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7 Reasons Your Prospects Decide to Run Away From You

Hundreds or even thousands of things that you think every day are wrong.

The same is true for your prospects.

This revelation is the basis of Daniel Kahneman’s research. And he won a Nobel Prize for it.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow he uncovers the systematic ways that you make mistakes in your thinking. When you’re writing copy and deciding on a marketing strategy, you’d better understand the most important factors that lead to these mistakes in thinking.

The basic premise of the book is that you think in two systems. The first system is called System I and it operates automatically and effortlessly. It controls your facial expressions, motor skills and intuition. The second system is called System II and is much slower. It controls things like problem-solving, reasoning, focus and concentration.

System I and System II behave in opposite ways.

Here’s the rub: the world is a really complicated place. As you read this, thousands if not millions of other pieces of content are being published simultaneously. Advertising messages bombard you everywhere you turn. And you have hundreds of factors to balance when you make just about any decision throughout the day.

The bottom line? You don’t have the luxury of using System II all the time.

So that leaves you to rely on System I for a lot of things. And System I is amazing. But it’s not so good at devoting attention or understanding complicated things. That’s the realm of System II.

And that is the nature of the battle for attention.

What does this have to do with marketing and copywriting? That’s simple. Any time you ask for someone’s attention you’re probably not going to get it. Even worse, requiring their attention means almost certainly that they will be making some sort of error in their thought process. It’s not their fault, it’s yours.

The good news: if you understand that your prospects are short and getting shorter on attention, you can tailor your messages and marketing to quickly and effortlessly get your point across. The result?

More customers.

Until then, here are 7 reasons your prospects are running for the hills.

1. You’re Overcomplicating It

The clarity of your words will give you more conversions. In one simple test, a company selling supplements saw an 89% conversion increase by simply adding the word “supplements” to their about page headline.


Image Source: Movexa

You could implement a copy test like that today.

Why was this simple change so effective? Because it required the reader to think less. Giving more complete information allows people to use shortcuts because System I does all of the work. Kahneman calls this principle cognitive ease.

Prospects are more likely to think something is true if it seems familiar. Let me give you an example:

You’re working on a new startup that allows limousine drivers to pick up fares on demand to make some extra money. What’s easier to understand?

  • On-Demand Limousine Rental Without the Appointment
  • Uber for Limos – Book Now

Of course you won’t always have the option of using another company’s name in your marketing, but I think it’s pretty clear which one is easier to understand.

A test by Basecamp tested “Free Trial” against “See Plans and Pricing” for its CTA. Guess which one had a better conversion rate? You got it: “See Plans and Pricing” is a mouthful but it’s much more specific and boosted conversions by 200%.

2. You Just Aren’t Likable

People want to do business with people they like. It’s pretty obvious, I know.

Kahneman calls this affect. He says “people let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world.” Let me translate that for you. When you like someone or something, you’re more likely to overlook some of their shortcomings. Everyone has done it.

Using some real personality in your marketing and your brand voice has a greater impact on people if it gets them to like you more. How can you do that? Just talk to them like their friends would.

In one button test, Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers used some pretty risky language to describe an offering for a fashion brand. But it worked. Her variation of a landing page along with a direct “Show Me Outfits I’ll Love” CTA had a whopping 123.9% lift on clicks. Why?

Because it was language that the company’s customers would use.

show me outfits

Image Source: Dressipi, CopyHackers

3. It’s Not a Bargain

Pricing is one of the greatest challenges in all of business. You have to find a price that people are willing to pay, demonstrate value and still make a profit so you stay in business.

This is even more of a challenge when you’re selling something new or unknown.

Kahneman calls this the anchoring effect. In business, the key is to create a context for your pricing. When you do, people who need it will stop thinking about pricing and instead focus on benefits.

Williams-Sonoma brought a bread maker to market for the very first time in the 1990s. The price was $275. The breadmaker didn’t sell very well.

They hired a market research firm to consult on how to sell more bread makers. Their suggestion was to make a better breadmaker with more features and sell it at a much higher price. What did this do? It put the $275 price tag in context and made it appear less expensive.

All of a sudden a $275 bread maker seemed like a bargain next to a much more expensive breadmaker.

Software companies do this all the time. They sell three or four levels of subscription pricing with different features in order to make one appear more attractive.

A Yale study found that shoppers were far less likely to complete a purchase when two items were priced similarly. But when they were different? 77% of shoppers completed their purchase.

percent completing a purchase

Image Source: Yale Study, Greg Ciotti + Shopify

4. You’re Not Answering the Right Question

Kahneman’s substitution effect simply says that you tend to trade complex questions and issues for simpler ones. So if you make it too complicated for your prospects to understand your offering, they’re just going to substitute whatever they think is easier to understand.

Do you see a problem with this?

I see two. One is that your message could be misinterpreted because it’s simply too complicated. The other is that some people will simply tune out and divert their attention elsewhere.

Marketing Experiments tested two versions of an email: one with 170 words, the other with 95 words. The clear winner was the shorter email with a 16.9% increase in CTR.

On their homepage, Contactually CRM implores “Don’t let good leads go to waste.”


Image Source: Contactually

Everyone would agree that they want to keep good leads nurtured. But if they said instead “Automate every single step of your sales, business development, customer service and project management pipelines with programs and reminders…”

Not so good. Instead I’m faced the question “Do I want leads to go to waste?” The answer is clearly “no.” Now I’m more interested in Contactually (disclaimer: I use it, but I don’t get paid for mentioning it).

5. You’re Making the Decision Difficult

Kahneman says that you may rely on “intuitive judgments for important decisions [even though] an algorithm is available that will make fewer mistakes.” Algorithms could be complex software programs, checklists or even statistics that hold important information about the decision at hand.

You often skip them because System II is lazy.

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto stresses the importance of, well, checklists for this very same reason. Without structured thinking, you tend to rely too much on intuition. That is to say, System I is ready to take over when System II becomes overwhelmed.

“We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”

-Atul Gawande

Do you know a good example of an algorithmic decision? Enterprise sales. It involves dozens of people, factors to balance and is a loooong process.

That’s why content marketing has been such a win for companies with complex products and long sales cycles. Take Hubspot’s solution. It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s complicated. Most teams take months to decide whether they need marketing automation, let alone Hubspot. So Hubspot constantly cranks out content that helps prospects make a decision about whether 1) they need marketing automation, and 2) if Hubspot is the right solution for them.

This is the same reason that website calculators have such a huge impact. They are a shortcut to algorithmic (read: complicated) decisions. Below is SolarCity’s landing page calculator strategically placed next to their lead capture form.

sign up for a free quote

Image Source: Solar City Calculator

6. You Don’t Tell Them How It Feels to Lose

Loss aversion is one of the most powerful forces in persuasion and copywriting. Kahneman says “you almost certainly dislike losing more than you like winning.” That’s true for you, me, your prospects and your customers.

Loss aversion is a topic that has been covered many other places, but it’s so powerful that it’s worth mentioning here. Using it in your marketing and copy typically means you want to use negative words and emphasize potential losses more than gains.

Beware: lead with benefits, follow up with losses.

In a collection of studies published by Michael Aagaard, loss aversion performed worse than benefits in headlines. This is because people want to know what’s in it for them.

But loss aversion has an important home in marketing: urgency. That means your prospects and customers are more likely to respond with System I – that is, automatically – when they are faced with losing an opportunity.

Mailchimp published the results of using words that imply time sensitivity in email subject lines. Their impact on open rates? Huge.

words that imply time sensitivity

Image Source: Mailchimp – Words that Imply Time Sensitivity

7. You’re Too Slow

The human attention span is quickly getting shorter. In 2000, it was 12 seconds. Just 13 years later the human attention span has dropped 33% to 8 seconds. The saddest part?

The human attention span is one second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

While the duration of your attention span has gotten shorter, one thing has remained true since Kahneman started his research: “nothing in life is as important as it is when you are thinking about it” he says. The broader point is that you tend to weigh only one factor when making a decision, even though you intuitively know that decisions are much more complicated than that.

System II shuts off whenever possible. That means you’re going to need to get your point across quickly and make sure you’re focusing on the right thing. The fact is that most of your visitors will read only 28% of the words on the page so your biggest and boldest words are the most important. That’s because they are the easiest to scan.

Marketing Profs’ headline test shows the power of quick and bold information to save the reader time and effort:

your too slow

Image Source: Marketing Profs

Version B – the much more descriptive headline – drove 28% more sign-ups of the newsletter. The main proposition on this page is to “Create successful social media campaigns fast.” In Version A, the promise to get access to SmartTools is much less clear.

The reader might be left wondering “What is SmartTools?” That means System II must be activated to make a decision, as opposed to version B which allows System I to weigh only one factor (“create successful social media campaigns fast”).

About the Author: Liston Witherill is a marketing strategist and Chief Creative at Good Funnel. He helps tech and info businesses understand their customers to sell more. He’s an environmentalist and hiphop artist – but that’s a different story.

  1. Thanks, this was actually useful! I was sort of expecting a list of about half a dozen, “No, duh,” type items. I have to admit I guessed wrong on about half of the comparative options, which means, of course, I would have done it wrong in practice.

    I was really surprised by #7. I would have chosen the one on the left, given the choice, because the one on the right looks so much more cluttered. But you’re right, it does give the necessary info more efficiently.

    I like this whole concept of, “Don’t give their higher faculties a chance to engage.” It’s food for (at least 8 seconds of) thought.

  2. Partha Sarathi Dutta Mar 25, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    The article is simple likable to me, now lets see, how my CMO reacts to these ideas..!

  3. I agree completely on being simple and explicit. That really helps for conveying ifo to our prospects.

  4. Nice article! The points are pretty spot on, giving a very good outlook on what not to do.
    The most important question I have is, how do I identify if all or which of these should I concentrate on for a particular prospect?

  5. A good read. These gave me ideas on what to prevent and observe to increase sales deals. Prospects now know the market for the product and without leveraging time and customer engagement anything can go wrong. Your suggestions here can help fill that gap. Thanks for posting this!

  6. Biz owners are not interested in change. They hide in their caves behind their underlings who are rewarded for screening vendors! I worked on Madison Ave. and had more success with Fortune 1000 clients than the local turtles who hide from all contacts.Good luck and good riddance.


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