Psychology for Writers: How to Create Copy that Sells

Even when you aren’t directly selling a product, the job of most professional copywriters is to persuade. There are a lot of tips and tricks to persuasive writing, and an understanding of some basic psychology will help you write copy that is more engaging, and more effective.

What is Persuasive Copywriting?

The truth is, virtually all commercial writing is persuasive writing. A company or client wants writing that convinces the reader to take some specific action based on the text. In fact, it’s always a good idea to establish the client’s goals from the very outset of a project. Some examples of persuasive copywriting include:

  • Political and social commentary 
  • Advertising
  • Promotional content
  • Speech and presentation writing

Even the repetitive “like, share, and subscribe” of social media content is a form of CTA, meant to persuade the audience to engage in a specific way. In other words, any writing with a goal of making the audience respond in the desired way is persuasive writing. 

Consumer Psychology Concepts

Consumer psychology is a specialized research topic within marketing, and a specialized research area with psychology, and is also studied extensively by economists. Decades of study and research have been done to try to predict consumer behavior, and determine the underlying factors that influence that behavior. Research has shown that consumers are influenced by a wide range of factors, including:

  • Assessment of product features and alternatives
  • Post-purchase product evaluation
  • Prior brand and product experience
  • Brand and product perceptions
  • Culture and subculture
  • Beliefs and values
  • Social class
  • Impulse and motivation
  • Emotions and mood
  • Reference groups or influencers

As you can see, persuasive writing needs to engage both the thoughts and the emotions of the consumer, taking into account their prior experience, cultural context, and personal goals and values. 

Principles of Persuasive Writing

The study of persuasive writing has its roots in the classical field of rhetoric. The principles of persuasive writing require the writer to employ:

  1. Ethos. Ethos establishes the credibility of the source. When copy demonstrates experience and professionalism, includes research and expert references, or shows third-party recognition or awards, it demonstrates that the source is trustworthy and credible.
  2. Logos. Logos appeals to the logical side of the mind. When copy presents facts and evidence, direct comparisons and analysis, or pros and cons, it’s using logical arguments to persuade. 
  3. Pathos. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions. When copy creates the feeling of happiness or satisfaction, inclusion in a group, or security and peace, it is appealing to positive emotions.
Ethos Logos Pathos - Modes of Persuasion

The most effective persuasive writing includes all three of these elements. However, some brands, products, or writing styles appeal more to one factor than the others. For example, a chocolate advertisement that encourages you to “treat yourself” is appealing exclusively to emotion, while a computer advertisement may simply list the product specifications, appealing to logic. 

Persuasive Copywriting Techniques

Many persuasive copywriting techniques are ubiquitous, and if you are paying attention you will encounter them everywhere. However, they are so common because they are so incredibly effective. Some of the most powerful ways to persuade are:

  • Statistics and data. Consumers have more choice than ever before. Presenting meaningful data, statistics, and comparisons is a great way to set a product apart from the competition and clarify the factors that influence purchasing decisions. Examples:
    • 87% more powerful
    • 800 watt engine
    • 35 MPG
  • Company reputation and values. More and more people want to do business with companies that share their values. If a company is eco-friendly, makes a positive social impact, or supports causes the consumer cares about, it can be a deciding factor in a purchase decision. Examples:
    • $1 from every purchase supports a cause
    • Made from post-consumer recycled material
    • Handmade by native artisans
    • Family-owned for more than a century 
  • Endorsements and recommendations. Today, social influencers are more important than ever. Some brands may benefit more from expert recommendations than social influence, while some products have stellar online reviews. Product endorsements can be very persuasive when they come from an independent source, rather than the brand itself. Examples:
    • 9 out of 10 dentists recommend
    • Developed by dermatologists
    • The only mustache wax Salvador Dali uses
    • 10,000 5-star reviews
  • Creating scarcity. Creating a feeling of scarcity can help persuade a consumer to take the desired action right now, rather than waiting until later. Limited quantities, reduced availability, and seasonal offers can all create a feeling of urgency that motivates a buyer. Examples:
    • For a limited time only
    • Only 500 made
    • While supplies last
  • Bandwagon technique. When copy points out that large groups of people are doing something, it can persuade the reader to do the same thing. The bandwagon is especially effective when combined with scarcity and/or endorsements. Examples:
    • Don’t be the last person without one
    • Everyone is upgrading to it
    • People in the know are choosing this
  • Special offers and promotions. Finally, some people simply can’t resist a good deal. Offers and promotions can often be the last step in motivating a purchase decision, by overcoming value or price resistance. Promotions are especially effective when combined with scarcity or urgency. Examples:
    • Limited time 2-for-1 offer
    • Act now for 10% off
    • Use this discount code for a special deal

The truth is, if you are getting paid to write copy, chances are you’re being paid to write persuasive copy. Your company, your client, or your boss want the audience to respond in a specific way and want you to employ psychological techniques to accomplish that goal.

An understanding of the ways in which people are psychologically motivated, and the specific techniques that are most effective, will help you write the most persuasive copy.

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About Gemma Wright

I'm Gemma Wright, co-owner of ProCopyTips and a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. Having worked as a PR Manager for large financial services companies in the UK, I now focus on helping small and growing businesses to thrive through the power of effective communications.

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