Copywriting: an art or science?

August 21, 2013

I think all of us here at Intelligent Ink would like to say that copywriting is truly an art. Who doesn’t want to be thought of as an artist, a creative genius?

But what really drives people to actually act upon reading a piece of copy? What makes a customer part with their hard-earned money or precious time?

It turns out that science may have a lot more to do with it than any writer would like to admit! Researchers all over the globe, such as Professor Robert Cialdini, have cracked out their lab coats, followed people around and studied behaviour patterns and tested reactions to pieces of copy.

I’m sure most of you don’t have the time (or the inclination) to pick through research studies, so here, in a nutshell, are ways in which the science of persuasion can help you become a better copywriter.


It’s all about feelings

What’s that you say? “Weren’t you going to talk about science?” The fact is emotions are entirely scientific. Certain chemical reactions are triggered in our brains, which make us feel different emotions.

You’re walking through the mall, and see a small child of about 3 years old, trotting along beside his mother. Suddenly, he tumbles over and cracks his head against a bench. He wails, crying out with pain.

It’s highly likely that you reacted to this post with empathy, imagining this tiny person hurting himself. The empathy you felt is because of the “mirror neurons” in your brain, transferring feelings that you have observed onto yourself.

Instead of just writing about what your product or service is, try to understand what people actually want or need, then invoke feelings of relief when they get those. Speak to their feelings, and they’ll speak back to you!

Give to your reader

One of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion is reciprocity, and this idea is incredibly helpful when writing copy. In the words of Mama Morton from the musical Chicago, “when you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you.”

Use your copy to teach your prospect something, or add value to them before you start to sell them anything by providing them with a great story, helpful advice, or a solution to their problem. Basic human nature means that people are more likely to give back if they are given something in the first place. Which means that I’m sure after reading all this helpful advice you’ll be calling Intelligent Ink straight away!

Don’t be a jerk!

People like to buy products or services from people they like. How many times have you walked into a store, encountered a horrible salesperson, and left without buying the product you came in for? Copy is much like a salesperson – being friendly and likeable in writing will win you a lot more prospects than being boring or offputting!

Write as though you would talk – writing as though you’re actually a real person will take you a long way, as will sharing details about yourself or your company that make you more relatable (within reason – I’m sure none of you want to know about the last time I went to the toilet or my personal grooming habits!)

DO something!

So it turns out that all that time we copywriters take finding the perfect adjective to describe something may be in vain! An analysis of persuasive admission letters to Harvard showed that the best admission letters described what people actually did instead of what they were like.

In other words, skip the adjectives and add in some verbs. Replace “he was friendly and outgoing” with “he introduced himself to everyone and made many friends.”

As a writer, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that actions speak louder than words, but it turns out that action words definitely speaker louder than other words! Verbs show people what you actually do, rather than just giving them fluffy adjectives.

It’s all about YOU

Certain key words have been proven to be more effective in inciting people to action, the first of these being you. Yes, you. Even better is if copy can be personalised with a name. Who doesn’t like seeing their own name in writing? It turns out that your brain actually activates more when you hear your own name, meaning that you engage more with what you are reading and are more likely to trust the message.

Other words that have been shown to make people more likely to spend their time or money include ‘free’ (I will be the first to admit that I’ll take just about anything free, even if I don’t really want it), ‘because’ (proven by Robert Cialdini to make others more likely to give in to a request) and ‘instantly’ (I want it NOW).

There are no hard and fast rules to writing great copy, yet it can become much easier if you just understand what drives people. Here at Intelligent Ink, we love writing copy that is engaging, clever and accurate, because great copywriting can make a big difference in how your company is perceived, and whether people buy into what you are offering. In others words, get it right first time!