What makes them agree or disagree with what you write? What makes them form opinions about our products or services? What makes them buy?
We need to understand this, because the decisions people make, and the opinions they hold, are hardly ever based on careful, rational thinking.
We all like to think we form opinions and make decisions in a purely rational way, but we don’t.
As an example of how we avoid thinking too carefully, let’s take a look at…
Cause, Effect and Simple Answers.
Humans have a deep-seated desire for everything to make sense. If something happens, we immediately want to know why. What was the cause?
If you read the financial pages in your paper, you probably won’t find a headline that reads:
“Gold prices rise.”
You are more likely to see a headline like:
“Gold prices rise while Fed dithers.”
“Ferry sinks while captain holds VIP party.”
Every effect is paired with a cause. Open any newspaper, read a few articles and opinion pieces, and you’ll find examples of what I mean.
How does this apply to you as a copywriter? You can do the same kind of pairing, with the product or service taking the place of the cause.
For example, if I want to sell Herb XYZ as a way to lose weight, I might write:
“Mother loses 100 pounds after taking Herb XYZ.”
The cause of her losing weight is the herb.
Pairing cause and effect makes the story feel balanced and complete. This is why a cause and effect headline or subhead will usually work better than a simple statement, like “Herb XYZ helps you lose weight”.
Now for the issue of Simple Answers.
Did the price of gold really go down as a direct result of the Fed dithering? Probably not. Did the ferry sink only because the captain was at a VIP dinner? Probably not.
In both cases the cause, or answer, has been hugely simplified.
Returning to the example of gold for a moment, I recently saw two headlines on separate websites, on the same afternoon. The price of gold had spiked and then dipped fairly dramatically during the course of the day.
Here are the headlines:
“Gold price surges over chaos in Europe.”
“Gold prices fall over Eurozone uncertainty.”
One writer had declared Europe was the cause of gold prices rising, the other said Europe was the cause of prices falling.
They can’t both be right. In fact, they are both almost certainly wrong. The price of gold that day was undoubtedly influenced by dozens of contributing factors, changing minute by minute.
But we don’t like complexity. We like simplicity. We want to be fed simple answers…simple causes. Even if they are inaccurate or downright wrong.
You will never find a headline that says:
“Gold rises due to incredibly complex interplay of economic and political forces.”
Side Note: As an online marketer you might find an article that declares, “A/B Split Test proves that email subject lines under 49 characters in length increase open rates.” Simple cause and effect. The cause of increased open rates is the short subject line.
Are you sure? Are you sure it wasn’t because the two subject lines were different? (Which they had to be if one was shorter than the other.) Are you sure that while this was true for one subject line for one particular company and product or service that it would therefore be true for every marketer?
We buy into the simple answer because we want to. We want to find simple relationships between cause and effect.
For you, as a copywriter, this means that you should always present a simple cause.
“Mother loses 100 pounds after taking Herb XYZ, taking exercise, watching her diet and working with health coach.”
Too much information. Not a simple answer.
What this all means.
Your readers want to know why. They want a cause and effect. And they want a really simple answer, even if you know the answer is actually quite complicated.
Using another example, I saw an article yesterday with the headline:
“Too much TV causes childhood obesity.”
Really? I think we all know there are other contributing factors. But to list them would have made for a long and boring headline.
To witness “Cause, Effect and Simple Answers” take over the airways, pay close attention to the rhetoric running up to the US election this year.
“Unemployment soars over Congress stalemate.”
“Obamacare stunts economic growth.”
And so on. Each headline contains a cause and effect. And each provides a hugely over-simplified answer to a complex issue. But the interested parties will use headlines like these because they are a fast and powerful way to form opinions and influence choices.
Remember this as you write your copy and content. Nobody wants the full answer. They want a simple answer. They want a nice and tidy balance between cause and effect. They want everything to make sense, in the simplest way possible.
About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach. Read more…