Emotions are inextricably tied to our survival and wellbeing.
When something threatens our safety, we experience fear. When our lives depend on something, we desire it. Emotions also play a crucial role in our decision-making process.
As a copywriter, you can and should use this to boost sales.
One effective way is utilizing one of our most ingrained emotional responses: the "fight or flight (or freeze)" response. It's a response that prioritizes immediate action in order to protect us from life-threatening danger. Great for a banana-hunting caveman, but in our modern world, it often inhibits us when we encounter more complex problems, preventing us from thinking critically.
And it's so ingrained in us that even ideas can trigger our fight or flight response.
Now, sales decisions aren't stampeding wooly bananas—at least not literally—but wrong decisions can have disastrous consequences for your business all the same.
Many business owners know this and may find their fight or flight response being triggered due to their emotional responses to the challenges and problems of their industry.
Copywriting has the power to tap into these base emotions and trigger emotional responses that make the brain demand action right away. When your audience finds themselves paralyzed by fear or uncertainty over how to handle their problem, your copy can not just provide a solution.
It can also provide assurance—that gut feeling—that it's the right solution.
People are complicated. Emotions are too.
On top of that, no two people are alike or will react the same. But we all have similar needs, and our emotions are born from those needs.
If you're hungry, you desire a banana. If someone else's banana is bigger than yours, you may get jealous. If you have your base needs met, then you might find fulfillment in starting a banana plantation and providing bananas for others.
These different levels of emotions stem from the different levels of needs we as humans have for survival. Beyond the food and water we need to stave off death, we also have less concrete needs that contribute to our overall wellbeing.
These have been organized into what is called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
This iconic pyramid that ranks a person's needs from food and water to compliments and self-esteem has been a mainstay in many business and management training seminars.
Especially in regards to motivation.
While the iconic organization of a pyramid shows a hierarchy of a person's needs, it doesn't necessarily show what they prioritize or how they take the long-term into account. Think starving artist trope. Or someone who sacrifices their quality of life to save up for something big. Or an entrepreneur who puts it all on the line to make it on their own in an industry.
Even though you'd sooner die from lack of potassium than lack of achieving enlightenment, importance is relevant and each category of the hierarchy affects the others.
So where does your product or service fit? What level of need do you want to highlight in your copy?
The hierarchy goes both ways.
While bottom-up describes needs in order of importance to survival, top-down can show the effect the above has on the below. For example, you need food (Physiological) to survive in order to go to your job (Safety), but you need to perform well at your job to make money to afford food.
Looking higher up the pyramid, if you're not motivated and doing your best (Self-actualization), then your mood (Esteem), relationships (Love and Belonging), work (Safety), and even appetite (Physiological) all suffer to some degree.
Understanding this is how your copywriting can key into what really matters to your target audience and agitate that problem by showing how it affects other aspects of their lives.
Your product or service may not be a solution to a direct and immediate threat to your audience's life, but it's all interconnected. A loss of sales can lead to financial hardship, which could lead to strife in one's personal relationships, which could cause work productivity to suffer and ultimately leave your audience living in a cardboard box.
If you want your copywriting to boost sales, then you need to master connecting these dots for your audience.
The important thing here is to agitate but not provoke. As a copywriter, you're the bridge between a business and their audience, so being hostile in your copy is a great way to become an unemployed copywriter.
Emotions are very powerful things, so you should treat your audience's emotions with respect. Agitate, prod, and shake things up.
But never offend.
Think about what happened to you the last time you saw an ad for pizza on TV. You probably started salivating and imagining what that pizza would taste like.
Suddenly, you wanted pizza, right?
You may have even started thinking about when you would order it, and where you would order from. Something fast, cheap, and delivered? Or maybe that new, trendy pizza joint that just opened up nearby?
This is the emotional power of desire. It's an overwhelming sensation of truly wanting something. Like how now I can't stop thinking of a decadent slice of supreme pizza right now.
Desire is one of those things humans struggle to control.
And that's precisely why desire in your copy will turn curious browsers into excited customers.
A couple of ways copywriters activate desire are through two powerful psychological motivators: jealousy and greed. And these are the two levers we'll focus on in the context of desire.
Copywriters use jealousy by leveraging a prospect's need to keep up with the Joneses. And we can write copy that underscores that feeling of inadequacy.
Are your competitors landing all the hot new clients and leaving you in the dust? Yes.
Does your neighbor have a much yellower bunch of bananas than you? You bet.
When you praise your audience's competition, you give them a glimpse of what they don't have. That key thing that they need to be successful.
In other words, show them the path that others have walked to success and they'll desire it.
This is the yang to the praise yin.
We know greed is a part of human nature, so using it in copywriting is actually super relatable (not to mention strategic). What your audience doesn't have is your solution to their problem. Expound on the possibilities they could unlock with your help.
Your copy should help prospects understand how your product or service will increase their income, sure, but illustrate what they could be doing with that income. Fast cars, penthouse suits, daily banana deliveries via drones.
Greed will make it difficult for them to resist buying in.
Connect the desire for success in business to something personal. Boosted sales improve profits for the company, sure, but what does this mean for the person? Fewer late nights, less crunch time, or finally being able to take that vacation for starters.
Do your research and find out what your audience needs in their personal lives. Whether it's more free time, lower stress overall, or saving money, connect the benefits of your product or service with what it actually means for your audience's home life.
Desire is all about making your audience say yes. Once you've got them chomping at the bit, mouth drooling, it's time to show them how to get exactly what they've been wanting.
Your product or service has transcended itself. You're now providing that dream life, the one thing your audience has always wanted. You've shown them the path, and all they have to do is follow it.
Anger often comes from the realization that a baser need has become an obstacle to a greater need. Or when our lives become imbalanced.
In other words, we get angry when we realize that things aren't as they should be.
It doesn't always take the form of violence or outbursts, but the image of anger as fire is very accurate. In this case, it's a fire being lit under your target audience's asses.
For example, someone may realize that their weight (Physiological Needs) is impacting their health (Safety). They may have a desire to lose weight, but they experience anger over the state of things: their hierarchy has been thrown into imbalance.
Harnessing anger in copywriting is all about whipping that fire into a storm that encourages your audience to act decisively.
Showing your audience what they're lacking can be tricky because you don't want to offend them. But sometimes you may need to be the one to give them a wake-up call.
The key here is not to accuse or belittle. Similar to tapping into desire, you're showing your audience what they don't have. But instead of showing them in the context of "look what you could have," you're showing it to them in the context of "it's not fair that you don't have this."
Put into context just how much they're lacking and you might trigger that fight or flight response that looks for a quick fix: namely, your product or service.
No industry is perfect, but that's precisely why so many people are able to innovate. If your product or service is doing something different, then you've found something wrong with the status quo and are seeking to improve upon it.
Light a fire under your audience's tooshie by showing them everything wrong with the industry today. As a professional, they should be upset when their industry isn't performing the way they think it should. Convince them that things need to change.
Then show them how you have the next big solution.
Frustration is another form of anger and can be just as potent. You can stoke the fires of frustration and appeal to your audience's professionalism at the same time by hitting them with solutions that don't work—ones they might have already tried.
Paying for something that doesn't work is a universally frustrating experience, so tap into that.
After you've lit that fire, you need to do something with all that energy. Your audience is ready to do something about their anger, so give them something to do.
This is where you give them an outlet to channel all that energy you've built up. Whether it's booking a consultation or purchasing your product or service right now, you want to remove as many barriers between your copy and your audience's action as possible.
The anger and frustration you've built up in your copy could easily turn against you, so make sure your onboarding process is as painless as possible.
Fear is a powerful emotion. In fact, studies show that people respond more to negative headlines than positive ones.
We also always remember the negative things people say about us, more than the nice things. Good copy uses this intense psychological reaction to make things memorable.
Think about the things your audience wants to avoid: pain, discomfort, inconvenience. Even more specific things like bankruptcy or having to put in extra hours.
Fear inspires us to look for warning signs and be proactive about our problems in order to avoid negative consequences.
No one wants to feel left out or left behind.
Psychologically this is true for everyone: Worrying about losing something is a far more powerful motivator than knowing you'll gain something.
FOMO is especially prevalent today. Think about social media. Many people constantly monitor social feeds because they live in fear that they'll miss something important. This clearly isn't entirely rational, but it's our new normal: why else has endless scrolling become a thing?
When you show your audience what they're missing out on, they're more likely to want to come aboard. This is where you'd promote any testimonials or push and strong data showing success with your product or service. You want your audience to realize that they've already been missing out on an opportunity, but more importantly, that it's not too late to join.
Another universal fear is losing something we deem to be valuable, either monetarily or emotionally. This could be anything from losing your home to losing a favorite sweatshirt. The key here is making it personal through storytelling.
So tap into a human element, something to make it real. How will you get on with life if you lose your home? Who will take the children—or the bananas? Where will the belongings go?
The more you ask and help them visualize the very real, very possible outcomes of their loss, the more they fear that loss.
The fear of being seen as lesser by one's peers can be an incredibly strong motivator. That's peer pressure in a nutshell.
Maybe you poke fun about the antiquated way some people run their business. Or maybe you show just how much cooler all the cutting-edge entrepreneurs are.
Here, you're twisting the knife—or rather the banana: you're poking fun, but you're not actually looking to harm your audience's feelings.
Humor can be an especially effective way to poke a bit of fun. After all, it's hard for your audience to stay mad if they're enjoying reading the content.
Fear can be paralyzing. It's often what drives the less-mentioned freeze response of "fight or flight." It's your job as a copywriter to push your audience's fear to its limit and then offer an out, a release. A solution that will save them from the fear.
Much like how playing with your audience's anger can cause that anger to be redirected toward you, pushing too much fear can result in your copy being a real buzzkill. Remember: your copy still needs to be engaging and enjoyable to read.
If fear is the response to perceived specific threats, then anxiety is the response to unperceived general threats. Your body is telling you that something is wrong—or that something wrong is going to happen—but your brain is not exactly sure what.
Tapping into anxiety deals with the uncertainty of life and the unpredictable nature of an industry. Danger lurks around every corner—maybe.
A lot can go wrong, but when you pile on the pitfalls, you're not looking to show your audience what could go wrong for them. An industry fraught with pitfalls is inherently anxiety-inducing. It's not that these specific pitfalls could happen to your audience (that would be fear), it's that unknown pitfalls like the ones you've described could happen.
You're painting a picture of an industry or business that is, by its very nature, dangerous.
Extrapolating the obstacles and problems you showcase to potential unknown ones is key to generating anxiety. Uneasiness can be a very powerful motivator to seeking a solution.
Anxiety is often generated when we don't know if we'll be capable of tackling what lies ahead. Without confidence, anxiety can take root.
For example, you could tell a cautionary tale of an overconfident business owner who thought they could make it on their own. Your audience will see themselves in that story and question the validity of their own confidence and competence.
You don't want to insult your audience but rather show that there have been smarter people who have failed. Industries are constantly changing, so who's to say how long someone will remain on top?
Worst-case scenarios are always looming in the backs of our minds. Illustrating them in your copy could resonate with many different emotions.
The important thing here is not to cut too close to home. Humor works well if you utilize a bit of a wacky anecdote that resonates with your audience's worst nightmares but softens the blow by being a bit over the top.
What you're looking for is to pull that back-of-the-mind scenario to the front.
Blankets and nightlights protect children from the monsters under the bed. Those generalized anxious thoughts about monsters are nipped in the bud by the generalized protective nature of blankets and nightlights.
You've seen this kind of generalized protective service at work before: 24-hour support services, money-back guarantees, personalized services. It won't matter what problems your clients face if they feel safe knowing that you have them protected.
Once you've made your audience anxious, it's time to provide them peace of mind.
"Rest easy knowing that we've got your back."
"Put your mind at ease and enjoy life."
"Let us worry about X."
"Your time is valuable: make the most of it."
Not only does your product or service solve their specific problem, but also, by them choosing you, they can feel the comfort of a protective blanket. You're keeping the monsters at bay for them.
Playing with people's emotions is no joke. It's incredibly easy to take things too far and turn your audience against you. Striking that balance between trust and agitation is key to becoming a great copywriter, and it's always better to err on the side of playing nice.
It's also important to note that copywriting is never an all-or-nothing thing. When you highlight some of these key emotions in your copy, you'll also be utilizing the other tools in your copywriter's toolbox. Don't think you can get away with sales boosts if all you do is piss off your readers!
Copywriting is a fine balancing act between a host of variables. Mastering these key emotions will add even more tools to that toolbox and prepare you for whatever the industry can throw at you.
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