“…West’s sole absorbing interest was a secret study of the phenomena of life and its cessation, leading toward the reanimation of the dead through injections of an excitant solution. For this ghastly experimenting it was necessary to have a constant supply of very fresh human bodies.”(1)
While reanimating dead bodies would be a gruesome, perilous task…
…copywriters know that strategically resurrecting dormant content can perform wonders for their website.
And after reading content marketing expert Heather Sloan’s recent blog on the value of the Listicle, I decided to do some “reanimating” of my own, using that format.
And why not,…
Sloan, president, Inbound Insurance Marketing, says…
Listicles are a lightning rod for electrifying Google ranking factors such as Time-On-Page, Domain Authority, and Search Engine Optimization.
Also, “…They’re one of the easiest ways to attract web traffic…,” she adds.
The focus of this listicle is my content written over the past decade that uses the Bizarreness Effect to channel reader’s attention.
This cognitive bias states that unusual and unfamiliar material is easier to recall than common material.(2)
“Bizarre material is better remembered than common material. Make your product or service memorable by making it bizarre,” urges Jeremy Smith, author, trainer, and conversion consultant.(3)
So, as you’ll see, my following articles follow that advice. But they also contain plenty of valuable strategies and techniques for crafting mesmerizing copy and content.
Below you’ll find highlights from that long-form content that harvested myriad views, favorable comments, and sales of my services.
“The bodies had to be exceedingly fresh,…. The results of partial or imperfect animation were much more hideous than were the total failures, and we both held fearsome recollections of such things.”(1)
My memories from writing this first article were quite the opposite. I even received a laudatory comment from A-list health copywriter Deanna Blanchard.
Do These “Cursed Objects” Haunt Your Health Copy?
10 booby traps that can kill your copy, career, and cash reserve
…This article begins by citing frightening examples of cursed objects and their malicious, deadly influence on the people around them.
- The nasty, demon-possessed Annabelle who terrified and terrorized everyone around her.
- Thomas Busby’s deadly chair, cursed by its original and murderous owner, allegedly 63 victims died mysterious, early deaths after sitting on it.
- The Jinxed Basano Vase: Dug up and sold in Italy in 1988, this 15th Century vase brought quick trips to the grave for its owners until it was secretly reburied by the local police.
I then posed this question…
“You wouldn’t want any of these sinister objects in your house, would you?”
I next transitioned into my theme…
“The same fear applies to your copy. You don’t want anything in your promo that’s going to doom it—or you and your client.”
Under the subhead…
Beware of this witch’s brew of possible pitfalls
…I list the “copy curses” to avoid
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates proof for all express and implied product claims, and requires the right amount and type of support.
- The Unsubstantiated Claim
“Tests, analyses, research, studies, or other evidence based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area…that were conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by qualified persons…using generally accepted procedures to yield accurate and reliable results.”(4)
- A Health Claim
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits supplement marketers to
create two kinds of claims on labeling and sales literature—health claims and structure-function statements.(5)
Health claims cover a connection between a nutrient and a disease or health-related condition. These must have “significant scientific agreement” and pre-approval by the FDA.
Here’s an example:
“This formula contains 1,000 milligrams of cinnamon, which is known to help fight diabetes.”
No FDA approval? Then use proper structure-function statements. Simply, such wording refers to a nutrient’s effect on the structure or function of the body for maintaining good health.
“The nutrients in this proven formula help promote strong, healthy joints within weeks of taking.”
- A False and Deceptive Claim
This one violates a major FTC rule (and many state consumer protection laws):
Advertising must be truthful and not misleading.
Section 5 of the FTC Act says any advertising is deceptive and unfair if it…
- Misleads consumers
- Affects buyer’s behavior
- Causes avoidable or substantial injury
- Isn’t outweighed by other benefits(5)
Suppose a firm says its fiber product is proven to aid in weight loss. However, the amount of fiber used in the supplement is less than the amount in two published, peer-reviewed studies.
The company’s evidence doesn’t support the claim.
- Violate the Lanham Act
Tempted to promise prospects, “My product is 10 times more powerful than (competitor’s name) product”?
Under this federal trademark statute, you can’t state this without proof. This act says making that claim without evidence is a misrepresentation of yours or another person’s goods or services.(5)
Defy this act and you’ll soon be shackled—by a civil suit.
- Mishandling of the Fair Use Doctrine
How much copyrighted material can you use in your copy or content without its owner’s permission?
This question continues to mystify many marketers and writers. But here are six guidelines to follow:
- Fair Use favors scholarship and critical review. Its use in sales is permitted but is looked on less favorably.
- The less material you use compared to the size of the original the better.
- Ensure that your excerpt only supports your point and is not the core of it.
- It’s not Fair Use if you cite so much that it lowers the need for anyone to read the original.(5)
- Fair Use standards for fiction are harder to meet than non-fiction.
- Your use mustn’t devalue the original work.(6)
Also, keep in mind, you could still be sued even if you follow these guidelines. Then, your due diligence in following fair use rules would be your defense.(6)
Abstract claims or praise equal puffery.
For instance, boasting that, “My martial arts studio provides the deadliest self-defense system ever,” is puffery.
Little worry of false advertising here. A competitor or the FTC would have trouble disproving your claim.
Problem is, vagueness doesn’t sell. But we all know what does: Specifics.
And when you use them along with the needed proof, you greatly boost your chances of reaching your promo’s goals.(5)
- Trading on a Name Statutes
Under this rule, you can’t exploit a living famous person’s identity without their permission. Also, implying that that they back your claims or product can quickly get you sued.
However, it’s unlikely you’ll have an issue if you do this: Bury the public personality’s name in your copy—say on page 10 of a 12-page sales letter—and put it in a regular font.(5)
So let’s emphasize three points in case you decide you must use such a person’s name:
…use it to make a sale…
…try to steal business away from that personality.(5)
- Over Guarantee
If your promo states…
“I guarantee if you don’t lose 20 pounds in one week after you start taking my amazing new diet powder, I’ll Fed Ex you five 100 dollar bills!”
…you’re legally bound to that promise. Remember, advertising is considered a legal offer.
You can still make a guarantee like this. But if a customer takes you up on it, you’re legally obligated to pay the $500.
Also, be aware, even using an over-the-top guarantee can get you in trouble with the FTC.(5)
- “Unintentional” Defamation
Claiming that using the wrong name or information was an accident or wasn’t deliberate is no defense. Only one thing matters: whom the reader believes you’re naming. 3
So if you’re getting info from, say an FTC press release, triple check the spelling of all of the names, companies, and websites.
According to common law theory, if you quote another person’s libelous statement, you’re just as guilty as that original speaker. So just saying you were repeating something won’t keep you out of court.(7)
The FTC says any customer comment you use about the safety and efficiency of your product must be backed by proof. This shows that the experience is similar to what all prospects can expect.
- Unrepresentative Customer Testimonials
If you don’t have that, a clear and conspicuous disclaimer is needed. A disclaimer in the same font size right next to the ad stating, “These results are not typical. (Provide expected results in short sentence),” would suffice.
And if you have expert endorsers? Ensure they meet these criteria:
- Possess appropriate expert credentials
- Have used industry-accepted testing to make sure the product produces the promised claims
Also, both expert and consumer endorsers must reveal any personal, financial, or similar ties to the advertiser.(4,8)
Knowledge: Use it to “exorcise” YOUR health copy
Now you know the insidious dangers to watch out for when you write or edit health copy. Of course, you’ll want to double-check additional legal sources if you’re uncertain about any of them.
“We followed the local death-notices like ghouls, for our specimens demanded particular qualities. What we wanted were corpses interred soon after death and without artificial preservation; preferably free from malforming disease, and certainly with all organs present.” (1)
There was nothing disturbing about the reception to “Cursed Objects.”It got many likes, favorable comments, and so on. But this next one got even more.
The reason? The “Nostalgia Effect.” Most people have fond, childhood memories of reading Edgar Allen Poe.
Did this ill-fated, nightmare-hunted boozehound created the ideal strategy for crafting content…
…way back in 1846?
…This piece studied Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition,” which explains his method of creating literature.
Here are Poe’s eight literary guidelines—with some tweaks—that you can use to add muscle to your content.
Decide on your close before starting to write
Here’s why, Poe wrote:
“Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its denouement (end) before anything be attempted with the pen.”
He explained that only with your closing paragraphs in mind, can you give your material “…its indispensable air of consequence, or causation….”
Fine advice for several reasons—
- With your ending in sight, you can work backwards to fully support it.
- You can build on it as you write.
- Also, this helps ensure that your piece moves “… step by step, to its completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem,” Poe noted.
Limit the reading length to one-sitting
The intense competition for your reader’s time—online and off—makes this advice as apt as ever.
“If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting…,” unity of impression is lost. “If two sittings would be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed,” Poe explained. Later, he does say there are exceptions.
While this concept is still valid, there’s a problem:
How do you define “one sitting?”
That of course depends on your audience—are they busy executives, hustling freelancers, or stay-at-homes who take care of the house and kids?
Here’s some data to keep in mind when trying to figure out how long your target’s “one-sitting” time might be. (FYI–Googling “one-sitting” doesn’t help).
- Traditional news articles range from 500 to 800 words(9)
- In depth, analytical features of 1,200 to 1,500 words are now big online(9,10)
- Average reading time hovers between 180 to 250 word per minutes(11,12)
This info means much of today’s long-form articles can easily get read in less than 10 minutes.
Choose the impression you want to make
Poe observed: “…in almost all classes of composition, the unity of effect or impression is a point of the greatest importance.”(13)
And from the essay, “…throughout the construction, I kept steadily (this) in view…,” because otherwise, “…I should be carried too far out of my immediate topic….”
This single effect also aids your reader to maintain that one-sitting focus.
Now here’s how to apply this to your content marketing articles.
First decide your goal—to assist, connect, interact, educate, or convert. Then take Wendy Montes De Oca’s advice and tap into one of your reader’s emotional hot buttons. The most effective are fear, anger, greed, guilt, exclusivity, salvation, and vanity, the content marketing guru notes.(14)
This is similar to master copywriter Mark M. Ford’s “Rule of One”—using one emotionally compelling idea for each piece of writing.(15)
Select the appropriate tone
Identifying the tone of the “The Raven”is easy; it reeks of sadness, gloom, and depression.
In fact, Poe sets the proper tone in his first sentence: “Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary….”
And finding this right tone of voice for your content is critical, because…
….not matching the style of your prospect can hurt results.
Here’s a simple suggestion on how to find that ideal tone from copywriter extraordinaire Amy Harrison.
“Imagine how you would talk to that person face-to-face.” (16)
Failure to do this could cause your piece to fall short of your marketing goals, she adds.
Also keep in mind, throughout your professional work you’ll find the need to use different tones of voice.
Copywriter Neville Medhora notes that you have many at your disposal.
Here are his main ones:The “Super Vulnerable”…the formal B2B company…the “Write-Like-You-Act”…the “Informative-Yet-Kinda-Funny”…the industry-specific “Just Steal It.” (17)
Get your tone right and people will want to read…and interact…with your content, Medhora preaches. Plus, he adds, you’ll enjoy writing more.(17)
Pick the theme
“The Raven’s” theme is straightforward: A lover laments his dead mistress while a “ghastly, grim” raven continually croaks “Nevermore.”
And finding your guiding theme is so vital…
…that writing coach Jack Hart defines it as, “The mission that lives at the core of every thoughtful bit of writing.”(18)
Hash out your theme early, and decision-making about your work will be much easier, he urges.(19)
Distressed about discovering themes for your content? Not necessary…they may be right in front of you.
Hart advises: “Non-fiction writers must find their themes in their material.”(13)
Also, a bonanza of themes await you in storytelling archetypes, notes author and freelance writer Naveed Saleh.
These include:The voyage (Homer’s Odyssey)…The underdog (David and Goliath)…The resurrection (Jesus Christ)…The fall from grace (Milton’s Paradise Lost)…The dualism of good and evil (God vs. Satan)(20)…(FYI—“The Raven” follows the archetype “love and loss.”)
Use a character to carry the story
Your main character drives your story, which powers your content.
But unnecessary character details are distracting, and—no matter how fascinating—fodder for deletion, Hart contends.(19)
In Poe’s most-popular poem, our fearful but steadily emboldened narrator propels the unfolding story.
In your writing, ask these questions to develop you’re content’s central character(s):
- What is their sense of self?
- How do they overcome stubborn obstacles?
- How do they deal with failure or not attaining unreachable ideals?(19)
Also, useful details will help you sketch out characters. This info, drawn from memorized lists of traits, will help you expand the image of your character into a more complete picture.(18)
A change of attitude also helps.
Create a climax
All questions, all crises are resolved in your content’s climax.(19)
Our poem’s climax is placed in the third stanza from the end.
So “I might the better…settle the rhythm, the meter, and the length and general arrangement of…the preceding queries…” and “… the subsequent composition,” said Poe.
Heavily paraphrased yes.
But the gist of Poe’s aim with his climax—designed earlier in the planning process (see tip 1)—is to help set the stage for what comes before and after.
Settle on the setting
Poe saves how he chooses his setting and why it’s important until last.
Perhaps he wanted to emphasize that it wasn’t a minor detail–but essential to the overall success of any piece of literature.
To quote his essay:
A study of “Space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident–it has the force of a frame to a picture.”
Especially vital are scenic details that can give your writing more dimension, Hart, our writing coach, adds.
“By evoking a particular time and place, they take readers on the road or into a time machine or both.”
And while the use of space, contrast, and atmosphere are all critical, vivid details are the most vital part of making your content’s locales real, he notes.(19)
No promises, but…
So will taking Edgar’s advice make you the most talked about writer in America today?
Can’t guarantee that.
But if you use some or all of his literary wisdom you are guaranteed a successful strategy for crafting content.
How do I know?
A little black bird told me…
“The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I ever experienced, and it is only with reluctance that I repeat it.”(1)
Not shocking but perhaps surprising. That describes the information in this next intriguing article. It shows you…
How to bewitch your copy AND content readers with the strange, the weird & the bizarre
Arcana: “Specialized knowledge or detail that is mysterious to the average person. (21)
The idea of using arcane info to put a spell on readers of your marketing messages may seem odd.
…by using arcana in your work—the right way—you can easily tantalize prospects and spur them on to devour whatever you write.
And here’s what gives this technique its power and magic–these surprising and bizarre nuggets of info create mental engagement–the lifeblood of every type of writing.
In fact, according to author and persuasion expert Blair Warren, our craving for this engagement can override any other need you have—at least in the short term.And this desire is basic. It’s always “lurking just behind our awareness, looking for something to ‘lock onto,’” Warren notes.(22)
Mental engagement also fulfills Warren’s Hidden Addiction #5: “People need to know things others don’t know or things they aren’t supposed to know.”(22)
Plus, the strange and mysterious activates the Bizarreness Effect. “Bizarre material is better remembered than common material,” says entrepreneur, trainer, and conversion consultant Jeremy Smith.
And marketers shouldn’t be afraid of use this confirmation bias either, he adds–because it works.But, Smith warns–don’t over use it or offend your reader.(23)
The arcane also triggers your readers’ curiosity—called the “One emotion that rules them all,” by Andy Maslen, British author, coach, and marketer.(24)
So that’s why creating a file of arcana will help you propel readers through your copy or content. And surprisingly, this material can be used in more ways than you may think.
Where to unleash this hydra-headed weapon
Here’re five ways you can use it to get an edge over your competition—other humans and—could it be?—artificial intelligence.
Your file will give you:
- Content subjects
- Copy/content boosters
- Object writing prompts
- Colorful phrases & words
- Headline, subhead concepts
Now I like the idea of having both online and physical files–the former for pasting and copying; the latter for browsing.
Another reason you’ll find this file so helpful—the concepts can be reused on multiple media and platforms.
Now the specific content in your file depends on you. But it should only include ideas that are truly odd, taboo, or bizarre. Concepts so mystifying yet fascinating, your readers will crave more.
Main keys to success here: Your instincts and knowledge of your audience.
Next, I want to share with you some examples from my file. Then, show how I used it in the past to trigger my reader’s need–and greed–for mental engagement—and how I plan to do so in the future.
Origins: From the bowels of the internet…
Let’s start by looking at my first two entrants.
“7 Terrifying Cursed Objects…”
The first document, “7 Terrifying Cursed Objects That Actually Exist,”(25) got printed for a long-form article for my website in 2014. And this print-out, to which I have since added more evil examples, gave me the idea for creating my arcane file.
Anyway, here’s the quick story behind it. While reading the article, this thought struck me: “H-mmm, I wouldn’t want any of those cursed objects in my house. And a similar idea applies to copywriting. There are a lot of things I certainly don’t want in my copy.”
The principle behind that article applies to many other forms of copy and content—from landing pages and promotional e-mails to case studies and e-books. And since I’ve added many more examples of cursed objects to that original document, I can now easily create fresh material on that theme whenever I desire.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”entered my file next.
I had used this ultra-popular poem as part of the theme for an article that analyzed Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition.”This long-form post explores how the info in Poe’s essay could be used todayas an effective template by content writers.
Two questions initially arose: How could I use this eerie poem in the future? And why would I want to?
First, that last question. My post had gotten many favorable comments on social media sites.
A big reason cited? Nostalgia. Most people had read Poe before—usually as required reading in high school. So it triggered that potent emotion.
Now here’re some ways I can get future mileage from “The Raven.”
For setting or mood:
“Deep into that darkness peering, long stood there wondering, fearing… But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token….”
“Thrilled me–filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;…”
And of course…
“Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary, Over any a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,…”
Also, since the raven was once considered a “prophet of doom” in European legend, I might want to reference Poe’s poem if writing about ravens, omens, and so on.
Now, let’s look at some strange—even freakish—stuff I’m poised to use in the future…
Those Evil Clowns
First, this material would get included regardless of all of the evil clown mayhem that happened in late summer 2016.
But these reports of so many clown sightings, and even assaults and acts of intimidation, make this subject even more topical.
Now when clowns do their job, entertaining children and adults, well, who cares? But when they start acting sinister, I get fascinated. So, as the following document shows, do a lot of others.
This entry combines two articles: A Brief History of Clowns: How Did They Become Evil?(26) and What Do the Scary Clowns Want? (27).
They both begin by researching the “Great Clown Scare of 2016.” They then trace the modern version of the evil clown as far back as 1585.(27)
Mind-zapping tidbits I’ll reap from this material include:
** The creepy clown sighting that began in August 2016 were started by—one of us!
It’s true—at least according to the New York Times.(26) Apparently, a marketer, described only as a young man, decided he needed some guerilla marketing to publicize a new horror short (?).
So he paraded the streets of Green Bay, Wis., made up in macabre black-and-white makeup carrying black balloons.
** Phantom clown sightings fit the description of urban legends.(27) These legends, says folklore scholar Jan Harold Brunvand, emerge as enduring rumors about unlikely events spread via word-of-mouth.
And when are urban legends most effective? “…In times of anxiety, (and) when there are low levels of trust in official institutions and sources of information.”(27) That means most of the time, right?
Shorter potential nuggets from my clown content include…
- Some people are spooked by the creepy similarities between the faces of clowns and demons. And “Where there is mystery, it’s supposed to be evil, so we think, ‘What are you hiding?’” says author and English professor Andrew Stott.
- “Fear of the Mask”–Many adults fear clowns because they can’t read their emotions. Apparently, early childhood contact with clowns–the familiar body with the unfamiliar face–can cause this condition.
- This distress is similar to the eerie “Uncanny Valley Effect”—a subject definitely worthy of future attention. In short, you feel unease viewing something human that’s not quite right—like a decomposing human face or a humanoid robot.(26)
Next, let’s look at a historic nightmare from the past—covered in an article I recently added to my collection.The subject…
The Always Brutal & Lethal Black Death
This material, simply titled ”The Black Death” from the online version of Aeon magazine, contains a bonanza of references for future health-related copy and content.
Here’re some examples:
** Deadliness—The Black Death (1346—1353) killed one in three Europeans and untold millions of Asian. Suppose a third of the people you know or see daily disappeared.
In other words, within just over six years, a third of the world’s population died.(28)
** Speed and transmissibility—Imagine you met someone for lunch. Then later that evening, you heard that person started spitting blood then died. The plague spread that fast.
Like wildfire, it scorched town after town, country after country.
“It wiped out entire households; some buried all their children before dying themselves. …Nuns took in the dying…, then went their own way to death…. Men took to horseback… (only for) the disease to strike them down a few days later.”(28)
** Relationships—Like many subjects you’ll write about, the Black Death exploded out of an exact alignment of conditions.
Four “stars” shining in a particular way in the night sky launched what is known at the greatest catastrophe in human history.
Those “stars” were: a germ—the pathogen Yersinia Pestis; a host—the Central Asian marmot; an Empire—fast-moving Mongol hordes; and Pulexirritans–the human flea.(28)
On those grim notes, let’s move on to one of the most bizarre entries I’ve collected. Here I’ll reveal some “fascinations” about…
The real sources of creepiness
Creepy people and things have always intrigued us.
Serial killers, rampaging monsters, and of course, killer clowns—why the continuous curiosity about these freakish creatures and other oddities?
Well, to answer that question, two psychologists from Knox College in Illinois published a paper exploring that subject in “New Ideas in Psychology.”(11)
Even cooler, Aeon magazine reviewed the study, “On the nature of creepiness,’’ and made it more readable for the general public with their article, “A Theory of Creepiness.”(29)
Needless to say, after I read the Aeon story, then the original study, I knew I had a “keeper.”
So here’s some key ideas I found that could be of use to me—or you–in the future…
–How your “creepiness detector” gets triggered:
* Someone or something creeps you out when you’re unsure whether he, she, or it is dangerous or is going to do something unpredictable.
This uncertainty causes mental paralysis, and is called “The Threat Ambiguity Theory” of creepiness (TAT).(29)
* Then there’s “The Categorical Ambiguity Theory” of creepiness (CAT).
You experience CAT when you meet someone or something that defies categorization. This thing “…appears to belong to two or more totally different separate groups. Now, you’re suspended between alternatives.”(29)
–The revealing creepiness tendencies:(30)
Occupations (From top down):
- Clown, taxidermist, sex shop owner, funeral director, unemployed, clergy, janitor, garbage collector, guard, and so on. (Oh yes, #11 is writer.)
Likely creepy characteristics:
- Stands to close to others; greasy, unkempt hair; peculiar smile; bulging eyes; pale skin; long fingers; odd, dirty clothing; unpredictable laugh; and so on.
Hobbies and interests:
- Collects dolls, insects, reptiles, or human body parts (such as teeth, bones, or fingernails).
- Somebody who likes watching, following, stalking, or taking pictures of others.
- Someone who is absorbed with pornography and, again, taxidermy.
This next and final article is such a splendid example of someone mining deep concepts from seemingly common material.So let’s quickly explore Dr. Robert M. Price’s October 2015 blog post, the “October Agenda,” where…
Philosophy autopsies classic horror films
Our author, scholar, and theologian found many intriguing revelations “hidden” in these old films.
We’ll start out with “Frankenstein” (1931). Here, Price finds two universal truths that could make fascinating fodder for future copy and content.
** Truth one concerns the gravely vital task of child rearing and the consequences when that duty is mucked up.
What happens to Dr. Frankenstein’s creature is a bizarre but often accurate example. The monster is left in the depraved, sadistic care of the crazed hunchback, Igor.
And because of this brutal upbringing, Frankenstein develops to expect the world to mistreat him. He then reacts with deadly force whenever he feels threatened, not knowing any other way.(31)
** Truth two is what happens when one sets out on “the Nietzschean-Faustian quest for forbidden knowledge.”
Evidenced in this movie as well as some of the 50’s and 60’s Frankenstein films, this concept isn’t as complex as it sounds. Basically, it means when you’re warned to avoid a dangerous pursuit because of uncertain consequences, listen.
Also, figuratively selling your soul to the devil to get riches and glory rarely ends well (the Faustian part).(31)
These next two monster movies share a theme that has haunted humans from day one. In short, they show “…the animal savagery underlying the cultured veneer of civilization bursting forth.”(31)
What’s thought-provocative is that in “The Wolf Man” (1941), man’s rampaging bestial nature erupts due to external reasons.
In “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931,’41), the cause is internal.
The difference is irrelevant.
It’s there, lurking, in both cases, ready to explode.(31)
My final nugget from Price’s post comes from the psychological horror film “Psycho” (1960). However, you may want to save this info for more “extreme” content.
Here’s why. This movie, says Price, is riddled with the theories of famed neurologist Dr. Sigmund Freud.
First, there’s the incest taboo.
Main character Norman Bates is ruled by his Oedipus Complex (son falls in love with his mom). When he feels that his mother has betrayed him by having a lover, he kills her.
Later, he dresses as her while performing arcane ritual reenactments of the murder. Freud called this act an example of totem sacrifice.
And don’t forget this…
These classic-film-based copy or content “inciters” offer added zoom because they can trigger the tremendous power of nostalgia in many readers.
And–before unleashing your eyebrow-raising arcana on readers, make sure you…
Don’t Forget To Check For This…
You’re probably familiar with the basic ideas regarding fair use and copyright infringement. But a quick review before you start charging up your copy and content with my file ideas will help.
Here are six general guidelines to follow:
- Fair Use favors scholarship and critical review. Its use in sales is permitted but is looked on less favorably.
- The less material you use compared to the size of the original the better.
- Ensure that your excerpt only supports your point and is not the core of it.
- It’s not Fair Use if you cite so much that it lowers the need for anyone to read the original.(32)
- Fair Use standards for fiction are harder to meet than non-fiction.
- Your use mustn’t devalue the original work.(33)
So be on the safe side here. Do your due diligence before using any amount of another author’s copyrighted work.
You’ve been warned to “Differentiate Or Die”
And this strategy is an ideal way to help you do that. So now it’s up to you. Create your own arcane file. Then, start seeding your content and copy as needed.
Once you do that right, you’re guaranteed to ignite the kind of mental engagement in your readers that’ll keep them devouring your messages to the last word.
“It was a repulsive task that we undertook in the black small hours, even though we lacked at that time the special horror of graveyards which later experiences brought to us.”(1)
And once I started to notice their often-peculiar structure, I experienced a special fascination with the H.P. Lovecraft’s opening sentences…
Escape the “Lurking Fear” That Haunts So Many Content Writers
Failure shadows the writer…
…whose opening sentences don’t overcome the content shock plaguing today’s jaded readers.
And good chance, if you’re a content creator, you’ve struggled with this common curse yourself.
Even the experts agree about this information overload.
They warn or advise…
“From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.”(34)
Lisa Cron, Wired for Story, 2012
“To grab and keep your audience’s attention, it’s best to use at least one attention-grabbing method that yanks your readers into your articles by creating intense curiosity.”(35)
Sean D’Souza, marketing strategist, Copyblogger, 11/2016
“Writers live or die on their leads, the opening lines that set the stage for all that follows. Great leads hook readers immediately, drawing them into their stories….”(36)
Jack Hart, former managing editor and writing coach for The Oregonian and University of Oregon journalism and communication professor
However, ask the pros how to structure a sentence that best captures your reader’s curiosity, and you’ll get different answers.
Well—I’ve found a solution, one hiding in the horror fiction of a long-dead, legendary titan of terror.
And this discovery works for all types of content: marketing articles, feature articles, blogs, e-mails, e-books, essays, and so on.
Also, it’s ideal for many lead types such as story, punch, contrast, and descriptive.
By the way, you’ll notice some of these sentences and examples approach 20 words or so in length.
Don’t let that bother you here. When you use the right structure, curiosity triggers, and imagery, it won’t be a hindrance.
Now before getting to our spellbinding sentences, let’s look at who I call…
“The sorcerer of the opening sentence”
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1890—1937, created cosmic horror far more popular now than in his lifetime.
His short stories and novellas blended horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Within them, Lovecraft thrilled readers with weird tales of ancient and malign alien, supernatural, and other-world creatures and features.
And since his death, many big-name horror authors have used the bizarre themes he created.
Examples include Stephen King (The Mist), Robert Bloch (Psycho), and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian).
But Lovecraft’s reach extends far beyond these novels/movies.
Many of his tales were turned directly into movies: “The Dunwich Horror,” “Re-animator,” “Necrinomicon,” and many more.
Also, Lovecraft’s shadow looms large in many hit movies and their many sequels: “Aliens,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Evil Dead.” Plus, his work has also influenced television, video games, and comic books.(37)
So—have material you want readers to eagerly devour? Then you’ll want to look at these 13 Lovecraft templates and my updated versions. Because they’re sure to…
Get your readers shivering—in anticipation
Here’s how this is set up…
First I’ll give the title and first sentence of a Lovecraft story. Next I’ll give a short reason why its structure works so well. Then I’ll provide two updated versions that could be used in content today.
Let’s start with…
The Dreams In The Witch House
“Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams Walter Gillman did not know.”
Rhythm and emphasis—this balanced sentence has both. But most important, it has mystery. Of course the more vivid and emotion-filled your subjects, the more impact this lead will have.
Here are some ways I would swipe this sentence:
Whether my boozing brought on my bankruptcy or my bankruptcy brought on my boozing, I could not remember.
Whether the nasty infection brought on the deadly disease or the deadly disease brought on the nasty infection, the cancer doctors did not know.
The Whisperer In Darkness
“Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end.”
Pure curiosity. What happened? And what is this “visual horror” causing the horrible situation?
Basically—“Don’t forget something mysterious and dreadful causes or implies a ruinous event.”
Here’re my ideas:
Remember, I didn’t ask my accountant to take the “shortcuts” that cost my firm millions in fines and legal fees.
Don’t forget, I didn’t expect my copywriter to make the unproven claims and false promises that caused the FTC…
…to start stalking my company like a snarling pit bull.
At the Mountains Of Madness
‘I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why.”
This announces something big or noteworthy has happened and you need to know about it.
Strong authority and curiosity reign here: Why are authorities ignoring him? Why are they ignorant of his findings?
And why should they believe him anyway?
Here’re my versions:
I’m forced to write you because the Center for Disease Control won’t act on my life-saving cure—and refuses to explain why.
I’m forced to send this message because this county’s largest banks refuse to respond to my proof of massive fraud.
Herbert West – Re-animator
“Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after-life, I can speak only with extreme terror.”
First, here’s a fine example of a period sentence—one that ends with a punch. It’s set up by the paradox of a life-long friend who now provokes terrible fear.
(Something familiar now causes fear, hate or even intrigue.)
The name of Dr. Hugh Payne, our family doctor, still fills me with terror and humiliation.
For Judas Madoff, my former investment advisor, I only desire one thing: total vengeance.
“I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.”
More curiosity with some empathy thrown in. Basically, anxiety and despair gnaws because of impending death.
Intense pain racks my body as I write, but I must before this obscure, life-sapping disease kills me.
Betrayed and humiliated, I write to you now—before I do something insanely destructive.
The Thing On The Doorstep
“It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer.”
Another paradox. A man admits a specific, violent act then denies what’s obvious to all. He then promises to explain his contrasting statements.
You bet I gambled away my kid’s college money, but yet I promise, I only had their best interests at heart.
Sure, I use to spam and scam my list, but now, with my new system, I’m making big dollar ethically—and…
… you can too.
The Lurking Fear
“There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear.”
Yes, here’s a 20-word sentence—but a superb one. The descriptive words and phrases trigger curiosity and the imagination.
Also, it’s another periodic sentence. Who doesn’t want to know what the heck “the lurking fear” is?
Dread filled me as I hesitantly entered my doctor’s office—would I be leaving with a death sentence?
Filled with gloom, I waited for my accountant to tell me if my “error” would mean my company was now bankrupt.
The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward
“From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person.”
This sentence highlights an intriguing location matched with an unusual person. It also works well if you have a fascinating source and a strange situation.
And notice how the word “disappeared” adds more mystery.
From the psychiatric ward at Arkham, Mass., rose the memories of a woman who endured years of sadistic torture have horrified doctors.
From the Underground Health Reporter’s website, dreadful news has been revealed: The Black Death is back!
The Shadow Out Of Time
“After 22 years of nightmare and terror, saved only by a desperate conviction of the mythical sources of certain impressions, I am unwilling to vouch for the truth of that which I think I found in Western Australia on the night of July 17-18, 1935.”
A 45-word sentence packed with imagery and details. But, as you’ll see, my swipes either shorten or alter the structure.
Also, notice how the vivid image “nightmare and terror” and “mythical sources” stoke curiosity.
After three years of bullying from high school thugs—and back-alley sprints home—Ike learned Krav Maga…
…and suddenly announced, “It’s payback time.”
After studying the strange spending habits of our new mayor—and interviewing several anonymous sources…
…Karl wrote an expose that none of the local media dared touch.
“Horrible beyond conception was the change which had taken place in my best friend, Crawford Tiillinghast.”
A frightening event happened to someone held in high esteem. Also, this works to contrast something nasty happing to a “good person.”
Depressed beyond belief, Joel pondered his future—lots of diapers and colostomy bags—after the botched colon surgery.
Her boyfriend didn’t want to face the truth—but after four-years at a liberal college—Bernice had changed into a whiny bitch.
The Curse of Yig
“In 1925 I went into Oklahoma looking for snake lore, and I came out with a fear of snakes that will last me a lifetime.”
Here expectation ends badly—ramping up curiosity.
I entered a relationship with this strange woman seeking love but left feeling betrayed—and on my way to prison.
I started taking Hairballs last year to combat baldness and meet women, but now– I’m as impotent as a eunuch.
“Writing on what my doctor tells me is my deathbed; my most hideous fear is that the man is wrong.”
A different paradox to stop readers in their tracks. The author knows his death approaches. But fears it won’t happen.
In other words, something terrible is about to happen. And the author welcomes it. What?
The grim reaper stalks me in this cold cancer ward, but after months of agony, I await him eagerly.
My creditors want my business and they can have it—cooked books, angry vendors, back-stabbing employees, and all.
The Shunned House
“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.”
A short sentence that arouses curiosity and promises a fascinating story. You can go positive or negative with this pattern.
From even a little curiosity a punch in the nose can be your reward.
Even if you survive a long battle with cancer, other immunity-killing diseases can be waiting–ready to strike.
Crave easily conjuring up first sentences that quickly pull in readers? Then animate your articles with these kinds of openings.
You’re living proof this works…
Now this initial sentence strategy is almost as new to me as it is to you. So its effectiveness hasn’t yet been proven.
But, since you’re reading this, it does obviously work.
You see, I used a “Lovecraft Lead” to start this article.
My first sentence…
“Failure shadows the writer…
…whose opening sentences don’t overcome the content shock plaguing today’s jaded reader.”
…is based on Lovecraft’s lead sentence from “The Outsider”…
“Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.”
“We could not get bodies fresh enough to shew any trace of reason when reanimated, so had perforce created nameless horrors. It was disturbing to think that one, perhaps two, of our monsters still lived….”(1)
Since I had such a blast writing this last article, and for context continuity, I’m running it almost in its entirety.
Once you take a look, you’ll quickly understand why it was so much fun to write. That means, it’s just as entertaining to read…
How the Frightful Mistakes Made by People Facing Supernatural Terror…
…Can Help You Accelerate Website Conversions
Misery, injury, even death…
…have followed the harmful decisions of people who’ve confronted the horrors of the supernatural world.
But even weirder,…
…the psychological causes for most of those encounters can help marketers, web designers, copywriters, and content creators convert more website visitors.
So how can you boost inquiries, shares or sales, downloads, and opt-in numbers thanks to other people’s ill-fated decisions?
By using certain cognitive biases the right way in your marketing material.
Now you’re probably heard of these biases—or mental shortcuts– before.
They often cause people to think emotionally and stray from logical decision-making.
So they“…Impact how we buy, sell, interact with friends, think, feel, and so on,”says Shanelle Mullin, veteran growth and content marketer.(38)
Specifically, cognitive biases affect how likely your visitors will…
…think and feel about your site and company…
…convert to leads…
…and share or talk about your product or service.(38)
Of course, these tactical tendencies also influence you. Since they’re emotion-based, they can disturb your ability to run rational tests, analyze results, and get untainted samples, she notes.
But “Once you’re aware of the different cognitive biases, you can begin to account for them…” and start using them to affect your visitor’s thinking, Mullen observes.(38)
In fact, using these psychological “nuggets” to optimize your website conversions gives you an unfair advantage over your competitors, adds Jeremy Smith, entrepreneur, trainer, and conversion consultant.
For instance, they’ll strengthen your sales argument and help you counter objections while making more money and connections, Smith says.(39)
However, most laundry lists of cognitive biases create a problem you’re probably familiar with. Fascinating material, yes. But shortly after reading them, you can only remember one or two.
That’s where this article will help. Use it to master or reinforce your knowledge of the biases.
Below you’ll find 14 biases that can boost your website conversions. They’re introduced by creative stories about the supernatural to help reinforce the definitions and applications that follow.
Three short real-life stories about fatal decisions based on one or more cognitive biases. These lethal judgments about the paranormal directly ended in mystifying deaths.
“Ouija Board Targets Friend for Death”
The four high school girls gathered around the Ouija Board centered on the dining room table.
All felt excited, curious—and a little guilty.
You see, it was odd that any of the teens would bring a forbidden object like a Ouija Board to a sleepover. All four were known for their strong Christian beliefs, embedded since childhood.
Anyways, they decided to ask the board about a close friend elsewhere that Friday night. Then they waited, giggling and laughing nervously.
However nothing happened, so a short time later they put the game away.
But a week later, their absent friend was in a horrible car accident—and died in the hospital soon after.
Now, and for the rest of their lives, this question would haunt the teens: “Did we cause our friend’s death by painting a spiritual target on her back?”(40)
Family Declares War on Ghosts, Then Disappear
The Jamisons of Eufola, Oklahoma, vanished after vowing to vanquish spirits in their home.
Bob (age 44), Sherilyn (40), and Madyson (6) disappeared in October 2009. Their dead bodies weren’t discovered until over four years later.
Before they disappeared, both parents had told their pastor they’d seen the spirits of a family that died in their house. And that their daughter had talked to one of the children.
The father then allegedly asked the pastor for “special” bullets to shoot the phantoms. He even asked about having an exorcism performed in his home.
Anyway, the family’s remains were found 30 miles away in November 2013–too badly decomposed to determine causes of death.
Oddly, the three corpses lie side-by-side—face down.(41)
“Don’t Ever Go To This Cemetery!”
There’s only one site known for supernatural activity that paranormal author and researcher Fiona Broome won’t go back to again.
And that’s Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, New Hampshire.
In 1999, her chief photographer and researcher, Nancy, investigated there at night. She reported that she encountered something that frightened her.
Five days later, a passerby found her dead in her car in a busy Wilton parking lot.
Although medical authorities declared a heart attack as the cause of death, Broome disagreed. No credible explanation existed for what happened, she says.
Nancy epitomized common sense and physical fitness, she adds. “To many of us, her death seemed directly connected with her Vale End experience.”
Broome’s conclusion about the event:
“If you go to Vale End after reading my warnings and others,’ you are stupider than I can deal with.”(42)
Now let’s look at our biases—some of which influenced the deadly decisions above—and find out how to profit from them on your website. (After you finish this article, you should be able to figure out which ones applied to the above true-life—or so-claimed–stories.)
Penetrate the Dark Mysteries of Our Cognitive Biases
Sylvia and her psychic research team usually only investigated homes and people under attack by vicious demons.
Their first project was a nasty demon possession case in New Haven, Conn., five years ago. Since then, they’ve specialized in this dangerous often soul-sucking “niche.”
And they’ve made good money: a book deal, monetized YouTube channel, appearances on paranormal-related TV programs, and ghost hunting workshops and excursions.
So Sylvia surprised team members when they met Friday evening to learn about their next target.
Poltergeists were harassing the residents of a new luxury home in a nearby suburb, making their lives miserable.
At first, several members of Sylvia’s team felt this was a step down for them. They tackled the “Big Dogs” of the supernatural world, not spirits referred to as “Noisy Ghosts.”
They knew that, yes, poltergeists can be frightening. But many times their activity ends quickly and harmlessly. Also, some experts believe they’re just a mass of energy controlled unknowingly by a living person.(6)
But after a little thought, they quickly changed their minds.
…their lives were in danger whenever they fought demons that wanted to drag them to Hell and chow on their souls…
…in comparison, dealing with pesky poltergeists that just slammed doors, rearranged furniture, and turned lights on and off would be a breeze.
Our researchers had been anchored to combating the “Big Boys” of the supernatural world: demons.
So missions were triggered only when they heard or read about them.
That’s how anchoring also affects prospects visiting your website.
It occurs when someone relies too heavily, or “anchors” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. And that’s usually the first piece of information they find on that subject.(2)
- For example, say the first price someone sees on your site for a bottle of supplements is $39.99. If they then see it reduced to $24.99, they’re likely to buy it.
That first price is the anchor and affects your customer’s future decisions.(2) Of course, you can use this bias to get the price you want.
- Anchoring is also why you’re advised to always check your competitors’ pricing. Naturally, if a prospect sees something cheaper on their site, they’re more likely to reject your price.
- Also, if your visitor has a bad impression of your brand–that’s their anchor. So whether it’s from friends, family, online forums, or previous experience, they’ll be less likely to buy from you.(1)
- And don’t forget the Decoy Effect.
Say you offer consulting services. You should present prospects with three options: one with a low price, one at moderate cost, and one extremely high priced.
That last offer will convert many more people from the low price one to the moderately priced option—generating more profit for your business.(9)
- And if you’re optimizing your website, don’t let this happen…
You’re A/B testing and you encounter a button color change that increased conversions. This becomes your anchor. And you’re less likely to try other A/B tests, even radical redesign.(1)
A club of paranormal enthusiasts read that many of their peers were checking out an abandoned asylum they believed haunted.
Now our group wanted to get taken seriously. So they went charging out to the “The Hillsdale Hellhole” to investigate.
In fact, they were so excited they decided to do a little celebrating while they explored. Unfortunately, they did a little too much.
Not only did they leave trash and some pricey equipment behind, they also wrote graffiti identifying their club.
So instead of gaining reputations as upcoming pros in their field, they became examples for how not to act during field research.
Believing or doing something because someone else does—that’s the Bandwagon Effect. Groupthink and herd behavior are similar concepts.(2)
Here’s how to use this behavioral tendency to build credibility:
- Create the perception that your product or service is a hot seller. Web visitors will then be more likely to want it themselves. That’s why authority, scarcity, and social proof work so well.
- Add social proof near points of friction–calls to action, checkout pages, and on order forms. Also, use it with numbers (50 overjoyed clients) and testimonials (“I love Dale because he gets fast results.”)
- Find a niche community and their influencers. Use content to seed your product or service to that community and become an important resource there.
Once you’ve won as many fans and followers as possible, move onto another one.
- Know who and what might be influencing your tests.
For example, studying marketers who believe changing an order button size will significantly impact conversions? Then you’re more likely to believe this will also affect your conversions too.(1)
A team of paranormal investigators is exploring an old creepy mansion considered haunted by locals.
With checklist in hand…
…they hear eerie creaking noises and sudden rumblings from deep within the dull yellow walls. They then discover several cold spots and even see an old chipped rocking horse gently swaying.
Oh yeah, this place is haunted, our ghost hunters quickly conclude.
They don’t even bother to check to see if the causes behind the “phenomena” could be caused by non-supernatural reasons.
For example, the creepy sounds could be caused by loose or uneven floorboards or century-old plumbing. Open windows or holes in the crumbling building could cause cold spots and movement of the wooden horse.(7)
So these ghost hunters are possessed by the Confirmation Bias.
This mental shortcut causes you to “…search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions,” notesneuro-marketingexpertRoger Dooley.(1)
How it affects your visitors…
- Your prospects have preconceptions, and you’ll have a hard time changing them. So validate those existing biases on an emotional level.
Use familiarity and consistency instead of trying to alter those ideas and beliefs.(1)
- Andwhere do you find those preconceptions? In your psychographics of your targeted prospect.
So match your visitor’s views on politics, religion, medicine, and even scientific or economic theories in your copy and content.
Don’t fall victim to this tendency yourself…
- If you have an idea, you might subconsciously begin to seek out information to confirm it. That could mean a lot of wasted time on meaningless research.
- For example, say at first you suspect reducing form fields increases conversions, and find that it does, If you decide to move on without more testing, you can miss other vital insights and findings.
You could even misinterpret data just to confirm your idea or belief. So before you run a test, try to remove emotional attachment to a specific outcome.(1)
My dad, who claimed psychic ability, maintained he saw a ghost when he was 10.
But he didn’t freak out because the spirit appeared as his recently deceased mother.
You may have heard similar stories where people swear they saw a dead relative. But since the phantom is “family,” they frame the experience as positive.
How could it be framed differently? Easily, if they only knew.
Many occult experts believe differently about this kind of phenomena. They suspect that the entity is actually a deceitful demon.
It’s mission? The usual—adding another soul to its collection.
So if my dad had been aware of this alternate theory, he undoubtedly would have framed it differently.
In essence, framing occurs when people draw opposing conclusions from the same information, depending on how that information is presented.(2)
First, keep these three concepts in mind when framing info—especially data:
- Prospects feel loss more intensely than gain.
- They prefer a sure win to a possible one. (the Certainty Effect)
- They also prefer a possible loss to a sure loss. (the Pseudo-certainty Effect)(1)
Here’s how it influences your site visitors and you:
- The presentation of your information is critical to your reader’s acceptance of it.
In your copy and design, the placement of your value proposition and call to action is just as important as what they are. Plus, as part of your framing strategy, use data to persuade…ask questions to encourage deep thinking…or tell a story.
And make sure you’re pointing everyone to the same conclusion.
- Don’t forget, if you’re doing customer surveys or research, your questions are subject to this effect. The way you ask them can lead to vastly variable results.
So before releasing a survey or research, or asking even a single question, make sure your language is easily understood. Plus, avoid leading questions.
- Also ensure that you’re clear and concise when presenting material to your peers or team. You don’t want them reaching wrong conclusions about the usefulness of your test and the knowledge gained.(1)
Frightening videos and stories about contact with a demon named ZOSO during Ouija board sessions abound online.
So Sofia, a psychic, decided to try and contact ZOSO and write about her experience in her blog.
She spent three days working her spirit board. Sofia made contact with several spirits but not ZOSO.
So the good news is, she didn’t fall victim to a vicious demon. She did, however, fall for the Conjunction Fallacy.
That’s the tendency to assume that specific conditions are more probable then general ones, says Smith.(2)
On your website, for instance, that means use specific testimonials.
In fact, here’s a quick secret to writing those specific testimonials from master marketer and copywriter Joanna Wiebe.
These testimonials cover three elements, she notes.
1. The Before: Overcoming a key objection, such as a reason to hesitate before buying
2. The After: Discovering the wonders of the solution after buying
3. The Experience: Feeling a sincere emotional response to using the solution
“By addressing these three points in each testimonial…you’re essentially crafting a story for your visitors. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” Wiebe explains.
You can also sprinkle shorter testimonials amidst the longer ones, she advises. But be sure they address either “The Before,” “The After,” or “The Experience.”(8)
Also, offer case studies that use gripping stories that sell on your site.
Other specifics you can add include: Test data, scientific studies, industry-specific knowledge, survey results, and star ratings.
Biff, a ghost hunter, stared in unbelief at the raven-haired goddess who had just sat down at his table.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her lustrous black hair, jet-black eyes, and exquisite nose and mouth.
And he almost didn’t dare sneak a quick glance at her taut, lissome body.
Somehow it never occurred to Biff to question why this epitome of womanly perfection with the devilish grin would…
…sit with him considering the many better alternatives…
…disdainfully reject every man—and woman—who approached her…
…and smile to herself occasionally as if she found something extremely funny.
Because he obsessed with appearance only, Biff suffered from the Focusing Effect. And later that night, he suffered even more when…
Lilith, the ancient demoness, ripped his heart out and ate it–then dined on his soul for desert.
This effect kicks in when you place too much value on one feature of an event—or person.(2)
For instance, people tend to focus on one thing about your product or service, instead of many things.
So rather than shot-gunning your prospect with a bunch of features and benefits, focus on that one vital something that will dramatically transform his or her life.(2)
Also, don’t forget about the potency of driving your copy or content with one emotionally compelling idea. This insightful idea should engage your reader emotionally and rationally.(10)
The Halloween investigation into the House of Hades would pull in millions of viewers—and dollars.
After all, there were so many reports of shocking supernatural activity from there.
Frightened trespassers noted horrifying reflections in mirrors, thunderous foot-stomping from upper floor rooms, and seeing dark shapes in their peripheral vision that vanished when they turned to look.
Plus plenty of other unnerving paranormal occurrences were recorded.
Alyssa, the producer heading the project, was pumped.
“This is going to be a huge winner for our team and network,” she exclaimed.
Alyssa had good reason for over-optimism. However, as you know, forecasting future events based on past ones can be dicey.
So she needs her newest research to confirm her big expectations if she’s to continue the costly project.
Anytime someone gets over-optimistic and overestimates favorable results they’re affected by the Optimism Bias.(2)
How this applies to your website…
Contented customers cruising through your sales funnel feel the Optimism Bias. Don’t do anything to ruin this.
Eliminate busted checkout systems, additional fees, and anything that causes a lousy user experience.(2) Also, don’t annoy prospects with intrusive pop-up offers and multiple upsell/downsell pages.
These people faced a gauntlet—and half of them ended up on the chopping block, Colin, a parapsychology researcher, thought with a shiver.
Two team members got picked off as they probed the bleak and forsaken 50-year old hospital. Minutes later, they were heard screaming and gibbering in horror and agony as the long-dead Dr. Diablo and his ghouls began to lobotomize them.
But, Colin noted, the press did cover the two survivors with lengthy stories and even follow-ups.
Hmmm, that’s good, he thought. “I think we ought to find out what happened there.”
“A 50 percent survival rate? I think my new team can beat that percentage!”
This bias hits when you concentrate on people that survived some event—accidentally overlooking those who didn’t because they weren’t as visible.(2)
This also applies to your goods and services. Show how yours have survived rigorous testing.
If you sell supplements, reveal how yours passed vigorous independent, double-blind clinical testing. Even better, add that they exceeded the current gold-standard component quality testing standards. (One of the newer methods: liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.)
Also, prove that your products have passedsuperiority testing by reputable organizations such as ConsumerLab.com, U.S. Pharmacopeia, and NSF International.
And if you’re a copywriter, provide stats and examples of promos that have beat out competitors to become controls for your clients.
Illusion of Control & Risk Compensation/Peltzman Effect
The found footage of the abandoned asylum—terrifying.
The paranormal investigators were picked off one-by-one.
Some got dragged screaming down dark, dank halls—to disappear forever in pitch-black rooms. Others were snatched by creatures on the ceiling and shrieked in terror before vanishing.
“Not going to happen to my team,” thought Victoria, president of Ghost Hunters Extraordinaire.
Her team had the latest in paranormal research:
- Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) Recorders
- A Ghost Box to enhance potential communications
- ElectroMagnetic Field (EFM) meters
- A full-spectrum POV camera
- Laser grids and more
Unfortunately, the waiting—and ravenous—demons stalking the asylum cared not. They had fed off over-confident humans for over half-a-century.
This story covers two similar biases.
In our first one, our team thought they were in charge—and paid for it.
So the Illusion of Control occurs when people overestimate their level of influence over events.(2)
However, you want your web visitors to feel in control when they’re on your site.
So give your prospect some level of choice or influence during the conversion phase. This will likely empower them to finish the purchase or process.(2)
The Risk Compensation /Peltzman Effect happens when people take greater risks when they perceive greater safety.(2)
So make your website feel safe. Users will then more likely choose you and your offer.
Simple ways to do that are to use trust badges, specific testimonials, and have an HTTPs website.(2)
Plus, include accomplishments, chart comparisons, infographics, research findings, client lists, and unique mechanisms or processes.
Illusionary Correlation & Observer-Expectancy Effect
Wow! The results from the Electromagnetic Field (EMF) are off the chart. And we’re getting lot of strange Infrasound recordings, muses the paranormal investigation team leader.
Weirder yet, two of my team members are reporting perception changes in certain rooms, he observes.
“That psychic who just visited this place was spot on…. This place has to be haunted!”
Not so fast, team lead.
- Exposed wiring can alter EMFs
- Highways and underground streams up to a quarter of a mile away can cause Infrasounds
- Reactions to drugs, pollen, and other allergens can cause disorientation(7)
This tale also covers two of our biases.
First, the Illusionary Correlation…
The happens when you wrongly see a connection between two unrelated events. (1)
You see, your brain looks for trends and patterns, often finding them where there aren’t any. These faulty connections affect test results and how you analyze and describe them.
So before making decisions about your data, examine all of the variables that might influence your tests. Then only use significant connections that offer true insight rather than general ones.
Also, when you test, make sure you achieve statistical significance with a hefty enough sample. Fail to do this and you’ll get flawed test results. You’ll just see relationships between untrustworthy data.(1)
With the Observer Expectancy Effect, someone wants or expects a certain result and unconsciously manipulates or misinterprets data or other info to get it.(2)
Prospects see and do what they want to.
Ensure that you know their tendencies so you can reinforce them—not counter them—in your sales funnel. Trying to change their beliefs or behavior can damage conversions.(2)
Bizarreness Effect & Von Restorff Effect
The demon’s evil, malice-filled expression would haunt Dean forever.
The three-day-long exploration of the Winchester house had gone OK. They had recorded some intriguing EVPs and Infrasounds. Plus, witnessed a lot of strange creaking, hissing, and pounding noises.
But that was it.
Until they walked across the overgrown, weed-ridden lawn afterward. That’s when Dean turned back for one last look…
…and there at the center, third-floor window…
…saw a hideous, monstrous face–actually protruding through the window—glaring furiously at them.
A mental image that would stain Dean’s sleep for the rest of his life.
This tale describes both the Bizarreness Effect and the Von Restorff Effect
The first bias contends bizarre material is better retained than common info.(2)
So use bizarre wording, content, design effects and so on to make your products or services memorable. Of course, be smart about it—don’t do anything to push away prospects.
But don’t be afraid to try it—research proves it works.(2)
The second states that something that sticks out is more likely remembered.(2)
While similar to the above, this bias drops the bizarre approach and says to emphasize unique and unusual elements.
So highlight different colors, bigger CTA buttons, flawless product photos, and other potent aspects of your goods or services.(2)
Persuade Web Visitors More Convincingly Than Your Competition Can
Your potential customers and clients make many more emotion-based decisions than rational ones.(2) So you can capitalize on that by subtly convincing them to respond with a “YES” to your copy, content, design, and calls to action.
And these cognitive biases are the ideal tactics for doing that.
So now that you’re more aware of them…and your website visitor’s mental limitations…
You have the power to profit from every connection you make with prospects that visit your site.
“This need for very fresh corpses had been West’s moral undoing. They were hard to get, and one awful day he had secured his specimen while it was still alive and vigorous. A struggle, a needle, and a powerful alkaloid had transformed it to a very fresh corpse….”(1)
Abra Cadaver: Use these concepts to pump voltage into your copy, content
Fresh corpses demand fast action—so do these business-transforming tactics and strategies.
When cops investigate a fresh cadaver they speedily respond with proven procedures—unlike Herb West’s hit-or-miss method. So apply these tantalizing tried-and-true tips and techniques to your work.
The best thing about them is…
…unlike a dead body that soon rots, the mostly evergreen principles discussed here can invigorate the rest of your career.
- Herbert West—Reanimator, H. P. Lovecraft, 1922
- Jeremy Smith, neurosciencemarketing.com, 3/2015
- Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide For Industry, 2001 (FTC)
- The Legalities of Copywriting Made Simple, 2009 (AWAI)
- Legal Issues for Freelance Writers, 2006, (R. Kennedy, B. Bly
- The Associated Press Stylebook, 2007 (AP)
- The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking, 2010 (FTC)
- Adventures in American Literature, HBJ Inc., 1973
- Wendy Montes De Oca, MBA, Content IS Cash, 2012
- Mark Ford & Will Newman, Persuasion The Subtle Art of Getting What You Want, 2014
- Neville Medhora, Tone of Voice in Copywriting & Your Brand (W/Examples)
- Jack Hart, A Writer’s Coach, 2006
- Jack HaHart, Storycraft, 2011
- Naveed Saleh, The Complete Guide to Article Writing, 2013
- American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2001
- The Forbidden Keys to Persuasion Lesson Manual, Blair Warren, 2007
- “67 Ways to Increase Conversion with Cognitive Biases,” Neurosciencemarketing.com, 2015
- Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen, 2015
- http://io9.com/7-terrifying-cursed-objects-that-exist-in-real-life-1560847160, 2014
- The Legalities of Copywriting Made Simple, 2009 (AWAI)
- Legal Issues for Freelance Writers, 2006, (R. Kennedy, B. Bly)
- Lisa Cron, Story analyst and UCLA writers’ program instructor
- Sean D’Souza, marketing strategist, Copyblogger, 11/2016
- Jack Hart, A Writer’s Coach—The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work, 2006
- The Dark Art of Writing Long-Form Sales Pages, Joanna Wiebe, 2012
- Methods of Persuasion, Nick Kolenda, 2013
- Persuasion: The Subtle Art of Getting What You Want, Mark Ford & Will Newman, 2014
Dale L. Sims is a stealth sales strategist based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also, from May 2010 to Jan. 2014, he served as marketing coordinator and health consultant for Healthy Design, a supplement and fitness product distributor in Cadillac, Michigan.
Plus, he is a former reporter, editor, and radio advertising salesman.