By Jackie Barrie, Copywriter, Trainer & Author At Comms Plus
People queued up to use a photocopier. The experimenters would ask to queue jump. When they asked: 'May I use the copy machine?’ 60% of people let them go first.
When they asked: ‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?’ This request coupled with a reason had a 94% success rate.
Surprisingly, when they asked: ‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I have to make some copies?’ resulted in 93% success.
Just using the word ‘because’ triggered most people into thinking there was a good reason, even when there wasn’t.
Source: Ellen Langer, Harvard social psychologist
So how can this lesson be applied to marketing copy?
Well, you have to give people a reason to take action. If you want them to buy your product or service, you have to give them a reason to want it. If you want them to visit your website, pick up the phone or send you an email, you have to give them a reason to do that.
It’s said that the brain doesn’t process negative words such as ‘not’. What happens when you tell a teenager: “Don’t slam the door!” They slam it, of course. What would happen if you said: “Please close the door quietly”?
Similarly, what happens if you tell a child: “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!” They touch it, and learn by their own mistakes. What would happen if you said: “Leave that alone, it’s hot”?
Positive language is more powerful.
I once received a letter from my doctor that started: ‘Don’t worry, you have not got cancer.’ What??? I hadn’t even known that they were testing me for cancer!!!
So what did I do? Of course, I immediately started worrying. (I was OK, by the way.)
On the passenger information sign for South Eastern it reads: ‘You can help by...Reporting any unattended luggage (don’t be afraid to ask others if any luggage is theirs)’
Well, until I read that, it had never occurred to me to be afraid of the others. Now, I’m sitting there, and wondering who I should be afraid of and what I should be afraid about.
Why not rewrite it as: ‘If you see any unattended luggage, please:
- Ask your fellow passengers if it belongs to them
- Report it to a member of staff’
What’s the difference?
The original option uses the passive voice, and the alternative is more direct. Direct language is easier to follow (which is important, especially for a safety message like that, and where some of the readers may have English as a second language).
This is an extract from 'The Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing'
Jackie Barrie writes without waffle for websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures, leaflets and speeches, in fact, anything to help your company make more money. She is the author of ‘The Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing’ and ‘The Little Fish Guide to Networking’.
Find out more at www.comms-plus.co.uk or 0845 899 0258..
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