Words are powerful weapons. See what I did there? With a turn of phrase like that, your brain might have likely kicked into defence mode, your brow furrowing and mouth turning up at the corners.
Words have the potential to soothe. Feeling better? Perhaps, if you’re like me, a sentence like that is akin to a bath for your brain. Words, whether used in battle or used like metaphorical hugs, have the potential to do great things to our emotional states.
The power of positive language
I bring up the nuance of emotive language because I’ve learned in the past year that I can be an incredible cynic. I litter my sentences with ‘buts’, negating any statement that came before, and generally am always quick to draw a negative conclusion. I’m doing it right now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Thinking and speaking more positively is something I’m actively retraining my brain to do, and is a lesson I’m weaving into my copywriting more and more.
Words that sell: a personal story
Why is it so important that we use positive language to speak for our business, rather than resorting to a fear-based mentality? How do you motivate outside of a culture of FOMO, where people are happy, willing and excited to open their wallets, again and again? Doesn’t contentment breed complacency?
Potentially, but science and personal experience proves otherwise.
I was 24 and my manager was telling me that fearsome language was the catalyst for increased brand loyalty. The product I was trying to sell? Domain locking. I was the designated content marketer for a domain registrar, and we were putting together a series of triggered emails for people who purchased new domains. Domain locking ensured that no one would steal a customer’s domain name, an unlikely occurrence even without domain locking.
It was my job to boost conversions, and to trigger a series of clicks via language that instilled panic.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t really work.
Why positive language delivers a better ROI
The human brain thinks in pictorial form. If you tell someone ‘Don’t miss out!’ or ‘Don’t be the last one to…’, they first have to imagine this, and then reconcile how they’ll avoid it.
If you tell someone ‘Don’t sit on your ass’, you’re essentially telling someone to do two different things, rather than just one. This is because negative language, like ‘but’, ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’, create obstacles instead of entry points.
On top of that, negative language engenders pessimism. When someone’s in a pessimistic frame of mind, they’re not motivated to take action, because they already feel like the situation is hopeless. They’re afraid, a response in the brain that researchers far smarter than me have studied.
Amongst them is Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the university of North Carolina. She published a landmark paper way back in 2004. It’s one of the most often cited studies that demonstrates the potential to change behaviour and our physical health through positive thought patterns.
While her study doesn’t necessarily focus on the power of positive language per se, it does show a strong correlation between language and thoughts.
The case for positive language
Fredrickson tested the impact of positive emotions on the brain by setting up an experiment. She divided her research subjects into 5 groups and showed each group different film clips.
The first two groups were shown clips that created positive emotions. Group 1 saw images that created feelings of joy. Group 2 saw images that created feelings of contentment.
Group 3 was the control group. They saw images that were neutral and not intended to produce any extreme positive or negative emotion.
The last two groups were shown clips that created negative emotions, like fear and anger.
At the end of the viewing, each participant was asked to imagine a similar situation where those feelings would arise and to write down how they’d deal with it. Each participant was handed a piece of paper with 20 blank lines that started with the phrase, “I would like to…”
Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote down the fewest responses, indicating a lack of motivation to take action and a general feeling of helplessness. Meanwhile, the participants who saw images of joy and contentment, wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would take, even when compared to the neutral group.
What does this all mean?
Positive emotions fuel psychological resilience, widening a person’s potential to see more possibilities and to take action.
Which begs the question – how do you harness the power of positive thinking within your own sales copy?
The goal is to spark a positive urge with a broadened mindset
What if you could get your customers to not only buy from you willingly, but with a smile on their face and an intent to recommend your brand to friends?
The best place is by framing your brand, services and products with positive language.
It’s what Fredrickson called the ‘broaden-and-build’ theory. In a nut shell, positive emotions promote discovery, trying new things, and taking creative action. Like purchasing something that adds value to their lives, perhaps?
Avoiding sales suicide with words to throw away
The easiest place to begin is by identifying negative language, and then finding a way to reframe your message. But don’t feel bad if you’re having trouble identifying what these words are – one study showed that negative words dominate the English language (and interestingly, Spanish as well).
Below is a very short of the most common and easy words to exile from your sales copy. If you’re looking to replace them with more positive language, I’ve created a PDF of alternatives frames to use. The key is to keep it simple and don’t use hyperbole.
Of course, you could argue that all of this is a case of semantics and swapping plain English for euphemisms. It’s only half of the story, after all. And one could argue that it’s sales fluff, empty optimism, and in direct opposition to my post on the case for pessimism.
And therein lies the rub: it all depends on your audience, and how your empathy is framed. Your sales copy doesn’t need to appeal to everyone, and positive language mightn’t yield the best results 100% of the time.
But there’s one thing I know for sure: words colour our meaning with nuance. Nuanced, yet powerfully potent messages. And with a thoughtful approach to our copywriting that examines the effects of these words and how to create positive change, we’re likely to persuade more easily, powerfully, and with a far better result. Not just for our business, but for our customers too.
That’s why I frequently recommend A/B testing and constant iterations. Always try and see what works, and course correct if the data says your current method isn’t working. With an increased understanding of what your audience wants, you’ll be better placed to deliver messages that clearly resonate with their needs.