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How to move audiences from A to B

Next time you’re struggling to identify the messaging which will persuade your audience, don’t scour the research again – look inwards.

I recently had the pressure, sorry, pleasure of giving my first Guardian Masterclass on persuasive copywriting. (Dates for another session to be announced soon.)

Teaching the class helped me realise something: the copywriting task people struggle with most is identifying the messaging which will move their target audience from ‘A to B’.

Messaging GPS required

People tend to know where their audience is currently. That’s A. They usually know what they’d like them to end up thinking, feeling or doing. That’s B. It’s the bridge between the two they find tricky.

What issues or beliefs are stopping their audience from doing what they want them to? And what messaging is going to tease these barriers apart and let the audience accept your proposition? These are the fundamental questions of copywriting – ones we grapple with on a daily basis.

Messaging equals power

We saw the major parties contend with similar questions in the UK general election. Labour lost because they couldn’t find the combination of policies and rhetoric to move their audience from A (not sure about the Tories but not sure about Labour either) to B (confident that Labour were a superior alternative to what had gone before).

The strange thing is, there was no shortage of research insight and marketing expertise applied to the Labour campaign. So how come it went so wrong?

Scientific persuasion

To move your audience from ‘A to B’ you need to identify the real emotional persuaders. This often means looking beyond the market research.

Why? Well, neuroscientists have found that we make decisions based on emotions and then post-rationalise afterwards. This suggests that to gain insight into the audience’s emotional state we need to examine our own. In other words, we need to trust our gut feel.

Mix hot emotion with cold facts

Even market research companies know they need to tap into the emotional. Cold, hard market research has to find an emotional expression. We work with research companies a fair bit, writing proposition statement for new products before they go into research. As well as defining the positioning, you have to convey how consumers might feel about the product – the emotional benefits.

Follow Fay’s lead

So, to answer the fundamental copywriting questions, you need to tap into the human emotions associated with the product or service you’re offering. Novelists and dramatists do this all the time. They’re masters at interpreting and articulating other people’s emotions, motives and priorities. Fay Weldon said as much once in a South Bank Show interview, claiming to know what others were thinking.

Of course, we’re not all novelists. But we are all people. One excellent way of identifying the emotional persuader you’re looking for is delving into your own experiences. You’ve read the brief. You know the service. What does the product mean to you emotionally?

Release the feelings

In real life, we’ve taught ourselves to keep our true feelings bottled up – us Brits especially. However, to produce messaging that answers the fundamental question of copywriting – what message will move the audience from A to B – you need to set your true feelings free. Harness the power of real emotion. Look inwards.


Barnaby Benson


Date posted: 22/05/2015


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