Harness the Power of ‘No’: The Unconventional Copywriting Hook to Captivate and Convert Your Audience

The Unconventional Copywriting Hook to Captivate and Convert Your Audience

Do you want your copy to sound like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry calling themselves a copywriter on Upwork?

Definitely not.

Gathering mini-yeses throughout our copy is an accepted better practice, and for good reason. The likes of Robert Cialdini present study after study that supports using it. But with consumers overwhelmed with thousands of marketing messages, they’re getting more and more wise to inauthentic tactics that corner them into giving a yes that they don’t really want to give.

Do you want to be among the brands who seek out those ‘false’ yeses? Why not unite with them by getting a ‘no’ instead?

In this article, we’ll explore the psychology behind ‘yes stacking’ in sales and marketing, and why starting with no as your hook is the underrated tactic to try instead.

The Yes Phenomenon: What’s it all about?

The yes phenomenon is the idea of stacking mini ‘yeses’ throughout a conversation or piece of content to build up to the final ask. It’s not a new concept and for good reason.  It’s championed by the likes of Robert Cialdini in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (which if you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend to any copywriter).

Cialdini discusses the effectiveness of getting a yes – any yes – even if it isn’t directly related to the sale.

For instance, a salesperson might start by asking questions that are easy for the prospect to agree with, even if they’re not directly related to the product they’re selling. The goal is to create a pattern of agreement, making it more likely for the prospect to say yes when they’re hit with the actual sales pitch.

But what’s the psychology behind this? 

Well, when a person gives a yes, it triggers a response in the brain. It creates a sense of agreement and alignment, making them more receptive to further asks. That’s why getting mini-yeses can be so powerful.

Our beliefs also tend to be self-perpetuating. So once a person commits to a belief or a decision, they often find new reasons and justifications to support that commitment.

Essentially, that first yes sets the stage for future agreement and commitment. That’s why a question designed to prompt the prospect into giving a ‘yes’ is a common tactic for marketing hooks.

Multiple studies have supported this idea, including this one published on ScienceDirect, which found this:

“the frequency of people’s compliance with a request can be substantially increased if the requester first gets them to agree with a series of statements unrelated to the request but selected to induce agreement”.

It’s clear that the yes phenomenon is a powerful tool in persuasion and clearly has its place in marketing.

So why are we questioning it?

Yes Isn’t Always as It Seems

While the yes phenomenon might seem like a foolproof strategy to move your prospect to a state of agreement where they’re ready to say yes to your offer, it’s not always as effective as it appears.

In fact, sometimes it can backfire. Let me explain.

The sales technique of guiding prospects down a ‘yes ladder’ can sometimes feel manipulative and deceitful.

As a buyer, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like the only response you’re allowed to give is yes, even when you have objections or concerns. This can lead to a sense of discomfort and annoyance, which is the last thing you want your prospects to feel.

Have you ever received a cold call from a salesperson who opens with a question obviously designed to corner you into giving a yes? If someone selling water filters opens with something like “You like drinking clean water, right?”, you can’t say no to that and it feels like a trap.

Now imagine a sales page for those same water filters with the eyebrow copy “Do you like drinking clean water?”. The copy has to same effect as the salesperson – you can’t say no.

Moreover, a yes isn’t always a genuine agreement.

It’s often a meaningless answer that hides deeper objections. In some cases, it’s a way for the prospect to avoid confrontation. So, pushing hard for a yes doesn’t necessarily bring you any closer to a sale. In fact, it might just irritate the other side and push them further away.

So, if yes can be so uncomfortable, it follows that being allowed or even encouraged to say ‘no’ can actually feel like a relief to your prospect. So why are we so afraid of ‘no’?

Before we find out, there are three types of yeses you need to know about first – and some you’ll want to even avoid.

Decoding the Three Shades of Yes

When it comes to the arts of persuasion and conversion copywriting, not all yeses are created equal. Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference, splits yeses into three categories.

Understanding them is a huge step to crafting compelling copy and engaging effectively with your audience by only asking for the right type of yes, in the right places.

Let’s break them down:

#1 The Counterfeit Yes

This is when the prospect wants to say no, but feels that yes is an easier escape route. They might also say yes to keep the conversation going and gather more information, even if they have no intention of agreeing with your proposition.

#2 The Confirmation Yes

This is a simple affirmation in response to a black-or-white question. It doesn’t necessarily promise any action or commitment. It’s often used as a trap – like our “Do you like drinking clean water?” example, but mostly, it’s just a way of saying ‘I hear you’ or ‘I understand’.

#3 The Commitment Yes

Now, this is the real deal. This is the holy grail of yeses that you really want from your prospect. A commitment yes is a true agreement that leads to action. It’s the kind of yes that you’re ultimately aiming for in your sales and marketing efforts.

Which one do we want?

Well, the answer is pretty clear. We’re after the commitment yes. That’s the yes that signifies genuine engagement and agreement, and it’s the yes that leads to action.

But how do we get there? How do we move on from the counterfeit and confirmation yeses to get the commitment yes?

In the next section, we’ll explore a different tactic that flips the script and avoids starting with counterfeit and confirmation yeses altogether: starting with no.

The Provocative Tactic to Try Instead: Start With No

Remember the first line of this article?

“Do you want your copy to sound like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry calling themselves a copywriter on Upwork?”

How did it feel to answer ‘No’ to that question? I bet it felt good.

That’s the power of starting with ‘no’.

It’s a tactic commonly used in negotiating and made popular by the likes of Chris Voss, so why aren’t we talking about it in copywriting? That’s essentially negotiating on a page, right?

Contrary to popular belief, ‘no’ doesn’t have to be a conversation stopper. It can be the start of a meaningful dialogue in your copy that leads to genuine engagement and buy-in. It gives your prospects the freedom to lean into their concerns and objections and therefore opens a window for you to explore and counter them on the page.

This approach aligns with the idea of picking a fight with a belief or an accepted way of doing things that isn’t serving your prospects so that you can unite with them against it – i.e. agitating their biggest problem and forming an alliance. This means they don’t just buy into your message, but they truly feel that you ‘get them’.

Here’s an example:

In our sales page for water filters, instead of leading with “Do you like drinking clean water?”, we could lead with “Is your tap water as clear and chemical-free as you know it should be?”

This approach can lead to more focused and productive conversations.

Picking a fight, agitating problems, and meeting your customers where they’re at right now – this all sounds familiar because this technique infuses perfectly into the most popular copywriting formula there is.

The Problem-Agitation-Solution (PAS) formula.

A Natural Hook in the Most Popular Copywriting Framework EVER: Infusing ‘No’ into PAS

The PAS formula is arguably the most popular framework in copywriting and a classic tool to move prospects from problem-aware to most-aware and ready to buy.

But have you ever thought about infusing ‘no’ into this formula?

The PAS formula starts by identifying a problem that your audience is facing. This is where the no comes in. By calling out the problem and encouraging your audience to acknowledge it, you’re essentially getting them to say no to the status quo. This forms an immediate connection and sparks curiosity and interest.

Then you agitate it. This is where you stir up emotions around the problem, making it more pressing and urgent. This heightened emotional state is the golden turning point to pivot to your solution. The key is to let the prospect sit in their pain just for a moment before introducing your solution.

Finally, you present your solution. This is where you aim for the final resounding yes. But remember, this yes is not just any yes. It’s a commitment yes – the kind of yes that signifies genuine engagement and leads to action.

Starting with a ‘no’ can also help your audience conclude that they’ve moved themselves through the stages of awareness to the place of giving that final yes – even though that internal process was guided by your copy.

That part is crucial, and Voss shares:

“Using all your skills to create rapport, agreement, and connection with a counterpart is useful, but ultimately that connection is useless unless the other person feels that they are equally as responsible, if not solely responsible, for creating the connection and the new ideas they have.”

That’s why weaving an opening ‘no’ response can elevate the PAS formula to be even more powerful. It’s an added layer that helps guide your prospect to believe they’ve moved themselves to the place where they’re willing to give the final commitment yes to your offer.

Final Verdict on ‘No’: Will You Try It in Your Next Copy Project?

We’ve taken a deep dive into the world of yes and ‘no’, exploring the psychology behind these simple yet powerful responses. Furthermore, we have debunked the myth that yes is always the goal, and we’ve unveiled the power of starting with ‘no’. We have also decoded the three shades of yes and explored how to secure that final commitment yes using the ‘That’s Right’ tactic.

It’s clear that ‘no’ is not the conversation stopper we often perceive it to be. In fact, it can be a powerful tool for opening up honest conversations and showing your audience that you understand their needs and objections – all to guide them towards that final commitment yes.

By infusing no into your copy, you can create a stronger connection with your prospects that leads to more conversions. So, will you try starting with no in your next copy project? Will you dare to flip the script and cut out the counterfeit and confirmation yeses?

Continue Reading: Write to Win: Why Copywriting Matters for Businesses

About the Author

Emma Williams is a conversion copywriter and messaging strategist specialising in helping start-ups find their voice with high-converting websites, sales funnels, and other marketing assets.