There has been a wealth of search-marketing related news over the past few days: the deals Google and Bing have made with Twitter and Nokia’s lawsuit against Apple are a few highlights I noticed while scanning my Google reader yesterday.
I also noticed something else while scanning my reader – the power of a good headline or subhead to grab my attention and make me stop and read – and no matter what happens with Apple, Bing, Google, or Twitter, the power of the written word (or spoken, in the case of a radio jingle for example) is one thing will never change.
From editorial content to sales copy, our world is driven by letters strung together forming calls to action. Images are important, good design helps convey your message, but when it comes to taking the next step, it is ultimately copy that drives you forward to click on a link, open an email, or read an article – and the copy works at that moment because whatever came before it has inspired a sensation.
In this way, good copy is very much like good music: both work by playing on our emotions and intellect, but compelling copy must raise the stakes and inspire us to take action based on our desires, fears, and needs. You might even call it ‘sensual.’
All of this may sound complicated, but there is a simple way to find out if your copy has the ‘wow’ factor you need. Think of your copy as you would your favorite song and ask yourself these 5 questions to see if your copy is in tune.
1. Does it inspire you to feel?
Think of one of your favorite songs. Play it out loud if you can. Does it make you feel happy? Sad? Excited? Creative? No matter what emotion comes to mind, chances are you recognize your favorite song makes you feel something – and so should good copy. When you read copy, it should strike you on some level. You should feel connected.
2. Does it prompt you to think?
Take the same song example from #1 and notice what you think about when the song is playing. Is there a particular scenario that unfolds in your mind? Do you draw certain connections between your feelings and the thoughts that come to the surface? Notice this process. Persuasive copy has a similar effect; it stirs up your thought process and brings important ideas to the forefront for further contemplation.
3. Does it get you to visualize?
You’re listening to your song and feeling nostalgic. You’re thinking about the time you first heard the lyrics and what they meant to you then, and before you know it, you are visualizing. The song is so powerful it rouses your brain to start thinking in pictures and you are making a movie in your head. This mental imagery is intimately attached to your feelings and personal perspective and brings deep-seated feelings to the surface, things like fears and desires. Compelling copy should inspire you to visualize this way, too. Copy should make you think of all the things you want, and those you want to avoid – which brings me to #4.
4. Does it stir up your desires (and fears)?
Fear is an incredible motivator, and the human brain is wired to think critically and look for opposites. Invariably, if we are listening to our favorite song and daydreaming about what we want, things we fear are likely to creep into our mind’s eye, although whether or not we spend time focusing on fear is our choice. Onward, for the sake of this post, let’s focus on desires, the kind that become apparent while listening to a powerful song. These same kinds of desires are invoked by good copy; when you finish reading a headline or sales pitch, you should want something – even if that something is to avoid something you don’t want (fear).
5. Does it motivate you enough to take action?
The last time you listened to your favorite song, did it motivate you to take action? This may seem like a stretch, but an action can be something as simple as hitting ‘repeat’ on your MP3 player, calling a friend, writing a story, or looking for more information on the artist or band.
The action can be big or small. But the moment music motivates you to the point of action should be the moment you strive to inspire with your copy.
Persuading people to take action through words is a subtle and delicate art, relying on psychology, intuition, and experience. It is the process of leading someone to want something and take an action in line with that desire, and you can do this not by force or trickery, but by inspiring them to have the desire – to think the thoughts and feel the feelings that get them set on wanting what you have.
There are many aspects to writing compelling copy, and the masters take years to hone their craft. The point of this post is not to simplify the copywriting process, but to recognize that human behavior is motivated by thoughts and emotions, and if you want people to take action, write copy that makes them think and feel.
How do you think people are motivated? Do you think humans act based more on emotion or intellect? Post your thoughts below!