How many books did you read last year?
For the average American, the answer is somewhere around a dozen. But that number is dropping. Adults in America read 2-3 fewer books today than we did between 2001 and 2016. In fact, our average annual book consumption is the lowest it’s been since 1990.
Children are following the same path. The National Literacy Trust found in 2019 that only 26% of kids under 18 read daily. That’s the lowest number since 2005. When you add to that the fact that cursive writing was officially removed from the Common Core Standards elementary education in 2010, you start to come to a conclusion: as a society, we’re getting less literary.
And yet, people are inundated with words.
Tethered to their phones, people continuously scroll through a never ending parade of headlines, captions, articles, and posts. One 2021 survey on smartphone use in the United States found that nearly half of respondents spent 5-6 hours on their phone daily—not including work-related smartphone use. We may be getting less literary, but we’re reading and writing more than ever—just in a new format.
What does this mean for businesses?
Simple. Your words need to work harder. On average, Americans are exposed to 4,000-10,000 ads per day—almost twice as many ads as we saw in 2007, and more than five times as many as we saw in the 1970s. How many of them are actually being noticed, read, and acted on?
A sure way to stand out? Make sure your message lands between the ears—and arrives in their hearts.
Warren Buffet and the promise of a better tomorrow
Warren Buffet has a single credential hanging on his office wall.
It’s not his bachelor’s from the University of Nebraska, or his master’s from Columbia. It’s a certificate from a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. The legendary investor credits the famed sales training with helping him find success in life.
In a noisy digital world, the ability to persuade may be more valuable than ever. In fact, LinkedIn named persuasion the second-most sought-after soft skill by companies in 2020, just after creativity.
But words can be cheap—easy to thoughtlessly publish or share. Previously the communications landscape was dominated by gatekeepers: publishers, media outlets, editors: entire organizations dedicated to filtering the words we consume on a daily basis. Now every organization has a pen and a platform to make their thoughts known. But the noisier the world gets, the more people seek clarity and connection. That’s what persuasion makes possible.
The thing is, we want to be sold. We are desperate to be moved to a new way of thinking, to be shown new possibilities, and to believe in a better future. We want to believe. But with all the racket, we’ve grown skeptical. Our guard is up. Our B.S. meters are finely tuned.
We can overcome these hurdles by applying the art of persuasive writing. Persuasive writing needs to accomplish a mighty feat; nothing short of a transformation in the mind and heart of another human being. It has to cause people to say—I didn’t believe this, now I do.
So how do you do it?
The billion dollar secret to success
Writing has always been difficult—even for the brightest among us. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing in 1874.
So how do we write to persuade? How do we create humanized writing—writing that creates a shift in someone’s beliefs, in how they see the world? Here’s an approach in five steps.
Step 1. Look here.
First, you have to capture someone’s attention. That could be some splashy billboard copy or a clickbait-y headline. Typically it’s a combination of words and visuals that arrests attention and causes someone to lean in to learn more.
Step 2. Read this.
Look and read are two separate things. To get someone to read you need to entice them into your story—which is really their story. They have to see themselves in your words. You might appeal to them in any number of ways, speaking to their hopes and dreams or perhaps their fears or desires. Somehow you must demonstrate empathy. In other words, get the reader to feel understood.
Step 3. Follow me.
Now that you have their attention and they’re intrigued by what you have to say, you have to establish trust. Who are you, anyway, and why should they listen to you? Trust is a combination of credibility and rapport. Have you done this before? Are you an expert? Do I like you? This is, in essence, the core of “humanizing” your copy. It’s where you build a bridge between yourself and the reader.
Step 4. Feel this.
You might think you’re a perfect rational creature. But according to behavioral science, we make decisions based on our emotions—then justify them later with logic. That’s why it’s important to get your reader to feel some urgency about what you’re asking them to do. That could be simply to subscribe to your newsletter. Or it could be to put an item in their shopping cart. In any case, they have to feel like now is the time to act.
Step 5. Act now.
Finally, give the reader a specific call to action. Persuasive writing is ultimately about spurring someone to do something. The goal is to incite a behavioral response. As writers, this is always the end game. For a novelist, the action is to turn the page—to provoke me with such curiosity so that I simply have to know what happens next. For a blog post, the action is to contact us for a demo, call us, or like us—or perhaps share this article.
Persuasion is the force that makes the world go around. It’s the mechanism by which we adopt new ideas, products, services, and opinions that ultimately improve our quality of life. As Dan Pink writes in To Sell Is Human, “To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”
Doing that requires an agency partnership that specializes in tight, engaging, human copy in multiple formats at any level of scale—and that’s what MarketSmiths delivers. We bring writers at the top of their abilities together with content strategists who know exactly what to look for in quality control. The result? Consistent, high-quality copy that captivates and persuades readers. Contact us today to get started.