth out your rough ideas about the readers’ needs and emotions into the psychological strings of your copy. These strings need to match the strings in the readers. You need to do three things here.

1. Find the strongest concepts that are likely to influence the readers.

These ideas could, even on their own, make or break the sale. Note that these are often combinations of ideas that aren’t particularly strong on their own.

Here are two ideas I had for Mary’s sales page:

  • “Successful people take advantage of opportunities”
  • “The reader feels their business isn’t moving forward as quickly as it could”

These ideas evolved into “If you want to succeed, stop wasting time” and “to see results, you should take advantage of opportunities whenever you find them.”

2. Remove everything but the core ideas.

For example, the previous idea could be distilled into “Stop sabotaging your success and start taking advantage of opportunities”.

3. Amplify the ideas and connect them to your product.

At the beginning of this step, some of the items on your list might be buyer objections such as price or whether the product works as promised. They aren’t effective as sales arguments per se, but they do tell you what’s important to the readers. Knowing this helps make the psychological strings in your copy more congruent with those of the readers.

NOTE: You won’t use these ideas literally in the actual copy. Making them extreme at this stage just makes your job easier later.

The idea that was simplified in the last step, for example, could turn into “Unless you’re one of the stupid people who always fails, never gets to their goals, and can’t even dream about achieving anything more than a mediocre life, you understand the value of the mentorship and will apply now to avoid wasting any more of your life”.

This is much more extreme than what it was before. Even though you (hopefully!) won’t use those exact words, when you get straight to the point in your mind, the core idea will come out stronger in the copy.

After these steps are completed, I usually come up with 5-8 main ideas (these are the psychological strings).

Step 4: Turn it into copy

The psychological strings are the key to strong copy and they should guide your writing.

I start with the headline.

Look at the strings and brainstorm a lot of headline ideas. The headline is, by far, the most important element of the copy, so don’t rush through it.

That said, you don’t have to find the perfect headline immediately; I often use a headline I come up with near the end of the project.

If you need a few ideas for headlines, take a look at my free e-book, 101 Headline Formulas. It doesn’t just give you the strong formulas, it also explains why, when and where each of them works.

What comes right after the first headline is almost as important as the headline itself. Here, you should pick the string that seems the most intuitively true and acceptable for the reader.

In Mary’s sales page, I started with the idea that if you want to succeed, you need to focus on efforts that create the biggest impact.

It’s an easy-to-accept statement that makes the reader feel you’re trustworthy. More importantly, it lowers their resistance to whatever you say next because what you said first was already accepted.

The whole copy shouldn’t be just about the psychological strings; you need to give the reader plenty of other information too.

One of the secrets of copywriting is to make sure the psychological strings form the core of everything you write.

If a section of the copy doesn’t pull on any of the strings, you should carefully consider whether the section is working as well as it could.

People buy products for a lot of different reasons. But there are always emotions involved, and your job as a copywriter—even if you’re just writing your own sales pages—is to touch those emotions. Pull those strings.

Make the reader nod in agreement and look for the “Buy now” or “Add to shopping cart” buttons. Because they want to. Because they’re feeling something. Because they believe your product is going to fulfill emotional needs as well as practical ones.

And if your product matches expectations and continues to pull strings, you’ve not only snagged a buyer, you’ve created a happy customer. And that’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it?

 

About the author:

When Peter Sandeen isn’t out with his wife and dog and knee-deep in snow (he lives in Finland), he’s writing copy or pondering the psychology behind conversion optimization. If you’re building a business online, you should watch his free 5-part video series about online marketing

Image: Woman playing harp courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

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12 Responses to “Secrets of Copywriting: How to Pull the Reader’s Psychological Strings”

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  1. Anna Cortez says:

    Through reading your content over last few years when I can I am now making lists of what the reader/prospective buyer may be looking for so I am now basing my future professional website on what music and stories my readers/followers like best. Also you have given me ideas to use FREE images folk like too. Your content has helped a lot as tend to think too much of what I would like to sell etc. So I’ve just realised this but glad to say that I’m having feedback from more people and a ‘chosen few’ who really make a difference by sharing or emailing me about their own Blog stories and what to do. So all life is a circle really I see now. Healthy and Happy Regards to all.

  2. Good post Pete,

    Yeah you’re right you have to think in terms of seduction when it comes to writing attractive marketing copy.

    Marketers would do better to read PIMP by Iceberg Slim. It’s all a game, a mind game.
    Darnell Jackson recently posted..How to find leads on the internet for free.My Profile

  3. Hi Peter,

    Awesome post! Very informative with in-depth secrets of copywriting. Thanks for the valuable post.
    Darryl Fedrick recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

  4. Hey Peter!

    Great article, very well-written.

    You wrote:
    “To better understand those emotional strings, I have a long—a really long—list of questions I go through for each piece of sales copy I write.”

    Can you make this list of questions available to us?

    Cheers,

    Martin

    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks :)

      I might publish it as a download at some point. Currently it’s just a list of “keywords” and “questions” that won’t mean much to anyone but me. But I’ll definitely consider creating an understandable version of it that would be available as a download…

      Cheers,
      Peter

  5. Julia Agnes says:

    I’m trying to become a copywriter … that’s why i found this post very useful! Thanks :)
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  6. Andrew Kelly says:

    You have written a great article Peter. Most of the people never understand the meaning of seeing from the customer’s perspective. You have highlighted that difference perfectly. It is not about the features, it is about the benefits. Companies and people that only focus on the features of their products are never able to sell well.