12 Tips for “Psychological Selling”

psychology

Many copywriting and marketing gurus teach simplistic ideas about psychology. They insist that people can be fully understood and manipulated with a checklist of motivators or pyramid of needs.

What nonsense! I can’t even figure out why the guy at the pet store puts 75 cat food cans in one bag and a tiny box of treats in another so that I lurch to my car leaning to one side. How can I possibly summarize human psychology in a few bullet points?

People are highly complex and often mysterious, so we all struggle to understand our fellow humans. However, now that you’ve gotten over being afraid to sell, here are a few basic psychological tidbits that can help you write compelling copy.

  1. People make decisions emotionally. They decide based on a feeling, need, or emotion, not though a logical thought process. That’s why intangible benefits are the keys to persuasion. When you’re writing, you should ask yourself, “What is the emotional hot button here?”
  2. People justify decisions with facts. Example: a man sees an advertisement with a photo of a sports car and instantly falls in love. However, he can’t bring himself to buy the car based on a feeling, so he reads the copy for technical details about the powerful engine, safety features, and low maintenance. He wants the car because it makes him feel good. But he buys it only when he can justify the purchase rationally.
  3. People are egocentric. The word “egocentric” means centered around the ego or self. We all see the world in terms of how it relates to us personally. So when your copy asks someone to do something, it must also answer the unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?” On a deeper level, the question might be “How does this give me feelings of personal worth?”
  4. People look for value. Value is not a fixed number. Value is relative to what you’re selling, what others charge, what the prospect is used to paying, how badly the prospect wants it, and how the prospect perceives the difference between your offer and others. You must demonstrate a value that seems to be equal to or greater than the asking price. The greater the value relative to the price, the more likely people are to buy.
  5. People think in terms of people. The human brain is not a computer, calculator, or information processor. Scientists have shown that its primary function is to deal with social interactions. Remember how some mathematical questions in high school were stated as real-life situations? They were always easier to understand and solve than abstract problems. Your copy, therefore, should feature people through names, personal pronouns, quotes, testimonials, stories, photos of satisfied customers, etc.
  6. You can’t force people to do anything. When people buy, it’s not because you wield some magical power over them. You can urge. You can push. You can entice. But ultimately, people do what they want to do. This means your job is to show how what you’re offering meets your prospect’s needs.
  7. People love to buy. Some say people don’t like to be “sold.” Not true. People love to be sold. They love to discover wonderful new products and experiences. What people don’t love is to be cheated or tricked. Therefore, it can be helpful to change your analogy of the marketing process. Instead of “selling” to people, try to “help” them. Sell good products, make appealing offers, and treat people fairly. That’s a surefire formula for success.
  8. People are naturally suspicious. It’s true that there’s a sucker born every minute, but most people are moderately skeptical of any offer. They seek to avoid risk. You can never predict the level of suspicion any particular person has, so it’s usually best to back up all claims with evidence, such as testimonials, survey results, authoritative endorsements, test results, and scientific data.
  9. People are always looking for something. Love. Wealth. Glory. Comfort. Safety. People are naturally dissatisfied and spend their lives searching for intangibles. At its simplest, writing good copy is a matter of showing people how a particular product, service, or cause fulfills one or more of their needs.
  10. People buy “direct” because of convenience and exclusivity. If people could easily find the things you offer at a nearby store, that’s probably where many would buy them. So if they are not buying from you directly for sheer convenience, they’re doing it because they can’t find the item elsewhere (or just don’t know where to look). That’s why it’s wise to emphasize the convenience and exclusivity of what you wish to sell.
  11. People like to see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or smell it before they buy it. Some people never buy online because they can’t examine the merchandise. Some items, such as books and CDs, are tangible and familiar enough to sell easily online because there is little doubt about the physical quality. Other items, such as clothing or food, may be a harder sell — at least until people have a satisfactory buying experience — because quality may be variable. Think about how people buy things in stores and ask yourself if there is some element of that sensory experience that is missing from your sales message.
  12. Most people follow the crowd. Most of us are imitators. We look to others for guidance, especially when we are uncertain about something. We ask, “What do others think about this? What do others feel? What do others do?” Then we act accordingly. This is why testimonials and case histories are so influential.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface. Psychology is a deep and eternally revealing line of study. And while I don’t believe in making things more complicated than they have to be, I think there is great benefit in knowing not only what people do, but also why they do it.

This is the path to copywriting mastery.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is a leading direct marketing copywriter. For more copywriting and selling tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter or subscribe to the Direct Creative Blog.

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  1. Sometimes I wonder how one author, like Dean Rieck, captures the essence of online marketing with clarity. Dean’s comments come across as an elaboration of “Treat your website visitor the same as you want to be treated.” What a friend labels, “Keen observations of the obvious.” Sometimes we need reminding, and Dean does this well.

  2. //people make decisions emotionally // very true, something I learned quite recently through my own experience …

  3. Great post!

    This list, if taken in the right way, is a huge stepping stone for beginning copywriters to help write more persuasive copy that gets people to buy ;)

    Good stuff!

    Jeremy Reeves
    http://www.GetClientsIn20.com

  4. What a great article–really helpful stuff. I’m writing copy for a client’s website today and can use all of this.

    The 12 tips also apply to fundraising copy, esp #1 and #2. We know people give out of emotion, but #2 is great bec it shows the need for some “facts” to back up all that emotion.

    And #7? So true, so true. :-)

  5. Wonderful post! When I adopt the perspective of a potential buyer or client, I realize how much your tips ring true. I am always suspicious when someone is first introducing a product or service to me. And I can’t stand lies or aggressive persuasion. I have usually been sold based on whether or not I feel, in the end, it will suit my needs – and testimonials are honestly one of the most important elements of my final decision. If I hear firsthand accounts of satisfied past clients or customers, I am much more likely to buy into it. One just has to look at how weight loss programs are sold. If they didn’t show people who had actually managed to lose a substantial amount of weight on the program, I don’t know many people who would be inspired to pick up the phone and order that exercise program.

  6. In college, when I had no clue what I wanted to be or do, I wound up majoring in psychology, just because I loved it. Learning to decipher human behavior has helped me in everything I’ve done since, especially copywriting!

  7. This is helpful advice. I write about politics and economics. The former can attract a crowd much easier than the latter. Your observation that people are always looking for something (Love. Wealth. Glory. Comfort. Safety.) can help my writing. People need to see right away that they should read the piece in front of them, otherwise they will go elsewhere immediately. And, this is, among other items listed here, is what is sorely missing in my writing.

  8. Good points that make sense especially in creating sales copies. However, I think we shouldn’t overdo it when using a persuasive approach in our words. Sometimes, our customers may perceive us as being misleading especially when they end up buying a product below their expectations.

    My point is, while we need to be competitive in order to be able to sell, we shouldn’t go overboard and end up misleading our customers. Lots of sales copies I’ve seen online seem to be in the habit of doing this.

    Cheers, Samantha

  9. Great post, Robert Cialdini wrote a great book on Influence that dives into the process further.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  10. Great article. Haven’t read anything good on the internet blogs for about half year maybe, cause knew almost everything :o)

    Few nice tips there. Thanks Dean.

  11. Excellent list. I agree with your straightforward approach – so many people try to over-complicate sales when it’s really quite intuitive.

  12. There is a great book – The Psychology of Persuation – Influence by Ciadini that is worth reading on this topic.

  13. My father, Loren E. Dunton, known internationally as the Father of Financial Planning, was on the popular “What’s My Line” TV show back in the 60’s. He stumped one of the celebrity panelists when she asked if he used “flattery” to sell. His answer was no. He later explained that he believed in complimenting a client. “Compliments,” he said, “are based on truth. Flattery is insincere.”

  14. Excellent list and very informative
    Look forward to more.
    I like when the product sells itself this way you don’t have to “game” anyone.
    Thanks

  15. Dean,
    I like how you focused on value in number 4. Too often people (sellers) are so obsessed with getting someones money through copywriting tricks that they forget the real currency at work is value. When you give value you can get anything you want.

    In these troubled economic times, when access to cash and credit are tight, it is possible to still grow your business by working on a value scale and not a currency scale.

  16. Hey Dean dude. Great post. I think it depends on who you are selling too though cause not every person is like how you describe them to be. If you are trying to use psychological selling on psychologists then I don’t think you will be selling much stuff.

  17. This is a depressing view of human nature. Is there any basis for your point of view or is it just your opinion? It makes people look like sheep.

    Do you think of yourself & your family in the same terms? As emotionally-driven, materialistic imitators?

    While there are some elements of truth in this viewpoint, it’s meaningless in light of the encouragement this piece offers to the manipulation other people for personal gain.

    I disagree with all tactics that treat human beings as pawns to be managed, controlled or manipulated for profit.

    How about offering your best product/writing and let the public be the judge instead of pandering to them? What a concept! Rely on your actual talent instead of dimestore psychological manipulation.

  18. Is there any basis for your point of view or is it just your opinion?

    At least 100 years of testing data and 2,000 years of wisdom.

    Go read Aristotle’s Rhetoric if you want some perspective on persuasion and human nature. And why in the world are you reading a copywriting blog if you feel this way?

  19. It is easy to forget the emotions behind any purchasing decision that gets made. I like your sports car analogy. A perfect example!

  20. This list of things could be a great handbook on how to sell.
    I think it is difficult to judge the own copy writings and it will be helpful to have a friend or spouse revising it and trying to figure out the feelings and emotions of potential buyers.
    The best is to give this list of 12 to an external reader. He or she should control your sales page or copy writing step by step checking each point on the list.

  21. I’ve taken sales courses and all it is is pure PSYCHOLOGY. It is interesting to think the way you say or write things (just a little differently than the last way) can truly effect the outcome of the sale. Great article.

  22. Aha.. This is exactly the what I warned about in my previous post :-0)
    http://www.theenhancelife.com/2008/09/over-spending-impulse-buying-8-reasons.html

  23. People buy on emotion, so AIDA in the sale copy helps draw people emotion to decide! It works every time.

    If we can convince people to put away their suspicious, they are open to any “suggestion” and “pitch” we told them…However, easy to say then done!

  24. I personally read copyblogger (and write for copyblogger) with a giant invisible DON’T USE THIS TO SELL CRAP superimposed over the words. The most valuable product will not get up and start selling itself. As copywriters, we have to shape the conversation to tell the story about how it will meet the buyer’s needs. I don’t see a thing wrong with that.

    Nice post, Dean, I always like your stuff.

  25. Social proof is powerful.

    It’s interesting how varied one person’s “convincer strategy” can be from another, yet how prevalent some patterns are.

  26. Sonia I just taped “don’t use this to sell crap” to my computer screen.

    Just tellin true stories.

  27. @Mark, heh! Cool, I love it.

  28. This is very true. While many copywriters/writers use the typical “sales page” pitch, the truth is, many people are starting to react less and less to these type of ads. For example: Now Introducing the AMAZING and Life Changing Software: I mean, people want to see something new and refreshing then the same type of ads.

    This is why it pays to be original.

  29. This post is perfect timing for me. I just launched an e-book on my website, and I’m always looking for ways to improve selling.

    An important thing to mention, which ties a lot of these bullet points together, are testimonials. They show there is value and feeling behind a product, and if other people are buying it and loving it, one will usually follow the crowd if they are 50/50.

    -Pat Flynn, LEED AP
    http://www.intheleed.com

  30. Sales is something that never came naturally to me. While others would sell and sell, I would go home empty handed. Let me tell you, it was frustrating.

    But I did eventually learn how to sell. I’m by no means the best, but I’m way ahead of where I was when I started. Tips like those presented in this article really help me. Not only do they reinforce what I have learned before, but they also make me think and look for ways to improve my selling.

    Thanks for a great set of tips.

  31. Regarding the item no. 4, it’s sometime the skill of the writer in twisting the contents into value. With this, I mean there’s a thin line between overselling and value. I find myself sometimes still lack of the twisting power that I hardly can persuade myself to buy my idea. :) Efforts needed.

  32. Excellent article.Selling is psychology and saying the right things.It´s all about those “triggers” that makes people want to buy.

  33. great post, found your blog from sly.

  34. I’m no fancy pants “head doctor”, just a simple Potato Chef. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of the sales world.

    But what I do know is this: I read a book that made a light bulb go off in my head about why people do what they do..including why they buy.

    I suggest everybody pick up a copy. You can get it at amazon…even used!!!

    Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self Motivation By: Edward Deci

    I don’t have anything to do with amazon. Just thought I’d help you guys out…That is what a Potato Chef does.

  35. In times of complex concepts like limbic marketing this post is really helpful, as it brings directly to the point what many others explain in long books.

  36. Thanks for the reframe. Another excellent application would be customer service strategic planning.

  37. Truly awesome post. No doubt, our visitors are won with this psychological pitch. This kind of selling copy not only gain new readers but retain too.
    Thanks Dean :)

  38. Alan Underwood :

    Wow, lots of comments on a very good article… really quickly, though, the biggest thing that’s missing from the list is “voice”. It’s especially important for writers. Current research indicates that the brain responds best to a conversational tone of voice (like the one the author used) and poorly to a very formal, one-sided tone of voice (like your average product documentation).

    It’s worth a lot more discussion than a comment on a blog, but I thought I’d toss it out to the larger group.

  39. Great article, it’s easy to forget that people are motivated by emotions over logic in most areas.

  40. Very interesting insights, sparked about one new idea per bullet point.

  41. I agree with many points here, but making decisions emotionally is not a global feature of humans to the extent you discuss. If we look at Japan for instance, they are making more decisions based on data than on emotion, and they are more likely to purchase based on Technical Selling. I wrote an article about this difference a while back:

  42. Influencing other’s actions can be fairly easy. There are well-documented ways to manipulate others and I am not advocating Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” or Mao’s “Little Red book” although well worth a read for other reasons. But let’s focus on getting the answers you want.
    It’s All Down To How You Phrase Your Questions
    Mori Poll participants were given two options for combating a plague projected to kill 600 people.

    * Plan A, would save 200 people. Plan B, had a 30% probability of saving 600. 78% of participants took the safe option; plan A.

    * Rephrasing the question in terms of deaths; 400 guaranteed under Plan A, 66% probability of 600 under Plan B, reversed the result. 78% of participants chose plan B.

    This is because humans are risk-averse when dealing with gains (let’s keep what we have); but risk-prone when dealing with losses (let’s hope for the best).
    Too Much Choice

    In another study by Mori they found that if you offer a shopper a one time only sale on a product, a Sony CD player say, most, 66% will buy it, happy to avoid further shopping. If you offer them two different products, one by Sony, one by Aiwa, both on sale, 46% will continue shopping rather than buy either.
    Choice Makes People Less Likely To Make A Decision

    This confirms a strategy, when writing and showcasing product and services. Know who you are writing and creating for; make the buying decision easy for your punters with just one clear and compelling message. Cheers. the Baldchemist

  43. Great post! As an e-marketer with a psychology background, I really appreciate and understand these tips! Great information, thank you!

  44. Good information, thank you.

  45. Great article, it’s easy to forget that people are motivated by emotions over logic in most areas.

  46. This site is helpful for both my business and my pshychological studies.

    Thank you.

  47. I love this entry. With ego, worth and emotion the probable answer to selling is in our opinion to give.

    If you give people vision, pleasure and a way in then it’s the natural pursuit of a ‘sale’ so to speak.

    Warm Regards,

    Matthew Wright
    socialprseo.com

  48. This post is great timing for me. I am just now launching my website, and I’m always looking for ways to improve selling.

    One important thing to keep in mind when writing seo friendly content is to not forget that ultimately the content is there for your readers as well. Does no good if it doesnt make sense!

  49. Wow, Where were you when I was writing my content last month? Amazing writeup!

  50. Dean, thank you for the compiling the list. I consider myself as a weak closer, so there’s definitely a lot for me to learn from this article. Thx!

  51. I think the first two points are particularly important; people buy on instinct first and justify it second.