Writing to persuade readers to do something, buy something or click on something is all about psychology. To be a good persuasive writer, you don’t have to have to have a degree in psychology (although it doesn’t hurt). By learning just a few basic principles of psychology and persuasion, you can create content that is compelling and that urges your readers to take the next step, to get on board, to click that link or to buy your product.
Probably the most famous and most often used set of guiding principles for persuasion come from Robert Cialdini, author and professor of both psychology and marketing. He is every marketing professional’s hero, and his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is the ultimate guide for not just marketers, but copywriters and content writers as well. His book includes six simple yet life-changing principles:
- Reciprocity. People feel obliged to pay back a kind turn.
- Social proof. Everyone else is doing it and liking it.
- Commitment. I said yes; I better follow through and do it.
- Liking. People buy from people they like and to whom they can relate.
- Authority. Dr. Oz said it works. It must work.
- Scarcity. If it’s only available for a short period of time, it’s more desirable.
Each of these principles is rooted in human psychology, and you can harness them to create content that persuades your readers to take the next step. The secret is to find a balance between writing that doesn’t bother to persuade and over-the-top sales copy. Content isn’t sales copy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a little persuasion magic to push your readers in the right direction.
Let’s say you’re selling cloud-based project management software on your website. You have your copy all set, but you want to add useful content. Write a blog post about how to make the most of your project management software to work more efficiently. Make it mostly informational and fun to read, but at the end, ask your reader for her email to get a free trial of your product. You give her a free trial, she feels obliged to reciprocate with her email address. It’s important that you don’t ask for too much; address and phone number would be going too far. An email address is easy to give and now you have added a new lead to your list.
Testimonials are the classic example of how to use social proof, and no business website should be without these. But there are other ways to implement proof that your readers’ peers are into what you’re selling. When you ask your readers for their email addresses at the end of a blog post, try something like this: “Join over 4,000 satisfied subscribers and get information you can use in your inbox every week.” By putting a number on this, you show your readers how many other people are jumping on the bandwagon.
Have you ever noticed that donation forms for charities ask you to check a box saying that yes, you want to help save the rhinos? That’s because when you make a commitment, you are more likely to follow through. Remember that blog post about how to use project management software effectively and efficiently? Talk directly to your readers and ask them to commit to stop working inefficiently and to start making the most of project management software.
In a way, content marketing is all about this principle of persuasion. By creating and changing up useful and engaging content on your site, you develop lasting relationships with your customers. Lasting relationships mean you have made connections with people. People like that. And they like the people with whom they make connections. If they like you, they will be more likely to buy from you. You can further leverage this principle by making some of your content personal. Don’t talk about your devastating divorce, but don’t be afraid to be casual and to reveal some things about you. It will make your readers connect with you and like you more.
Using authority is a no-brainer. If you can get testimonials from experts in your field, that’s great, but you can also use authority in your content without having any personal relationships with experts. Going back to your project management software blog, cite an expert in the field who claims that using a software tool makes projects run more smoothly. If you’re selling a vitamin or supplement, cite research that demonstrates how your readers will benefit from your product.
Scarcity is a classic technique that copywriters and advertisers have been using for decades. Surely you’ve seen offers for products or sales that are only available for a limited time? If you feel like something may not be around for long, you’re more likely to want it. In content, you can utilize this fear of missing out on something by using certain phrases: “Don’t miss this chance to make your project run more smoothly,” or “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll miss out on getting you team together to work more efficiently.”
Psychology tricks can be powerful tools for persuading readers. Use these strategies to get more of your readers on board, but don’t lead with them. Remember that content is the softest of soft sells. You don’t want to push readers and customers away with a hard sell or with content crammed with these tricks. Use them sparingly and make them subtle, and your content will drive more customers to your landing pages where the real selling magic happens.
Have you ever used these (or other) psychology principles in your content marketing strategy? Tell us how it went in the comments!