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16 Powerful NLP Inspired Copywriting Techniques to Engage Your Target Audience

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Before we start, there’s something I just need to touch on…

Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, 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 help it…do try not to itch that scratch.

Okay with that out of the way, let’s get started.

Now, there are some people who believe Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), the communication and personal development tool developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s, is not something that can be used to any real noticeable effect in copywriting.

In fact, to a lot of people, it’s more akin to some kind of crazy ‘woo-woo’ new age mumbo jumbo pseudo-science, and certainly not something to be taken seriously or given too much 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).

What is persuasion?

There are some that believe persuasion is manipulation’s menacing and wayward younger brother. Others who think that manipulation and persuasion are two very different things; that persuasion is not a tool we use to manipulate or influence people.

After all…

Everyone wants to have a ‘positive’ influence on events, but nobody wants to be seen as manipulative Click To Tweet

Right?

You may even be thinking on the same lines yourself?

There are some that do not believe that the language we use and verbal patterns we employ seed ideas because that wouldn’t fit with their world view, would it?

Perhaps Paul McKenna, Derren Brown, Tony Robbins, and probably just about every leading politician you listen to, does not harness the power of language to persuade and hypnotize audiences into action?

Maybe a parent does not use specific language to cajole a child into more reasonable and compliant behaviour?

“You’ve behaved so well today, you can decide if you want to go to bed at seven or seven thirty tonight. You decide?”

(Yep! We’ve all used it, it even has a name…the double bind!)

Regardless of whatever you think, I am here to tell you that not only does NLP work and have absolute relevance to copywriting, but that it is much more effective 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.

Words are powerful and there are a host of techniques available that when applied by any skilled persuasive communicator, can have a subtle but deliberate effect on the receiver’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, 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.

To start with, I’ll make things easy 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 be ‘entranced’ by 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 contain tons of hidden meanings, product placements, covert agendas and third-party involvement of some description (just watch the end credits to your favourite blockbuster if you are interested in seeing who has been helping the director edit the script and supply the props! You can learn more here).

As for the mainstream news, well, we all know about that now these days don’t we!

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 for so long is because they are so powerful..in fact, they are hypnotic.

Who doesn’t like a good story?

All the most famous myths, legends and religious teachings are in fact stories, allegories we are told to bring out the true fabric of who we are, to seed ideas and instil 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 a few Hollywood movies and you’ll be able to start recognising them.

We go back to these storylines again and again. They are imprinted in our psyche like DNA. They are hard-wired to work on such a deeply profound level, that anyone who wants to become a great storyteller needs to know about them.

In essence, the nine main story archetypes are generally accepted to be as follows:

Overcoming or Slaying the Monster

Rags to Riches

The Quest

Voyage and Return

Comedy

Tragedy

Rebirth

Mystery

Rebellion against ‘The One’

You can now probably immediately identify some of the above themes in all your favourite TV shows, or films, and almost certainly in every popular children’s fairytale you were read aloud as a young child.

Because this is exactly what fairy tales are. Allegories and metaphors that play on your psyche at a deep level.

You see, people like to make connections to what they already know and their own unique experiences. Allegories help people to make connections between the familiar and unfamiliar. To help them find answers or solutions. To help them extend their existing ‘reality map’.

Watch any movie carefully and you will undoubtedly see an archetypal pattern emerge.

So, if you want to get people to take action, tell them a story, use metaphors (especially isomorphic ones) and analogies that subtly 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 intentionally 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 understand why I italicised the phrase ‘by now’ in the above sentence, but it was to show how easy it is to slip double meanings into any text. If I were writing some sales copy, by now (buy now) might be a good message for a copywriter to ‘slip under the radar’.

Our mind has so much information coming at it all the time that our subconscious has to filter out about 99.9% of it. 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 via stealth through to the subconscious mind.

Here are just a few simple examples; Your/you’re, there/their, hear/here, left/left, mind/mined, rest/rest, right/right/write. Sea watt eye mien?

3. Guilty by association

When 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 – 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 why:

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 my sensitive 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 abrasively 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 irritating. These were the benefits that were supposed to be curing my problems not making them worse!

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’m 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 dangling out for all to see, and be offended by!

Other aggressive terms that can be engaging or repellent can be found aplenty. For example, ‘whack your details below’ ‘knock yourself out’ ‘slashing our prices’ or ‘snag the latest update’, to some, these words are fine, but to others, they are actually pretty off-putting.

Choose wisely.

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 confusing 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 perfectly executed ‘intentional pattern interrupting’ techniques?

Either way, in that highly charged environment, they all certainly seemed to work a treat!

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 (always 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 that, it is a very powerful pattern interrupter which many stage hypnotists use to their advantage (and many clever public speakers do 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 the tone, tempo or volume of 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 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.

I repeat.

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 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’, ‘free’, ‘new’, ‘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?”Or”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 rapture. 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’, ‘miracle’ 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 on 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 expansive words such as ‘all’, ‘everyone’, ‘always’ and ‘nobody’.

Why are they useful for a copywriter? Because they imply there are no exceptions (and hence you have no choice but to fall into line).

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!

The truism.

Perhaps my favourite of them all because most of the time they apply to everyone, which means the target audience cannot 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 on 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 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) the 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 reverse psychology 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 often woo their customers.

Here is a tag line from a classic Rolls Royce ad from the 1960s (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 teeny weeny 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 proposal. Fine.

Tell them the offer runs tomorrow and after that, the bargain price goes back up to normal. This often 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, think; ‘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 those porky little house builders; The Three Little Piggies!

Or a bit closer to home: Copywriting. Content Creation. Coaching!

A final word

Influence, persuasion 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, billboards, social media, TV, books, magazines, radio, podcasts, 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 great 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? And is also where the word ‘glamour’ comes from too?

In fact, it is thought to have its origins in the Frankish word for mask or sorcerer.

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 it’s methods are expertly implemented and combined with good copywriting it can be extremely effective 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 itch that scratch now!).

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