Persuasion Principles: How to Make Anyone Do (Almost) Anything

At the core of copywriting lies one major element — the bloody, beating heart that drives the intent behind any piece of commercial writing: persuasion.

If your copy isn’t trying to move the reader toward a specific goal, then what job is it doing? Why is it there? Why does it exist?

You might say the reason it’s there is to build your brand, to show off your skill or assert your authority within your marketplace… and therefore it isn’t actually trying to get the reader to do anything, because it isn’t selling.

You’d be wrong.

All of these forms — direct selling, brand building, customer communications, content… they’re all developed with persuasion in mind. The only difference is persuasion to what goal. Are you trying to persuade people to open their wallets? Are you trying to persuade them that your business is aligned with their beliefs, goals, hopes and values? Are you trying to persuade them that you’re at the top of the game in your niche?

See what I mean? You’re very, very rarely — if ever — writing business communications that aren’t in some way designed to nudge the reader down a certain path or toward a certain conclusion.

Yes, even your customer service messages are persuasive. When handling customer complaints or queries, your responses help to develop and cement their outlook and opinion on your business and your brand. Are you going to speak to them in a way that persuades them you simply don’t care? Or are you going to handle their feedback with language that tells them you’re on their side through thick and thin?

Think about that for a moment. And welcome to a new series here on Tales from the Copy Crypt: Persuasion Principles, where we’ll be delving into a number of core persuasion techniques that you can easily employ to see dramatically better returns on your copywriting.


Who do you trust the most in this world?

Can you think of one person on this planet you trust the most? One person who is so close to you, you’d do almost anything for them? Most likely, this person is your spouse, a sibling, parent or life-long friend. You know them intimately, and they know you just as well. It’s likely you share similar — if not identical — beliefs and personal values.

You see yourself reflected in them… and thus you trust them to make judgements based on conclusions of benefit that you yourself would make.

In this kind of relationship, there’s little you wouldn’t do for each other. Because you both trust the other person to do the best by you.

How does this translate to today’s talk of persuasion? Well, it’s made brilliantly succinct by Blair Warren and his “One Sentence Persuasion” construct:

People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.

Read that statement over a few times. Absorb it. Internalise it. Then turn around and take a moment to think just how closely it fits with the relationship between you and the person you were thinking about before.

They don’t have to satisfy all of the elements, but hit three out of five and you’re touching on someone who likely has quite a lot of influence over you.

And this applies directly to the copy you use when speaking to your customers and prospects.


Copywriting: Vindication plus persuasion

Successful copywriting depends on striking valid emotional chords within your prospect, and choosing one of the five approaches mentioned above is an excellent starting point.

Make it all about them, use your words to show that you support their dreams/goals, know and accept that they aren’t to blame when they’ve failed, can give them reasons not to be scared that make them nod their head, can vindicate their suspicions about certain people or things with compelling evidence and will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in solidarity against a common enemy.

Look around, and you’ll begin to see it just about everywhere — it’s rare you’ll see a piece of sales copy that doesn’t strike at least one of the above. You’ll also regularly see it employed by politicians and those in charge of public policy. Ever wonder why people constantly complain about voting for politicians based on promises they never deliver?

Half the time, said promise was inferred — through carefully chosen words touching on one or more of these five elements — and not explicitly given. The in-road is built early on, and the rest becomes a case of the listener or reader taking the message they want to take from what follows — because they simply don’t want to go through the effort of making the decision for themselves. It becomes much easier to guide someone down the path you choose when they’re convinced you have their best interests in mind — and the trustworthiness to advise them as such.

A major point here is that each of these things is emotional. They are not based primarily on logic. Logic can be used when allaying fear and confirming suspicions, but the entry point is always emotional. If, through your research, you can discover and mimic the exact language your prospect base would use when referring to the sources of their fears or suspicions, making that entry can be incredibly easy.

But be wary — try to squeeze all five targets into one piece and you’re likely to either a) overwhelm the reader and lead to confusion/analysis paralysis or b) become transparent in your efforts (the “tryhard” approach)… so try just picking one to begin, with a relevant angle to match.

And please, be ethical. The potential persuasive impact of these five small things is huge and you should never fuel them with outright lies, nor use them to convince people who have absolutely no need of your offer that they should be giving you money.

Then again, I don’t need to tell you that, do I? That’s why you’re here in the Crypt: We aren’t in business to rip off suckers.

Is this approach the be-all and end-all of persuasive copywriting? Not by a long shot — but it’s a rock solid footing that will up your game immeasurably. As this series goes on, we’ll dig into other and more complex techniques, including combination tactics.

But that, my friend, will come in good time.

For now, drop your comments in below and go forth… persuade, be your customer’s greatest advocate, help people, and profit.




Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a freelance copywriter and journalist based in Nottingham, UK. With close to a decade of experience writing content and copy within the film industry, and a background in Enterprise IT administration, he specialises in conversion copywriting and case studies for the Tech, Gaming and Software/SaaS industries. He's also a dab hand at generating leads for locally-focused SMEs through Facebook ads, connecting business messages to their target audience, increasing response and driving revenue. Contact him today and boost the impact of your marketing -- he might look angry, but he's a very friendly bloke. Honest!

You may also like...