Copywriting isn’t just about tips and tricks. It’s understanding what drives people to decide, purchase, or act. Knowing the psychology behind behavior can be a powerful tool in helping to remove barriers and get your target audience to take action. Daniel Daines-Hutt shares his psychology tactics to improve your content.
Rich: A self-confessed marketing nerd, my guest today teaches people how to write and distribute content that gets readers to take action. He’s the founder of ampmycontent.com, The Amplify Content Academy, is head of content of zerotomastery.io. Today we’ll be looking at the psychological triggers you can employ in your own marketing to get your audience to take action, with Daniel Daines-Hutt. Daniel, welcome back to the program.
Daniel: Hello. Thanks for having me again. Yeah, it’s been a while.
Rich: It’s three years. It’s been a while. Something like that. And I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ll just say, I heard Daniel on another podcast, I liked what he had to say, I reached out to him and I’m like, “Come on the show.” And it was only when I started putting my notes together, I’m like, wait a sec, he’s already been on the show, you idiot. So anyways, I’m glad to have you back anyways, Daniel, even though I have no memory. So I’m sorry. We were talking about brain fog before we started hitting record, so let’s just blame it on that.
Daniel: Yeah, in fairness, same thing occurred to me because I did about 90 podcasts over a three-month period. And so when you reached out, I was like, I know this show. I’ve listened to this show. And I’m like, have I not been on this show? It wasn’t until we started chatting, I was like, I know you.
Rich: Yeah. There you go. So we talked about a completely different topic last time, but this time we’re talking about psychological triggers. So what caused you to focus on these psychological triggers?
Daniel: Okay, so if people haven’t listened to the previous show, I’ve had an unusual background. I had a clothing company that did well. Then I got into agency work and sales. A lot of paid ads. And in paid ads and copywriting, they really look into psychology because they want to get people to take action. Especially if you look at the books on direct response, which is where you’re getting someone to take a direct action that you can measure.
The cool thing about this is a lot of this psychological theory and things like that, that you learn in copywriting, can be applied in so many different areas to SEO, to ads, to blog posts. It’s less about tips and tricks and actually learning what causes people to do the things that they do and what stops them from doing it. And if you can understand that, you can remove the things that are stopping them and add the things that get them to do the thing they want to do. I’m a nerd. I love that stuff. And so I started learning this.
Rich: So can you just give us a few examples, like for people who don’t actually understand or may maybe never heard the term ‘psychological triggers’, what are either some examples or what are some things that we’re talking about here?
Daniel: So in reality, the term ‘psychological triggers’ in psychology is actually talking about emotional impacts that cause you to do certain things. So it could be triggers that cause you to be angry or sad and things like that. It’s kind of been borrowed by the copywriting community for a similar kind of idea, but it’s basically trying to understand the audience and whatever biases, information, emotional aspects they have so that you can communicate with them.
There’s honestly lists and lists of 60, 70, 80 of these different psychological effects that we have. And I’ll find a list actually and I’ll send it to you so you can have it in the show notes and stuff so people can have a look. But once you start to understand these and look at it, you start pointing out and saying, oh wow, I do that all the time, or I’ve seen this, or things like that.
But honestly, when you break it down really, it’s just understanding the emotional component of why your audience wants to do something, the way they feel, the way they do, the way they describe something. Because if you can understand that and understand your audience, that’s really the main thing, to get them to take action. A lot of the time people can’t communicate well and then implement that in their marketing or the sales or their ads.
Rich: So these triggers, would you say that they’re universal, that we all are subject to them? Or would you say that this is more specific to whomever our audience is?
Daniel: Like I said, there’s a list of them that’s like 90 deep. So everyone is under the influence of them to some point based on your history and things like that. You can always be under the influence of different ones as well. It will change over time. But the thing is really when you’re talking about your audience, there will be certain ones.
Say if you’re se selling a weight loss product, there could be stigma and emotional pain that you have towards weight gain. Maybe it’s a relationship issue, maybe it’s confidence. Once you’ve researched your audience and know all this, you know what those kind of triggers are and how to connect and speak to them basically. So it’s nothing groundbreaking. But if you don’t think of it when you are applying this, it’s a big reason why a lot of your stuff fails.
Rich: So there are certain phrases or emotions that we might stir up through our wording, that either are going to get people to pull back or to lean in, that’s what I’m hearing.
Daniel: Basically, yeah. And it varies for everyone and every product, but there’s best practices and stuff you can do as well, like how you structure messages. Because if you’re calling out to pain, if you’re calling out to goals, showing them how to get there, you’re going to get their attention so fast. But it’s knowing that thing in advance.
Rich: So let’s talk a little bit about that. Because those are two big things. Like one thing was almost like a pain point and one thing was almost like an objective. So depending on the product that we’re trying to sell, I’m wondering it may be that one is better than the other. So can you walk me through if you’re doing copywriting for a client or for yourself, what are some of the things that you’re going to put in place? And please use an example, whether it’s weight loss, whether it’s to buy a course, whether it’s to buy a widget, just something that you see on a regular basis, and maybe walk us through what that process is like.
Daniel: Yeah. So honestly, a lot of it is customer research, audience research. I’ll often do interviews with people as well and record them on Zoom, something like this, because I’m trying to pick up the reasons why and the reasons behind the reasons why. Because like I say, some people are goal driven, some people are removing pain. It works with both, but some people are predominantly one or the other.
If you’ve got a big pain point, often you have to say – if it’s weight loss – again, we’ve talked about you want to lose weight because you don’t feel confident and things like that. That is the reason on the surface. But in reality, it’s because if we wrote an advert just about that, it probably would convert okay, but quite poorly, like 2% or something like that. If we can find the reasons why behind it and add that into our messaging, it’s going to be so much more, relationship issues and things like that, confidence at home.
If we can dig even deeper with those pain points. Often someone who is not goal driven, who wants to remove a pain point, hey often have excuses to take action. There’s a reason why it works, but it won’t work for me. And it’s because the pain point they have in their head is bigger than what you are presenting. So you have to create some kind of pain that is bigger to that. Like, you might not live long enough to see your kids grow old and get married, things like that. So delve into all these different things.
At the same time though, if you were selling a fitness program for athletes who want to become Olympians, that same thing isn’t going to work. It has to be goal driven. It has to be moving them towards more of what they already know, what they already want, systems they already have, and things like that. Much easier to convert, but a smaller segment of an audience.
So like I say, it really varies on your product, your offer, things like that. But almost always it is do you have this goal, problem, issue? Do you want to achieve, remove, whatever, here’s how I’m going to help you get there. Because if you hook them in with those things straight away, they’ll say, “Oh yeah, I have that. I want this. I’m now going to pay attention.” Because you only have two seconds, three seconds to get someone’s attention with anything online and then they’re gone. Especially in an age of TikTok and stuff like that. You’ve got to hook them in straight away.
Rich: If somebody said, “Yes, Daniel, but this seems highly manipulative to me.” What would you say to them?
Daniel: Yes, it is. It is. But at the same time, if you are not selling garbage, if you’re selling something that genuinely will help. Because this is the issue. A lot of the people who understand this stuff are a lot of douche bags who will sell crap. And that’s why you’ve got these businesses and these pyramid schemes and everything else. And because they understand almost all of it as they’re good marketers with fancy looking products that are just awful.
But if you do have something that is good, but you can’t communicate it to someone, that’s a massive issue. Imagine you are a fitness coach, and you have a friend, and you see your friend is getting sick and they are they’re losing mobility. They’re not having time with kids. They’re looking older and sadder and things like this. Sometimes you have to be able to communicate in that message to give them that thing that they want, because in their mind they have that problem that they can’t get past and then they move forward.
So like last time I spoke to you was like three years ago. I put on about 40 kgs. I had a big relationship breakup after 11 years, things like that. And I was trying exercise, I was doing keto diet, I was doing absolutely everything, and I couldn’t lose the weight. And a friend of mine kept trying to get me to go to Jiu-Jitsu. And in the end just helped me get past all these mental blocks that I had in my head. I was like I’m too old, I’m 42, I’m too tired. I’m just going to get smashed. He helped me get past all of that. And then I lost all the weight just by doing the fun thing. So he knew what to say and manipulated me into getting that thing. And now it’s one of my favorite pastimes.
So it is manipulative. So is everything, really. The way we dress, the way we talk, absolutely everything is about trying to get someone to do something for you or achieve something for yourself. It’s just abusing it in the right way.
Rich: ‘Manipulative’ is maybe a word that has some negative baggage to it. You’re definitely influencing people, right? That may be a more positive phrase to use in this situation that yes, it’s manipulative in the same way that any influencer or influential feature might be manipulative.
Daniel: If you can do it and be educational as well though, then you can let them come to the decision on their own without being overly salesy. It’s like, I understand your pain, I understand your goal, and where you’re going to get there. And then these are all the problems that are stopping you from getting there. And this is why, and this is why, and this is why. And things like that’s going to help them understand what is stopping all of that. And again, it works in content, it works in ads, it works in anything really.
Rich: So you had mentioned that you often start by doing some interviews with prospective clients or customers. Is that usually the first stage? Is that the first step? And if so, what are some tips around getting the best information so that you can write better copy with better triggers?
Daniel: It’s probably the third step in the research.
Rich: Third step, all right.
Daniel: First one, especially if it’s a market I’ve never been in before, I want to read all the top content in that area and get an idea for the terminology and what people are talking about and phrases like that. When they describe certain things, what are they doing? What are they saying?
Then I’ll go into public forums and things and see what the communication is like and what people are talking about there. Because you don’t really understand a lot of the issues that they’re going through. And then from that, from chatting with people on there, I will try and get, zoom calls and things. Really good if you’ve already got a subscriber base, reach out to customers, offer discounts and stuff. Especially people who are very happy and who took the action. If you’ve already got a sale, find out why. Get on a call with them that same day or the next day if you can. If people churn, get on a call with them as well, find out why.
Because if you can understand all those issues, you not only improve the product and the offer. It could even be that something’s wrong, like a button is broken or something like that, and you fix those issues straight away. And it wasn’t a copy or a messaging problem. But yeah, so it’s like the third thing. I’ll dip my feet in first and get an idea so that when I can actually talk to them, I have a better idea of the questions I want to ask them.
Rich: All right. And then after you’ve interviewed a few people or however many people you usually do, what do you do with that information? How do you take that and then turn it into copy that works?
Daniel: So the questions that I’m asking are usually like, I’m always paying attention to the language they use, we call it ‘mirror language’. Because if you can describe the problem using the same words that the audience does, they feel like their pain better than anyone else. So I will ask a lot of questions about what’s stopping them? What’s the reason why? What’s the reason behind that? What are the problems? What are the fears? What’s the goals? What their life looks like now, what their life will look like after.
All these kind of things which are elements that I template into content anyway because it’s like intro sequences before, after, bridge. Where are they before? Where do they want to be after? Where’s the bridge of how they’re going to get there? Because before it could be the pain, it could be goal, here’s the things that we talk about, and then I’ll get into the problems and start removing problems before I ever pitch.
If you pitch someone and then they have an objection and you try and remove the objection afterwards, it’s super difficult. If you remove the objection before you pitch it, like oftentimes they’ve already got rid of that objection themselves in their mind, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, that sounds great, but where am I ever going to find a thing that does those things?” So a lot of the time, the questions that I’m asking is already filling out that kind of information.
Rich: Once you’ve kind of figured out what the right words are and the right framework and the right templates, what are the next stages for you? Like you’ve got this content and it does sound like it easily could go into a long sales letter, but these days long sales letters aren’t something we see all the time like we used to.
So when you’re creating this, are you also thinking about how is this going to be a blog post? Or how is this going to be an email newsletter? Are there certain places where you feel this works better, or can it be implemented in almost any type of digital marketing?
Daniel: It could be implemented in pretty much anything. A long format, even a short format if you hit on the certain things. Because it could be that the pain is there, but it’s not absolutely huge. So you hit that intro, you hit those problems, you do a call-to-action kind of thing.
Likewise, it could be in a video ad script, it could be in a blog post. More often than not, in my opinion, I try and lead with value. So even if they don’t take the action, they’ve got some kind of value out of it because that builds trust, it builds authority. They might come back later, they’ll share it with their friends, things like that. So I create one asset that then does multiple things for me.
And again, although it sounds like a long form sales letter, you can weave that kind of same narrative into a blog post if you want to get more traffic. But you’re struggling because you’re writing all the time, and nothing seems to work well. The people who told you to write all the time are not necessarily correct.
One of the biggest problems we have is we follow news publications who are on a pay-per-view model. They get paid the more eyeballs they got on articles, so they create thousands of them a month. So if you’re a small business and you’re writing content straight away, you’re like, okay, that makes total sense. And then you talk about the other problems and, okay, here’s a better way. This is just a blog post on how to actually get into started doing promotion. Why it’s important to take time, build better content, distribute it than it is to just try and write 50 articles for this unnecessary deadline that you’ve got in your head that if you don’t publish something this week, it doesn’t work.
I do apologize again. I’ve had two coffees this morning, so if I go off on tangents…
Rich: No, this is really helpful. When we talked before, you talked about understanding your audience in a way that they themselves can’t always describe. I’m wondering if they can’t describe it, how do we get some of that best information out of them?
Daniel: Honestly, again, it’s asking about what their life looks like now and what the pain points are, and what the frustrations are, and where they want to be. Because oftentimes it’s so annoying that you have this problem. You don’t even know what to Google, right? There’s an issue and you’re not aware of what the cause is and things like that.
So like I was just saying, people who’ve written 50 blog posts and only get a hundred visitors a month can’t understand why they’re doing everything that they’re seeing other people do and not getting results. And so describing that as the root cause. So a lot of it is being empathetic and trying to understand and put yourself in the mind of these people, which not everyone can do. It gets easier with time.
And then also just trying to see what that emotional component is and what that pain point is. What are all of these descriptive words they’re using? And from that you can kind of lead them to that point. It’s easier on a call because you can keep asking why you think that’s an issue and why that’s an issue. Like I’m writing content, I’m not getting traffic. I don’t think SEO is working. Okay, well what have you been trying? I’ve been writing lots of articles. Okay. How is that working out for you? Why did you think that was the idea? Is your business model the same as that? And then going through all of that and just asking ‘the five why’s’.
So it’s like, why? Okay, why for that? Why for this? Be like a four-year-old kid, five-year-old kid. Keep asking why. And again, that delves deeper into every pain point, into every goal. Men want fast cars, but really we want to relive our youth and we want to be attractive to people who are 10 years younger or whatever. Things like that.
Rich: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Daniel: I know, right? And so that’s why we get all these things, but it’s like you have to be smart about it as well, because you can’t just sometimes say that. Like you want to be hot and look 5 years younger, drive a Tesla or whatever it is.
Rich: So some of it seems like you can go so far, but sometimes you may not want to put too fine a point on it. Because then it becomes a little bit too obvious and suddenly the magic is gone.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s like you want to appeal to them so that they know. Ideally we want them to see and within two seconds realize that this is for them and that we understand their goal and their problem and the root cause of something. And it might even be that I don’t say about getting more traffic is the issue or something. It’s just feels frustrating. Maybe you’re frustrated and you don’t want to look up like a blinking cursor. Again, you’ve just done six hours trying to create an article that only you and your nan shared. Like stuff like that. Like the actual real-life examples.
And then after that you can get into the problem more. Because some people just have that pain point. But again, if you address it too finely, especially if it’s certain products and things, you will repel them. Because it’s just they are that thing, but they don’t want people to know they’re that thing, and they don’t want to agree to it, so they don’t buy the thing.
I’m massively into DnD and stuff like that, but if at one point if you just said are you a massive nerd? Do you want to do this? I’d have been like, no, never. But if you just told me about this cool book with dragons in it, I’d be like, oh yeah, I’m going to get this book.
Rich: r getting back to your fast car example. It’s somebody might say, “I like fast cars because I’ve always been into fast cars.” But really the answer is, if you dig a little bit deeper, is because they want to be attractive. Maybe they never got the girl in high school, and they feel that the guys who did always had fast cars. So it’s when you dig a little bit deeper and you understand what’s truly motivating them, then you can talk about it and maybe not say you’ll finally get the girl, but give them examples so that they can paint that picture in their own head.
Daniel: Exactly. So that’s the thing, you want to tell two narratives. You want to so if they’re telling themselves and they’re telling the world it’s such a good decision because it works, it’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s always updating, things like this car or whatever. At the same time, if you talk about in some of the imagery, if you talk about that fast car that you had, relive your youth and get the feeling that you had when you got your first vehicle or something like that, connecting those memories and those goals and things that they wanted or never had back then. And you are aligning it with the excuses and reasons that they give now in their head. They bought because of the emotional component, but now they can justify it and you’ve given them an out that they can say, “Oh yeah, but I can charge it at home, and it’ll do this and it’ll self-drive for me during the traffic and stuff.” But really it’s just because it looks cool and you want to look cool. And everything else is a bonus, right?
Rich: So most everything we’ve talked about today has been all about copy. So I’m just wondering as we are creating our content. The web is very visual, even in our web, even in our blog posts, we’ll also often have photos and stuff. Do you have any thoughts about the kind of imagery that we should be using as we’re creating this content that has these psychological triggers that are built in?
Daniel: Yeah. If it was an ad design like a physical ad, I’m very much of the opinion of a hero shot image. So the thing that they want, or the goal that they want, or the idea we’re trying to connect, background, call to action. Nice and simple so it’s bringing attention to it and getting them to click.
In a blog post the header can be similar. You want to call out to that thing. It’s not really a major issue because they only really see the header image when they’ve already clicked on the blog post or if the article has been shared. So if you’re doing a lot of social shares to get traffic, then the image is really important. And again, the hero shot, hook them in with the headline and stuff on there so that they come across and click.
The actual content images throughout, I will try and tell a story. So when I’m creating content, there’s a lot of things that people do wrong when I’m editing and things like that. Walls of text, all kinds of stuff. One of the main things that I will do is let the content breathe, so I will zoom out and see for areas where there’s sections where it’s just big walls of text and I’ll make a note to add images and things like that in there.
The images, I want to tell a story as they’re going through and to break up having to read all the time, and it makes the content look more valuable. Again, I’ll add images for context as well. So if we’re talking about the money saved on buying a Tesla or whatever in this article, I might quickly show that over. I read an article the other day, someone did a hundred thousand kilometers, they only paid I think four grand in new tires basically, because that was all that it cost. The savings were absolutely massive. So just inserting that kind of stuff in there as well for context and relevance.
I know we’re talking about images, but I’ll also do it with subheads, because a lot of people scan, they get hooked with that first thing and they’re scanning to see if it’s worth their time and if the images and the subheads are telling a story, but it’s intriguing enough that they want to keep reading, I want them to then go back to the top of the page and carry on through. So everything is designed to keep hooking them in and pulling them through. And a lot of the time there is emotional components that are relevant to them, problems and goals and things like that.
Rich: Daniel, there’s no wrong answer to this but I’m just curious. You put in all this work, you get it out there, how much experimentation and testing and A/B split testing goes into this for you? Or is most of your work upfront and you just assume that things are going to work based on your experience?
Daniel: Yeah, so the thing with A/B testing, I actually used to work for an A/B testing tool company. I used to run their content and stuff. The thing with A/B testing is you are trying to find the best version of something. You’re testing something out to see if it works. To get it statistically significant so that you know mathematically that yes, this will continue to perform at this level, you need thousands and thousands of visitors.
So with adverts and stuff, quite easy to do because you can pay for impressions and eyeballs. Within an hour you can get 10,000, 100,000 views on an advert if you wanted to and test and stuff. I will sometimes do that with an ad based on different angles in an article. Find the ads that do well and then edit the article after the fact. So go back in and find the angle that’s really doing well and pulling them in and go from there.
As long as it’s not clickbait-y. If they’re coming across and then bouncing immediately and things like that, it’s the hook got them. But so I’ll test that. Oftentimes though, a lot of sites are not getting enough traffic to A/B test statistically, significantly, so that they actually know it will continue. You can test anyway. There are tools that you can get. I think it’s Thrive Headlines where you can test different headlines for blog posts, things like that. And that tool will actually run in variations for you and then print the winning test version all the time.
So there’s easy things that you can do. Like that way it’s doing different tests. Honestly, you got to go with your gut sometimes and just see, especially if you’re doing more research upfront, it’s going to convert a lot better anyway. But again, it’s like you’ve got to do the work to drive the traffic to it, and then go from there and try and improve.
I will test things, though. It’s more I will use A/B testing assessment processes. What’s the bounce rate? How far are they getting down the page? Where am I losing them? Things like that and look at that and how I can get them to keep coming in. If they’re not clicking the call to action, can I bring one up in the middle? Can I bring another one up near the top of the page? Things like that and get higher click through rate. So just basic stuff that you can test to improve. So it’s not like you are testing two hugely different versions. You’re just seeing if you can pull down the page, increase clicks on those things, and then after that once you’ve got enough traffic, let’s try these different areas. Let’s try improving this.
I’m going to be totally honest with you. Site speed is massive. It affects user experience to such an extent that it also affects Google rankings, how fast they flow down the page, how bounce rate and stuff like that. Oftentimes, you’re better off just improving your core web vitals than you are running all these different tests. Because that alone is going to get you more views in Google, more clicks, more people are going to stay on the page for longer.
So many websites run ads. You click on it, it takes 11 seconds for the page to load. Like 80% of their people have gone by them. But again, it always clicks on the ad and they can’t understand why it’s not converting. So there’s always different elements. It’s the message, the targeting, the experience on the page, then the content on the page. Everyone focuses on the sexy thing, which is the testing the thing on the page. But ironically, those three other things are going to make the biggest difference to us, any business really, but a small business especially.
Rich: This has been very helpful. And if people want to learn more about you, if they want to check out your academy, where can them?
Daniel: So I am at ampmycontent.com. We’re currently doing a big overhaul on them and migrating the platform and things, but feel free to check it out if people become members and stuff. They’ll be migrated to the new platforms and things as well.
In my day-to-day work, I’m at zerotomastery.io, which is a company that does the exact same thing, but they teach people how to be programmers. So when they asked me to write for them it was a no-brainer because they do the exact same thing, but they got 700,000 customers in the first year of business. So obviously I think programming’s probably a bigger topic than content marketing maybe. But yeah, you can find me at ampmycontent or my blog at zerotomastery.io.
Rich: Awesome. And we’ll have those links in the show notes. Daniel, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
Daniel: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Daniel Daines-Hutt teaches his clients how to create the right content that will get the most mileage in the form of traffic, leads, and sales. Check out his website to see how he’s helping businesses with their content game. And head over to his blog to get free tips, tutorials, and advice.
As President of flyte new media and founder of the Agents of Change, Rich Brooks brings over 25 years of expertise to the table. A web design and digital marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, flyte helps small businesses grow online. His passion for helping these small businesses led him to write The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a comprehensive guide on digital marketing strategies.