Joe Sugarman nails the essence of the written word’s power in marketing: “A mental process … for the purpose of selling.”
I’ll shorten it: “mental … selling” – getting inside users’ heads to turn them into leads and motivate them to take an action.
As content marketers, your tool to accomplish that is engaging and persuasive language. Using words, you use your art to influence your audience’s minds and help you get results.
What is neuro copywriting?
Neuro copywriting is the process of crafting a marketing text to appeal to human psychology, thus influencing engagement and motivation to learn more and purchase.
It refers to mental hacks included in your content to compel the audience to act. The addition of tiny elements – odd numbers, particular words, formatting tricks – hook users and make them stay with you.
Neuro copywriting has nothing to do with manipulation. While it can relate to natural-language processing communication techniques like anchoring and mirroring, it’s more about the application of concrete, actionable writing techniques. Let’s look at seven ways to do this.
1. Use 2 numbers in headings
The brain is wired for numbers, which explains why people love listicles so much. Numbers can make the content easier to digest, tricking the brain into assuming it’s more efficient to consume. Your audience’s brains see listicles as cheat sheets to scan and get the info they need.
Numbers also provide order to chaos. They help content consumers see and reach the end goal and be rewarded by a dopamine release.
To double the effect, use two numbers in a headline. The first number invites audiences to read, while the second answers the what’s-in-it-for-me question. This example from HubSpot – 11 Conversion Copywriting Tips That Grew Our Revenue by 240%, According to Lately’s CEO – uses two numbers.
The first number – 11 – sparks interest from the audience who wants to learn those tips. The second number – 240% – tells the audience what those tips have helped the company Lately gain.
TIP: Understand the psychology behind odd and even numbers. Even-numbered lists look friendlier and imply something didn’t get mentioned, encouraging the brain to find out that “something.” Odd numbers are more thought-provoking: “11 tips? Why did they choose such an odd number? That 11th tip must be interesting.”
2. Add beneficial adjectives
Beneficial adjectives in headings and subheads explain why your content is worth their attention.
Writers use many beneficial adjectives – new, free, unique, quick, exclusive, cost-effective, etc. But here’s the kicker: Readers see those words so many times in the content, that they think, “Yeah, of course. Everyone says it.”
So, here’s a neuro copywriting tactic to replace this ubiquity objection: Combine two rarely matched beneficial adjectives in headings.
Ensure both adjectives relate to a noun and appeal to the reader’s emotions, such as:
- A Practical, No-Nonsense Guide To Earning Passive Income Online
- The Best Free Business Plan Template For Individual Sales Reps
- 35 Cheap and Ingenious Ways to Have the Best Classroom Ever
3. Ask questions
Given people usually scan content online to ascertain if it’s worth their time, pay precise attention to your subheads. Use them to ask a question.
I do this on my services page – Need a Writer for Your Blog or Marketing Content? The next subheading gives the answer – How I Can Help You.
Questions use the social instinct – the brain’s built-in mechanism to assume what others know, want, and feel:
Questions clarify what the audience will learn when reading. They can spark curiosity in the audience who wants to see if the answer is something they don’t know. It can appeal to a kind of fear of missing out (FOMO). They continue reading to ensure they haven’t missed anything.
TIP: Don’t limit questions to headlines. Add relevant questions in proper places throughout your content to grab a reader’s attention and interest.
4. Format headlines as quotes
The second neuro copywriting tip for headlines and subheads is to make them a quote. Take a sentence from your text and format it as a quote, or take quotes from industry experts if they fit the context.
Why does this trick work? Quotation marks signal expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) – attributes that both audiences and Google appreciate.
This neuro writing tactic works with headings in case studies, press releases, and blog articles:
- ‘I Tried These Top 10 Proposal Software, So You Didn’t Have To’
- ‘Trust yourself and take your time’ – Maria Meireles
- ‘The One-Page Document We Use to Plan Our Blog Posts’ [PODCAST]
Note: AP Style uses single quotes in headlines.
5. Use the Socratic method
The Socratic method is an argumentative dialogue between individuals asking questions to stimulate critical thinking.
As you can guess from the name, this conversational technique belongs to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. He used it to engage students in communication. In content writing, you can use this method in your introductions to hook readers, as Barbara Sturm did in this Smart Blogger article: “Wondering how to become an editor? Need guidance on mapping out your new career path?”
Ideally, you should ask three questions because the brain grasps three the best – numbers, colors, fonts, statements, etc. It becomes more challenging to focus and remember beyond the three.
I bet you heard about the Rule of Three in writing. As Brian Clark explains: “If you want something stuck in someone’s head, put it in a sequence of three.”
Besides posing three questions, try a modern version of the Socratic method: Give readers three statements they will agree with. Nodding at your words gives them subconscious proof you understand their problem and can provide a solution.
Brian Dean uses the statement technique in this intro: “So, if you’re looking for: More traffic. More leads. More Sales. Then you’ll love the actionable techniques in this guide.”
6. Write with power and sensory words
As Smart Blogger shares, “Power words are persuasive, descriptive words that trigger a positive or negative emotional response. They can make us feel scared, encouraged, aroused, angry, greedy, safe, or curious.”
Power words push your audience in the direction you want them to follow. The active verbs and descriptive adjectives indicate, explain, and add action to your content.
This example from the Content Marketing Institute’s consulting services page uses many powerful phrases – let’s set up, figure out, and put together. It also starts each bullet with active verbs – educate, consult, assist, audit, provide, and conduct.
Sensory details in your content also matter. Sensory language appeals to five physical senses – helping readers see, hear, smell, taste, or touch your message. Use them throughout your content. Here are some ways to incorporate sensory details into headlines:
- 5 Tips for Turning Drab Information Into a Tantalizing Tutorial
- How To Avoid Using Cringeworthy Stock Photos in Your Content
- 12 Expert-Vetted Sample Business Plans to Help You Write Your Own
On HubSpot’s marketing services page, they scatter sensory-type words throughout – tough, juggling, stuck, scattered, lackluster, and fussing.
Why are sensory words so effective? Why do they captivate customers so much?
The human brain processes sensory words differently than ordinary ones. They activate the somatosensory cortex, which recognizes those words more quickly. In plain English, the brain processes non-sensory words as text. With sensory language, it processes scenes.
When painting scenes in a reader’s imagination, they experience your words as if they are in your story. Such content is your surefire way to stand out in the sea of grey, same-sound voices and influence the desire to take an action.
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7. Consider negative language
Aside from the FOMO seemingly mentioned in every second guide, fear of failure, loss, looking stupid, etc., often come into play in your audience’s minds. Fear is a primal human motivator. It triggers your audience to act. That’s why it can be your ally in persuasive content.
Use negative language in the content’s headings and intros. In this CMI article, the phrases “ban” and “right now” in the headline – Ban These Words and Phrases From Your Communications Right Now (an A-to-Y Guide) – could instill fear in the reader.
When people read negative words, such as damaging, idiot, crash, stuck, devious, fail, miss, ban, and never, they get confused, feel uncomfortable, and begin to worry, even if subconsciously. Here are three negative headlines based on three types of fear, as noted in the parentheses:
- That’s Why Your Blog Will Never Succeed (fear of failure)
- How to Network at Conferences If You’re Not an Extravert (fear of rejection)
- Are You Damaging Your Content With These 11 Mistakes? (fear of inadequacy)
Use your brain to get to theirs
Neuro writing applies language patterns to create persuasive, brain-friendly content. Write with human psychology in mind – and you’ll engage audiences, win their trust, and motivate them to choose your content and your brand.
It’s time to take these seven tricks to jump inside your audience’s heads and take your content marketing to the next level.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute