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Want someone to take action? Explain why they should.

A classic experiment in the late 1970s, run by psychologists Ellen Langer, Benzion Chanowitz, and Arthur Blank, demonstrated the power of explanation on the human psyche. They experimenters approached people using a photocopying machine, and they measured the effectiveness of different ways of asking if they could cut in line. When they asked to cut in line without giving a reason, 60% of the people at the machine said yes. But when they explained why they wanted to cut in line, the conversion rate shot up to over 90%.

Interestingly, the study showed that it wasn’t the persuasiveness of the reason that made the difference (some of the reasons given weren’t all that impressive, such as “Because I have to make copies.”) — it was merely the fact that the requestor had a reason. Psychologists believe this outcome is a result of the way the human brain is programmed to run on autopilot. In this case, the word “because” was enough to trigger an automatic response in the people at the copy machine.

How can we use this in marketing? 

First, keep in mind that it’s our ethical responsibility to be truthful — we’re not trying to trick anybody. But when writing copy for a website or marketing collateral, we can integrate this principle of persuasion to improve the response to what we’re saying. Want your prospects to sign up for your newsletter? Want them to contact you for an appointment? Want them to download a copy of your e-book? Don’t just tell prospects to do something — tell them why.

It seems like common sense, but notice how many times you run across calls-to-action that don’t offer any explanation of why. They’re all over the place. To see how much of a difference applying this principle makes, try an A/B test on your main call-to-action to track the performance of a version with a “reason why” attached.

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