8 Behavioral Psychology Tips To Make Your Copywriting More Persuasive

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I’m Courtney Fanning the copywriting and brand strategy brains behind Big Picture. I use my literal master’s in selling stories to help 1:1 clients and DIY students write purpose-driven copy that sells and scales. 

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Written by Courtney
Copywriting & brand strategy brains behind Big Picture.

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When I made the switch from the world of creative book marketing campaigns to the data-driven world of tech, the biggest hurdle was justifying my ideas.  Everything from event sponsorships to hero headlines was countered with “why”?

  • Why should our copy say this instead of that?

  • How do you actually know this will work?

  • What does the data say?


The availability of data has shifted the way marketers (and anyone running an online business) make decisions. And in many ways, having concrete information that de-risks a decision, rather than hoping your hunch is correct is a real win.


But humans are also irrational, emotionally-driven creatures. The adage goes: “We buy with emotion and justify with logic.”


Some things can’t be explained with 0s and 1s. This is where the world of behavioral psychology comes in to save the day—to explain what can’t be quantified, but has been tested.


There are many behavioral psychology principles marketers use to up the chance of a sale, but this post will focus on tactics you can use to make your copy more persuasive.


NOTE: This post is not about luring in cold traffic (those totally unfamiliar with you and your solution) or tricking people into buying something using scarcity or deception. This post is about optimizing your copy to showcase the value you’re offering so your readers don’t miss it. It’s about using your understanding of the human brain and what motivates us for good. 

Here are the 8 most effective behavioral psychology principles you can use to make your copywriting more persuasive.

The Priming Effect

Use brand words that relate to your reader’s desires.

The priming effect says that your actions and decisions are influenced by the things you see and hear prior to a situation—often without realizing it. This has a lot to do with memory associations.


In one study, interviewees who had to unscramble a list of “rude” words were more likely to interrupt the interviewer following the activity than those primed with neutral and polite words. Retailers often use music, smell (paging Abercrombie & Fitch), and lighting to put shoppers into a certain kind of mood.


How to use this in your copywriting:

If you haven’t started your Copy Bank, or downloaded 100+ Power Words To Boost Conversions, now is the time. Word associations have a powerful effect on how your brand and offers are perceived. Prime your readers with brand words that illicit a desired emotion.


If you’re reading a sales page for a coaching program you might use words like motivate, transform, resilient, and abundance. If you offer high-end luxury products, your audience wants to feel sophisticated, glossy, and walk into the room with that je ne sais quoi effect. (Oui!) Sweep your copy and apply accordingly.


The Pratfall Effect

Position yourself as the expert but admit your flaws.

The Pratfall Effect states that people who are considered highly competent are found to be more likable after they perform an everyday blunder. Imperfections, can, in fact, make you more attractive.


This was originally tested using actors who were recorded answering a series of questions. The actors who were perfectly poised and answered all the questions correctly were voted less likable than the actor who answered most of the questions correctly, but spilled coffee on his shirt and fessed up to his clumsiness.


Listerine once had an ad that said “Listerine, I hate it but I love it.” This nod to its astringent taste immediately calls out the common objection to using the product. It works because Listerine has a solid reputation backed by dentists and health officials.


How to use this in your copywriting: 

In full transparency, I use this one a lot. When you’re positioning yourself as the expert in the room the pressure to be a model of perfection is overwhelming. Anyone who pretends to have all the answers, looks like “they woke up like this”, and never had an offer flop is a big fat phony.


The goal here to us to be real. Balance your authority by flaunting your flaws in the appropriate setting. I wouldn’t recommend doing this on your sales or services pages, but more intimate communications like email newsletters. More and more brands are using a personal, voice-driven tone instead of corporate speak. Try inserting humor into your microcopy, and don’t be afraid to fess up when you’ve messed up. I love a witty 404 page for building back that trust after a broken link snafu.


Loss Aversion

Highlight what’s at stake but avoid overly negative framing.

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it’s the human tendency to be more interested in preventing a loss than gaining the equivalent upside. Amazon does this by showing you how much money you’ve saved and how much savings you’ll miss out on if you unsubscribe from Prime shipping.


How to use this in your copywriting: 

Showing your readers what they will miss out on without using scarcity tactics is to not give ultimatums (more on this in the next example). The key to using loss aversion in your copywriting is to find a balance between positive and negative framing. Anytime you mention pain points, you want the section to invite your readers to imagine a future where those problems are a thing of the past.


If you have a limited number of coaching slots or client openings, add a line next to your CTA (call-to-action) button that lets people know you’re full up and currently only booking for Q2. You’re not taking the option to work with you off the table, but they will lose their chance to work with you right now.


The “But You Are Free” Effect

Don’t aggressively pressure the decision-maker.

The BYAF Effect states that telling you, you don’t have to do something makes you more likely to in fact, do that thing. The Thinker buyer type is all about the BYAF Effect. Buyers who need more time to make a decision and fear buyer’s remorse will bounce if they feel pinned against the wall. Make your case for what you think they should do and why, but make it clear they are free to make whichever choice.


I always think about the Reading Rainbow book review catchphrase, “but you don’t have to take my word for it…” and you bet your tushy I did! Mr. Burton was clearly on to something and I had to know what he was so coy about! Filming other kids giving their opinion of the book was the genius social proof that had me marching into my mom’s office, car keys in hand demanding we make (another) trip to the public library before someone else scooped up The Keeping Quilt. (IYKYK) If Mr. Burton told me, point blank, to go to the library and get this book, I’d surely have filed it in the “you’re not the boss of me” part of my brain and promptly ignored him.


How to use this in your copywriting:

Study your CTAs. Remind your readers that they can “Unsubscribe at any time”. Don’t put undue pressure on a prospective client during the proposal process. If you do lay down timelines, don’t make them tight. Give them 48 hours before checking in. Look at the language you use—are you “revoking their proposal” or “opening up the opportunity to your waitlist”?


If you have buttons on your sales page and you’re directing readers to click one button to pay in full and one button to select the payment plan option, play around with microcopy or button copy that says [Let’s do this!] and [This option works best for me!] It’s a subtle difference that gives agency back to your readers and glides them into a conversion instead of slamming them against a wall and demanding their money. 😉


The Focusing Effect

Master your hook and reiterate it in different ways to stay top of mind.

The Focusing Effect says you make decisions based on the most pronounced or distinct information in your brain. It’s basically your brain’s way of saving energy. When you need to make a decision, instead of racking your brain for every single data point you could use to make that decision, you just skim the top of the cream. Whichever memories or associations are top-of-mind will greatly influence your actions. 


How to use this in your copywriting:

The Focusing Effect plays out like a champ when it comes to your headlines and your hook. Your headers have to come out of the gates with a sticky idea that hooks your readers (“You don’t need another self-paced copywriting course you’ll abandon after module two.”) and then you need to reiterate that idea several times throughout the page. You’re not repeating the exact same phrasing, but finding different ways to say it or back this claim up.


I teach my Copywriting Cohort Course students not to be afraid of repeating themselves. If someone is skimming your page, they’re looking for something to catch their eye and anchor themselves to. Then, when they are fatigued or disinterested they will start skimming again. You need to drive your hook home so no one misses it. 


Another way to use the Focusing Effect to your advantage is to use copy or microcopy just before your CTAs and buttons. This is like your reader’s final reminder that if they want the solution you’re promising, clicking the button or contact link is how it happens.


BONUS EFFECT: The Illusory Truth Effect shows that the more we hear a statement, the more we believe it. 


The Primacy/Recency Effect

Optimize your headers, bullets, and lists for easier recall.

If you’ve ever had to memorize a list of words you’ve experienced the Primacy/Recency Effect in full force. This principle states that you are most likely to remember the first and last item in a sequence.


How to use this in your copywriting:

A well-structured sales or services page will always begin and end the page with the same messaging. In my copywriting templates, I call this the “Last Chance Recap”. The hook you introduced at the top of the page should be reiterated at the end. This brings everything full circle and completes the loop (What, Why, So What?, Who, How).


If you use bullet points or lists in your copy, place the most enticing or desirable items at the top and bottom of the list. If your body copy is getting long pay particular attention to your first and last sentences, as these are the ones skimmers are most likely to read.


And finally, use the post-script (P.S.) to highlight a final call-to-action in an email. This is an effective way of clarifying the purpose of your email and driving readers to act.


The Cognitive Fluency Effect

Write simply.

The Cognitive Fluency Effect shows that the easier it is to understand something, the more likely it will be perceived as true.


How to use this in your copywriting:

Write simply and don’t get poetic with your headlines (a trend I’m so glad we’re no longer doing.) Get rid of excessive adjectives and overly complex sentences. For example, you’re more likely to trust a tagline that reads, “The most versatile beauty product for modern moms” over “The most nourishing, effective, and clean beauty product for modern moms and caregivers on the go.


(As an overly verbose writer, this is where I have to flex my editing skills and use my delete button with abandon! 😉 


Another place where you can simplify your copy is to break down your benefits or process sections using the 1-2-3 trick. I challenge my students to insert three columns into their copy doc and describe the three most desirable benefits of using their product or service or to give me the most high-level overview of their process. “First you do this, then we’ll do this, then we’ll wrap up with this.”


The Open Loop Effect

Engage your reader’s curiosity.

The Open Loop Effect pairs well with another behavioral favorite: curiosity. Your brain likes a closed loop. Once it has engaged with a problem or a story you need to know how it ends. Charles Dickens’ work and the tales from the Nights of Arabia became massively popular because they always ended with a cliffhanger. Readers were eager for the next installment because our brains need resolution. 


How to use this in your copywriting:

Sum up learnings or takeaways with a “click to find out” approach This is particularly helpful in content writing—we’ve all read a clickbait article or two—but you can also use it within your blog posts, ebooks, podcast show notes, and long-form content to rack up keywords and excite readers to scroll through.

For example:

 In this post I’ll be sharing:

  • The 8 most effective ways to use behavioral psychology in your copy (and the one I use most often.)

  • The surprising attribute that makes you more likableHow your readers really feel about adjectives.

  • The one thing Amazon does to retain subscribers who want to leave.

How To Use Psychology in Copywriting 

By applying basic psychological principles to your copywriting you can build trust and increase conversions. Here’s a summary of the eight most effective principles:

  1. The Priming Effect – Use brand words that relate to your reader’s desires.
  2. The Pratfall Effect – Position yourself as the expert but admit your flaws.
  3. Loss Aversion – Highlight what’s at stake but avoid overly negative framing.
  4. “But You Are Free” Effect – Don’t aggressively pressure the decision-maker.
  5. Focusing Effect – Master your hook and reiterate it in different ways to stay top of mind.
  6. Primacy/Recency Effect – Optimize your headers, bullets, and lists for easier recall.
  7. Cognitive Fluency Effect – Write simply.
  8. Open Loop Effect – Engage your reader’s curiosity. 

If you found this article helpful…

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