How playing hard to get can increase sales

- January 23, 2013 3 MIN READ

Making smalls changes to your marketing copy can help shift your small business from sounding desperate to in demand, which can have a big impact on sales. Here’s how.

The ways in which we use language can greatly affect people’s behaviour – you might be surprised to learn just how much. In my last article I talked about ways to improve your business communications in general. Here I’ll look at a specific example of how subtle changes in wording can have dramatic effects on the response rates to your marketing material both online and in print, and how you can use this information to improve your conversion of readers into customers.

Groucho Marx famously said that he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. On some level, we all feel this way. If a business seems a little too desperate to have us as a client, we start to ask ourselves if anyone else is interested and, if not, why not? It makes us suspicious, and rightly so. We don’t have the time or the energy to investigate every offer we see, there are just too many. So we rely on a very important, very efficient method that we’ve developed over thousands of years to help us make better decisions – the opinions of our peers, also known as “social proof”.

A real-life marketing example of this is discussed in the book Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion. (Incidentally, you can grab a free copy of this book in audio form by doing what I did and signing up to Audible via podcaster Grammar Girl’s affiliate link found here). In the book the authors describe an infomercial that ends with the phrase “our operators are standing by for your call”. The business who ran the ads hired a new, world-renowned infomercial copywriter who changed the ending of the ad to “if operators are busy, please call again.”

By changing just the end of the infomercial in this small way, the company experienced a significant boost in its response rate to the ad. By implying that the operators were all busy, the ad now provided all important social proof – the same reason marketers now bang on about having testimonials and social sharing widgets on one’s website. If the operators were busy it meant there were other people clamouring for the product, therefore it must be good!

This seems counterintuitive, and I often face resistance when suggesting to clients that they reword their marketing material to make things harder for the customer. But by taking the more intuitive approach of making life for the customer as easy as possible, you are in actual fact making them suspicious that what you have to offer may not be worth much.

Instead, try framing your marketing messages with an air of nonchalance. Play hard to get. It will be challenging at first, but by implying that your services are in demand and not just anyone can work with you, you should find that people value what you have to offer more highly.

This is commonly seen these days with service businesses such as web design companies who say things such as “we don’t work with just anyone, please fill out this form to see if we can help you.” And many savvy businesses say things along the lines of “we have a long waiting list for our product, but please provide your details and we’ll notify you as soon as we have more stock available.”

In some cases this could be seen as dishonest, but there are ways you can achieve the same effect by merely implying that there is high demand for your product or service, as in the infomercial example above.

Try to find ways you can achieve this change on your own website and in your printed marketing material, and see if it makes a difference. You might be surprised by the results.

Does playing hard to get work for your small business?

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"