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How to Write Persuasive Copy

Six Ways to Unlock the Power of Words

In most cases, copy is crafted to persuade its audience to perform some act: to buy, to click, to exit, to donate, to visit. But not all copy is created equal. Some can be more effective than others. Often, that difference is the result of whether the copy utilizes one or more of the proven techniques expertly outlined in The Science of Persuasion video (linked to below) by Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin. 

We’ve described the six behaviors that will most consistently motivate your audience below. We employ the techniques every day with our clients—and if you want to write persuasive copy, you should too. 

1. Reciprocity

When you do something for them first, most people feel obligated to return the favor. People are more likely to say “yes” to those they feel they owe. Think of how often you reciprocate an invite. The same principle is at work there. It's also the same reason you'll find mints, meringues or some other small edible gifted to you at the end of a meal in many restaurants. 

Do something for your customer first—a complimentary service, a discount, a fee removal—and they're likely to return the favor in their own way. In other words, you've motivated them to act.

2. Scarcity

Items that aren’t easy to get elsewhere are more attractive to consumers. You encounter this every time you shop online. Retailers tell you there are “only a few left” in your size or style. You’ll hear the same technique in restaurants when your waiter kindly informs you that there are only “two specials left.” 

Regardless of the veracity of these statements, they tell you a couple of things immediately: 1. You’ve got great taste because this service or product is flying off the shelf (see: consensus); and 2. You better act fast because there are not many available. 

3. Authority

People naturally follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. But it’s not enough to tell someone your brand is an authority—you need your audience to understand that you’re an authority before you ask them to act. 

That can be accomplished with appearances (official uniforms, polished websites), accomplishments (degrees, awards), associations with other trusted figures, and through third-party proof. 

4. Consistency

People want to be consistent with their previous actions and behaviors. To deviate from them causes a schism in their self-image. For that reason, it will be easier to convince recent donors, subscribers, and purchasers to engage with your business than it will be to convince a new prospect to do the same.

It should also be mentioned that easier in this case means fewer resources. It's similar to the effort and cost differences between customer retention and customer acquisition—it can cost four to five times more to acquire new customers

5. Liking

Getting people to like your brand can be tricky. But people tend to do favors for people they like, and they prefer to do business with companies they like. One way you can get people to like you is by focusing on similarities and offering compliments when appropriate, which can be as simple as suggesting your customer has great taste. 

There is obviously a fine line here, so you don’t want to overdo it. Above all else, make sure you're being authentic in your praise or comments.

6. Consensus

People look around at the behavior of others to determine what they should do. It’s a sensation not too different from peer pressure—influence from others can be powerful. We mentioned scarcity above, and it often goes hand in hand with this motivator (particularly if you’re selling a product). 

That is, if a product is scarce, often it’s because others have bought it in great numbers. With a service, it’s a bit different, but our human desire for consensus remains.

View the Concepts in More Detail

The following video from Influence at Work on the six principles of persuasion explains the behaviors in more detail and is definitely worth a watch.