Copywriting to Influence Behaviors

Author: Clay Miller
Posted: Apr 25, 2019

Ever wish you could bend the human will? For me, the thought arises when I see a wailing toddler in Walmart or when I hit the snooze button instead of hitting the gym—again. Don’t fret! It’s totally natural.


We’re human, after all. And we want to feel like everything is under control. Marketers crave that feeling too. Although we’d love to hypnotize audiences like Amazonian wasps, we accept that not everybody will eat their fruits and veggies today just because we tell them to. That’s where people like me step in.

At VI, copywriters don’t so much as open a Word Doc until our strategists have vetted 14,000,605 scenarios where the project could go wrong. After the team crafts a strategic plan, the writers use these 3 tools to close the deal.


Before we attempt to transform behaviors, we take a deep dive into the psyche of the audience. What are their aspirations and anxieties? What environmental cues trigger their behaviors? How do we transform their underlying beliefs? Taking a safari through the mind of the audience will help you think—and write—in tune with their psychological needs. More importantly, it’ll supercharge the power of your message.

Two friends talking over coffee

Word Selection

When prompting an audience to make behavioral changes, meticulous word selection is crucial. For instance, when asking smokers to contact coaches at the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, we say “Talk with a Quit Coach,” instead of, “Talk to a Quit Coach.” A subtle tweak to the preposition makes our call to action more inviting. Ultimately, it could be the difference between capturing a smoker’s interest or losing it.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a therapeutic technique. It’s typically reserved for psychiatric counseling, but it has important implications for copywriting. We won’t tackle the whole framework here, but two important principles are worth noting: positive affirmations and open-ended questions.

As writers, we’re trying to build the motivation of the audience. Part of that effort is unadulterated encouragement. “You’ve got this.” “You’re killing it.” “You can do it.” Simple, empowering statements like this can ignite transformative momentum.

Open-ended questions ask the audience to self-evaluate. Instead of telling them what they should do, we ask them what they want to do, how they want to do it, and what motivates them. For instance, we might close a healthy eating blog with the lines “Ready to start eating healthier? What makes you hungry for change?” The key is in allowing your audience to control the conversation. Remind them that they decide which path to follow. Just make sure the path you offer is the obvious, superior choice.

A woman celebrating 

Let’s be clear: there’s no surefire formula for transforming human behavior. But these 3 tools can help marketers engage audiences and inspire motivation. Done right, it can drive them to thought-provoking calls to action that entice them to alter their lifestyle choices.

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