Copywriting is both a science and an art. You can weave the most creative and seductive words ever seen on a Google doc, but if there isn’t science-backed data backing those alluring words up, you’re wasting your time.
Enter: human psychology (psst, it’s a branch of science).
A good copywriter knows how to tap into the human psychology behind consumerism and present it creatively with copy that connects and converts. See what I mean about copy being a science AND an art?
But what if the psychological tactics behind consumerism are slimy or straight-up dishonest?
It happens more than you think, and you just might become a victim of this if you aren’t careful.
That’s where education and learning come in. You don’t know what you don’t know –but when you DO know, you can do something about it.
Consider this post an educational step towards understanding why conversion copy (copy meant to sell and convert) is used in marketing strategies and how to consciously (and ethically) approach the psychology of sales copy.
Why Sales Copy Is Effective
As a copywriter, one of the first things you learn in the industry is that people buy with their emotions…and then justify their action with logic after they’ve made the purchase.
With logic out the window, marketers (and copywriters) have been conditioned to focus on consumers’ emotions. One of the best ways to do this is by painting a picture (with words) of what the future can look like once they buy a product or service.
Essentially, conversion copy (think sales pages, service pages, or sales emails) is meant to “trigger” the psychological emotions of what the reader wants their life to look, feel, or be like.
We’ve all landed on a web page that convinced us to buy [Shaun T’s Beach Body Insanity Workout]. No? Just me?
Okay, so maybe yours was a bundle of online courses you know you’re never going to get through or the entire audible collection of William Shakespeare narrated by James Earl Jones.
Whatever offer it was, just know that when you’re convinced to buy something (a workout DVD set), you are purchasing the solution (more toned body) to whatever problem (body self-esteem) you are experiencing.
That is Sales Copy 101 in a nutshell.
Sales copy psychology isn’t inherently wrong. But there is a fine line between ethical and dishonest marketing copy.
There are also several different ways you might be using unethical sales tactics in your copy (and you don’t even know it!). That’s why I want to talk about them.
To better explain my points, I’ll take each psychological concept that you DON’T want to use in your copy, unwrap it so you can see exactly what makes it unethical, and then give options on how to approach it in a more honorable way.
Let’s get to it.
Don’t Poke Their Pain Points
Pain points are also known as emotional triggers and are considered to be areas where your audience feels vulnerable and frustrated. Sales psychology suggests that we should agitate those pain points by poking them until your reader pulls out their credit card and hits that “Buy Now” button.
Sounds like a great way to start a relationship with a new client, right?
I’m pretty sure poking wasn’t cool when your sister did it to you growing up, and it wasn’t cool when Facebook rolled it out way back in 2014, either. It’s weird, annoying, and just plain rude, especially when it’s meant to fester your reader’s emotions.
Speaking of emotions, I mentioned earlier that our buying habits are based on our emotional responses. These can be negative or positive emotions, but I’ll focus specifically on negative emotions for this post because that’s what slimy sales psychology relies on to get you to make a purchase.
Retail therapy is a great example of shopping your way through negative emotions.
Encouraging your reader to buy your offer by “poking” at their self-image, self-confidence, or self-esteem isn’t right, and if you take time to think about this tactic, you probably know this isn’t a good way to do business.
The moral of pain points?
- Don’t “poke” at people’s pain. Pain is real, pain hurts, and when you amplify someone else’s pain to make a sale, I’m calling unethical and dishonest bullshit.
- Don’t negatively mess with people’s emotions.
- Don’t try to hit those “triggers” because you could potentially do some serious damage if you aren’t careful.
- Don’t use words that make your readers imagine unpleasant scenarios. It might work to make a sale, but it will not help you build connections or loyalty. People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Let’s always aim to lift people up. Not lift them up after we’ve just poked them where it hurts.
What you can do instead: Acknowledge where your audience is struggling and show empathy with their situation. Use your copy to indicate that you understand the validity of their struggles and frustrations by (virtually) holding their hand through their experience.
Paint a positive picture of what their life can look like with your offer rather than emphasizing the negative (pain) points they are experiencing right now. They might be experiencing these pain points, but that doesn’t mean you need to highlight or agitate them.
Think of your reader’s emotional response to what you’re writing. This is what will foster a more authentic connection and create long-term brand loyalty.
Don’t Pretend Your Offer Is The Cure-All
Unless you are selling world peace or something similar –I’m going to take a wild guess that your offer won’t rock this world inside out.
So don’t pretend it does.
I’m sure whatever you are selling will make a big impact on your customers’ lives, but it’s not the cure-all to their problems. So don’t act like it is.
What you can do instead: Tell your reader what your offer will do for them. Give them so many details that the reader can practically feel, smell, or touch your offer. Don’t exaggerate any features. Just give them the facts and details. You might be surprised at how many people want what you have to offer without the exaggerated efforts on your part.
Don’t Sell Your Audience Something They Don’t Need
As a self-proclaimed minimalist, I fully stand behind the statement, “Don’t buy shit you don’t need.” I’m not sure who said it first, but I couldn’t agree more.
The same can be said for those selling products. Don’t sell just to sell. There will be people out there who could seriously benefit from your offer. There are some people out there who literally don’t need what you’re selling. At all.
And guess what? That’s OKAY.
You don’t need to meet a quota or hit an income goal by losing sight of the most important thing in your business: your customers. Treat your customers like the humans they are.
Selling just to sell is sleazy, icky, and soul-sucking. So avoid, avoid, avoid.
Let’s say your customer truly needs your offer, but they require a little kick up the butt to get their gear in motion. That’s likely a more honest sale than if they absolutely do NOT need your offer.
What you can do: Target the right audience for your offer. Some people want what you are trying to sell, you just might have to find them or up-level your marketing strategy, so they find you. Don’t be that business owner who tries to sell artisanal ham shanks to a vegan.
Instead, Weave empathy into your copy, state the benefits, and positively frame what their life would look like with your offer will help your reader self-diagnose if your offer is for them. Stop trying to persuade them to buy. List the facts and let them decide in their own time.
Don’t Create A Dishonest Sense Of Urgency
This is less a copy “don’t do” tip and more of a marketing tactic to avoid. A LOT of online businesses want to make you feel like you need to make a decision right that second. It might look like a countdown timer with a warning saying something along the lines of, “Don’t Wait! This offer is only good for two more hours!” Or, “This product is going back in the vault FOREVER, so buy now!”
This is a psychological trigger that is powerful, which is why so many business owners use it. But in all honesty, it’s not necessary or ethical. This psychological sales tactic pressures your customers to take action out of FOMO.
FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out.
I’ll repeat that first word for emphasis, FEAR. This is a scare tactic to get a reader to take action. Humans hate missing out. I still feel the burning-pit-of-the-stomach feeling from missing that girl’s trip with my friends back in 2014.
Is using fear an ethical marketing move for your conscious business? Not really.
Does it work? Usually.
Am I saying not to use this tactic? No, but there is a caveat to using it.
What you can do instead: Simply approach this tactic with more honesty and less sleaze.
If you really do need to close your cart or retire an offer, tell your audience why! If your mastermind commitment keeps you away from your newborn baby, by all means, please adjust your container to have two spots instead of six so you can be more hands-on with your clients and also be there for your baby. Just tell your people!
The transparency and authenticity will go so much farther than playing on a sense of urgency alone –without any rhyme or reason.
Avoid Using Negative Framing
All the tactics I’ve mentioned above are framing techniques that use psychology to negatively convince someone to make a purchase.
As humans, we naturally seek to escape feeling negative emotions or experiencing negative situations.
This is exactly why marketing tactics use these psychological techniques to frame their services or products as a means for people to avoid or escape their negative emotions. This is known as loss aversion.
The psychological concept of loss aversion refers to a human predisposition to favor the prevention of loss rather than gaining the equivalent benefit. It’s a cognitive bias that explains “why individuals feel the pain of loss twice as intensively than the equivalent pleasure of gain. As a result of this, individuals tend to try to avoid losses in whatever way possible. (The Decision Lab)
There are a lot of examples of this, but the most obvious one is losing a $20 bill (or £ 20-pound note for my UK people). We feel the loss more powerfully than if we found a $20 bill on the street.
So how can you use this psychological knowledge in your sales copy without being a sleaze bag?
Be honest, be conscious, be mindful, be positive
Because here’s the thing: your sales copy can absolutely use positivity to make the sale.
You just need to choose to:
- Write copy that highlights the true benefits of your offer.
- Write copy that explains how great your offer is (without exaggerating).
- Write copy that positively illuminates what their dream life could look like.
To be honest, the most ethical/conscious/honest way to sell is not to sell. But that’s not realistic if you want to make a living or run a successful business. The best we can do is make sure we approach marketing and sales with positive framing in mind and practice –and that starts with your copy.
Don’t abuse your power of persuasion by using icky and dishonest sales tactics. Write with respect and empathy top of mind. Be conscious is every word you write in your sales copy. Don’t lie, don’t bullshit, don’t ‘mislead’ the truth of what or who your offer is for. When you sell with consciousness top of mind, everyone is the winner. If you need help making sure you write positive and ethical copy, contact me to see how I can help you add a little consciousness to your copy! Not ready yet? No worries. You can join my email list to get easy, non-aggressive, and (sometimes) entertaining emails from yours truly!