4 Killer Ways To Encourage Your Audience To Take Action: Exploring The Nudge

After working in copywriting and freelancing for many years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. People in our industry tend to mystify the sales process. Sure, there are hundreds of little things you can do to improve the conversion rate of a certain piece of copy, but ultimately, only a few factors decide whether or not someone will buy your product. Most of it comes down to the subtle art of influencing people.

No, I’m not referring to some weird mind control trick where expert level hypnosis is used. Influencing people is quite easy, and this article will dive deep into one particular method that is widely referred to as the nudge.

As an example, I’m notoriously bad at replying to emails and other text messages. However, contrary to my terrible habit, I replied very quickly just the other day to a message from a friend of mine. He specifically wanted to organize an event for several people to attend and was wondering which day would be most convenient for me. So, about a week ago, he sent me the following message:

Hey Anta, can you tell me on which date you’re free to attend the event?

Several days passed and I still hadn’t replied. Like I said, I’m terrible, but not necessarily intentionally. I had already seen the message and I had thought that I could probably respond at a later time. Procrastination seems to run deep in my veins haha. In fact, I had already formulated a response. After some time, my friend tried a different approach:

Hey man, everyone has already voted for a certain date, and you’re the only one who hasn’t replied. Can you let me know if you’ll make it?

I immediately sent him a response, because I didn’t want to appear to be a dull, uninterested killjoy. I told him:

Sorry I reacted so late, [My friend’s name]. I’m almost completely free all of next week, so I’d be happy with just about any date.

My friend had just given me an important lesson in effective writing. In the book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass R Sunstein, which I highly recommend as an interesting insight into smart influencing techniques, the authors claim that one of the best ways to get the desired result isn’t by getting angry at a person for not reacting or threaten them. Simply remind them to perform a task and they will probably react faster.

How To Use Nudges To Write More Effectively

A nudge is an indirect technique to encourage people to take action by influencing their train of thought with specific information. Usually, it’s a sentence that evokes a certain feeling, provokes an unconscious reaction, or encourages readers to draw their own conclusions.

As an example, look at this excerpt from the exchange I had with my friend:

everyone has already voted for a certain date

At this point, my friend didn’t accuse me of anything at all and neither was his tone particularly angry or combative in any way. He just gave me a push in the right direction. I drew the logical conclusion from the information myself; everyone has already voted for a date, so I need to stop being a dumbass and I have to react now.

A nudge is often more effective than a commandment, question, or instruction because audiences are more likely to take action on their own initiative. However, by cleverly crafting your message, the reality that you secretly really gave them a push in the right direction. Nudge theory is a massively complex subject that delves into the root of what makes people think, behave, and make decisions in a certain way. If you’re interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading this article: What is Nudge Theory?

In daily life, nudges are often used to provoke desired behavior. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the illusory fly in the urinals of men’s bathrooms. They look like this:

The desired effect is obvious. Companies are tired of people urinating all over the floor, and a subtle nudge is created to encourage people to point their streams in the right direction. It becomes like a game and the men who try to “wash” the drawn fly down the drain believe it’s entirely their idea to play along. The net result is a system where less waste is created for the custodians of the bathrooms and fewer resources are used to maintain a certain health standard.

Nudges work well, don’t they :-)?

Let’s talk about how you can practically apply this to your work in order to get your audiences to perform a certain action.

1. Address Your Audience’s Sense of Responsibility

When people forget a doctor’s appointment, it costs society a lot of money. How do you ensure that people make their appointment a priority and actually show up? In recent years, the National Health Service (the British health insurance fund) has succeeded in reducing the number of missed appointments with general practitioners by an almost whopping 10 percent by adding one sentence to the appointment confirmation.

If you miss this appointment, it will cost the NHS £160.

Interesting, right? When you appeal to the general sense of communal responsibility a person has, they tend to be more likely to follow through with a certain action. How can you personally implement this type of nudge?

Speak to people in your text about their sense of responsibility when they make an appointment with you (e.g. in an e-mail, or in the text of a web form for an order). Be open about what it would mean for you if they canceled, then they are more likely to respect the appointment.

2. Caress Your Readers’ Egos

How do you ensure your audience will make use of an attractive offer? In New Orleans, low-income residents can visit a doctor for free. However, few people used to sign up for the free consultation hour. One day, the welfare organization that offered the doctors’ consultations took a closer look at the invitations (which were sent by text message). That message was always very simple:

Hello, this is James from the doctor’s office. Text yes if you want to make a free appointment.

They changed the wording a bit and the number of registrations doubled because of a small sentence that gave readers the feeling they were special:

Hello, this is James from the doctor’s office. You have been selected for a free appointment. Text yes if you want to make use of it.

Can you see the qualitative difference between these two sentences? Ask yourself honestly: which one would you be more likely to reply to?

How would I practically implement this nudge?

I would strive to give my readers and/or customers the feeling that they have been chosen. I would caress their ego and make them feel special. For example, start an email in which you make an offer with the following:

You belong to a select group that receives this offer.

Make your readers feel unique and they’ll respond in kind.

3. Make It Personal

You know the old saying, it’s just business, nothing personal? That’s generally the exact opposite of the stance you want to take when trying to convince someone. People are more inclined to take action when they empathize with a subject. As an example, the website that recruits donors for organ transplants in the U.K. managed to recruit almost 10,000 extra donors in a year by adding a clever, personal text to the call on the website:

If you needed an organ transplant to get healthy, would you want one? If so, help others.

By reminding people about their own desire for a healthy life, the NHS was able to massively increase organ donations. If you want your readers to support you (whether financially or through actions), make sure that the wording of your text allows them to empathize with the subject matter.

For example, if you are raising money for street children, write for example: imagine if your child would have to beg on the street every day, etc…

If you are looking for support for a ban on fireworks, experiment with a sentence like this: did you know that the noise from fireworks is 10 times louder to a dog than it is to a human, etc…

4. Create a Mob Mentality

We humans (and most primates) are herd animals. As a general rule, we tend to create our value systems based on what we see others doing around us. When we know how people generally behave in certain situations, we subconsciously tend to adapt to our surroundings. I’ll never forget going to Mombasa and seeing my mother, a normally liberal and free-spirited woman, wearing a head covering scarf simply because it was the standard of modesty set by the people in the area.

As a copywriter or freelancer, you can make good use of that principle when writing letters. In the American city of Louisville, a lot of parking tickets were paid late or straight up not paid. The city council managed to increase the number of payments by 10 percent by adding one sentence to the fine:

“The majority of motorists who receive this fine pay within 13 days”.

Additionally, in the correspondences between my friend and I, he mentioned that everyone else had responded to the email. Using two techniques, he was able to get me off my behind and elicited an immediate response.

How can you use this technique in your own pieces?

Mention figures in your texts that subtly activate people’s herd mentality. For example, add a text to the registration form of your newsletter in which you tell them that 6,000 people have already registered. Chances are that the readers will want to belong to that group because there must be a reason why so many people want to receive this newsletter.

In conclusion, these are some of the ways you can dramatically improve the conversion rate of your writing and get a response from your audience. Let me know what other nudges have worked for you in the comment section below or by email!

Hope that helps!


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