6 techniques from rhetoric to supercharge your conversion rate (and why they work)

16 replies
Rhetoric...Rhetoric has had a very long and very illustrious history in the art of persuasion. Dating back and beyond the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans whom we now associate with its refinement, it's longevity hints at its effectiveness across the centuries as a powerful method of persuading and moving audiences to action, and many of its principles are still very useful in the art of writing copy due to its acute understanding of human nature and emotion.

So...Just how effective is it?

Consider this dear reader: As copywriters we write to persuade; if our writing somewhat lacks creative persuasion or possibly doesn't quite hit the mark, then we would perhaps be informed by a client:

"We're not quite getting the conversions we hoped for with your copy, can you give it a tweak and see if you can improve things a little?"

Whereas in ancient Greece or Rome, a rhetorician who didn't quite cut the mustard with his audience... would most likely be beaten to death by them.

A very big incentive to get it right!

When you also consider that these first rhetoricians were at the time the greatest thinkers of their respective eras such as:

• Plato
• Aristotle
• Cicero
• Quintilian

(And in those ancient times there was plenty of time to do the thinking unlike now with all the distractions of the modern world.)

Then you now understand that what they have left us in rhetorical technique is the distilled knowledge of some of the greatest thinkers and observers of human nature in history. This knowledge has then undergone a Darwinian process of "survival of the fittest" (best) to reach us now in its present form. Now... how can we as copywriters be not tempted to have a peek at some of its methods...Why not indeed? After all, the most powerful persuaders we have now are our politicians and world leaders and every one of them has a rhetorician writing their speeches for them.

Here are a few concepts from its distinguished lineage that you can use in your next copy.

In no particular order of merit the first is...

1/ Anaphora: A favourite of mine and possibly the most well known in the advertising industry due to its effectiveness. Anaphora is the technique of repeating the same word or phrase at the start of successive sentences, phrases or questions to bring them to a climax. If you think of the successive repetition as creating the “desire” component of the AIDA model and the climax as the “call to action” then you won't be far wrong.

Here is an example of some copy using the adverb of frequency - the word “rarely” - to create a scarcity model in our prose:

Rarely in our type of business has an opportunity like this arisen; rarely indeed is such an offer not reserved exclusively for the collector and so kept quiet from the general public; rarely even in our own history as suppliers has such an occurrence arisen...until now.

The reason anaphora works so well to persuade from a neuroscience perspective, is that our brains like finding patterns in things and forming heuristics from them, it saves time and effort for the mind. When the brain predicts a pattern and it subsequently occurs then it’s pleased with itself and gives us a good feeling as a reward. Some scientists have even speculated that this pattern recognition heuristic is the reason why we enjoy music and stories so much: We predict what’s about to happen and then when it does we like it.

On a side note; have a look at my avatar. How many triangles do you see? There are actually none. Your brain's pattern recognition system has analysed the probability of the image occurring in nature and decided that it must be a white triangle laid upon a triangular outline as that is by far the most likely to occur, and has then subsequently filled in the gaps. That’s an example of how pattern recognition can take control of our eternal adversary in copywriting: The critical factor.

2/ Transferred Epithet: This is the use of an adjective to change the conceptual sense of a following noun into a form it is not usually associated with. This catches the reader’s attention by its novelty but also carries through the copy without disrupting things too much. The best time to use transferred epithets are at the end of a paragraph to lock a specific idea into the reader’s mind and create an interest compliance momentum to the piece which follows. Some examples would be:

Maybe your other diets have ended in successful failure..?

Our product projects above all things a sense of quiet quality.

We promise our guests the pinnacle of melted relaxation.


These are just examples for you to understand the concept. The real magic occurs in using the prospects own trance words as the adjective.

Every business or occupation has its own trance words. In ours, one of the most important is “conversions” and its use in the description of turning a reader into a customer. Unless you work in a currency exchange bureau or turn attics into bedrooms then “conversions” isn’t a particular important word to you. To us...it’s very important and has a sizable influence on what we do or don't do in our business. An example of some copy in a proposal to a copywriter would be:

Our red snapper is so tenderly succulent even our guests who insist on the finest Scottish salmon have declared it conversionally delicious!

We manage even our most sceptical of inquirers with converting professionalism.

You get the picture.

The neuroscience of how transferred epithets work is based on a concept which you are most likely familiar with and that’s: Priming, or as the brain scientists say “Neurons that fire together, wire together” What we are doing in this instance is creating attention through the novelty of the combination of the adjective and noun and then “piggybacking” our AIDA concept of desire onto something which is already desired by our reader. They then create new neural pathways between the concepts so that the prospect incorporates the “job lot” into their own desire schema. The “new”- our call to action-is then placed with the “familiar”- our prospects own critical factor approved belief system - ready to subtly influence at the unconscious level.

Here’s a self test on the power of priming for you to try. Fill in the missing letter of the second word in the example below:

ICE - P-CK. SUITCASE – P-CK. HOCKEY – P-CK. Might I suggest you picked the vowels: “I” then “A” then finally “U”? Such is the power of priming and the transferred epithet delivers it with poised elegance.

3/ ENTHYMEME: Enthymeme is commonly thought of as a language pattern of presupposition in that it takes a syllogism and then omits the conclusion leaving the reader to come to the conclusion themselves - the conclusion being the one we wanted them to come too - then basing future judgments from within this frame. Here are some examples of Enthymeme with the missing premise included afterwards:

That’s the copywriting department; you came on the correct day for your job interview so you won’t be working in there. (copywriters are unaware of the concept of getting things done when they are supposed to)

All that glitters is not gold; nevertheless our competitor’s promises were delivered in glittering style. (Our competitors promises may be lacking some integrity)

Our cars are known as the safest on the road and the best drivers insist on them for the maximum all terrain security. (If you buy one of their cars then you’re one of the “best drivers”)

Take care when using this in your copy as too big a jump in a believable connection can jar your reader into conscious denial if it conflicts with a strong belief or world view. Your best way to introduce an enthymeme is to tie it to a truism such as (for example: “All that glitters is not gold”) or some cognitive biases such as say:

The False Consensus effect: A tendency of people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

Or perhaps:

Illusion of transparency: Overestimating others people’s ability to know them, but also overestimating their ability to know others.

There are lots of biases to choose from, just look up the most likely in your target demographic then get to work. The brain science behind enthymeme is that we rarely question our own conclusions or beliefs because it creates uncertainty and our pattern loving brains dislike uncertainties so much they bring out the negative emotion bodyguard to protect our existing heuristics.

4/APOSTROPHE: Dear reader, surely you do not think I refer to that grammatical bane of the greengrocers, the punctuation apostrophe! Of course not... Apostrophes in rhetoric are a method of interrupting the flow of your prose by addressing the reader themselves as an individual, hence the opening words of this piece “Dear reader”. Now this method may seem a little odd from a copywriting perspective as in normal circumstances the interruption of our prose is usually a bad thing which can trigger loss of momentum in the reading process leading to a distraction in our prospect.

However...it has been found to have two unique qualities which can be of great benefit to us.
The first is in its use in the ASIA model.

Acquire attention.

Suspension of critical factor.

Insertion of idea.

Activation of idea.


The apostrophe by its very nature attracts attention which is why it is most commonly found at the beginning of a paragraph, and especially after a preceding paragraph which ends with a transferred epithet. Its novelty re-engages the reader’s unconscious before it can begin to analyse what’s just happened.

1. You have acquired the attention of the reader.

2. The reader who is on autopilot scanning the environment has just been scanned himself by you. This activates his amygdala emotional response of increased arousal. The door to their castle of beliefs and values in now open to reverse traffic.

3. A question is now asked immediately after, with the answer being our product/service. Preferably this should be incorporating the final stage of our anaphora convoy.

4. A truism is now stated too as the beginning of the old fashioned salesman’s “yes set”. The familiar has now soothed the introduction of the call to action and our prose carries on...

The second method of course is what’s called “referential indexing”. You use the apostrophe to bring the reader into their awareness of what they are doing, and where they are. I don’t want to get too into the NLP model here, but the reason for this is so you can pace the readers reality and comment on things which you know are happening to them (Like your eyes reading these words now) this also creates a “yes set” which we now pace into the future- A future were you use our product/services.

5/ASYNDETON: Asyndeton is the exclusion of conjunctions between words or phrases. Its simplicity belies its complex ability to nudge things or concepts into different schemas or beliefs. What it entails is the attribution of traits by association by grouping certain things together as a literary device.

Examples of Asyndeton:

Maybe you have tried the; Hayduke diet, Grapefruit diet, Atkins diet, Guava smoothie diet...

If like us you've had enough of; Offers, promotions, One day only’s, Supersale day’s...

Some might say “You shouldn't judge a man by the company he keeps” but in linguistic terms: “Words of a feather flock together” Why..? Because that is exactly how our brain works, it likes putting things into boxes with pattern loving zeal. How this is useful to us as copywriters is that we can take a thing or a concept – usually our competitors – and by triggering guilt by association have it put in the mental box labelled: Things which are of no use.

To use in copy - and using the above list of diets as an example - I would state the most ridiculous diets first and last – as those locations are the ones we remember best – then place our competitors in the middle of the convoy, then get it rolling straight into our readers mind. Picture the reader as rapidly nodding his head when reading and mentally saying “Tried, tried, tried...” The whole thing should imply spontaneity in the writer and then follow with a nice ellipsis at the end to hint...”and there’s more”.

6/ POLYSYNDETON: This is the linguistic opposite of Asyndeton in that it is the inclusion of words or phrases before a premise or suggestion to imply more gravitas in the statement. If you think of asyndeton as a convoy of words being ushered through the critical factor border post, then Polysyndeton is each word presenting its passport to the border guards and the barrier being raised for each one individually.

Examples of Polysyndeton:

We provide excellence, and effectiveness, and quality, and of course: peace of mind.

We help students, and businessmen, and entrepreneurs, and professionals around the world.

The above examples use the word “and” but any conjunction or even qualifying phrase can be used to the same effect. The point is to add emphasis to everything in our list. By doing so, our idea has to go in the mental pending tray whilst awaiting its placement in its respective neural pigeon hole and as such thus associates with a lot more separate belief structures in our prospects mind. Remember:

Neurons which fire together...wire together

Hope YOU found this interesting and now have some great ideas to use yourself!
#conversion #linguistics #neuroscience #rate #rhetoric #supercharge #techniques #work
  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    I am sorry to say that your "copywriting" examples sound like they come from advertisements from a century or so ago. They're not conversational or contemporary in tone.

    Rarely in our type of business has an opportunity like this arisen; rarely indeed is such an offer not reserved exclusively for the collector and so kept quiet from the general public; rarely even in our own history as suppliers has such an occurrence arisen...until now.
    Rarely is this flavor of prose appropriate or seen in today's copy.

    Most of your other examples are equally unsuitable for today's promotions.

    Was this actually written a couple of generations ago??

    Marcia Yudkin
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    Check out Marcia Yudkin's No-Hype Marketing Academy for courses on copywriting, publicity, infomarketing, marketing plans, naming, and branding - not to mention the popular "Marketing for Introverts" course.
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  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    “Neurons which fire together...wire together”
    I feel like a ton of my neurons just died from reading this....
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  • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
    While I never knew what they were called, your post is overwritten and your examples kinda suck, I use these devices every day. Thanks.

    - Rick Duris

    PS: "Dating back and beyond the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans whom we now associate with its refinement, it's longevity hints at its effectiveness across the centuries as a powerful method of persuading and moving audiences to action, and many of its principles are still very useful in the art of writing copy due to its acute understanding of human nature and emotion." <--That is one long ass, ungrammatical, confusing sentence.

    PPS: I like triads too.
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  • Profile picture of the author max5ty
    Took me a couple times reading through your descriptions...but I found them interesting.

    Thanks for sharing.
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  • Maybe a bit convolutational.

    But No's 2 and 3 are very effective.


    Steve
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  • Profile picture of the author Don Schenk
    Thank you. I had forgotten some of those terms. This is like going back in time to listen to my college freshman year English professor. OMG That was 47 years ago. It's no wonder I had forgotten those terms.

    And...

    On a side note; have a look at my avatar. How many triangles do you see?
    I see 3 Pac-Man characters - I guess that would be Pac-Men - devouring a pyramid.

    :-Don
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    • Profile picture of the author Memetics
      Thanks for the feedback.

      Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

      I am sorry to say that your "copywriting" examples sound like they come from advertisements from a century or so ago. They're not conversational or contemporary in tone.

      Rarely is this flavor of prose appropriate or seen in today's copy.

      Most of your other examples are equally unsuitable for today's promotions.

      Was this actually written a couple of generations ago??

      Marcia Yudkin
      Hi Marcia. The example you ask about was found by a researcher working on a program I participated in September 2010. Myself and a number of specialists from various persuasion occupations were given access to an fMIR scanner to look at real-time functional changes in the brain in people reading various persuasion oriented copy. The whole thing was funded by a British multinational company as part of its "blue sky" investment program and I was lucky enough to be part of it.

      The copy belongs to an American firm specialising in the sale and purchase of baseball cards and was sent to a thousand potential prospects in an investment club back in 1991 when the death of a serious collector brought a huge collection into the market. It was used in the research program to establish a maximum baseline in conversions due to the fact it was at that time the highest converting copy ever released with a 100% strike rate. [The exact figure was 96% but by allowing for investors who had died, moved house etc, this was classed at a 100% for statistical reasons]

      The other examples come from various different industries around the world like hotel chains, diet marketers and in one case The Church of Scientology. None of the examples are my own they were all located by the research team working with the project in their remit to locate specific examples of copy using various different methods of persuasion.


      Originally Posted by RickDuris View Post

      While I never knew what they were called, your post is overwritten and your examples kinda suck, I use these devices every day. Thanks.
      Haha point taken Rick, I'm used to writing for peer review and academics are an unforgiving bunch when you cut corners.


      Originally Posted by RickDuris View Post

      PS: "Dating back and beyond the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans whom we now associate with its refinement, it's longevity hints at its effectiveness across the centuries as a powerful method of persuading and moving audiences to action, and many of its principles are still very useful in the art of writing copy due to its acute understanding of human nature and emotion." <--That is one long ass, ungrammatical, confusing sentence.
      It's a language pattern called an Iambic value pentameter. It's meant to use up the readers cognitive buffer so that they access unconscious processing to finish it. I would only use it in hot copy as a rule but in this case I wanted to create compliance momentum due to the long length of the post which followed.

      The structure uses a reality pace "back and beyond" then "now" then "across" then finally "moving".

      And the pentameter is the use of the words "refinement" then "effectiveness" then "powerful method" then "very useful" then finally "writing copy" which is our trance phrase.

      The modifiers are "persuasion" and "understanding" with the latter also being the tag.

      Your unconscious reads it as: "refined effective powerful method very useful writing copy" due to the reality pace altering the verbs into either transitive or intransitive form.

      Ignore or push the interpretation of grammar in copy. My old tutor used to say:

      "If we are selling to Professors of English then grammar is all good and well, if we are not then consider it a guideline for those who lack creativity"

      If you want to make lots of money from copywriting then DO NOT do what everyone else is doing. Conversational copy is the norm now but language patterns and especially the tried and tested ones from rhetoric are the next big thing. Expect the big guns to roll these methods out in 2015.
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      First we believe.....then we consider.

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  • Profile picture of the author Grain
    That was excruciating to read, with all the technical complexities in there.

    Just to add value to the thread. Here's a list of what the OP basically said, minus all the average examples, technical terms and fluff. For people who want to save time. Added some psychological references too.

    What helps:

    1. Repeating phrases in similar sentences (Learning theory)
    2. Adjectives (Classical conditioning)
    3. Personal trance words (Classical conditioning)
    4. Priming (Classical conditioning)
    5. Presupposing cliffhangers (Zeikgarnik effect)
    6. Biases / Logical fallacies (Psychological Biases)
    7. Apostrophes
    8. Associating things together (Law of proximity - Gestalt psychology)
    9. State effective things first and last (Serial position effect)

    I'm pretty sure we all use some of these, it's laden even in casual conversation.

    Modern psychology has grown a lot from the ancients. You might want to take a deeper look in it too.

    *

    I personally find attention-seeking devices the most effective out of the rest. While persuasion is crucial, most of the time, the prospect is already half-persuaded by himself to get a suitable product. The only exception is when the market is extremely fatigued.

    Appreciated your post, though you might want to cut down on the long text.
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    Kind Regards,
    Grain.

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    • Profile picture of the author Memetics
      Originally Posted by Grain View Post

      That was excruciating to read, with all the technical complexities in there.

      Just to add value to the thread. Here's a list of what the OP basically said, minus all the average examples, technical terms and fluff. For people who want to save time. Added some psychological references too.

      What helps:

      1. Repeating phrases in similar sentences (Learning theory)
      2. Adjectives (Classical conditioning)
      3. Personal trance words (Classical conditioning)
      4. Priming (Classical conditioning)
      5. Presupposing cliffhangers (Zeikgarnik effect)
      6. Biases / Logical fallacies (Psychological Biases)
      7. Apostrophes
      8. Associating things together (Law of proximity - Gestalt psychology)
      9. State effective things first and last (Serial position effect)

      I'm pretty sure we all use some of these, it's laden even in casual conversation.

      I personally find attention-seeking devices the most effective out of the rest. While persuasion is crucial, most of the time, the prospect is already half-persuaded by himself to get a suitable product. The only exception is when the market is extremely fatigued.

      Appreciated your post, though you might want to cut down on the long text.
      Thanks for the distillation and links.

      Bear in mind my post wasn't copy apart from the first part. Some of you may have an interest in Psychology... some may not, some may even have an aversion to using it's principles in copy but probably do without realising.

      Nevertheless I hope it encouraged some of the more quizzical readers to research some of the principles themselves. If thats the case then I'm happy

      Ps have a look at the post by Curtis2011

      http://www.warriorforum.com/copywrit...ideos-now.html

      and watch the video he refers too. 90% of the principles I refer too in my post are there plus a whole lot more. As persuasion engineering goes thats as good as it gets! If it's good enough for Obama's team of ivy league PHds in persuasion then it's good enough to pay my bills.

      Peace and prosperity to both left and right brainers
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      First we believe.....then we consider.

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  • If some kind soul would like to bung all of this into an easy to grasp - "get" it in a second (or maybe 2) format...

    Something like this -

    "Completely Unnecessary Convoluted Word" (then a "real" word) - with 3 easy examples.

    We would all be eternally grateful.


    Steve
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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      Very much for the left brain audience who live in that world.

      Which goes to show, if the audience is right brain functioning,
      then they won't act positively on the message.

      Best,
      Ewen
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
    Banned
    Total unmitigated wank.
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  • Profile picture of the author CopyMonster
    2 words:
    painfully interesting
    2 more words:
    deliciously unconvincing

    I appreciate what you're saying. But the delivery sucked big hairy bollocks! (Just my opinion)
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    Scary good...
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    • Profile picture of the author Memetics
      Originally Posted by CopyMonster View Post

      2 words:
      painfully interesting
      2 more words:
      deliciously unconvincing
      You got the hang of transferred epithets then...
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      First we believe.....then we consider.

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  • Profile picture of the author Jeremiah2911
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and conversion boosting strategies.
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  • Profile picture of the author Don Grace
    Good lord man, this reminds me of a few years ago a lady in my town was advertising a creative writing workshop. Sounded cool, so I signed up for a session.

    There were 5 of us cramped inside her tiny little old Victorian home in Truckee CA. And I will say, I was a bit intimidated by the talent of the bunch.

    Here's the thing though... At the time I had a few million in sales under my belt and they were all BROKE. They wanted to be "artists"... they had piles dictionaries, thesauruses, and other books I'd never heard of to analyze writing techniques.

    When I told them what I did for a living they couldn't believe this redneck looking guy who strives to write at a fourth grade level had an income and lifestyle I do without diving into all this technical crap.

    Just saying, keep it friggin simple. You don't have to over analyze every damn thing to write a million dollar winner. Know your market, write in their language, make killer offer, get money, go grab a beer and a fishing pole. Simple.

    English majors and grammar nazis usually are not at all good at writing copy. Are you a professional copywriter with a proven track record like many of us here?
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