How to persuade people without them noticing

Copywriting to persuade and engage your clients

As a child, I used to love trying to persuade people. My tactic was to come at them from every angle I could think of, relentlessly, until my dad raised my pocket money or my friend realised I was right. Unfortunately if you try this with a potential client they might invoke a restraining order. You certainly won’t win any business. But there are ways to persuade people without them noticing.

LinkedIn data reveals that persuasion is the second most in-demand skill in the global job market, only losing out to creativity. A similar study showed 57% of senior leaders value soft skills such as persuasion and adaptability over hard skills like computing or analysis. Persuasion isn’t just a catchy Jane Austen title, it’s a vital part of your communication tool kit. And it’s not just the secret language of marketing and sales departments - it can be totally natural, almost invisible.

Make them laugh

There’s a reason that comedic cartoons have featured so heavily on the front pages of political journals like The Economist and The New Statesman. They make you see the funny side of a situation and the funny truth about it too. Sam Leith describes laughter as “involuntary assent.” It’s what made Innocent Smoothies so endearing and why Cards Against Humanity make fun of their own customers.

Depending on a brand’s target audience, more or less humour is appropriate (I don’t want my legal advisor to crack too many jokes). But in the right place, humour helps people to trust a company. It says “we’re human too”.

Tell them what they already believe

“Life is for living.” “Prevention is better than cure.” “You can’t have too much happiness.” If you tell people what they already believe, they will be more inclined to agree with everything else you say. You can slip in a few facts they might not know about, a solution they might not have discovered. But essentially, you’re aiming at where they are already persuaded.

Aristotle wrote that the best arguments are those that the audience thinks they have worked out themselves. So that when you eventually suggest that they buy your product or service they will think “well of course I want to, obviously.”

Show that you’re one of them

“Friends! Romans! Countrymen!” The opening of Brutus’ speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has become iconic. He’s just about to defend the Roman republic, but before he did, he positioned himself as one of them. Not an aloof senator. Not a person of political ambition. One of us.

It’s a tactic that’s been used for thousands of years – but it still works. Check out Barack Obama’s “A more perfect union speech”, considered to be the turning point of his campaign in 2008. He says, “I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas… I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations… I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.” By associating himself with those he was trying to win over, he earned their trust.

Make them feel part of something

Another method of persuasion is simply to invite people in. Let them know what you’re honestly thinking. Handled well, a little vulnerability can be very attractive in an organisation. What are you doing behind the scenes? What are some of your frustrations? Some of your doubts? You don’t have to get apologetic but you can show that there’s a real person, like them, underneath any sales speak.

Engage with people on every level you know how - way beyond the limits of pointing them to a product. This was the genius of Nike’s Just Do It campaigns. They celebrated sporting achievement in ways that had little to do with shoes. If people want to be part of your community, they’ll instinctively like your products even if they never hear a sales pitch.

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