Before I started copywriting and UX writing, I specialized in perceptual psychology/visual neuroscience and researched in the field of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
After years of academic writing – rigid repetitive reports – I moved on to more creative writing including screenwriting.
My deep understanding of the brain/human behavior – especially visual perception, decision-making, and behavioral motivation – helps me craft psychology-based copywriting that enhances the power of copy to connect with, guide, and convert customers.
Gestalt is a German word for shape or form. My previous visual psychology research required a deep understanding of Gestalt theory – laws that determine how objects are perceived.
The visual presentation of copy in headlines, subheaders, body copy, call-to-action elements, and microcopy has a great influence on legibility and user experience (UX). Therefore, it is crucial to organize copy content in the best way for users’ perception.
Knowledge of Gestalt principles such as closure, continuity, connectedness, proximity, and similarity helps me structure copy so users can quickly scan without making a significant effort to distinguish important information.
By understanding the psychology of website and app users, I can craft copywriting and UX writing that is clear, direct, and prevents misinterpretation.
Application of Gestalt theory
People buy solutions. They have a desire or problem and buy products that fulfil their need.
However, there are some products, such as virtual reality gaming, that no one actually needs. That's why I use Maslow's hierarchy of needs – an influential motivational theory – to help my copywriting target subconscious desires and appeal to people’s needs, hopes, and dreams.
Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory consists of a hierarchy of human needs that include:
Let’s do a quick exercise and apply these motivational drivers to a non-essential item – virtual reality (VR) gaming – and try to craft copy that convinces prospective customers VR will fulfil one or more of their basic needs.
We shouldn’t be marketing to people who desperately need food and water. We should be helping them. Let’s move on to the next need.
A potential customer driven by safety and security needs might be enticed to buy VR if they’re convinced a virtual environment – boxing ring or battlefield – allows them to experience fighting/violence "in the comfort of your own home, without getting hurt".
Targeting social needs could work by claiming: “hang out with your friends in VR and enjoy a local game and/or online multiplayer”.
Those in the self-esteem level of Maslow’s hierarchy may feel that possessing the latest or “world’s first VR technology” will bring them accolades from their peers.
VR gaming that allows you to go anywhere and “puts the whole world within your reach” would trigger customers’ cognitive needs such as learning and discovering.
Aesthetic needs – the desire for attractive surroundings – can be addressed with claims like “VR high-quality immersive visuals look and feel like magic, unlike anything you’ve ever seen”.
People at this level have accomplished everything they need to – they want to solve hard problems – be creative and abstract. VR gaming could target self-actualization needs by focusing on developer tools and platforms that can “sculpt an artistic vision and build custom virtual worlds".
This dimension of motivation is characterized by feelings of awe and ecstasy. VR can appeal to transcendence motivation by claiming to be the “only way possible to experience time travel, space travel or stepping inside your favorite movie”.
Does VR satisfy any of your basic needs?
My favorite topics in psychology are decision-making and cognitive biases. According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, we have a two Systems of thinking – System 1 (Thinking Fast) and System 2 (Thinking Slow).
System 1 is emotional, intuitive, stereotypic and unconscious – a gut reaction way of thinking.
System 2 is analytical, slow, logical and conscious – the critical thinking way of making decisions.
We consider ourselves to be rational human beings and most of us identify with System 2 thinking. However, Kahneman’s research demonstrated that we spend most of our time in System 1 which forms ‘first impressions’, feelings, and is the reason why we jump to conclusions.
Importantly, System 1 is used to comprehend simple sentences like web copy and text on a billboard. Therefore, I know my copywriting and UX writing should target System 1 – emotions – and bypass the rational, thinking system (prefrontal cortex).
Behavior is ruled primarily by our emotions
Emotions are driven by neurochemicals. As a copywriter, it’s important not to press emotional buttons too hard. For example, I’m careful not to use linguistic threats – pushy sales language – which activates a primitive brain area called the amygdala (fight or flight center) that releases chemicals (cortisol) making you want to run.
My digital copy aims to stimulate the release of feelgood chemicals (oxytocin, dopamine) with clear, positive, conversational language that makes people want to engage, buy something or interact.
I have found it’s most effective to engage with a target audience – be on their side, speak to them respectfully in everyday language used with family and friends. This generates feelings of safety and builds trust.
An important step in my copywriting process is listening intently with genuine interest to a target audience so that my writing will reflect their language, attitudes, and concerns. This creates excitement and builds bonds of loyalty, support, and a personal connection.
Here are interactive examples of fundamental psychology-based copywriting techniques. If you'd like me to apply advanced techniques such as textural adjectives and FBI hostage negotiation tactics on your project, just shoot me an email.