I am hesitant to discuss this topic because, whilst salespeople often use these techniques successfully, copywriters either ridicule it completely or are ardent devotees who refuse to recognize its limitations.
There’s not much middle ground or reasoned debate when it comes to hypnotic language patterns in copywriting and marketing. But a few people have asked me about it recently and it is worth sharing some ideas about this fascinating area of study.
Hypnotic language patterns have been used by advertisers, marketers and copywriters for a very long time but the techniques employed are subtle, and they haven’t been well-documented or fully understood. Talented copywriters often use these techniques intuitively, unaware that some of them form the foundation of hypnotherapy.
What I aim to do here is to explain how they work and give examples of how they can be used in your writing. Don’t worry, this will be a lot simpler than you may think.
Before We Get Into This, Let’s Define Hypnosis
Now this requires a brief explanation of what hypnotherapy is and, more importantly, what it is not. Hypnotherapy is the process of using language patterns in clinical practice to build rapport with a patient, so they become open to suggestion and accept new ideas about themselves or the world around them. In so doing, a patient can relieve themselves of negative thoughts or self-limiting beliefs.
How Does Hypnotherapy Relate To Sales Writing?
So how this works is as follows: When the patient is fully relaxed and engaged with the therapist, the guard of the conscious mind is lowered, and the subconscious (where all our core beliefs are held) is accessible.
If we take the idea that languages patterns build rapport between a therapist and a patient, it stands to reason that copy, a sales email or a novel can do the same. And just as the psychotherapists slips in new ideas for the patient to adopt, sales writing and advertising can too.
If we really engage our audience, we can access their subconscious – at least that’s the theory. In sales writing and advertising, we are not replicating what hypnotherapists do, but we’re using some of the same core concepts.
Let’s take a look at some of Erickson techniques that can cross over into copywriting.
This one is used quite a lot by salespeople. This is where you present your client/audience with the illusion of choice but both choices lead to the same outcome, i.e. buying your product. If I ask “do you want standard or express shopping”, I am giving you the illusion of choice but in fact the outcome is the same because in both scenarios you buy the product.
This works because the subconscious immediately and instinctively picks one of the two options – it has a decision to make and cannot help but pick one. If you’re in rapport with the person already, this is an effective sales technique.
But what about using it in writing? If you’re emailing somebody this can be used effectively. The same applies for advertising copy, web copy etc. Inserting choices is pretty straightforward, e.g.,” When you stay at a Hilton Hotel, the only question is the fine dining restaurant or room service?”
If you’re a fan of Derren Brown you’ll know about this. This involves telling the audience to do something but the command is hidden within a sentence. Examples of this (courtesy of Lou Larsen) include:
- What would it be like to get really excited about making a living on eBay?
- When you start to feel curious, do you act on it?
- I wonder how quickly you’ll feel the anticipation of meeting beautiful women where ever and whenever you want.
- How surprised would you be to feel good about all the possibilities?
- As you read this brochure notice how you become really interested in all the ways you can make more money.
Check out Derren Brown’s use of embedded commands below.
The idea here is simple: while your conscious brain is busy thinking the object (eBay, beautiful women, making money), your subconscious is absorbing the embedded command (get excited, feel curious etc.)
In hypnotherapy this is a foundation technique and it works effectively. In sales writing, it is challenging to embed commands in a way that looks natural. Now, the remarkable thing with Ericksonian language patterns is that they still work even if you know they are Ericksonian language patterns.
The subconscious doesn’t distinguish between a something that is a command something that isn’t.
But can you write your copy/sales emails like this without it sounding a little strange, or downright weird?
This consists of run-on sentences with a series of reasons to buy. We can create a series of suggestions and reasons by using “and”, “because” and “so”.
The idea is to give the subconscious multiple reasons to buy in quick succession. All the subconscious needs is a reason, regardless of what the reason is.
An example is “You should sign up today because prices have never been lower and you’ll start to feel great because you’ll get in shape and you’ll look better than ever because we have the best personal trainers in the city.”
Whilst we may be consciously thinking that’s a rather strange sentence and start weighing the pros and cons of taking out a gym membership, the subconscious was just hit with 3 reasons to buy.
This technique works because the word “because” bypasses the critical reasoning of the conscious mind, and as soon as you hear it, your subconscious just accepts the reason. You could say “Buy this product because the sky is blue”. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, the subconscious has identified a reason to buy, and that’s all it needs.
Rory Fulcher from Hypnotic suggests to try using this technique in real life. Try cutting in line at a store saying “Can I cut in front of you because I need to pay for my shopping.” This, most of the time, he argues, should work. If you’re bold enough to try!
Literature is laden with metaphors. Melville, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Orwell are just a few of the literary greats who used metaphors to communicate important ideas. Sales writing isn’t much different, at least conceptually. We use language that represents one thing but means another.
When the audience is focusing on the literal story, their subconscious is picking up on the ideas, or suggestions, being represented. An example (adapted from Kreativ Copywriting) is “The ABC Retirement Plan is like being on a wonderful train journey knowing you have everything you need; timetable, map, tickets, luggage and a first-class super comfy seat!”
Technically this is a simile. I am yet to come across any appropriate application of metaphors in copywriting.
This one is easier to get our heads round and most copywriters do this at least to some extent. It’s about getting people to imagine a future or ideal scenario, thereby creating a positive feeling. The brain then associates the product with that feeling and because the brain directs us towards things that prompt positive emotions, we then buy then product (or at least have positive perception of the product).
In hypnotherapy, an example would be “Imagine how much better you’ll feel when you stop smoking, breathing easily and deeply, free from the burden of having to smoke cigarettes.” Simple but effective. It’s just connecting the action with the benefit of the action.
This is powerful because once we visualize something, it’s a lot easier for us to realize it. In copywriting, this is really easy. For example, “Imagine how fresh and youthful your skin will be after using our Extraordinary Replenishment Cream”. We imagine that scenario and we feel good because it we’re imaging ourselves as young and attractive. The brain is now drawn to the product because it invokes those positive feelings.
This technique lends itself well to short-form copy and taglines.
My 2 Cents On Hypnotic Patterns In Marketing
These are just a few of the hypnotic techniques that are sometimes applied to marketing. For those looking for academic literature on the subject, check out Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. For easier reading, head over to Hypnotc.com.
These techniques, whilst proven to be effective in hypnotherapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming, have limited crossover to marketing. It’s far easier to say these things to a patient who is actively participating in therapy than it is to write them down and engage an indifferent audience. And it is very difficult to communicate these ideas in proper English.
But to some extent these techniques are used marketing, just more subtly, and without the nomenclature therapists have given them. Some of them like embedded commands, imaginations and metaphors can work. Other don’t.
One of the reasons Ericksonian language patterns hasn’t taken off to any significant degree in marketing is that, just like copywriting in general, it’s impossible to quantify its success. Therefore people are inevitably skeptical. But the fact is many of us do some of these things in advertising and marketing instinctively. Salespeople do it (a lot). Politicians do it. You even may do it in normal conversation without realizing it.