Advanced Copywriting Strategies: Evoke Emotion That Leads To Action

This blog post is part of a series of blog posts about Advanced Copywriting Strategies — the next level ideas and methods that can help you become a better copywriter.

Aaron Hoos, Copywriter

“I cried when I read what you wrote.”

A client said that to me a couple years ago in response to a video sales letter I’d written.

It was a wake-up call for me and, looking back, I think it helped to elevate my skill as a copywriter by establishing a powerful benchmark that I’d never encountered before. Since then I’ve done a lot of writing for that client and I ask myself, “Would these words evoke the same emotional response?”

A basic/beginner copywriter is told to identify the benefits of a solution and create copy around those benefits. So, to borrow the often-cited example of a drill, most people would talk about the drill while the basic/beginner copywriter will (correctly) focus on the holes.

But is that all there is?

No. That’s a great start and it’s a skill that every copywriter (and salesperson) needs to develop and hone. But there’s a next level: rather than selling the product and its features… and rather than selling the solution and its benefits… the advanced copywriter will build an emotional connection with the reader and evoke that emotion through the copy.

Why Emotions?

So, why build an emotional connection with your client? What makes this an Advanced Copywriting Strategy, especially if you can write effective copy simply by selling the benefits of the product or service?

Well, what’s advanced in copywriting is basic in sales: Ask any salesperson how people decide to buy and they’ll tell you that people buy on emotion. Even purchases that seem to be made on logic are really made on emotion… and the logic simply backs up the sale and allows the customer to justify the purchase in their own mind.

Mediocre copy sells the drill.
Good copy sells the holes.
Great copy sells the feeling you get when you’re listening to your kids laugh with glee as they play on their new swingset, and the confidence you’ll feel that it will hold together securely so your children can play safely for years to come.

See the difference? The first is focused on the features; the second is focused on the benefits; the third is focused on the emotion of the result.

There is no logical sale. Even large sales (like houses and cars) are emotional; even B2B sales are emotional to some degree, usually driven by the emotions that the decision-maker hopes to get from the purchase.

So, the copywriter who becomes a master of emotion will create copy that sells. And this is exactly what I tell aspiring copywriters when they ask me what skills they need to become a great copywriter. It has little to do with the grammar; I always advise that they become masters of emotion by studying psychology.

Understanding Emotions

There are a lot of emotions out there. Can you become a master of each one?

This is an area I’ve been thinking about for years. Which emotions should I focus on? Which should I learn and master? Which are useful for sales?

In fact, you can see some of my past thoughts on emotion in copywriting (and in the sales funnel as a whole) in a blog post series I wrote a few years ago on the 7 basic human emotions. In my studies at the time I’d read that there were only 7 basic human emotions from which all other emotions were derived, so I wrote a blog post series to examine each emotion and how to use it in copywriting and sales funnels. It’s still a really valuable resource, IMO. You can bookmark the tag — 7 basic human emotions — or you may want to dig into each of the seven — anger, fear, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness, and surprise.

My thinking on the topic has not changed, although my exploration of emotions has prompted a lot of thinking and research since that series. And there’s a really powerful image that I think should be on every copywriter’s wall that helps you understand emotion more effectively.

It’s Robert Plutchik’s Wheel Of Emotions.


Wheel Of Emotions from Wikipedia (Public Domain work)

This depicts 8, not 7, emotions as the base emotions (closer to the center) — ecstasy, admiration, terror, amazement, grief, loathing, rage, vigilance. And as emotions fade in intensity or mingle with other emotions, you get different emotions.

Of course no list or map of emotions will be completely accurate but it’s a helpful starting point to think about and write to an emotional state.

Empathy Map

Okay, so you know you should be writing about emotions and you have a list of possible emotions as a starting point, what now?

Now you need to see what your reader is feeling or wants to feel. I’ll write more about the reader in the future but, in short, you need to do some analysis on what the reader feels so that you can connect with them effectively.

One of the best tools for that is Xplane’s Empathy Map. It’s a simple diagram that prompts you to consider what your audience is seeing, hearing, saying, thinking, and feeling. I’m not going to include a picture here because I believe the Empathy Map has a copyright attached to it but you can easily go to Xplane’s site and check out this blog post to learn how to use the Empathy Map and to download a really slick looking version of it, or just Google “Empathy Map” and see the very simple diagram for yourself.

Choose one emotion

Once you’ve done some thinking and research about emotions and what your audience might be feeling, then you need to choose one emotion and start writing your copy to evoke that emotion.

I suggest you choose one emotion because not only does that make it easier for you to focus and write, it also helps the reader stay on track and allows that one emotion to become the catalyst for change. If you bounce between (for example) happiness, sadness, frustration, contempt, joy, worry… then you’ll diminish the effectiveness of your copy.

The emotion you choose could be either tied to the problem or tied to the solution.

Problem-specific emotions are painful emotions that your audience is feeling now (or tends to feel now) while the solution-specific emotions are joyful/relief emotions that your audience wants to feel.

In spite of my recommendation above to only choose one emotion, it’s possible that you might start with a negative problem-specific emotion now and then transition to a positive solution-specific emotion at your call to action. However, if this is new to you then you may want to just start with one.

So, for example, you might start with a negative problem-specific emotion that your readers are feeling and you write your copy around it, and the call to action is to simply take that negative emotion away. Or, for example, you might start with the positive solution-specific emotion that your readers want to feel and you write your copy around it, and the call to action is to simply get that positive emotion. So, it is possible to deal with just one emotion in your copy.

The copy I mentioned earlier that made my client cry was about a client’s business strategy seminar that he was selling. And, the copy I wrote was focused on the negative problem-specific emotions and it reminded him of how hard it was in the early days of his business.

Build The Bridge

Once you know what emotion you want to use in your copy, it’s time to start writing.

One of the biggest challenges I face, especially in some topics or industries, is wondering: “How will I ever write about this problem effectively if I haven’t actually experienced the same problem?”

For example, as a real estate investing copywriter, I write for many different kinds of real estate investors. And, while I have a ton of experience in the industry as an investor, there are times when I need to write some sales copy for one of their audiences about a problem that I’ve never dealt with.

One example is foreclosures. I’ve never been through a bankruptcy or foreclosure, so how do I write about it? When I encounter this internal rebuttal in my mind, I think back to a professor in my undergrad degree who taught me psychology and counseling. Her name was Margi (yes, we had to call her by her first name) and she was a character! haha. I’m chuckling remembering her memorable classes. Anyway, she had been a professional counselor and someone asked her a similar question, “How can we counsel someone on one issue or another if we’ve never experienced that issue ourselves?”

I’ll never forget Margi’s response. She said, “I’m not married but I can counsel people on marriage because I’ve been in love and I’ve experienced loss.” (That was a shortened/paraphrased version but you get the point.)

You may not experience the exact problem or situation that your reader is experiencing but you likely have experienced the same emotion. So, before you write, access that emotion and consider all the things you felt and thought and said when you had that emotion.

I was able to write evocative copy about business struggles for my client because there was a time, nearly 2 decades ago, when I experienced similar things even though I’m in a different industry. The emotion was the same and I tapped into that effectively.

Word Pictures

Once you have accessed the emotion yourself, it becomes much easier to write. And, rather than writing about features and benefits, write word pictures about the emotion.

And here is where copywriters become creative writers. But you don’t want to simply pile on adjectives or adverbs; rather, you want to hold up a mirror to your readers’ lives and show them what they are feeling now or what they could be feeling (depending on whether you are using the problem-specific emotion or the solution-specific emotion).

A problem-specific emotional use might explore the following: Is your reader so frustrated about their problem that they are frozen? Don’t talk about the problem, talk about being frozen and what that means and what the result is and their emotions are about the result.

A solution-specific emotional use might look like what I already discussed earlier with the drill. Notice that the advanced copywriting version didn’t even mention the drill but rather discussed the glee-filled shouts of his children’s voices as they played on the swingset.

By creating these stories to make your point and to compel action, you will stir up the emotion for your reader and get him or her thinking about how to take action — either to eliminate the emotion or to achieve it.

Use the Empathy Map you created earlier to help you create copy that resonates with your reader. Look at what they are seeing, hearing, and saying and write about that as if it was happening to them. Look at what they are thinking and write about that as if you’re thinking the same thing. Look at what they are feeling and weave those emotions through all of your copy.

Become A Master Of Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand an emotion that someone else is feeling and relate to the other person in that emotion. I’d go a step further and say that the true masters of empathy are those that learn to feel the same emotion that someone else is feeling.

Practice empathy with others (and use that ability for good to enhance your relationships, of course!) but then leverage that same skill in your writing to evoke emotions and then show that you can relate to your reader.

You will build trust with your reader by proving that you understand the exact emotion they are feeling and that you also feel it too… and then you can lead your reader toward action by showing them how you dealt with that emotion in the past.

Tips

  • Hold just one person in your mind and write to that person. The more real they are, the better.
  • Want to learn more about emotions? Wikipedia has an insanely useful and comprehensive guide right here.
  • People will more actively seek to eliminate pain than they will to achieve pleasure so there’s a good chance you’ll have better-converting copy by starting with a negative emotion. This isn’t always the case but it’s a good rule of thumb.
  • Learn to tell very short stories. Read one-sentence stories and even haikus for examples of emotionally-evocative language that communicates a story in very little language.
  • I’m not saying that your copy should be devoid of logic. You’ll follow a flow of logic to build the emotion, and, you’ll want logic because people will justify their purchase decisions with logic; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to include logical elements because people think they need them. However, the main thread of your copy is emotion.
  • The effectiveness of your copy is dependent on one thing: your ability to evoke the emotion to a strong enough degree that your reader either becomes desperate to stop it (the negative ones) or get it (the positive ones). If your copy is not converting, consider digging deeper and working harder to evoke stronger feelings.

Summary

Will your readers cry when they read your work? If not, go back and look at your work and consider what might help to raise the emotional quotient in your copy to better build an emotional connection and to evoke an emotional reaction from your client.