“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion is an art” (William Bernbach), and this pretty much sums up the essence of content writing. Because let’s be honest here. In content writing, you are trying to persuade your reader to buy your products, sign up for a monthly subscription of what-not, follow you online, etc. And in trying to convince your reader to join your side, you are using the subtle art of persuasion.
Like all other arts, the key in mastering persuasion is practice, and of course, a side of inside knowledge provided here in a nifty full guide by yours truly. So grab a coffee, and let’s unfold the mysteries of persuasive writing together.
But first, let us be clear on what persuasion is. By persuasion, we mean the creation of a win-win situation, whereby your reader comes to agree with you and be sold on whatever it is you are trying to sell (pun intended). To put it in the words of Don Corleone, you are essentially making an offer they can’t refuse simply because refusing it would be to their loss. So, what techniques should you use to persuade?
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”—Desmond Tutu.
People will have a hard time agreeing with you if they don’t understand your argument. Raising your voice and putting forth a stronger opinion will not succeed in winning over your audience. Therefore, you must find a way to improve your argument so that more and more people come to understand it and embrace it.
How do you improve your argument, however? Well, by trying several different ways to say it. Repetition is vital when it comes to persuasive writing. It is crucial to repeat your arguments, trying different ways to say the same thing. Make your point and say it directly, or use examples, or borrow famous people’s words. Whatever you do, remember that repetition is good when trying to persuade your audience but will not help if you keep repeating the same words over and over again.
2. Understand Your Readers
“If you wish to win a man over to your ideas, first make him your friend.”––Abraham Lincoln
Talk to anyone well versed in the psychology behind successful persuasion, and they will tell you that knowing and understanding your audience is paramount. It is nearly impossible to convince your readers of your argument if you do not know who your readers are. Try to convince a stranger, and all your painstakingly produced arguments will die a slow and painful death. No matter how excellent your statements are, they will fail miserably if they do not appeal to your audience.
So, get to know your audience. Become ‘friends’ with them, and understand their needs and worries. Map their buyer journey, and craft accurate buyer personas. Then, and only then, will you be able to produce compelling arguments that actually appeal to them enough to persuade them.
3. Provide Reasons
“If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.”––Benjamin Franklin
Do not try to convince your readers by appealing to scientific reasons and academically backed arguments about why they should share your opinion. If it is of no interest to them, chances are your writing will not persuade them. Therefore, you must find a way to show them that whatever it is you’re selling is in their best interest.
The only way to make this happen is by providing reasons. Give reasons why, and people are more than likely to come to your side. Nobody likes to be told what to do and nobody will take action without a just reason. If you are trying to persuade your readers to buy your products or services, do not cite facts after facts and research after research. Remember, interest before intellect. Just give them a reason why.
4. Show that You Care
“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears––by listening to them.”––Dean Rusk
Empathy goes a long way, and there is nothing better that will bridge the gap between you and your audience other than showing that you care. Nobody will take advice from a person who seems insincere and appears to have ulterior motives (which you do, but you can very well show that you care AND seek to persuade and convert at the same time).
So, get to know your audience. Show that you care. Show how the answer to their problems can be found in whatever it is you are telling them.
5. Allow your Readers to Decide for Themselves
“People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found out by others.”––Blaise Pascal
Do not just present your case and expect people to side with you and embrace your arguments. Instead, lead your audience towards a learning journey where they discover for themselves the validity of your arguments. You can guide the journey and steer the discovery towards your products or services, but the importance is that your audience should find out for themselves just how important and necessary what you are selling is. In essence, the real art of persuading is not convincing anyone about your arguments; it is letting them independently decide that you are right.
6. Appeal To Your Readers Angst
“The real persuaders are our appetites, our fears, and above all our vanity. The skillful propagandist stirs and coaches internal persuaders.”––Eric Hoffer
We live in uncertain times, and we are all carefully treading the unchartered territory of this covid stricken era. The emotional, social, psychological, and financial aftermaths of the global pandemic are currently unfolding before us. To say that people are worried and experience angst would be a gross underestimation.
If you wish to persuade your audience, you need to identify your audience’s angst, fears, appetites, and vanities. Acknowledge your readers’ pain and offer your solution as the answer to their problems. People are now, more than ever, inclined to grasp on to a sliver of hope. Chances are, your readers are ready to be persuaded by anything that may alleviate their worries or fulfill their vanity. Agitating your readers’ angst may seem cruel, but it is all about empathy.
You want your audience to know that you understand their pain, both because you have experienced it firsthand and because you can eliminate it. You also want them to know that you can make their hopes come true, whatever these may be.
7. Ask Questions
“A single question can be more influential than a thousand statements.”––Bo Bennett
This one here is a real gem! Ask questions, but not just any questions! Ask questions that your audience will definitely answer in the affirmative. Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be healthy? Do you want to live in the house of your dreams? And so on. Make sure you ask questions that your audience will unequivocally and undoubtedly answer with a loud “yes,” and half your persuasion work is already done.
It is fundamental psychology, really. If you get people to agree with you upfront, they are more than likely to agree with whatever it is you are saying. Get people to say yes with your opening statement and then proceed to build your case, and the jury will likely give the verdict you want.
8. Use Emotion
“Compelling reason will never convince blinding emotion.”––Richard Bach
We all try our best to be civilized and evolved. Granted, we have all put behind us the times of spear-hunting boars in the wild, but certain character traits remain still. For instance, humans are exclusionary by nature. We all like to form bonds with others, but we prefer to have our close group of ‘hunting’ companions. Sure we like to share our boar, but we just like to share it with our pack.
Our emotions guide us towards forming a close group with our select few. We choose who we want to be part of and who we want to exclude. When using persuasive writing, give your readers the chance to be part of a group they want to be in. It does not matter what group. It could be a wealthy, hip, fit, animal rights activists, environmentalists group, etc. Do your research on your buyer personas, find what group your audience wants to be in, and offer them an open invitation to join.
Make use of our blinding emotions and our need to belong in a group. Just drive the right bus, and your readers will hop on board.
9. Be Consistent
“The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity”– Unknown.
If you want to persuade your readers, your writing should show integrity, and the only way to show integrity is by being consistent. Consistency is a valued social trait and instantly makes you trustworthy. If your readers cannot trust you, chances are, they will not be persuaded by what you are telling them. However, if you use consistency in your writing, you show that you are a person of trust and that you firmly stand by your beliefs, or in this case, your words.
How do you achieve consistency? The technique is relatively simple. You need to get your reader to agree with you from the get-go on something that people would have a hard time disagreeing with (for instance, the most essential thing in our lives is our children). Then proceed in establishing your case (let’s assume you are trying to sell health insurance), all the while reverting back to your initial argument that your readers have already agreed with (it is important to have an excellent health insurance plan to provide the best health care for your children).
It is a simple technique, but it works like a charm! Get people to agree with you on a universally agreed-upon truth, and tie your proposing argument back to that truth. And voila! Consistency, trust, and integrity established.
10. Use Storytelling
“The art of persuasion. The actor persuades himself, first, and through himself, the audience.” — Laurence Olivier
Oh, storytelling! Harnessing the skills of storytelling and reaping the rewards is fundamental for any writer. Storytelling works so well because humans are social creatures. They like to form connections, and they seek to find similarities. This is why we are drawn to movies. We see ourselves in the actors; we understand their worries, we connect. When you use storytelling in your writing, you are basically putting actors on paper, creating a hero that your reader can relate to, and allowing your readers to persuade themselves. Tell a good story, and the magic of persuasion will be at your disposal.
Whichever technique you choose to use, there is one universal truth that you must always keep in mind: the person that is the most persuasive is not necessarily the most correct. You just need to learn how to master the art of subtle persuasion, and you can convince your audience to do almost anything! Practice makes perfect, so you’d better start writing now. But, I guess there is no need to persuade you into writing. You do want to be the best content writer there is, don’t you?