5 Psychological Hacks to Inspire Your Copywriting Techniques

So much of marketing relies on understanding human behavior. To truly be successful with your copywriting techniques, you need to get in the heads of your customers to understand how they think.

Yet the way in which our brains process information is far from straightforward.

Our brains are full of weird nuances and complexities that affect how we make decisions. And fortunately, that leaves copywriters with some loopholes to capitalize on.

Here are five of my favorite psychological hacks (along with the science to back them up) to help you create messages that are compelling, persuasive and filled with conversion potential.

Hack #1: Fire up the mirror neurons.

What the science says: Ever laugh just because someone else does? Or find it hard to fight back tears when someone cries on TV? Those are your mirror neurons kicking in. From an early age, human brains develop familiar neuro-pathways – meaning that when people observe a behavior or emotion, it’s as if they are performing that action themselves.

Copywriting hack: Craft your marketing copy to get under the hood of your readers’ emotions. Understand their pain points and the feelings behind them, then write content that’s specific enough to reflect exactly how they feel. 

Inbound application: Much of inbound strategy hinges on your customer’s pain points. Like a good friend, you want to show your prospects that you understand how they feel before offering ways to help. Developing a buyer persona is a critical step in the buyer’s journey that gets to the core of the feelings behind those pain points.

Example: The following excerpt from a lead nurturing email (from freelancer.com) does a great job of mirroring the target audience’s sentiment head-on. The copy emotionally engages readers from the start (then later goes on to offer a solution and Call-to-Action).

Copywriting Techniques Example #1

Hack #2: Employ the persuasive power of “transportation.”

What the science says: To be clear, we’re not talking about vehicles here. According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “transportation” is the mechanism whereby narratives can directly affect beliefs. That same research shows that transportation increases our receptiveness to embrace things.

Copywriting hack: “Transport” your customers by weaving your value prop into a simple story or narrative. Remember those “arc narratives” you learned about in literature class? B2B copywriters can apply similar storytelling principles to even the most seemingly mundane situations. Keep in mind, narratives make your audience more receptive to what you’re offering – so be sure to “end” your story by easing in to an appropriate Call-to-Action.

Inbound application: Case studies are an excellent way to tell the story of why your business is awesome. Eccolo Media's 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report cites that this marketing tactic ranks as the third-highest type of content influencer for purchasers at small and large businesses alike. The use of video marketing to convey a brand or an idea is also a highly effective way to put the power of transportation to use.

Example: To promote the notion of “hybrid IT solutions,” IBM created this hilarious 30-second narrative around a character named Norm, the unlikely IT legend. Watch it and decide: did it  “transport” and engage you for a moment in time?



Hack #3: Write for cognitive fluency; easy = true.

What the science says: Cognitive fluency is the subjective experience of the ease or difficulty of completing a mental task. Translation: the easier it is for our brains to comprehend something, the more inclined we are to believe it. Conversely, as Princeton University Psychologist Alter Oppenheimer points out in a Boston Globe article, disfluency functions as a cognitive alarm. It sets up a roadblock and makes people think, and it triggers a sense of risk and concern.”

Copywriting hack:  Don’t put up a barricade of over-engineered copy. Try to write like people think, using “soft language” to describe even complex business elements. Above all, resist the urge for jargon-laced phrases and generic buzzwords. (I mean, really … when’s the last time you used “lockstep” or “turnkey” in a conversation?) Remember, your customers want easy. Easy is believable – and believable prompts your customer to take a desired action.

Inbound application: Optimize website copy and landing page offers to adhere to the five-second rule – give or take a few seconds, that’s roughly how much time readers will need to process what you’re telling them before moving on. Online research lab MarketingExperiments cites that, “triple-digit conversion gains can be summed up in three simple words: clarity trumps persuasion.” Here again, buyer persona research is critical in understanding what separates industry-specific phrases from overly complex jargon.

Example: The following landing page (from a content tool named Crawly) does a great job of balancing technical terms with soft language for the perfect level of cognitive fluency.

Copywriting Techniques Example #3

Hack #4: Embrace the “odd effect.”

What the science says: Ever noticed why you don’t see as many lists or blog titles that group info by “fours” or sixes”? Countless studies reveal a rather peculiar psychological take-away; that is, our brains gravitate toward odd numbers. One particular study, conducted by Terence Hines of Pace University, set out to prove the “odd effect” through testing the speed in which people responded to seeing even vs. odd numbers on a screen. His findings? Our brains take up to 20% longer to process odd numbers – and ultimately, odd numbers are more thought-provoking than evens.

Copywriting hack: Put the “odd effect” into motion with your reader audience, and test it throughout different forms of collateral. In conjunction with this idea is the notion of using specificity in numeric references wherever possible. The more specific your claim, the more authentic and believable you are; whereas round numbers are perceived as too generic to be true. Which of the following statements would you be more likely to believe?

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Inbound application: Use odd numbers in your titles for blogs, step-by-step guides, checklists, infographics and other forms of inbound content. Also apply specificity to the claims you’re making on your website and sales materials.

Example: A quick google search of HubSpots’s top-performing blog posts from a previous year shows the following titles: is it a coincidence that they all employ “the odd effect”?

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Hack #5: Activate the brain with names.

What the science says: The scientific explanation, which has to do with “functional magnetic resonance imaging spurring brain activity in the left hemisphere” boils down to this: funny things happen in our heads when we see or hear our own name (or our name in relation to other names). Our names are intrinsically tied to our self-perception. We become more engaged, and even more trusting of a message when our name appears in it.

Copywriting hack: Use first name personalization in emails and subject lines. Also try out “familiar-sounding” names (if appropriate) in the sender field. Even if it feels like the oldest trick in the marketing book, this tried-and-true principle is backed up by science that has, indeed, proved its power. MarketingSherpa states that using a first name in the subject line has been shown to boost open rates by 29.3% – and likely higher when combined with a familiar-sounding sender name.

Inbound application: First-name personalization is just one of many personalization techniques that can supercharge your B2B lead nurturing email campaign. HubSpot identifies additional  “personalization tokens” that hack into these same brain-game principles.

Example: Netflix does a nice job with pairing first-name personalization with customized picks for “Kyle’s” watch list.

Copywriting Techniques Example #5Now that you’ve stuck with us through our five favorite psychological copywriting hacks, it’s probably time for a brain break. How about this Newcastle Brown Ales ad featuring Aubrey Plaza?



For more tips on writing content that resonates with your audience, read up on the 5 steps to creating and running an effective content marketing program that makes sense for your business in our complimentary guide: Drive Sales with Content That Converts. Happy reading!

Drive Sales with Content That Converts

Allison Woodbury | Director of Content Operations
About the Author
Allison Woodbury, Director of Content Operations

Allison Woodbury has been a Content Marketer for our agency since 2016. She’s a content marketing, writing, social media and branding guru who spends her writing time alternating between getting in the shoes of her readers and scrutinizing super-niche industries. She loves to see what her readers like – so tell her what you want, what you really, really want (to read more of)!