A few years ago one of the best copywriters in the world Joe Sugarman made a book called “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word” (re-named to “The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook“).
In section 2 of the book he outlines 24 different “psychological triggers” that get people to buy things.
This section of the book was pure gold, and is something I constantly refer to. As a tribute to the awesome Joe Sugarman (whom I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with many times)….
Here is the full list of Joe Sugarman’s Psychological Triggers:
#1.) Feeling of Involvement or Ownership:
When people get the feeling of “involvement” or “ownership” they are far more likely to buy.
Sugarman describes a successful TV salesman he knew who told him, “When I see someone walk through the television isle and play the the buttons, knobs, and remotes, I know they are far more invested in buying a TV than someone just strolling through the isle not touching anything.”
When you walk by a kiosk in a mall where they try to sell you a product such as a hair straightener or lotion, they will get you to hold the product, use the product, and they will talk about the product with you at length. In this situation you are spending time (aka involvement) and using the product (aka ownership).
Sugarman says “Honesty” is the most important trigger. When Sugarman ran his mail order catalog, the reason people trusted his opinions is because he would be the first to point out the negative aspects of a product.
He once was selling a very ugly thermostat, but it was extremely functional. In fact he started off the tagline of the ad like:
The fact that he was so honest about the downsides of the product, made people believe him about the many upsides of the product.
Integrity as a psychological trigger is a whole view of your product/service.
Are you frequently over exaggerating?
Are you saying things that are hard to believe?
This just doesn’t seem totally real.
If you keep exaggerating in your marketing, it will be harder for people to believe you, especially when deciding if they should fork over money to you.
This is how people might view you, making them reluctant to trust you.
So make sure to show integrity throughout all your marketing, it will help you massively in the long run.
Sugarman says Honesty + Integrity = Credibility.
Once you’ve established credibility, it makes it MUCH easier for you to sell products because people inherently trust you.
Sugarman gives an example of how when he goes on QVC (the home shopping channel) it’s easy to sell products, because QVC has very high credibility with their audience. So if he goes on there explaining how great a product is, the viewers inherently believe him vs when he’s on an infomercial.
#5.) Value and Proof of Value:
Sugarman says a great way of showing Proof of Value is by comparing your products to other competing products.
The consumer is smart enough to know there are other competitors out there, and it’s your job to bring that up and show them YOUR product is the best value:
By comparing other products against yours, you demonstrate Proof of Value.
You can also demonstrate value by comparing it to another commonly bought product:
Like this book of recipes costs only $12, and so does a pizza. What you’re trying to secretly tell the consumer with this comparison is:
“You probably don’t think twice about buying a $12 pizza that lasts for one hour, so why think twice about paying $12 for this book that can potentially have a huge impact on your life?”
#6.) Justify the Purchase:
Sometimes people want to buy very expensive things, but they have to run this process of price justification through their head.
This means in their head they want a product for an emotional reason, but you must provide them with reasons they can logically justify spending that money.
“I’m going to buy an expensive Mercedes.”
Secretly what’s being said:
“I wanna look baller to the ladies so I’m gonna buy a Mercedes!!!” 😎
“I’m buying this expensive Mercedes instead of practical Toyota Camry because it has a rack pinion steering, a great suspension, and a high safety rating.”
Sugarman explains that sometimes you have to GIVE people practical reasons to buy an expensive thing so they can justify it in their head in a different way than just, “I wanna look like a baller!”
Sometimes people will buy things JUST because they are deeply discounted. They almost feel like they are stealing it!
This is why Flash Sales work so well.
This is why Black Friday works so well.
This is why Cyber Monday works so well.
This is why Holiday Season sales work so well.
This is why Going Out Of Business sales work so well.
A lot of people are buying things they probably wouldn’t otherwise buy, just because there is a short window of time they can get this deal.
As a business owner for many years across different industries, I can 100% attest how well this tactic work. It nearly always surprises me that a reduced price and countdown timer can get so many people to buy.
#8.) Establish Authority:
Sugarman says there are many ways to establish authority, some of them being quite simple.
For example he says if you name your company “Jack and Ed’s Video Company” it won’t sound very big. But if you call your company “Computer Discount Warehouse” it automatically sounds big.
Another way of establishing authority is showing off any large clients you work with. I remember with my first real company HouseOfRave I put this blurb up under every product, and it showcased that we actually sold to large companies like MTV, ABC, Wells Fargo and more:
By simply showing these popular brand logos, larger customers felt far more comfortable ordering from us.
#9.) Satisfaction Conviction:
Having a 30 day refund policy is one small example of a Satisfaction Conviction, but Sugarman stresses that it’s much more.
He says it’s your job to tell the customer:
“Hey, I’m so convinced you will like this product that I’m going to do something for your benefit to prove how incredible my offer is.”
This offer ideally should be so good that customers think you MUST be getting ripped off!
Like this Zappos return policy that allows for a whopping 365 day return period:
“People MUST be ripping them off!!”
Sugarman says that if you have someone on the “slippery slope” down to a sale, the right Satisfaction Conviction can push them over the edge.
Examples of Satisfaction Convictions:
- “If you don’t buy anything during your two-year subscription, I’ll refund the unused portion of your subscription.”
- “If you aren’t happy with your purchase, just call me up and I’ll personally arrange to have it picked up at my expense and refund you every penny of your purchase price including the time you took to return the product.”
- “If you’re unhappy with BluBlockers, I’ll let you return them anytime you want. There is no trial period.”
#10.) Nature of Product:
Every product has its own unique nature and personality, and it’s up to you to figure out what that is.
If you are selling a toy:
It is a fun game, so you must convey enjoyment and excitement in the marketing!
If you are selling a blood pressure machine:
It is a “serious” product so you must convey its reliability and accuracy with a more professional and serious look.
Sugarman says that you need only a little common sense to figure out the nature of a product.
#11.) Current Fads:
Sugarman says that keeping an eye on current fads can help you determine what category of product is popular.
It also helps you keep track of what trends will rise and fall (and can therefore be good business, or bad business).
He also says fads tend to come quickly, and go quickly. So it’s wise to exploit a fad when you see it starting, but then get out quickly whilst on top. Of course hindsight is 20/20 (just like knowing when to exit a hot stock is hard to do in the moment), but you can see the rise and fall of some trends very clearly:
Glad I didn’t go “all in” on fidget spinners 😂
Sugarman would keep a close track on fads, and noticed that a lot of hot products during a period were all fitness related. He noticed this meant a whole resurgence in the idea of fitness, and then successfully sold many different products in that category. He knew health was becoming a bigger thing because he kept a close track on fads.
If you’re going to jump on a fad bandwagon, knowing when to get on and get off is wise. But in reality no one knows the exact timing. This is why Sugarman always recommends you first test every product you sell before placing a big bet.
He says, “The consumer will always tell me if I’m too early or too late or right on target.”
Sugarman recalls a time he produced and tested a portable blood pressure unit. It was doing alright, but not great. But then the American Heart Association started running a major advertising campaign suggesting that Americans take their blood pressure regularly. This luck of timing proved to be very profitable for him.
However sometimes you can do everything right, and the timing is just wrong.
Sugarman recalled a time in the 1980’s when he was running his mail order catalog that President Jimmy Carter went on TV and scolded the American people for running up too much debt on their credit cards. This was bad timing for people like Sugarman who relied on credit card orders!
So to have a better pulse on timing than others, it’s wise to keep a close eye on current fads and trends.
#13.) Desire to Belong:
Sugarman says the Desire to Belong is a very powerful motivational factor.
Why do people own a Jeep?
Why do people own a Mercedes?
Why do people own a Harley Davidson?
Why do people own Louis Vuitton handbags?
Many people subconsciously want to belong to the group that already owns or uses that specific product.
#14.) Desire to Collect:
Sugarman says the desire to collect is very strong in humans. He once sold model plane tale fins made out of silver, and got the brilliant idea to send out a special wooden case that held all 8 of the tail fins in the collection.
Every time a new tail fin was released all the people who got the special case would buy one! Something about having this nice case, but an incomplete collection of the tail fins really motivated people to buy the rest of the collection.
Even with Sugarman’s BluBlocker sunglasses company, as the brand got popular people just wanted to own all the different styles of sunglasses they made.
They would release “collections” of certain glasses, and the superusers would want to own them all.
Sugarman says “Curiosity” is probably one of the most powerful psychological phenomena there is.
Because a person can’t touch or experience a product, curiosity is a very strong factor in eCommerce or mail order.
You can utilize curiosity in your own marketing by emphasizing the part of the product a customer cannot experience over the internet.
For example Joe Sugarman heavily promoted his BluBlocker glasses by showing people wearing them and being blown away….but it was almost impossible for a person to experience this without physically trying them on.
#16.) Sense of Urgency (Scarcity):
A crazy powerful way any organization can drum up sales is by offering something that’s about to expire soon. This can be a sale, a special promotion, or something that’s almost out of stock.
By telling the consumer there is a deadline, it forces them to make a decision quick. This is known as scarcity.
There’s a ton of ways to create ethical scarcity for a product:
- Holiday promotions
- Black Friday Sale
- Cyber Monday Sale
- Going out of business sale
- Something is going out of stock soon
- Countdown timer
- One time discount
- Coupon code discount
- Limited time bonus (get something extra with your purchase)
- Price increasing soon
- Changes to pricing structure happening soon
- Holiday or special even sales
- New models coming in, so need to get rid of old ones quick
- Registration closing on a certain date
- Time-sensitive events
- Early bird tickets
- Get an extra service for ordering right now, such as free shipping
- Limited space
- Low inventory of an item
- Seasonal products or ingredients
- One-of-a-Kind products that won’t be made again
- Once-in-a-Lifetime events
- Limited edition releases (like a special cask version of a whiskey)
- First Come, First Serve for a service or product.
These are just some ways you can introduce scarcity to a product.
I can personally attest from selling things online for 20 years that on days you introduce scarcity or a special promotion, you massively see sales increase:
You definitely see sales increase when you introduce scarcity.
#17.) Instant Gratification:
It’s not hard to imaging that when someone buys something, they want it quickly.
It’s been proven over-and-over that people want their products delivered quickly. The closer you can get a person to getting instant gratification, the better.
This is a big advantage of digital goods such as software, eBooks, videos, NetFlix, apps etc….because once the person pays for it, they can immediately access it.
#18.) Exclusivity, Rarity or Uniqueness:
This concept ties in strongly with Trigger #16: Sense Of Urgency, and is the reason why certain pieces of art will sell for 100million+ dollars, or why an old-timey piece of junk car can sell for 5million+ dollars…..there’s only one unique one like it in the world.
If there’s a special significance behind an object, and a limited amount, it drives it’s value up massively.
Certain brands (especially luxury brands) take huge advantage of this phenomenon:
You are in an exclusive small club if you buy a Ferrari. Ferrari will also release special editions of cars in limited numbers making them rare and unique.
These tend to work best when selling. Complexity in selling generally backfires.
Sugarman says that keeping thins simple is not about “writing up” or “writing down” to any group, but rather just keeping things easy to understand and clear. This is very much like writing in Plain Language.
#20.) Human Relationships:
Sugarman says adding in “human elements” is very easy and can be very powerful.
This can mean:
- Showing a product being held in a human hand.
- Showing a product being used by a human model.
- Showing pictures of the human team who built the product.
- Using language a normal human uses.
Sugarman says you want to use as many positive human elements as you can without risking any negative vibrations from emotional reactions.
Sugarman gives examples of charities that would send people free things like stickers or other small gifts in order to kind of “guilt” people into sending in a donation.
A more ethical way to induce guilt in someone is by repeatedly providing them with great information or entertainment. PBS and NPR are both great example of non-profit organizations which use a slight tinge or guilt to get viewers to donate to them.
Sugarman says that being specific in your explanations is very critical, and can establish your credibility much better than not being specific. Here’s an example Sugarman gives in this chapter
A non-specific example:
A specific example:
The example with the 92% figure generates far more believability.
He gives another example where he is talking about a product for the feet.
A non-specific example:
A specific example:
By adding specific numbers or details, you naturally add specificity.
Sugarman states that becoming familiar to a customer can be very powerful, especially if they start to like and trust your brand style.
When you see Coca-Cola or McDonald’s you are instantly familiar with those brands and trust the product. They have to do very little extra selling to get people to buy.
He also says that using words and phrases the customers are using in their own life helps to achieve familiarity.
Sugarman says that hope can be a great motivator in the buying process:
A person buys a new face cream that offers hope it will make a difference in their wrinkles.
An intense golfer buys a new golf ball that offers hope it may take a few strokes off a golf game.
Sugarman actually says that “Hope” is often times how scammers can exploit people.
They don’t give specific results you can achieve, but rather vague statements like:
– “What if you can live to 300 years old?”
– “What if you can have unlimited energy?”
– “What if you are destined to be rich?”
– “It’s possible to go from being poor to rich.”
….then they proceed to sell a product relating to the statement.
However to use “Hope” ethically, Sugarman says to build up the credibility of the person/company/product. Whatever you are selling, with the proper credibility, you will automatically engage the power of hope to sell.