Copywriters: Never try to change your prospects’ minds.

can't change someone's mindWhen you’re writing copy, the easiest way to close the sale is to write in a way that keeps your readers nodding in agreement.

The toughest approach you can ever take is to try to change the reader’s mind.

In fact, within the context of writing sales copy, it is pretty much impossible to change someone’s mind.

Let’s look at an example – trying to sell cheese that is made from raw milk.

Out of all the people who are in a position to buy this cheese, there are two groups.

The first group believes that raw foods are good for you, and that the various bacteria found in raw milk are also good for you.

The second group believes that raw milk is dangerous, and that the bacteria could make you sick, or even kill you.

Out of that first group, you have a very good chance of making some sales.

Out of the second group you will likely make no sales at all.

In fact, you could write the best copy of your life to that second group, and still not make a single sale.

How come? Because however persuasive you are, however many scientific studies you quote, however much proof you offer, your reader will resist you because of the hugely discomforting effect of cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance? It’s the discomfort you feel when you try to reconcile two conflicting ideas or thoughts in your mind.

For example, someone who doesn’t believe raw milk is safe might feel uncomfortable reading about all the scientific studies that say it is safe. To alleviate the discomfort, that person might then decide that the studies are bogus, or fabricated by the League of Raw Milk Lovers.

Another example might be the good kid who gets angry with his brother and breaks one of his toys. Ouch. He feels cognitive dissonance because he felt justified in breaking the toy, but also knows it was a bad thing to do. To alleviate the discomfort he might decide that his brother asked for it, or started the argument. Once he has decided it’s all his brother’s fault, the discomfort is relieved.

Cognitive dissonance is a hugely powerful force in our minds and our lives.

We need to make sense of our lives and our beliefs, so we avoid ideas and beliefs that contradict what we already think is right or true.

Try convincing a gold bug that the price of gold isn’t being manipulated. Try changing the mind of someone who doesn’t believe in global warming. Try persuading someone in a bad relationship that it isn’t the other person’s fault. Try telling a Mets fan that they should cheer for the Yankees.

You won’t succeed, because your listener will go to any length to justify their current belief. To even consider the alternative is just too uncomfortable.

This impacts selling and copywriting, because you will almost never be able to change your audience’s current beliefs.

As you write your copy, your reader needs to be nodding his or her head.

In practical terms, this means researching your audience, digging deep and unearthing one or more of their deeply held beliefs. Step two is to find a way to present your sales message in such a way as to support or endorse that belief.

For example, I might write different messages to sell the same product to three different audience types.

If I were selling a Fair Trade coffee to health food lovers, I would put the emphasis on the fact that the coffee is organic.

If I were selling to gourmet coffee lovers, I would emphasize the quality of the beans.

If I were selling to people concerned about social justice, I would talk more about the fair payment made to the coffee growers.

I always try to be in concert with my audience’s beliefs, and absolutely avoid disagreeing with or challenging those beliefs.

This may sound obvious, but all too many copywriters interpret “persuasive” copywriting as meaning that one persuades a reader to change his or her mind.

Not going to happen.

Your job is to persuade the reader to do something they are already inclined to do.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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18 thoughts on “Copywriters: Never try to change your prospects’ minds.

  1. Nick,
    I’ve been following you for a while, but this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog. I think this is such a great post. It’s something I remind myself of constantly when writing copy, because it’s well worth remembering.

  2. You’re absolutely right. I think one of the traits that great copywriters have is being able to combine the thought-threads that their target audience has floating around in their mind into one tough cord.
    Make their convictions stronger, make the reader feel confident that this product will do them good and improve their life, and keeping in line with their values and what they believe in to boot. Thanks for the article!

  3. It’s the hardest thing in the world, to change somebody’s mind.

    This is why it’s so essential to find a niche — to discover and cultivate an audience who will be RECEPTIVE to your persuasive message.

    Not everybody can be, or will be, or wants to be “sold,” so don’t even try it.

    The fine art of persuasion, to a very great extent, is about demonstrating to others that they are RIGHT.

  4. Hi Nick,

    Great article. Thank you. A good ah-hah/ DUH moment. Write for those who want and like what I do and not worry so much or at all about those who want something else.

    All the best,

  5. HI Nick,
    A mentor of mine says, “Find the traffic that’s headed in your direction, then get in front of it”. He does not say, find traffic that’s moving and then make it turn in your direction because clearly, that’s much much harder as you explain so well here. This is a very clear and useful explanation of this topic. Thank you!

    Glad I found this on Copyblogger’s list this morning and I hope lots of others pop over as well 🙂

  6. Cheryl, hi. I’m glad you found it too! And yes, way too many copywriters think their craft is about changing people’s minds. Not so! ; ) BTW,if you liked this article, here is another you might enjoy: The most powerful sales approach of all can be found in our craving for certainty. http://write.nu/udOThp

  7. Thanks Nick. Why is something so profound as this not taught in marketing school or practised by more of the self-styled marketing gurus out there? Really goes to the heart of what all consumers ultimately want to hear: “What’s in it for ME?” I’m sacking my ad agency today!

  8. Hey Nick, thanks a lot for the post! I’ve heard about cognitive dissonance so many times but never actually took time to research what’s that. 🙂

    Still I think you CAN persuade people with your copy. You just have to be reasonable enough not to toggle their cognitive dissonance.. that’s it.. Like your story with a good kid – once he had enough reasoning, his dissonance vanished 🙂

    your thoughts? 🙂

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