Psychology-Based Copywriting Tactics – Then vs. Now

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Writing isn’t just a form of art, it’s also a science. That’s because the human brain is hard-wired to process information in a certain way. However, in order to fully process information it first needs to be stored – and in order to store it, a connection needs to be made. That’s where using psychological tactics in writing like triggers, emotional appeal, visuals, and more come into play. Depending on your audience’s interests, expectations, and pain points, you can use selective writing tactics that make content easier to digest or more appealing to consume.

Find out more about the many psychological components of copywriting, how marketers have used these tactics to their advantage in the past, and how they are used today.

What Are Copywriting Psychological Triggers?

Psychological triggers in copywriting are the subtle, and sometimes unseen, persuasive writing techniques strategically placed in a piece of content. When it comes to marketing copywriting, psychology is at the core of every brand’s writing style and techniques because to engage an audience, you need to understand their behavioral habits, interests, and thought processes.

Is It Ethical to Use Human Psychology for Online Marketing?

Psychology tactics in marketing are not inherently unethical. In fact, most of what you read, whether it’s meant to be entertaining, informative, or promotional, is all rooted in psychology. And that’s because successful writing is about connecting with your reader for a specific goal or purpose. It can be as simple as sharing valuable information to establish credibility, or as complex as selling a product or service. This is done by appealing to readers’ emotions or providing value to them in some way. And how is that done? Through order of information, addressing paint points, relating emotionally, grabbing attention, and more. These are all basic principles you’re taught when learning to write. But, they’re also psychological tactics. 

design of a head containing puzzle pieces and other creative instruments around to indicate psychology

Common Copywriting Tactics Based in Psychology

Then: Outdated and Ineffective

Fear Mongering

Probably one of the most well-known tactics in copywriting for its controversy and its proven effectiveness is fear-mongering. This tactic involves intentionally exaggerating or emphasizing information rooted in fear to manipulate audiences into fearful awareness or compliance. Usually, there are high stakes and a sense of urgency placed within the copy to capture quick, fear-based decisions.

In extreme cases, you’ll see this tactic used in political campaigns or news. However, what may be considered more “ethical” fear-mongering might be climate crisis awareness media, or fear of missing out (FOMO) calls to action.

This, along with the rise in “fake news” callouts heightened during President Trump’s campaign, and media doubling down on heightened fear during the 2020 pandemic, has even contributed to a shift in consumer trust from media outlets to individual journalists.  

Bait and Switch

Like the name suggests, this tactic involves using keywords that are unrelated to the product, service, or information you’re providing to “bait” your audience to your content. In some cases, it can also be the use of true information, but consolidated or presented in a way that deceives your readers.

For example, consolidating offers to make them seem better, or excluding terms and conditions that counteract most of the advertised offer. Ahem: cue the twenty-page essay of fine print. This can be either obvious or more subtle, but both are unfair to your readers. Nowadays, this method is still used far too often in advertising—more commonly defined as “clickbait.”

Illusion of Truth

The illusory truth effect is when readers gradually attach truth to a statement if it’s continuously repeated. We see this continuously stirred up in the media through political, medical, and news information. This is often why you see the same political statements year after year. It’s also why many of us are surprised to find people accepting these statements as truth without sufficient evidence.

Related Content: Green Marketing: How to Get It Right

Then: Still relevant and effective

Catchy Headlines

Who doesn’t love a catchy headline? Presenting your content in a way that grabs reader’s attention right away is key to getting that initial click. With so much content saturation nowadays, it doesn’t matter how well the content is written if you can’t get readers to even click in to read it.

Catchy doesn’t have to mean clever or honestly, even all that creative. Catchy can simply mean using:

  • Numbers to set expectations and clear takeaways
  • Emotion to address readers’ pain points
  • Rationale to state purpose
  • Add a “what, why, how, or when” to inform the reader what they’ll be learning

Active Voice

Take action. That’s exactly what we want readers to do when they interact with our content. Whether that’s by reading more, purchasing products, or scheduling services, we are creating content for reader action. Which is why putting the focus on the action of the reader and not the reader themselves is like an unwritten marketing law. Active voice tells a reader what they will do, not what they can do.

Serial Positioning

When it comes to consuming content online, we don’t read, we scan. And nowadays, the average consumer eye moves at lightning speed. While the gameplay has always been to make content more digestible by using bullet points, paragraphs, headers, etc., strategizing the position of key information is a chess move. That’s because serial positioning effect studies show that when people review a list of words they often recall the ones at the beginning and end of the list more than the ones in the middle. Here, read this list really quick:

  • Trumpets
  • Flowers
  • Yogurt
  • Diving
  • Reading
  • Foraging
  • Buttons
  • Moose
  • Blanket
  • Epiphany

Now look away! Which words do you remember? Were most of them towards the beginning and the end of this list? Bet they were. Now apply that psychological effect to marketing by putting the most important information, CTAs, services, or pain points first (or last).

Related Content: 3 Tips to Improve Readability for Your Site


Storytelling isn’t just a creative tactic, it’s built into our history and even our cognitive functioning. Much of what we know of humanity’s earliest history comes from documented storytelling. Storytelling, in other words, is a human trait. As the cognitive and Gestalt psychologists discovered, the human brain innately sorts and categorizes information from all five senses to into patterns in order to give it meaning. Storytelling isn’t just a way for us to relate to one another; it’s part of how we process information.

Storytelling, which follows a pattern of introduction, conflict, and resolution, appeals to us and our desire for recognizing and comprehending patterns. When that structure is broken, like in many advertisements, our brains seek to find a resolution.

Using that to your advantage in copywriting is what can build better emotional relationships with audiences and establish a sense of community and brand identity.

two coworkers chat casually in an office kitchen


Cognitive Fluency

Cognitive fluency is the ease with which new information is processed, specifically, brand-new information. Studies found that if new information is easy to digest, then it’s more likely to be accepted as truth. This is something most copywriters practice in every piece of content, but understanding the nuances of this tactic in copywriting can mean the difference between gaining a quality lead or closing a sale.

The entirety of a piece of content should be simple, easy to digest, and straightforward in such a way that readers continue to indulge in whatever it is you’re providing for them. This applies to every aspect of your branding – a brand name, services, ingredients, or processes that are difficult to read or understand are less likely to be trusted than those that are more easily comprehended.  

Social Proof

The rise of the influencer speaks volumes to this psychology-based tactic. In marketing, this is a form of persuasive copywriting that utilizes “social proof” or reviews, recommendations, or influencer videos to determine their purchase decision. Especially nowadays, people tend to value and trust the opinions of their peers over standard marketing directly from the business. In fact, 91% of shoppers read online reviews before even considering making a purchase. For many, the review from a mutual consumer creates a sense of trust and authenticity.


More than just using a name in the introduction or subject line of an email, personalization in copywriting involves communicative, relatable, and diversified content for your audience. This means adapting your content type and way of writing to appeal to various audience interests. Think custom programs, products related to previous purchases, abandoned cart emails, etc.

This tactic immediately draws attention and builds a sense of connection between your audience and your brand. It’s in our nature to be more responsive and receptive to information that relates to our experiences and interests. We can see this desire for relatability increasing with the rise of the influencer economy.

Novelty Effect

As the saying goes, “the novelty has worn off.” More than ever, our novelty meter is quick to expire. We’re constantly bombarded with new products, new information, and new selling strategies. Refreshing your content to keep up with the novelty effect isn’t even just a psychological tactic anymore; it’s standard practice for marketing and SEO success. With Google’s helpful content update, we’re seeing a need for helpful, up-to-date content not just in new content, but content existing on your entire site. The value of consumer needs is being reemphasized, and your content should reflect that regardless of the mastermind behind your marketing strategy (Google).

How to Decide Which Copywriting Tactics to Use

Using these strategies of copywriting psychology in marketing requires a careful look at your audience. You’ll need to determine which tactics align with their needs, interests, and expectations from your brand based on your industry, services, and values as a whole.

Audience research

Taking the time to really get to know your audience requires a lot of research. You should always be examining and reframing your audience personas as you continue to grow, gain new prospects, and reshape your own services or products. Even if your audience demographics or products don’t change over time, everything else does. Buying habits, new technology, social trends, economic shifts, and more affect your audience and how they interact with your brand. Here’s a basic audience research framework to get you started:

  • Surveys. Start by asking the right questions:
    • Why do you consume our content?
      • What are you looking for from our content?
      • How have your buying habits changed in the past year?
      • What other types of content do you enjoy or find helpful?
      • What other products/services do you use related to this industry?
  • Data. See which content your customers are engaging with most. What stylistic, structural, or persuasive writing tactics are common among your more popular content?
  • Social listening. Look at all the ways your audience is interacting with your brand, your competitors, and especially other content within your industry.

Ultimately, you need to understand these tactics aren’t just persuasive copywriting meant to lead your audience through a buyer journey. Your approach to these tactics should be for the purpose of aligning and adapting to their existing content journeys in your industry. That doesn’t mean you can’t lead the way for innovation or shouldn’t draw readers to your content. It means that they’ll never see your content in the first place if you’re not meeting them where they already exist.  

Related Content: Should You Write Blogs Outside Your Service Offerings? Yes.

Use Content Marketing Psychology to Your Advantage

Knowing the psychology of copywriting is fairly straightforward, but understanding how to properly use it to your advantage in your content marketing strategy is a whole other ball game.

Our content experts at Oneupweb don’t just know the game, they play in the field. We know the ins-and-outs of psychology in copywriting and have the experience and tools necessary to provide your brand with the best possible copywriting tactics and content marketing strategy to fit your needs.

Get connected with us online, or give us a call at 231-922-9977.

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