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Before we start, there’s something I just need to touch on…
Regardless of your environment or situation, I want you to really, really focus on the next few words.
And I mean really focus.
It’s important, so please bear with me on this.
As you carry on reading this sentence the more you try not to think about it, the more you’ll notice the increasing feeling of wanting to scratch.
But please, if you can…try not to.
Okay with that out of the way, let’s get started.
Now, there are some who believe Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a communication and personal development tool developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California in the 1970’s, is not something that can be used to any real effect in copywriting.
In fact, to many people it’s more akin to some kind of crazy ‘voodoo’ new age mumbo jumbo pseudo-science snake oil, and certainly not something to be taken seriously or given any real consideration.
So much so that in some circles if you say ‘copywriting’ and ‘NLP’ in the same sentence some people will look at you as if you are mad, stupid, senile…or all three (more about the ‘power of three’ later).
There are some that believe persuasion is manipulation’s menacing younger brother who hasn’t been issued with a flick knife (yet). Or that manipulation and persuasion are two very different things; that persuasion is not a tool we use to manipulate people. Or that ‘influence’ falls into an entirely different sub category.
After all…Everyone wants to have a ‘positive’ influence on events, but nobody wants to be seen as manipulative Click To Tweet
You may even be thinking the same way yourself.
There are some that do not believe that the language we use and verbal patterns we employ seed ideas or generate closed loop questions that trigger actions (and sales), because that wouldn’t fit with their world view, would it?
Perhaps Paul McKenna, Derren Brown, Tony Robbins, and of course just about every leading politician, statesman or diplomat you listen to, does not harness the power of language to persuade and hypnotize audiences into action?
Maybe a parent does not use language to cajole a child into more compliant behaviour?
“You’ve behaved so well today, you can decide if you want to go to bed at seven or seven thirty. You decide?”
(Yep! We’ve all used it and it even has a name…the double bind!)
Regardless of whatever you think, I am here to tell you that not only does NLP exist and have absolute relevance to copywriting, but that it is much more powerful than you may ever have imagined.
In fact, the power and application of language patterns influence just about everything you do and every thought you’ve ever had.
Don’t believe me?
For those who dismiss this notion, well, I am afraid to say that you are probably the most controlled by them. Let’s just say you are under its powerful spell (and we all know where the word ‘spell’ comes from, right?).
There, I’ve said it.
Remember:The biggest trick the devil ever played was to trick you into thinking he doesn’t exist. Click To Tweet
Words are powerful and there are a host of techniques available that when applied by any skilled persuasive writer or speaker, can have a subtle but deliberate effect on the reader’s subconscious mind.
And it is very very powerful indeed.
Skilled copywriters who actively employ NLP know that words are weapons of mass influence.
We know that the language we use forms our reality and what’s more, there are plenty of hidden meanings and subconscious codes lurking behind them, which once you’ve cracked them you can spot from a mile away!
A good copywriter will already have an arsenal of techniques and formulas at hand they can apply to copy.
We know about pain points, scarcity, urgency and all the many copywriting maxims that can be applied today, but what people often miss is the actual language and language sequences we could be using to make copy even more effective.
Now, I need to warn you before we go any further.
To enlighten you more on this subject really is a case of taking the red pill not the blue pill.
If you are still here, I am assuming you have taken the red pill?
So, if you are sitting comfortably, let’s begin…
To start with, I’ll make things easy and relevant by making my point with something we all do.
1. Recreation time: Tell me a story
Yep, good old leisure time. When you can relax, put your feet up, kick back and throw all your cares to the wind.
Imagine at the end of a hard week at work, you are at home relaxing with a nice glass of wine in hand and are about to watch your favourite TV show or ‘programme’.
This is in fact the time when you are at your most vulnerable (why do you think ads are run in between?) and the hidden power of language can be found even more than normal here, working its magic as you let your guard down and relax.
Think about why we talk about how television ‘programmes’ affect us (American Idol ‘Idle’ anyone?), where the word ‘theatre’ comes from (clue; same distant roots as theosophy, theology and theologian) and what we really mean by recreation (re-creation)?
I am sorry to tell you, but your favourite movies most probably have a hidden agenda of some description or at the very least some form of government involvement (just watch the end credits to your favourite blockbuster if you are interested on shedding some light on who has been helping the director with the script! You can learn more here).
As for the mainstream news, well, we all know without a question of doubt how that works!
Anyway, back to the theme of movies which after all, are all about storytelling and stories, and have been with us since the beginning of time.
The reason they have been with us since time began is that they are so powerful..in fact, they are hypnotic.
Who doesn’t like a good story?
All the most famous myths, legends and religious tomes are in fact stories, allegories we are told to bring out the true fabric of who we are, to instill in us a way of living, a dogma, the ‘right path’ if you like.
There are generally nine main archetypes in storytelling which dominate any storyline. You only need to watch the latest movie blockbuster or best-selling novel to witness this.
We go back to these storylines again and again. They are imprinted in our psyche like DNA. They work on such a deeply profound level, that anyone who wants to become a great storyteller will benefit greatly from studying them.
In essence the nine main story archetypes are generally accepted to be as follows:
Overcoming or Slaying the Monster
Rags to Riches
Voyage and Return
Rebellion against ‘The One’
You can probably immediately identify some of the above themes in your favourite TV shows, or films, and almost certainly in every popular children’s fairytale.
Because this is exactly what fairy tales are. Allegories that play on your psyche at a deep level.
Watch any movie carefully and you will see the archetypal patterns emerge.
So, if you want to get people to take action, tell them a story, use metaphors, that slip unnoticed into the subconscious mind.
The key is,…People prefer to believe what they come to conclude for themselves, not what you tell them Click To Tweet
So if you watch a movie and find yourself agreeing with the ‘hero’, or recognising some of their qualities in yourself (or values you hold dear), then you will start thinking more like them.
Then you start moving in step with the narrator of the story and adopting their world view etc. You are, in effect, being manipulated.
As long as you recognise this, there is no reason for you to not continue to enjoy your ‘re-creation’ time.
In fact, it’s a great way to improve your persuasive writing skills, subconsciously of course!
2. Say it like it is
Homophones have a really powerful impact on the subconscious mind and by now, you probably have some idea where I am going with this.
You probably didn’t notice straight away that I employed the phrase ‘by now’ in the above sentence, but if I were writing sales copy, by now (buy now) you will notice that it can be a very powerfully suggestive phrase indeed.
Our mind has so much information coming at it all the time that our subconscious filters out about 99.9% of it all. If it didn’t and we were consciously aware of all the things our senses were noticing, it would result in a complete and absolute sensory overload.
But the information is all nevertheless going in, every single millisecond…and what’s more it’s going in and being stored away!
And that is why we can effectively use homophones to get a double meaning through to the subconscious mind.
3. Guilty by associationWhen we use words we must also be aware of their subconscious association. Click To Tweet
This is a key reason why I always advise clients not to use the name of their company or brand next to a profanity or any negative words or phrases – however ‘cool’ it might seem at the time.
I also advise them to be very, very careful of the language they use in any promotional copy (including interviews or presentations).
Let me give you an example:
The other day I was watching a video where the presenter kept on talking about ‘shaving off’ time and ‘shaving off money’ in a project.
Each time she used the word ‘shave’ I actually winced because I could literally see in my mind’s eye, a razor scratching painfully across dry skin.
It was a really unpleasant sensory experience.
Instead of having the positive impact of helping me to save time and money, it was rubbing salt into the wound of pain points but in completely the wrong way. The benefits she was selling me were actually coming across as uncomfortable. These were the benefits that were supposed to be curing my pain points.When the painkiller is pain itself, it’s not really very appealing. Click To Tweet
Likewise I read the term ‘digging into the guts’ of something recently. There is a reason why you ‘hate someone’s guts’. I am not saying these phrases should never be used, I am saying that you should be careful where and how you employ them, because in the right place to the right audience, they can be very powerful indeed.
For example, and staying on the ‘gut wrenching guilt’ theme, it evokes a completely different emotion, depending on when and where it is used. So yes, get gutsy with your copy by all means, but don’t leave the entrails out for all to see, and be put off by!
Other aggressive terms that can be engaging or repellent can be found a plenty. For example, ‘Whack your details below’ or ‘snag the latest update’, to some, these words are fine, but to others they are actually pretty off putting.
Although you might think these words are right for your audience, you need to also consider any potential subconscious negative impact.
4. Pattern interrupts
This works, I mean, really, really works.
If you want to see a visual example, then check out Derren Brown’s video here as he taps onto the teller’s WINdow to claim his ‘losing’ winning ticket. At 2.53 mins in he slaps on the window and embeds the cashier with the hypnotic command; ‘This is the dog you are looking for’.
Some people use shocking language or swearing as a pattern interrupt or to disrupt the person’s focus in other ways.
For those of you who have seen Tony Robbins’ Netflix documentary ‘I am NOT your guru’ you might have noticed that the big T swears a lot and at one point makes an oblique reference to one attendee’s bright red sports shoes…could these have all been intentional pattern interrupting techniques?
Either way they all certainly seemed to work!
Disruption is a powerful technique because the moment you break someone’s thought patterns, you have direct and easy access into their subconscious mind and can influence their thoughts (hopefully for the better of course).
Ever been walking down the street, mindlessly thinking to yourself and all of a sudden out of the blue you fail to see a small step and go flying? At the moment you trip, your mind goes completely blank. Right?
When you ‘trip’ audiences up like this, it is a very powerful pattern interrupter which many stage hypnotists and magicians use to their benefit (and many clever public speakers too).
5. Embedded commands
With this technique to get people to take an action you subtly embed a command into the sentence structure.
When you are writing you can highlight the command you want them to take, in speech you can do it too by changing your voice.
I am not saying you will become a master of this overnight but as you continue to read this article you may feel compelled to sign up to my email newsletter HERE straight away to learn more.
By the way, how’s that itch feeling?
6. When NO means YES
The subconscious mind does not recognise a negative.
The subconscious mind does not recognise a negative.
(It does however recognise repetition)
And that’s where double negatives come in.
Instead of ‘Don’t miss this chance to sign up to my email newsletter’ you could say ‘Why would you not sign up to my email newsletter HERE right now?‘
Or just skip the negatives entirely and find a positive antonym…
So instead of ‘don’t be late’ try ‘show up early’.
It’s easy once you know how.
As a mentor I always tell people not to use the phrase ‘Don’t forget’…instead use ‘Remember’. However it’s an easy one to forget!
But for the love of all things good in this world, please do NOT tell your readers…’you can’t afford to miss this’….Please don’t tell anyone they cannot afford something when you are selling to them, right?.
7. Get a grip on their senses
In NLP we call the five basic senses (visual, auditory, touch, smell and taste) ‘sub-modalities’ or ‘representational systems’.
We can use knowledge of these to make our copy much more appealing.
So instead of just saying…
‘Visit our new Indian restaurant and try the fabulous world class cuisine’
You could try…
‘Visit our new Indian restaurant and savour the delicious world class cuisine’
The key is to get a grip on a person’s senses so they can see, feel, taste or picture something vividly in their imagination.
8. Use emotion effectively
It is a copywriter’s job to dig deep into a person’s emotions, the reason for this is because people buy on emotion and justify the purchase using logic, so a good copywriter will get you to take action based on your emotions.
Think of any hard hitting charity ad which tugs heavily on the emotional heart (and purse) strings. Take a look at the language being used in the copy.
The good stuff will stop you in your tracks. We are like putty in their hands.
You can instruct people how they feel (or how you want them to feel) by using facts.
As you are reading this article you are probably wondering to yourself how you can get to learn more and feeling excited about the prospect of using some of these techniques yourself.
Fact: you are reading this article.
Get the picture?
9. Dive straight into their heads
You do this by cleverly using what we call in NLP ‘awareness pattern’ words such as; ‘notice’, ‘realise’, ‘aware’, ‘discover’ and ‘see’.
These words subliminally implant suggestions deep inside the ‘prospect’s’ mind behind a seemingly innocent cognitive process.
They work because people’s attention is drawn to the awareness pattern word which they assume to be true and they then switch off or put on stand-by their critical thinking brain for the rest of the statement.
Here are some examples:
“Have you noticed how everyone assumes that any statement following the words ‘scientists have discovered’ is true, so seldom ever question it?”
“Are you aware of how much the price of gold will increase over the next 12 months?”
Get it now?
10. Be positive…get them to say “YES”
Putting people in a positive state of mind gets people’s buy in. That might be your product or an idea you are trying to promote.
Think of all the famous TV evangelist preachers who drum up their audience into a wild trance like frenzy. It is not ‘trance like’…it is an actual trance!
If you don’t have a stage you can still do this in your copy.
Make people feel positive using positive emotional words like; ‘love’, ‘hope’, ‘joy’ and gratitude, ramp it all up, then ask closed questions that you know will elicit a ‘Yes’ answer.
Yes yes yes…the most powerful word in the planet…after no! (assuming you use it properly).
11. Everybody is doing it!
Now let us take a step into the world of universal quantifiers.
We all like to be part of something, part of a community, a tribe if you like.It’s in our nature to seek out people who are similar to us. Click To Tweet
And we certainly don’t want to be seen deviating from that tribe’s values and beliefs do we?
A universal quantifier is simply a clever way to describe all encompassing, big global words such as ‘all’, ‘everyone’, ‘always’, ‘most people’ and ‘nobody’.
Why are they useful for a copywriter? Because they imply there are no exceptions (and hence no choices).
Here is a basic example; “Everyone thinks it’s hard to make lots of money. But with these simple tips anyone can become rich”.
See how it works?
12. Let’s play tag!
This is the act of adding a question to the end of a statement to soften the target’s resistance and gently guide them into passive agreement.
Here are some simple examples:
“Today is the day you are going to stop smoking. It is, isn’t it?” or “Take control of your future today, you would like that wouldn’t you?”
Why does the ‘Tag’ question work?
Probably because it helps distract and divert the conscious part of the mind from any objections to the main core statement, does it not?
13. How about truth or dare!
Perhaps my favourite of them all because most of the time they apply to everyone, which means the target audience cannot really easily dispute them.
Plus they can be used to target different physical senses or even time periods.
Here is what I mean:
“Almost everyone loves going on holiday to beautiful sunny places feeling the warmth of the sun on their skin and hearing the gentle rolling sound of ocean waves as they pleasantly stroll along exquisite sandy beaches”
Fancy a nice Caribbean holiday now anyone?
14. The Unspecified Reference
Unspecified references are statements that might sound really great and helpful but if you examine them closely actually lack much specific information or tangible reference points.
Confused? Then let me show you an example:
“There have been periods in your life when you have had to call on great reserves of courage and inner strength. They were there for you then, and will be there for you now and in the future”.
Now of course I have no idea about the life history of every single person reading this. But generally speaking the statement works because people subconsciously start rifling through their mental filing cabinet to remember a time when the statement was in fact true.
In most cases you will find a suitable example from your own past and thus make sense of (and agree with) this statement.
15. The Reverse Psychology
This really can work very well, but you have to be subtle and clever about how and when to use it effectively.
So how does it work?
Well, you know those people who always do the opposite of what you tell them? They are perfect examples of it in practice!
Essentially what you have to do is a) establish what it is you want someone to do (that they probably don’t yet) and b) without actually telling them, very subtly make them think that it’s their idea to do it.
It’s a key component of how someone can get a date by playing hard to get. It’s also how luxury brands can woo their customers.
Here is a tag line from a classic Rolls Royce ad from the 1960’s (featuring a close up of a stunning car and a handsome, debonair man resting on its massive wheel arch):
“Let me tell you about the very rich, they are different from you and me”.
Dated sure, but doesn’t it make you feel a tiny bit envious?People WANT want they cannot easily have and hate being rejected! Click To Tweet
For example, if someone is not really responding to your offer or your calls. Fine.
Tell them you are going to take them off your list. Works a treat.
16. The Power of Three
Basically the power of three in writing is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are just….well… better!
They are funnier, more satisfying and more effective than any other numbers of things. Plus on top of all that the reader is also, generally speaking, more likely to remember whatever it is that’s been written.
It’s why so many powerful slogans use it; ‘Education, Education Education’, ‘Change we need’ or ‘Yes we can’, and probably goes a long way to explaining the enduring appeal of The Three Musketeers, The Three Amigos and of course The Three Little Piggies!
Or a bit closer to home: Copywriting. Content Creation. Consulting!
A final word
Influence, persuasion, coercion or whatever else you might want to call it (and use) is all up to you.
But just don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
Movie trailers, bill boards, social media, TV, books, magazines, sporting events…it’s everywhere.
You can see (and hear) examples of these language patterns all over the place from alluring adverts to persuasive politicians.
I find it good practice to keep my eyes (and ears) peeled for these techniques. It’s good for developing your own skills and of course useful to stop being inadvertently misdirected yourself, isn’t it – if you know what I mean?
And to leave you with a few words about grammar; to most people it’s simply the art and science dealing with language from the point of view of pronunciation, inflexion and syntax.
But did you also know ‘grammar’ shares its roots with the French word ‘Grimoire’ which is basically a book of instructions in the use of magic spells?
In fact, it is thought to have its origins in the Frankish word for mask or sorcerer.
And as for spelling…well..I think we all know where that comes from.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Of course I have barely scratched the surface of the hidden power of persuasive language here.
But trust me, NLP does exist and when expertly combined with good copywriting is an extremely powerful combination indeed.
You may have even noticed that I used many of the techniques in the copy of this article (by the way please feel free to have that scratch now!)
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