Seven lessons children can teach us about the art of persuasion

Essentially, my job as a copywriter is to use language to persuade people they need to sign up to a mailing list, buy a product or use a service. I know all about using words that create urgency and taking the fear away by giving reassurance. Still, I’ve realised that my children could teach the most experienced copywriter a thing or two about persuasion.


Copywriting and the art of persuasion1.       If you don’t ask, you don’t get

My boys seem to have this rule hard-wired into them. If there’s something they want, they’ll ask for it. It’s actually something I respect about them both (as long as it doesn’t cross over into spoilt or demanding) because they’re clear about their needs. I don’t have to guess, I just have to give them a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

When writing copy, you have to let people know what you want them to do. This is where the call to action comes in. If you want them to sign up to your mailing list, ask them. If you want them to give you a call, let them know. Take the mystery out of what you want and let your customers know what you’re asking of them. Never write anything without being clear about the call to action.


2.       Target the person most likely to say yes

My boys are experts at choosing the people most likely to identify with their cause. They weigh up their options and pitch their case to the person they think is most likely to say yes. Are they being manipulative? Possibly, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here. They also recognize that different things strike a chord with different people.

This is where the concept of the ideal customer comes in. If you understand who’s buying your products or services, you can aim your marketing at them. The great thing is, if they’re the right fit for your business, they already appreciate the value of what you’re selling, so they’re much more likely to say yes.


3.       Focus on the benefits and how this is going to make your life better

Now, this is a tactic my seven-year-old favours. In negotiating time on the computer, for example, he’ll point out that it’ll keep him occupied, allow me to work for a little while longer or perhaps that it will teach him new skills that he’ll need when he grows up. He may even reason that playing on the Xbox is good for his hand-eye coordination.

What he’s realised is that focusing on benefits is a powerful argument. He lets me know how his actions could make my life better/easier/quieter* (*delete as applicable). His reasons are much more persuasive than, “Mummy, I really want to play on Lego Star Wars.”

It’s a lesson to remember whenever you write copy for your business. Your customers want to know what you can do for them, how you can solve a problem or make their life better.


4.       You get more with sugar than you do with salt

Children generally understand the age-old saying that you get more with sugar than you do with salt. When they’re in full persuasion mode, their first approach uses great manners, flattering language and a lovely, engaging tone of voice. (Of course, if they hear a ‘no’ in the face of such lovely asking, they usually respond with a wounded, “But I said ‘please’”!). By choosing a warm, friendly, inviting approach, they understand that they’ve got more hope of persuading me than if they threw a loud, foot-stomping temper tantrum.

Treat your customers to warmth, respect and a pleasing tone of voice and they’ll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say.


5.       Break things down into bite-sized chunks

My four-year-old loves this strategy. He’ll come into the kitchen and say, “Mummy, hold my hand”, followed by “Mummy, come with me” as he leads me up the stairs, then, “Mummy, look up there” as he points to his top shelf, before finally asking, “Mummy, could you get that toy down for me, please?”

By breaking down what he needs me to do into bite-sized chunks, he’s given me no reason to say no. If he’d asked me to come upstairs and get a specific toy down straightaway, I may have put him off because I was in the middle of making dinner. I might have suggested that he play with something else until a more convenient time. Instead, he’s taken me through what I needed to do a step at a time.

Your customers will appreciate this approach too. If you make it easy to buy from you by explaining what they need to do, how they need to do it and when, you’ll create a painless experience for them that will keep them coming back for more.


6.       Tell a story

My four-year-old is obsessed with words. He reads constantly, leaves notes everywhere he goes and acts out plays with his ragged band of puppets. At the moment, he’s into writing stories – ‘The diary of Mister Pen’ is being serialized – and regales us all with tales of volcanoes, purple dogs and Mister Pen’s adventures. What he’s learned at his tender age is that people love a good story.

When writing copy, your story can be a powerful selling tool. Why did you go into business for yourself? What’s your company ethos? How has your direction changed over the years? Have you triumphed over adversity? By telling your story, you offer customers a way to connect and identify with your company, to feel that you share common ground.


7.       Show some love

Show your customers you careMy boys are affectionate little souls who love nothing more than cuddling up with me on the sofa at the end of a long day at school. They ask for cuddles when they’re upset, cuddles when they’ve been angry, cuddles when they’re poorly and cuddles just because they feel like having a hug. From an evolutionary standpoint, this ongoing affection between parent and child is a sure-fire way of keeping us connected to one another and of ensuring my patience, loyalty and support whenever they need it.

Your customers will appreciate you making the effort to connect with them regularly too. They like to feel appreciated, whether this means responding to their comments on your Facebook page or being thanked for their purchase. If your customers feel that they matter to you, they are likely to stay in touch with your brand and spread the word.

What other lessons can our children teach us? How about collecting compliments? Talking to us in a way that lays our fears to rest? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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