How to increase conversion by writing empathic copy
By David Pfeiffer and Meghan Pfeiffer
Most websites exist to sell something – ideas, products, services, etc. To this end, it is important to motivate the user to take action toward purchase. Novel titles, pictures, and design elements are often used to get the user’s attention (which might result in a share or bookmark). In the case of complex or more expensive products and services, it is essential to engage a deeper emotional response to support longer consideration times toward conversion.
This article will outline a simple empathic engagement technique used in fiction stories.
The diagram below illustrates the long scroll design pattern. The page typically consists of a header (global navigation), page sections with alternating background colors, and a footer. Each section presents the user with a frame of reference for the overall story being told on the page.
Let’s focus on the lead-in consideration frame consisting of:
- Low consideration hook — typically a title and/or an image or graphic. This primes or grabs the attention of the visitor.
- Body copy — a grow/protect emotional text. This element has to engage the visitor’s imagination to entice them to click to satisfy a protect (e.g., scarcity) or grow (e.g., curiosity) feeling.
- Optional Call-to-Action (CTA) — a button or link to the next page in the journey.
The specific focus of this article is on the emotional body copy that nudges the user towards the desired action (CTA or continue scrolling).
For comparison purposes, we will consider a sample lead-in that uses a cognitive approach to persuasion versus an empathetic lead-in described later.
This section will illustrate what we call, the “reasons-to-believe” technique in a real-world web copy situation for screened-in porch products on two home-improvement websites.
“Decks and patios are great for when the weather is clear and warm; but wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy them year round? By creating a screened porch, you’re opening that outdoor space for your use all year long, which means you’re getting more out of your home — and that’s a goal everyone should aim for. Even if you don’t have an existing porch to screen, adding a screened porch to your home is simple, and easily one of the more cost-effective ways of getting to enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your porch.”
Does the copy above make you feel anything? You probably find yourself just blowing past most of it, right? Another example.
“Picture your family enjoying a relaxing meal, or throwing a small party for the neighbors in the comfort of your new screened porch. Adding a screened porch to your home provides ample benefits, including increased home value, added space, and a place to enjoy the outdoors free from the elements, sun and insects.”
Although the reader is invited to imagine something, there is not enough imagery here to invoke any real emotion.
Later in this article, we will show survey results comparing the cognitive and empathetic approachs.
Both paragraphs above are “tried-and-true” and well written. But Behavioral psychology and neuroscience teach us that first humans emotionally desire something and then rationalize buying it.
Therefore, the emotional proposition should precede the reasons-to-buy. These emotions could be primed by pictures of people enjoying the screened-in porch, followed by an empathetic lead-in that makes the reasons-to-believe all the more effective.
When writing vicarious fiction, communicating the emotion of your characters to your reader is essential. If you just tell people how a character feels, your readers would tell you the scene was “flat” or “they didn’t care about the character.” So where was the disconnect?
If your reader is not feeling it, you may have violated one or both of the empathetic communication rules:
- Show, not tell — If I tell you “I feel mad,” rarely would you feel as mad as I am. To show you my emotional state, you would need more context to empathize with me.
- It takes time and imagery to rev up emotions — time and imagery provide the audience with opportunities to access similar experiences to build a relationship between them and the message. This process takes at least 15 seconds (about 60 words). This seems like a long time considering how many people scan things so quickly, but if the paragraph is structured correctly, even the “scanner” will engage at a slower pace.”
Emotions are an internal state that must be communicated and personalized to affect empathy in the reader.
Getting the reader engaged in the story to the point where they feel what the character feels requires a method and practice. So let’s dive into a technique to increase the emotional quality of your writing via a simple formula.
This article will overview one of the many techniques in the book “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Maas, as it can be easily applied to web copywriting. Mr. Maas is a longtime fiction author and writing teacher.
One such method, credited to Daphne Du Maurier, uses a simple four-step formula:
After labeling the emotion,
- provide an analogy,
- moral judgment, and
- then the justification for the feeling.
Maas states: “In her book, ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1951), rather than simply saying what her character feels, Du Maurier describes why there are no real alternatives to what they feel. This acts as a guide to the emotion that the reader should feel as well.”
Here is the Du Maurier development process as outlined by Maas (1st column) and some example responses from the authors about screened-in porch experiences (2nd column).