Updated: May 24, 2019
Words have power. But some words are more equal than others.
I'm mixing my awesome metaphors here, but there is an important point to be made:
Power words and phrases are good for sales.
In fact, using power words for headlines and in other important places your copy appears can give it a sneaky boost.
Here are five options to help you start building your secret power words resume.
First though, an apology:
If you're a human being, you may come away after reading this article feeling insulted. I'm about to call into question your me-centric view of the universe. I may at least hint at the fact that you always want something for nothing and that everything is always about you, you, you.
Sorry about that.
I have put on my body armour in case things get violent. Let us proceed...
What is a power word?
Thought it was simply a phrase that sounded good?
You were wrong. (This is merely the first of the many explicit and implicit insults in this article. A mild acclimatising sting, if you will. Pace yourself accordingly.) Power words are an actual thing, defined as:
Noun. “A word that often evokes an emotional response, positive or negative, in the target audience, leading to a desired outcome ”
The use of power words for sales has been exploited by marketers like freelance content writers right down through the ages. Because for all our vaunted modern outlook, things don't really change much where what drives the human brain is concerned.
Here are some of the most powerful words in life. Words which will drive your customers to do whatever you want! Mwahaha! Mwaha. They're quite persuasive is what I'm saying.
Let's start with an obvious one. Everyone loves a freebie.
Advertising something for “free” has been shown to have a powerful effect on the human brain (yes, I'm calling you cheap). It's even more weirdly powerful than you might think:
Something that is very cheap – even an objectively better product that is very cheap – will rarely compete with something that is outright free.
So I guess that's that sorted then.
Everything should be free! You get infinite customers. The world is yours. Someone turn off the economy before they shut the door on their way out.
But aside from the serious deficit which your company accounts will be running at, there are some problems attached to over-using “free”:
Firstly, of course you need to actually deliver on that oh-so-attractive price point. If there's a hidden cost somewhere down the line, you will not make many friends.
Secondly, many people will be attracted by your freebies. But not all of those people are going to be worth your time – they only came for the “free”. They didn't come for literally any other thing which you might offer to sell them.
Still, “free” has power. Use it well.
They want it all and they want it now. So sang Freddie Mercury, pretty much. And boy, he was not wrong. If there's one thing which the human mind identifies as almost as good as something that's free, it's something that's free and which it can have right now.
Instant gratification is a phrase for a reason. But hold on. Isn't delayed gratification the thing we should be aiming for?
Well, it is a thing. The idea that delayed gratification is desirable probably links back to the famous 1960s study which usually goes by the tasty title of the Stanford marshmallow experiment.
In this experiment, some scientists apocryphally asked each child participant whether they wanted one marshmallow now or two later.
The scientists then linked those who selected delayed gratification (and thus the better reward) with better life outcomes like good careers and so on.
This, they said, was because of these kids' awesome willpower. Ergo, delayed gratification means better human.
It's worth pointing out that a more recent study published in summer 2018 pointed to a wholly different reason behind some kids preferring to get that instant win. This article entitled “Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test” should give you some idea what that was...
In any case, “instant” gratification – particularly in the modern world of instant online services and same-day delivery of products – is, perhaps increasingly, the norm. Consumers demand it. Businesses want to find new ways of delivering it.
Yet for all its growing ubiquity, it's still a power word for sales. There are a few synonyms of “instant” which have much the same effect too:
On the outside, “new” shouldn't work as a power word at all. Which brand do you trust? The new kid on the block? What do they know about anything?
You want the brand that's been established since 1865. Good year, 1865. The American Civil War ended. The original Salvation Army was founded. That's the kind of history I want backing up my confectionery maker. How else would I know if these sweets are really tasty or not?
This makes it a slightly risky proposition when you apply it to anything to do with your brand. If it's new, your audience might not trust it. Your products are a completely different story though.
How many times have you seen a “new” product or design of product advertised and felt a little flicker of interest? Synonyms of new are used in product descriptions all the time:
State-of-the-art (yes it is a synonym of new)
The real power of “new” seems to come from the implication of exclusivity or novelty.
But why is that?
Well, because. Because! How much of an explanation do you need?
Apparently, quite a bit.
Various psychological studies have been done which point to the power of reason (shocking as that might be given the state of global politics at any given time).
Specifically, these studies show important it is to give people – in this case your customers – a reason why something is important for them to do or know.
“[Your brand]'s new product comes with the world's most modern timing doohicky attached.”
Well, that is quite the feature. But so what? What does that actually mean for your customer?
As any copywriting agency or marketer will tell you, the most important question to answer in any advertising is what your customer actually gets out of it. What's the benefit to them? What's the “because” of your feature?
“[Your brand]'s new product comes with the world's most modern timing doohicky attached. Giving you a way to brush your teeth and know exactly how long you've been doing it at the same time.”
We didn't even use the word “because” in that entirely realistic and “gee I'm glad I probably possess copyright to that – watch out dentistry industry” example. What's important is that you gave a reason for this being important.
“Because” has a truly suspicious amount of power behind it. Even objectively poor reasons work.
“Because I have to”.
“Because you're worth it”.
But it's nothing compared to the psychological oomph which this next little three-letter word beings to the table...
Oh, you. That's right, I told you things were all going to be you. Now you can relax. Turns out, they are. “You” is perhaps the most important word on this list.
Or, more precisely, your customer's identity is the most important word on this list.
Seeing the word “you” makes a person more likely to start thinking about themselves. Which is what you want.
You selfish, selfish human, you.
There's a reason why if you ask your friendly neighbourhood freelance copywriter (or whoever writes your sales emails and letters), they'll tell you that the salutation “Dear Sir or Madam” is never going to be as effective as “Dear Ben”, or whatever your customer's inferior name happens to be.
People like to see their name in print or on the screen. Identity has power. It's also the reason why people spend hundreds or even thousands of their default currency on personalisation in video games. Or why successful apps in China, Japan and Korea - and other places where it could be said that conformity is sometimes viewed as a desirable trait in the real world - come with a wealth of personalisation options for the virtual space.
On the screen or in print, it comes down to making it all about you, you, you.
The dangers of power words in sales and marketing
With all the proven psychological power of these tiny, simple words, you might be wondering why advertisers don't just use power words 100% of the time.
Well, there are a couple of reasons:
Over-promise – never promise what you can't or won't actually deliver. Not only is that often called false advertising a.k.a. lying – but it's a sure and certain way to develop a bad brand reputation. With several of these words – free and instant in particular – be very wary of promising something your customer will not get.
Overuse – you can have too much of a good thing. Not every power word is suitable or necessary everywhere.
Finally, try to avoid any outright weird uses. There's no need to try and force every element of your carefully researched strong words list into everything you write.
There are a lot of positive power words out there. You don't need to limit yourself to these five. Or any five.
Because you can instantly find new free options all around you.
Get more power words in your marketing
Need someone to combine power words and normal words in your copy? Let's have a chat.
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