Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP, is a set of techniques and principles that allow communication with and influence over another person’s subconscious mind.
It was developed in the ’70s for therapeutic application, based on the model of therapists who excelled in their field. Soon enough, researchers realized the potential of NLP for better results in sports, sales, and marketing. It’s has gotten some bad press over the years, like with the release of Neil Strauss’s book The Game. One of the leading characters there is an NLP practitioner who teaches men to seduce women using NLP techniques. But putting the juicy stuff aside, NLP has proven to be highly valuable for spicing up marketing copy and making it more effective. Here I will demonstrate a few NLP principles and how to use them to quickly improve your copy.
Writing good marketing copy is a bit like ice-skating for couples. You need to anticipate your partner’s moves and position your body accordingly to make spectacular moves based on your partner’s speed and direction. Making a wrong assumption about your partner’s intention or a wrong calculation regarding their timing and speed will lead to a colossal splash on the ground. When writing copy, you need to predict your reader’s response and reaction at different stages of reading the copy. Then you have to come up with the right response, responding to the reader’s resistance or need and moving them towards the next stage of the buying funnel.
Keep in mind that most of our thoughts and reactions are based on our subconscious conditioning. Buying behavior is no exception. In fact, some researchers claim that up to 90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously! If you have a great product but you can´t sell it because all your potential clients are hypnotized by another product, one from a more famous brand or with a more emotional draw, NLP can help you communicate with your client on the same level where their resistance come from.
Frame your offer
In NLP terms, framing refers to how we use one point to create a context that defines the rest of the information. A frame describes the boundaries around an experience, which filters perceptions of the world through mental, subconscious structures. The most basic frames to play with are negative or positive frames.
Studies show that in risk-taking decisions, an offer that emphasizes the potential reward will attract much more interest than an offer that emphasizes the potential loss. This is why fear-based marketing tends to backfire. In one case study, a company saw a $45 million increase in revenue by changing their messaging tone to give a more positive spin. More often than not, negative framing will lower conversion. It pushes the audience away from something but not necessarily toward you. You can try out this principle in your copy when you test specific page elements such as your headline or image.
However, this is very general and it certainly isn’t a universal rule. The effect differs depending on the type of offer and nature of the product. For example, this research from Outbrain shows the opposite effect:
That negative superlative in the title actually brought better results. Bottom line is, make sure you know your audience and test everything. Knowing how to use framing in your page elements could make a big difference.
One of the great things about NLP is that it takes into account the self-selling factors that come when our imagination is activated. One of the basic principles that every student of the subconscious mind learns is that imagination is usually stronger than willpower. Think about someone on a diet who decides not to eat after dark. This decision will be hard to maintain if he randomly opens the fridge and sees his favorite cake waiting there. The imaginary image of himself enjoying the cake will usually defeat his decision to avoid food. It is basically a conflict between your conscious and subconscious processes.
As NLP teacher David Snyder puts it when it comes to the mind “the conscious part is the weakest and least informed.” Just as the mind of a dieter who imagines the delicious cake will come with some rational explanation of why he should it, so your client’s mind will rationalize their subconscious decision if you create a compelling enough image of how good it will feel to use your product. You can apply this principle by using NLP trance or power words in your writing. These words will make your client imagine the benefits of your product rather than just think about them. Some of the best power words are “imagine,” “as” and “because.”
You can use it like this: Imagine yourself riding the new BMW, as you picture yourself holding the new Samsung… etc. Maybe the best trance word is the reader’s name. For most people, the most powerful trance word is their own name. It’s anchored to their own identity, the deepest and most central thing in their lives. Just think about how your ears prick up when you overhear your name being spoken across the room! In many cases, you won’t know and can’t use your viewer’s name. However, in email marketing, you can definitely create a copy using the addressee’s name. Make good use of that opportunity.
A presupposition is an implicit assumption about the world. It’s a belief whose truth is taken for granted, forming the background of a conversation. Presuppositions can be used in NLP to deliver an idea without creating conscious resistance to it. Beyond that, invoking a presupposition can cause a frame change to a whole set of memories. It’s like in detective movies when a policeman ask the suspect a question, like “at what hour did you kill him?”, he presupposes that the suspect killed the victim and sets the stage for him to confess.
The most straightforward use of presuppositions in writing copy is to ask questions such as:
- Which of the product’s benefits will be most useful for you? (assume your product has useful benefits for the viewer)
- What technique in this article strengthened your copy the most? (assume the techniques in the article strengthen your copy)
Thinking and coming up with an answer to these questions means you accept the initial assumption in the parentheses. Your reader is now in the right state of mind, tapped into positive associations with your product.
Making your client prove their worth to you
We see all the time in human interactions that playing hard to get actually creates more appeal than selling yourself for cheap. There is something instinctive in human nature that is put off by weakness and neediness. In dating and in sales, when you’re not desperate, your chances of success are higher. This is one reason to make your client sweat for you. The subliminal message is: my product has high value and it is worth investing your time in.
Both online and offline, people learn how to value you from how you value yourself. Making your client do something to be worthy of your product can truly improve your sales. Making your client do something for you also create the habit of responding positively to your requests. So when the big decision of buying your product comes, they are more easily persuaded to convert.
There’s the classic experiment where students were sent to ask passersby for a dollar. First, they asked for money right away. In the second phase, they asked the passersby for the time and then asked for a dollar. The results of the second money-collecting attempt were dramatically higher. The reason is that in the second attempt, the other person was already personally engaged and invested in the other person. A counterintuitive slogan such as “4 Reasons Why This Seminar Is Not For You” might have a higher conversion than a positive statement. If you can challenge your clients, make them sweat for your product or time, they will value your product more.
NLP is a great way to achieve better communication and more influence in your writing copy. The techniques in this article are just a few out of many. Knowing the basics of NLP can improve your writing even without using its exact techniques. Just understanding how the mind works better can make your writing more intuitive and effective. That said, no matter how skillful you are in influential and psychologically tuned writing, the only way to make sure what you do is actually effective is by testing.