Persuasive techniques: at one time, I associated them with fast-talking telemarketers or smarmy used car salesmen. In my mind, “persuasive” and “manipulative” were interchangeable. I didn’t need an unscrupulous gold digger scheming to get me to fork over my hard-earned cash, I reasoned. I could think for myself.
As for the writing world, I was convinced that persuasive techniques were delegated solely to the copywriter’s domain. A copywriter’s job is to write to sell. Copywriters simply use cunning methods that waylay innocent readers into relinquishing their credit card numbers.
Turns out I was wrong. It’s not persuasion itself that’s so greasy. It’s the writer’s underlying motive.
Readers are increasingly flooded with content, not all of it accurate. That’s led to a rise in suspicion and distrust. “We have asked consumers about issues such as fake news and trust in the information they see on the social media platforms they use and news media they consume on a regular basis,” says Pablo Boczkowski, summarizing a 12-month study conducted by Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “What has emerged … is a heightened degree of skepticism.”
Yet readers still need quality information. Do I want to help them by providing it? Yes. And I want to be a content writer that’s trusted. Persuasive techniques are useful to that end if I use them authentically.
Writers are hard-pressed to take themselves out of the equation even when producing academic or technical content. An attorney, for instance, writes a brief that takes a side. A researcher outlines a conclusion based on an analysis of a study and its data. In both instances, the writer seeks to persuade. Even the most objective news article claims, “This is what happened based on eyewitnesses.”
Meaning that writing to persuade permeates all good content: literature, speeches, papers, how-to’s, articles, posts, emails. Persuasive techniques convince readers to understand a set of facts or embrace a point of view. That’s true for academics and technical writers … and for content writers.
Content writing educates readers about a topic or idea or process. Then, good content goes further. Strong content motivates a reader to act. It’s one thing for the reader to absorb all of that informational goodness and quite another for her to use it. What propels readers to act on your content? They’re persuaded.
Quality content prompts the reader to adopt a new attitude, use a new bit of understanding, put a technique into practice. Weak content doesn’t make any such demands.
But lest you think you need to become a slick wordsmith to write strong content, think again. You can simply learn a few simple persuasive techniques and use them honestly. You want readers to know the truth and be inspired or uncover a bit of information they need, don’t you?
Persuasive techniques are part of a content writer’s arsenal, whether you’re a social media fashionista or a political commentator or a mommy blogger or a family counselor. If you’re not yet purposely writing to persuade, then now is the time. If you already use persuasive techniques in your writing, then this checklist will reinforce your approach.
A good hook catches the reader’s interest so that he keeps reading. It’s essential. If your reader doesn’t read your content, how can he get the information he needs?
Your hook can be a question, unsolved mystery, descriptive scene, provocative quote, interesting fact, surprising statistic, interesting anecdote, myth, or misconception — even an unusual piece of news. No matter what you choose, your hook has just two requirements: it must illustrate your claim (#2). And your hook must do so in an enticing or surprising way. Its unpredictability or twist keeps the reader reading.
Take a look at how I opened this article about persuasion. I used a personal anecdote about how persuasive techniques used to give me the willies. That’s a twist for an article that’s supposed to convince you to write persuasively.
Once you pull in a reader, state your issue outright. Remember — readers are flooded with information. They don’t have time to wade through your musings to uncover your main point. Don’t assume the reader can absorb your point from your opening hook, either. Spell it out.
And then, choose a side. Persuasive content, by definition, takes a stand. In other words, find a slant. You could even think of your claim as presenting a problem and summarizing the solution.
It’s not enough to simply say, “All writing is persuasive.” Yes, that’s the issue. And yes, that states the problem outright. But what’s your slant? State your solution, opinion, explanation, or answer for the problem. You could say, “All writing is persuasive. Use this persuasive writing checklist for any piece of content.” Then use the rest of your content to unpack the solution.
“Because you’re worth it.” That was the slogan embraced by French cosmetics company L’Oreal in 1971 and remains its tagline today. Back then, L’Oreal needed to persuade consumers to spend more on their products than then-competitor Clairol.
The tagline explained why. It gave shoppers a reason to plunk down a bit more cash for shampoo, hair color, and face wash. The product was higher quality and more expensive … but those who chose to become L’Oreal consumers were worth the extra bucks.
Don’t assume the reader can connect the dots between your claim and how your claim will affect them. They won’t think that fast. Instead, lead the reader by the hand. Explain why the problem is important or urgent. How will the reader be affected by your solution? What are the ramifications of your argument? Make it clear, as in “Persuasive techniques are part of a content writer’s arsenal, whether you’re a social media fashionista or a political commentator or a mommy blogger.”
Proof: it’s one of the more valuable persuasive techniques. You’ve made a claim and explained why it’s important. That has raised emotions in readers — whether it’s fear of missing out or the excitement of possibilities. Now, you need to support your claim with solid facts and clear logic.
A good rule of thumb to follow: offer at least three pieces of proof. There are plenty of kinds to choose from. Proof falls into two big-picture buckets:
The weakest endings are a straight-up rehash of the content’s main point, either in using the same language or the same angle.
That’s why you’ll add, amplify, or expand on your claim with one more bit of proof in your conclusion. Maybe it’s an additional quote. Or it could be an extra bit of insight or one more piece of information or an action step. Or you can tie your ending to your opening in a clever bookend. (Check out my last paragraph, below.)
This is not the time to flail around. Your reader is getting ready to finish reading your content and you may not get another chance to speak directly to him. Tell your reader what to do. If you’ve been faithful to include the previous four persuasive techniques, then this final one should come easily.
A good copywriter will tell you that this little list of 5 persuasive techniques is a classic format for promotions, direct mail, and ads. Why shouldn’t you use these methods in other content, too? This way, you’ve got a ready-made persuasive writing checklist you can refer to as you write anything. Just ask yourself …
With only five persuasive techniques in the mix, it’s not hard to give your readers the valuable information that they’re seeking. You can do so with good intent and for their benefit.
And you needn’t become a smarmy car salesman in the process.
More Persuasive Writing Techniques
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