Four Principles of Psychology You Can Use to Improve Your Writing

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The following post comes to us from Victoria Greene, a writer and branding consultant who blogs at Victoria Ecommerce. Here she offers advice to writers and brands looking to make an impact with better writing.

The human psyche is a mysterious place. Psychologists over the years have tried their best to understand it, and everyone from politicians to advertisers and cult leaders have sought to exploit it for their own ends. From a writer’s and marketer’s perspective, employing any one of the following four principles of psychology in your content can help you improve your writing. From anchoring to fear — here is what you need to know about the psychology of content.


The anchoring technique works by appealing to our human need to follow the pack. In an evolutionary sense, all of us seek approval from others in the things that we do. Logic, memory, and critical thinking can all be internally bypassed if a trusted group or large numbers of people tell you something is true. A scary thought indeed.

The anchoring technique relies on the first piece of information you are given as the most important thing, to the point where even contradictory evidence wouldn’t sway your initial opinion. This was a technique employed by the game developers at Plants vs. Zombies in testing the power of positive reviews.

The researchers took three groups of subjects to play the game. Beforehand, they gave each group separate, made-up review scores.

  • Group 1 was told that audiences gave a 91% approval rating
  • Group 2 were given a 61% approval rating
  • Control group were given no rating

After the test, the groups were asked to give their ratings for the game:

  • Group 1 gave an average approval rating of 85%
  • Group 2 rated the game 71%
  • The control group gave an average rating of 79%.

This study showed that the benchmark score the test subjects were given before the test roughly correlates to the scores they gave at the end of the experiment. The same correlation was also found in people’s willingness to recommend the game to others.

Marketers and business owners take note — this study, and many others like it, show the importance of getting early reviews from brand advocates. This does not mean that you should bribe anybody (as this would work to tarnish your reputation), but instead, you should get to know your audience well enough to pick out the influential voices in your industry and approach them first in the hopes that they will review you positively.

From a content perspective, this highlights the importance of social proof in the form of testimonials, case studies, and reviews. Make sure to highlight positive customer experiences in the hope of creating others like it.

Fear & Relief

A favorite of politicians, newsreaders, and ad men — the psychological trick of striking fear and terror into the hearts of men is a wicked way to convince people to comply with their proposed ‘solutions’.

Psychological manipulators from all walks of life will know of Freud’s theory that the human psyche is made up of three parts:

  • The Id (which is Latin for ‘It’): Represents our base, animalistic urges. Plato said of the Id, “When the gentler part of the soul slumbers and the control of reason is withdrawn…the Wild Beast in us…becomes rampant”
  • The Ego: Our perceptions of ourselves in our day to day lives, the ‘intermediary’ that makes sure we eat, walk, sleep, etc.
  • The Superego: The mind’s elevated thoughts, the newest part of the brain in terms of our evolution as a species. It deals with morality, beliefs, and opinions

As described in their descriptions above, the ‘Id’ is the oldest and most ingrained part of our minds, made up of the instincts that guide us. The fear of danger, the impulse to protect, lust, greed: the whole spectrum of split-second decisions we make to ensure our survival each day.

From a writer’s and marketer’s perspective then, revealing the innermost fears and desires of your audience’s collective ‘Id’ mindset is the best way to convince them that you can offer them something they really need and want.

Conduct extensive audience research before planning an effective marketing campaign. Use keyword planning tools, social media analytics sites, industry reports, surveys, customer research meetings —  anything that will give you an idea of what keeps your audience up at night.

Be like the ‘It’ (Id) guy in the film and get deep into your audience’s subconscious.

Make It Easy

How to deal with the modern attention span?

Make it easy.

People are pushed for time, money, and attention —  they are looking for easy ways to kickstart their careers and projects, fast.

In your writing, take advantage of the modern consumer’s need for speed and ease and maximize the ‘easy elements’ of your product and service. Really focus your core value propositions around ease and convenience. You want to make your customer feel like they already have your product in their hands — and that it’s already making their life a lot easier…

Here are how some SaaS companies who have mastered the art this ‘plug and play’ mentality:

Send invoices in seconds from Freshbooks — a sentence that’s pleasing to both the ear and mind. A great example of a landing page that’s aimed at reassuring the customer that a complex task can be simplified and made less stressful.

Shopify’s landing page provides reassurance with everything from its headline, “Online store builder has everything you need,” to the round-the-clock help center at the bottom of the page. The whole page is aimed at psychologically reassuring the user, coaxing them towards a free trial (another great ‘easy’ call to action).

Dropbox embraces the persuasive power of three: share, sync, and collaborate. To the point, clear, and authoritative, Dropbox makes IT language seem easy and accessible. Again, another great use of the free trial CTA.

Rollercoaster Ride

Most of us, most of the time, are in an okay mood. We’re neither excited nor desperate, we’re just getting on with things. But from the perspective of those who seek to manipulate us, this ‘ho-hum’ state is not optimal.

Getting people excited about your latest product launch is the oldest marketing trick in the book. But you can’t just talk up the benefits of your unique idea — you have to make people really believe it.

The ‘emotional rollercoaster ride’ is a Machiavellian tactic that most, if not all, businesses have used to convince people to believe in their brand.

If you’ve ever seen this advert for Wrigley’s chewing gum, you’ll know what I mean. Crying over a chewing gum ad? The idea is absurd. But once you see the simple story of a father presenting his daughter with wrapper origami cranes over the course of her childhood, I defy anyone not to well up when that box filled with paper birds spills onto the ground.

Go ahead, watch it, I’ll wait.

See what I mean?

Wrigleys achieved something very magical with their storytelling here. By connecting their products with the emotion of the father and daughter bond, they were able to poignantly show the benefits of buying and sharing gum with your loved ones. I almost feel wrong for pointing this out so cynically, but Wrigley played everyone’s heartstrings with this advert.

Check out this post on four ingredients of a killer marketing story for more tips.

There you have four easy principles of psychology that you can use to improve the impact of your writing. As you can see from the above examples, audiences can be fickle and easily led. So, if you want your brand to stand out from the crowd, try employing emotional storytelling techniques that tap into your audience’s core instincts.

Ken Lyons
Ken Lyons is a digital marketing professional with more than 20 years experience. He has a proven track record of growing qualified traffic and leads for companies in a range of industries. His digital marketing specialties include: SEO, link building, content marketing, lead generation, affiliate marketing

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