I hope we can all agree that words only represent arbitrary symbols that convey some sort of meaning. So naturally, they are limited in the sense of impact they make.
But images? Images are a different story.
Images convey immediate meaning and produce instant impact.
That’s why your copywriting will hit harder and become much more memorable and persuasive if your words can create a mental image in the head of the person reading them (or listening to them.)
Your goal as a copywriter is to *create* that image through the mental visual association carried by each word.
Because if the mental image you paint with your words isn’t compelling enough, your words are going to be ignored. Plain and simple.
Here’s my point proven in a 2009 study titled “Electrophysiological Differences in The Processing of Affective Information in Words and Pictures.”
“Our data suggest that emotional information exerts a different influence on the processing of pictures, as compared with the processing of words. This seems to be true at least when stimuli have to be processed quickly, without focusing the attention on their emotional or semantic content, and when they are embedded in a stream of nonemotional stimuli. It has been suggested that emotional stimuli need to exceed a critical threshold value before they are able to capture attention.”
That’s why when you’re writing copy, and you want to really want to make an impact on your reader (or downright glue them to their screen,) it’s important that you’re able to transform your words into compelling mental images.
Here are a few of my “trick-up-the-sleeve” techniques for doing exactly that.
TIP #1 — TRANSFORM INTANGIBLE CONCEPTS INTO CATCHY METAPHORS
I love it when “copywriters” use adjectives like “high-quality”, “reliable”, “safe”, etc.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not effective when it comes to marketing and selling because you can’t really “see” them. You can’t visualize intangible concepts.
How do you visualize quality or reliability?
Whoever is reading your copy will share the same difficulty of being unable to visualize these intangible concepts.
And when you’re not creating an emotional impact, you’re not giving them any insensitive to take action, so your copy is, ironically, falling on deaf ears.
That’s where metaphors come in and save the day.
Metaphors allow you to give life to intangible concepts. They instantly create visual mental associations and place an image in the reader’s head, enhancing the emotional impact and persuasiveness of your copy.
This is the reason why you see so many insurance companies use logos that include umbrellas, lions, elks, trees, shields, etc. — these are all symbols of power, protection, stability, and a bunch of other things that insurance companies would like you to believe they represent.
When you’re using a metaphor, by comparing something to something else, you’re borrowing these mental associations. This can turn any boring statement into something that packs a punch.
For example, saying “this phone has Apple-like functionalities and it’s as reliable as an old Nokia phone.”
Says a lot more than “this is a high-quality, reliable phone.”
TIP #2 — USE CONCRETE TERMS, NOT GENERIC CLAIMS
In today’s world, the war against the cliché has become the new cliché. In a situation like this, when standing out from the crowd is crucial and you need to make your words count, focus on telling rather than selling.
Everywhere you look, businesses are shouting cliches at you…
× Our clients love our fitness program.
× Our customer support team is the best.
× We have a 30-day moneyback guarantee.
Bla, bla, bla.
And sure, if that’s the message that you’re trying to get across, it only makes sense that that’s what you would say. But it doesn’t paint a picture.
Instead, why not use something like…
- 117 people already dropped 20+ pounds with our 1-month fitness challenge.
- Our support team will get an answer in your inbox in less than 12 hours.
- Achieve [benefit] — or you won’t pay us a dime out of your pocket. Guaranteed.
Suddenly, your messaging starts painting a picture.
You’re telling, sharing a story, creating a mental image that sticks inside the prospect’s head.
(Bonus tip: Use BIG numbers!)
Headlines with large numbers have a bigger chance of going viral. (Proof)
If you’re going to write a headline about your new cybersecurity solution that protects companies from data breaches, you might want to avoid saying things like…
× Almost all companies experience data breaches.
× Businesses are hacked every day.
× Companies lose millions of dollars because of data breaches.
Instead, use numbers (the bigger, the better!) to make your point stick.
You instantly turn your set of boring, bland claims that (although true) wouldn’t grab anyone’s attention…
Into something readers can visualize, experience, and feel compelled by.
- Up to 88% of companies have experienced data breaches in the last 12 months.
- One small business in the UK is hacked every 19 seconds.
- Data breaches cost UK business owners an average of $3.860.000 per breach, and 1 in every 3 business owners claim they lost customers because of security issues.
TIP #3 — VISUALIZE PERCENTAGES
Consider the following statements:
1. Approximately 15% of people in society have an IQ lower than 85.
2. 15 out of 100 people in society have an IQ lower than 85.
Both messages are the same, but they don’t convey the same meaning.
One communicates a statement that you can’t really “see”, and the other helps you visualize the statistic in terms of people.
And that’s exactly what you should be doing when using statistics since statistics are usually used to emphasize the importance of something.
Here’s a study published in the American Psychological Association that researched the role of framing and percentages in decision-making.
They provided two teams of clinicians with statements similar to the one I shared above.
50% of patients similar to patient X are estimated to commit an act of violence.
50 out of 100 patients similar to patient X are estimated to commit an act of violence.
They discovered that when clinicians were exposed to a summary of a patient’s condition expressed in terms of percentages, they were twice as likely to discharge the patient.
This means the statement presenting percentages in terms of people was twice as likely to impact a clinician’s decision not to discharge a patient. Imagine that.
TIP #4 — WHEN TELLING A STORY, CHOOSE THE RIGHT FRAME
Imagine you’re telling a story about a man walking into a club.
Which perspective are you going to choose?
INSIDER: The man came into the club.
OUTSIDER: The man went into the club.
To answer this, let’s consider two factors: relevancy and emotional impact.
If you want people to understand and easily process what you’re writing, choose the perspective and framing that is most familiar to them, matches their personal experience, or is the easiest to “imagine.”
The more familiar a perspective is, the higher the fluency at which you process it, and therefore, the easier the comprehension.
In this case, this would be the outsider’s perspective.
On the other hand, if you want your words to make a strong emotional impact, then go for the frame or perspective that is aligned with the most emotion in that specific context.
By using the insider’s perspective, you’re asking your readers to construct a mental image based on the perspective of someone inside the club seeing someone walk in — a more emotional, high-impact frame. Naturally, the sentence generates a stronger impact, but this is at expense of processing fluency.
By using the outsider’s perspective, you’re asking your readers to construct a mental image of a person walking through a door — an easier mental image to create. Naturally, the sentence is easier to visualize, but lower in impact.
(This was studied very well by Jiang & Wyer, 2009.)
TIP #5 — TRANSFORM NUMBERS INTO VISUALS
Your brain doesn’t like numbers. Or at least it has trouble evaluating information when it’s presented through numbers.
The general consensus on why this happens is the fact that numeric information is abstract. Its meaning can change drastically in different contexts.
You can’t compare 7 billion dollars to 7 people or to 7° Celsius. Since numbers often convey small, largely unfamiliar differences, they lower the processing fluency of your copy.
That’s why turning them into semantic visuals will allow you to present numeric information in a much more comprehensive, “instant meaning” type of way.
Here’s a great example:
Peters et al., (2009) found out that people had an easier time evaluating the quality of a hospital when numerical attributes (1–5) were presented in a good/bad scale.
Instead of ranking hospital quality on a 1–5 scale, people were much more likely to give an answer if that scale was from a frown to a smiley face (so the numerical information was attached to a semantic visual.)