How to Use Brain Triggers to Write Stellar Website Copy

In 1923, master copywriter Claude Hopkins published a book called Scientific Advertising.

It went on to sell more than eight million copies.

Today, the book is widely considered the foundation of direct marketing.

“Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times,” wrote renowned ad man, David Ogilvy. “It changed the course of my life. If you read this book, you will never write another bad advertisement.”

Scientific Advertising helped Ogilvy, and it will help you, too. It’ll change the way your research your market. It’ll change the way you write copy. Moreover, it’ll inform the psychological triggers — the words and angles — you use to compel prospects to buy things.

Let me explain.

6 Brain Triggers Copywriters Use to Drive Sales

One of the most important chapters in Scientific Advertising is “Chapter 6: Psychology.”

“The competent advertising man must understand psychology,” writes Hopkins. “The more he knows about it the better. He must learn that certain effects lead to certain actions.”

Throughout the chapter, he highlights a handful of specific effects (i.e., triggers) that compel consumers.

Worried this information is outdated?

Don’t be. Our brains don’t evolve that fast.

“Human nature is perpetual,” writes Hopkins. “In most respects, it is the same today as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring. You will never need to unlearn what you learn about them.”

That said, feel free to use these triggers across just about any marketing asset, including your next website content refreshlanding page, email sequence, press release, pay-per-click campaign, banner ad, or direct mailer.

These triggers are timeless and versatile. They’re proven after decades of testing countless ads. Now, they’re yours for the taking. Here’s what you need to know:

You can trigger prospects with:

1. The Unknown

Hopkins writes:

“Curiosity is one of the strongest human incentives. We employ it whenever we can.”

People love exploring. It’s in our nature, meaning we’re biologically driven to investigate our world rather than merely respond to it. This drive is the basis of human curiosity, which is baked into us.

Our brains are hardwired to want to satisfy our curiosity. That’s what makes it such an effective buying trigger.

Let’s look at this modern example:

The unknown example

This Facebook ad leverages something called the information gap.

“Information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation,” writes behavioral economist, George Loewenstein. “The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”

“See the $1.5 million Kickstarter,” reads the copy. Kickstarter’s success generates curiosity: What could be this good?

Of course, the only way to satisfy that curiosity is to click the “Learn More” button.

Editors at Buzzfeed use this tactic to create compelling headlines. Writers on TV shows use it create cliffhangers that keep audiences coming back episode after episode. Marketers and copywriters use it to create ads that command attention — always have, always will.

2. High Prices

Hopkins writes:

“We learn that cheapness is not a strong appeal. [People] are extravagant. They want bargains but not cheapness. They want to feel that they can afford to eat and have and wear the best. Treat them as if they could not and they resent your attitude.”

How much something costs tell the consumer a story — consciously or otherwise — about that product’s quality. The price of an item can paint a vivid picture.

Imagine a $10,000 watch. What do you see? Is it a luxury timepiece? Is it gold-plated? Is it powered by a mechanical movement that will last a lifetime? Are you picturing a Rolex? Now, image a $100 watch. What do you see? Is it utilitarian? Does it run on a battery? Are you picturing a Timex?

“An item’s price, by itself, delivers useful, and sometimes diagnostic information about the product,” writes Utpal Dholakia, Ph.D. “High prices attract consumers when assessing quality is difficult.”

Let’s look at this classic example:

High prices example

The consumer has no way to discern the quality of Old Grand-Dad Special Selection, so this leans on the product’s high price to demonstrate its value.

“It’s expensive, yes,” reads the copy. “But it’s also exceptional. And isn’t that what matters to somebody who appreciates fine Bourbon most of all?”

3. Their Names, in Print

Hopkins writes:

“When [people] know something belongs to them — something with their name on it — they will make an effort to get it, even though the thing is a trifle.”

When you hear or read your name, your brain activity explodes. Your middle frontal cortex, your middle and superior temporal cortex, and your cuneus all light up with activity.

This chemical reaction signals that what you’re about to read or hear is relevant to you.

“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is why personalized calls-to-action convert 202% better than non-personalized CTAs. It’s why event marketers send out dynamic email invitations to “stop by the booth, [prospect’s name]!”

It’s also why personalized chachkies — like keychains and mugs adorned with popular names — continue to sell around the world.

Let’s look at this modern example:

Coca Cola Example

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign is a fantastic personalization case study because of its profound success:

  • It increased Coke consumption from 1.7 to 1.9 billion servings a day.
  • It made #shareacoke the #1 global trending topic on social media.
  • It helped the brand gain 25 million Facebook followers.

The secret behind this response? The campaign gave people ownership over a ubiquitous product. It made people feel unique.

That’s the power of personalization.

4. “Try before you buy!”

Hopkins writes:

“Many articles are sold under guarantee — so commonly sold that guarantees have ceased to be impressive.”

People get used to things. We get used to our surroundings, to other people, even to our own emotions. Basically, our brains acclimate to anything our senses experience on a consistent basis.

This is called Habituation, or the tendency to have decreased responsiveness to something.

Habituation is especially common in advertising. Words like “Free” and “Sale” and “Guarantee” get used so often that they lose their meaning, their appeal.

Want to garner your prospect’s attention? Be different.

Let’s look at this classic example:


In the 1940s, when this ad was written, every bicycle company offered a “Money-Back Guarantee!” to customers: “Try it for a week. If you don’t like it, then we’ll return your money.”

MEAD’s “Try Before You Buy!” campaign was effectively the same offer: “Try it for a week. If you like it, then pay for us.”

The latter was more impressive. Not because it was better, but rather because it was new and novel, different.

5. Persona-Based Exclusivity

Hopkins writes:

“An offer [that] is limited to a certain class of people is far more effective than a general offer. For instance, an offer limited to veterans of the war. Or to members of a lodge or sect. Or to executives.”

Marketers have been using deadlines (e.g., “Order before midnight!”) and scarcity claims (e.g., “Only 10 remaining!”) to sell things for as long as advertising has existed. Exclusivity is an excellent persuasion tool because it makes the consumer feel FOMO.

FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, gives us a taste of the pain we’ll experience if we wait too long.

And while deadlines and scarcity claims target everyone, persona-based exclusivity speaks to an ultra-specific group of people — and that segmentation can make the FOMO even more intense.

Let’s look at this modern example:

persona based example

Every summer, Apple runs a limited-time “Back to School” promotion: If you’re a college student, a professor, or a faculty member at a K-12 school, buying a Mac will get you a separate Apple product for free.

Year after year, this campaign is successful because it makes students and teachers everywhere feel special, deserving. It sets them apart and elevates their status. This appeal to the ego can be very compelling. Plus …

“Those who are entitled to any seeming advantage,” writes Hopkins, “will go a long way not to lose that advantage.”

6. “Try our rivals!”

Hopkins writes:

“Buyers [are] careful to get the brand so conspicuously superior that its make could court a trial of the rest.”

Confidence is charming and engaging, attractive.

Confident brands, like confident people, know where they stand. They’re comfortable with their capacity and competence and, in turn, welcome comparisons to the competition. In fact, they encourage it.

Comparisons are a form of proof, which makes them incredibly persuasive.

Let’s look at this classic example:

Our rivals example

This ad is selling a typewriter by selling a feeling.

Notice there’s no messaging around features or benefits. Nothing about warranties or testimonials. It only reads:

Before you buy the new Royal Electric Typewriter, please do yourself, your secretary, and your company this service: try all the makes of electric typewriters. Try them for touch, for print work, for any feature you wish. Only this way can you really know the worth of the choice you will make.

Did the copywriter really expect people to do this? Probably not.

But she understood that suggesting it, boldly and in print, would convey extreme confidence about the product’s quality — and that made all the difference.

“Certain effects lead to certain actions.”

One well-placed word or turn-of-phrase can explode an ad’s response.

The trick is knowing that word or angle or turn-of-phrase.

Now you know.

Guest Post By: Eddie Shleyner


Eddie is a Columnist at HubSpot and the Founder of VeryGoodCopy started in 2014, where Eddie publishes articles about copywriting, content marketing, and psychology.

The post How to Use Brain Triggers to Write Stellar Website Copy appeared first on Zenman.

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