Copywriting: 40 emotional drivers to enhance your content

Copywriting is hard. Especially if you have been assigned the task of writing about something you have no interest in and no knowledge of. Fortunately copywriters have been in that position for decades and have created shortcuts and tools to get out of creative ruts.

Victor Schwab – the man whose work for Dale Carnegie’s classic bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” made it a best-selling book in the 1930s – have a list of 40 key emotional drivers that all humans respond to. First published in the book “Mail Order Strategy” (Hoke Communications) in 1956, and as valid today as ever.

Before we list the 40 drivers it is important to note how he have sectioned them in 4 sections. My suggestion is to forget about the 40 drivers and focus on the 4 sections. You are clever, but there is no way you will memorize all the drivers, but you might remember how they are sectioned, and that will be of good help.

The 4 sections

  1. People want to gain – When you are writing commercial content this is important. What do people gain from your product? Focus on this rather than on the product itself.
  2. “People want to save” – Our brains have been hardwired to look for dangers and minimize risk since the stone age. But rather than lions and enemy tribes we are now worried about money, how others perceive us etc.
  3. “People want to be” – We all have something we want to be, and something we want to be perceived as. If you know your customers well you can play on that desire to great effect. Show how your product or service help them be what they want to.
  4. “People want to do” – We all got to work for a living and for some of us that means doing what we really want to. But for others work is a means to an end, and that end is often buying stuff that enables us to do what we really want to. So what is it your product enables people to do?

In the list under you will notice how “Money” is something people would like to gain as well as save. It is a positive as well as a negative emotional driver. But I think most people would be more motivated to work an extra hour to avoid having $100 taken away from them than to gain an extra $100. So my little bonus tip is to look for the stuff your customers want to avoid.

The 40 key emotional drivers

Use this list as an emergency go-to when you feel you are not getting anywhere with your copy. It is great for ideas, but also take into account that most writer’s blocks happen because the last thing you wrote is ultra boring. (So you might want to have a look at your previous text before diving into this list)

People want to gain:

  • Health
  • Popularity
  • Praise from others
  • Pride of accomplishment
  • Self-confidence
  • Time
  • Improved appearance
  • Comfort
  • Advancement: social-business
  • Money*
  • Security in old age
  • Leisure
  • Increased enjoyment
  • Personal prestige

People want to save:

  • Time
  • Discomfort
  • Risks
  • Money*
  • Worry
  • Embarrassment
  • Work
  • Doubts

People want to be (at least perceived as):

  • Good parents
  • Creative
  • Efficient
  • Recognized authorities
  • Up-to-date
  • Gregarious
  • “First” in things
  • Sociable, hospitable
  • Proud of their possessions
  • Influential over others

People want to do:

  • Express their personalities
  • Satisfy their curiosity
  • Appreciate beauty
  • Win others’ affection
  • Resist domination by others
  • Emulate the admirable
  • Acquire or collect things
  • Improve themselves generally

What do you think? Do these 60 year old emotional drivers still apply today?




This article was first published by Kåre Garnes