3 Coercive Copywriting Techniques

I spent some time recently talking about manipulation and lies.

I told you those two stories so you could see where I think the line gets crossed by marketers, but also so I could tell you this story.

In 1999 Douglas Rushkoff published a book called Coercion, which essentially tracks the evolution of marketing into a branch of psychology. He illustrates exactly how marketers try to influence and persuade you in various media, and outlines the history of marketing as a measured science.

It all started with a copywriter named Claude Hopkins who first applied empirical testing to advertising elements back in the 1920s, and of course things have only become more sophisticated. Massive database profiles, television “programming,” contextual web ads, sophisticated algorithms that make recommendations based on past behaviors—these are some of the ways marketers are trying to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

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Telling People a Story They Want to Hear

I really enjoyed Hugh MacLeod’s interview with Seth Godin (two great reads who read great together). And it was especially interesting to hear about the frustration Seth feels when people sometimes don’t get what he means.

This reminds me of some of the flack he caught when his book All Marketers Are Liars was released. Now, I’m quite sure Seth knew exactly what he was doing when he titled the book (students of headlines take note). But I think he might have been caught off guard when some people didn’t get the real points within the pages (like the reviewer from Publisher’s Weekly).

Good marketers aren’t liars, except to the extent all people are—because we all lie to ourselves constantly. We want to hear stories that fit our existing world views, whether those views are accurate or not. And we want to primarily satisfy emotional needs, because ultimately that’s where we all seek happiness and contentment.

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Copywriting Books You Should Buy

Here are my favorite copywriting books, for beginning to intermediate copywriters:

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word

I have a lot of copywriting books and courses, and if I were starting out fresh from square one today, I’d want to start here. Joe Sugarman is a direct marketing legend, and he does a great job of getting basic copywriting concepts across in an enjoyable way. So if you’re brand new to copywriting, start here.

Tested Advertising Methods (Fifth Edition)

When going back to the source of ad copy that is both audience and benefit-focused (as well as backed up by empirical testing), many will point to Claude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising from 1923. I own that book too, but my favorite “old school” copywriting book is the updated version of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods. Timeless advice, but written in an easily-digested modern tone.

The Irresistible Offer

While Marketing 2.0 pundits burn bandwidth trying to come up with clever new buzzwords to replace the word “marketing,” Mark Joyner simply hands you the answers for success in the post-mass-marketing environment. While not technically a copywriting book or a product/service development treatment, it’s crucial to both. When you start with the right offer, the product and the message are identical. Then (and only then) you can “get out of the way” and let your customers sell for you.

Persuasive Online Copywriting

The best copywriting books around are not written specifically for online, as you can tell from this list. But you should have at least one, and it’s a close call. I chose Persuasive Online Copywriting by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg (with Lisa Davis) over Nick Usborne’s Net Words only because the former is slightly newer. But both are excellent.

Breakthrough Advertising

Here’s the money book, courtesy of the late, great Eugene Schwartz. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, this is what just about any highly successful copywriter will tell you is the Holy Grail of deep psychological insights that lead to breakthrough marketing campaigns. The book is rare—before it was reissued by Boardroom it was selling on eBay for $900 (no joke). It comes with accompanying audio CDs that provide helpful supporting material from top copywriters who have built on Schwartz’s work.

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Why Plato Would Have Blown it as a Blogger

Yep… you read that headline correctly.

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who studied under Socrates, mentored Aristotle, and founded the Academy in Athens, would have likely crashed and burned as a business blogger.

Why?

Well, first it’s helpful to talk a bit about those other two guys who came before and after Plato — Socrates and Aristotle.

Socrates pretty much gets credit for laying the foundation of Western philosophy. He devoted his life to teaching, and did so by what became known as the Socratic Method.

Socrates examined moral concepts by answering a student’s question by posing another question in return. In this way, Socrates fueled a continuing dialogue designed to allow his students to discover answers for themselves.

In other words, he was all about the conversation.

In contrast, Aristotle was all about authored content. He knew how to present compelling-structured stories that took the reader from Point A to Point B by engaging the emotions. His philosophy was that one can effectively teach and persuade through the art of rhetoric alone.

Contrary to Socrates, Aristotle might utilize rhetorical questions. His style was to use queries not to illicit an answer from the reader, but rather to make a powerful point.

Plato was the middle child. Because Socrates apparently never wrote down his teachings, much of what we know about him comes from Plato’s writings, which were most often in the form of dialogues.

Early on, these dialogues were structured in true Socratic fashion, and often featured conversations between Plato and his mentor. Later on, these dialogues turned to conversations in format only, and became more about what Plato wanted to emphasize rather than a recording of a true Socratic conversation.

This led to what’s known as the Socratic Problem. How much of what Plato wrote can be viewed as the actual teachings of Socrates, as opposed to a literary device designed to persuade the reader to accept Plato’s point of view?

Plato understood the power of conversation, but his methods made people doubt his authenticity.

In my opinion, you’ve got to provide strong, persuasive content like Aristotle to be an effective business blogger. But you’ve also got to have a healthy dose of Socrates in you, because the conversation is where the true power of blogging is.

As for Plato, well, let me ask you a question.

Given what you know about the swarming pile-on nature of the blogosphere, what do you think might happen if someone is discovered trying to manipulate the conversation through nefarious marketing and public relations techniques?

Whoops, sorry . . . I guess that’s actually a rhetorical question.

But I would like to talk with you more about it. :)

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Aristotle’s Top 3 Tips for Effective Blogging

image of aristotle

Imagine your shock after battling your way through the collective works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, only to discover you’ve heard a lot of it before. Then, it clicks.

“Hey,” you suddenly exclaim. “This Aristotle guy is ripping off all my favorite business gurus!”

But then, after checking the dates, you’re forced to sheepishly admit it’s the other way around.

People have been remixing the wisdom of Aristotle for more than 2,000 years, and we’re all the better for it. Taking timeless truths, communicating them in the language of the present day, and applying them to new ways of doing things will always be a winning approach that provides true value.

So, I’ll go ahead and take a crack at it.

My guess is that if Aristotle were alive today, he’d be blogging. And he’d also be in the Technorati Top 100 quicker than you can say Guy Kawasaki five times fast.

So, without further ado, here’s some old school blogging advice from way back in the day.

1. Begin With the End in Mind

Knowing where you’re trying to go before you start is crucial to leading an effective life (and handy for road trips too). Aristotle called this teleology, which is the study of matters with their end or purpose in mind. Fans of Stephen Covey will recognize the concept from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The same principle applies to any persuasive writing, and with a blog it’s applicable to both your big story as well as to individual posts. The overall story that a business blog is trying to tell is tied into your unique selling proposition, and you need to have a clearly-defined big picture perspective of how you’re going to tell that story over time.

You do that by telling smaller stories (otherwise known as blog posts), and, without unnecessarily taking the fun out of blogging, those smaller stories should each have a clear individual point and reason for being. Even if it’s just to make your readers smile on a Monday.

Each post in some way should be also telling a part of the bigger story that demonstrates to your readers that they will benefit from doing business with you. There’s a million different ways to do that, and developing your own unique style is as important as any other advice you might get.

Just always remain focused on where you’re trying to end up. Even when the path disappears, you’ve got to remember where you’re trying to go.

2. It’s Not About You

Aristotle nailed the key to persuasion way back in Rhetoric, his detailed attempt to demonstrate that persuasion was a true art, contrary to the assertions of his mentor, Plato. Aristotle said that persuasion involved being able to identify the most compelling naturally-occurring element of any subject.

Once identified, Aristotle argued that the most compelling way to communicate that natural element is via pathos, the ability to connect with the emotions, desires, fears, and passions of the audience. And you certainly don’t accomplish that by focusing on yourself.

Quick summary: Identify a true and compelling benefit, connect with the reader on an emotional level, then back it all up with features and logic. You’ve heard that from me before.

You’ll likewise spot Aristotle’s wisdom in just about any book ever written on marketing and advertising. Your ability to communicate what’s in it for them in a meaningful way has never been more critical than it is now.

3. Tell Persuasive Stories

When it’s time to bang out a winning story post that captivates your audience and prompts them to take action, Aristotle’s got you covered. Here is his four step structure to persuasive writing:

Exordium – This is your opening. You’ve caught their interest with your headline, but the opening is where you’ve really got to grab hold for dear life. It might be a shocking statement, an interesting factoid, a famous quote, or a vivid anecdote.

Narratio – Next you’ve got to show the reader you understand their problems. They need to identify with you, and you with them. In this section you demonstrate that you feel their pain.

Confirmatio – The solution appears. Use vivid imagery to illustrate that the technique or service you offer is the answer, and give examples featuring people similar to the reader.

Peroratio – Don’t’ forget to expressly state the need to act upon the solution offered now. This is the call to action, and it’s crucial, yet so many people simply stop at the confirmatio. As Aristotle might say, you’ve got to close the deal.

OK, maybe Aristotle wouldn’t say that. But this is my remix. :)

The Right Story at the Right Time

The point I hope you take away from this post is that you’ll see certain timeless truths again and again in the world of marketing. How those truths eventually resonate with you depends on who tells you the right story at the right time.

So, it might be Seth Godin who gets through to you. Or maybe it’s Harry Beckwith. Or Joe Sugarman.

The same applies to you and your business. Someone in your field is going to connect with that motivated prospect and convert them into a customer or client.

If you’re telling compelling stories, and your competitors can’t be bothered to, who’s that someone more likely to be?

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What’s Your Story?

image of woman checking her watch

In my last post, I used a story to illustrate that storytelling (which is the most powerful copywriting technique) is also perfectly suited for highly effective blogging.

The story wasn’t straightforward. It instead provided clues to the answer in the links, the ending, and by using the technique itself to provide the clues.

Some people loved it.

Some people didn’t get it.

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