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How great writing drives sales

By Momoko Price, June 17, 2012

How does hiring a professional writer help your business? The answer might not be what you think. In my experience, businesses usually hire writers to do one 1 of 4 things:

  • Impress the reader
  • Inform the reader
  • Entertain the reader
  • Nag the reader (sounds awful, but when it comes to run-of-the-mill email marketing, let’s call a spade a spade here. )
  • When I look at these objectives, I see plenty of room for debate on whether any of them actually increase sales. By extension, I see room for debate on whether or not hiring a writer to accomplish these goals is worthwhile.

However, I don’t actually think any of these objectives are sales-critical reasons to hire a writer for your business.

Helpfulness: one powerful sales tactic

There’s only one sales-critical reason you should hire a professional writer (who understands effective content strategy & web writing best practices, of course):

To Help The Reader.

That’s it. Why? Think of it this way:

If you want to:

  • impress the reader, they will feel impressed.
  • inform the reader, they will feel informed.
  • entertain the reader, they will feel entertained.
  • nag the reader, they will feel irritated.
  • help the reader, they will feel gratitude.
  • People who feel impressed/informed/entertained don’t necessarily feel compelled to do things for you. People who feel irritated certainly won’t do you any favours.

However, people who feel gratitude feel a) good in general, which is a bonus, and b) a strong urge to return the favour (social obligation). It’s a very powerful psychological law: the Law of Reciprocation. If you help me, I’ll want to help you.

Doubling conversion with words alone

The power of reciprocity — and copy’s ability to amplify it — has been documented many times. Here’s just one example:

In 2007, social psychologist Robert Cialdini and his graduate students published a study where they tested the effects of different messaging on patrons’ linen-reusing habits in a hotel. In total, they tested 6 different wordings on linen-conservation cards in hotel bathrooms (see graph). They were:

“Help save the environment” “Help save resources for future generations” “Partner with us to help save the environment” “Help the hotel save energy” “We’re doing our part for the environment. Can we count on you?” “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment”

graph from Robert Cialdini's study on reciprocation.

If you were a hotel manager writing your own cards, which copy variant would you have chosen? Would you have thought it would make any difference? Probably not.

But the truth is, altering the copy on these cards in accordance with well-known social norms did affect patrons’ behaviour — drastically.

Just tweaking the message from “help the hotel” to “help the environment” or “partner with us” doubled conversion. Altering the message further to reflect reciprocation-based social norms — “We did X for you, can we count on you for Y?” — increased conversion by another 50% on top of that.

How did these researchers know how to change the copy effectively? They understood a basic principle of consumer psychology: implying helpfulness and a sense of social obligation automatically prompts people to return the favour.

Ignore your messaging at your own risk

Now chew on this: Despite the radical effect these changes had on influencing behaviour, the study’s researchers said none of the hotels they looked at used reciprocation-based phrasing in their linen-conservation messaging.

That’s a major business opportunity lost right there.

Yes, words matter. Great copywriters (at least, those knowledgeable about consumer psychology and online behaviour) can indeed drive sales. And these kinds of copywriters exist. We can help your business succeed. Hell, we can even make your customers love you.

So … how about stopping the spammy newsletters already and dropping us a line?

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