“Imagination is the beginning of all creation.” George Bernard Shaw
Today’s post is by John Forde, world-renowned copywriter, author, speaker and shamelessly proud father. I had the honor of meeting him in Delray Beach, Florida, at a copywriting seminar. Hailed as one of the top direct marketing copywriters in the business, he’s as entertaining on paper as in person.
Here. See for yourself…
From the desk of John Forde
Think about M&Ms.
And I mean, think a lot.
I want you to imagine putting one in your mouth right now. Let it sit on your tongue. Imagine as the sweet candy shell starts to soften and melt.
Maybe you bite it and hear it crack gently. Maybe you suck it until the shell dissolves. Either way, now the warm chocolate releases and you savor it.
I know, I know. Not fair.
It’s tough enough during the holidays not to snack on everything in sight, to have me come along and encourage you to bloat up on virtual calories.
But hear me out.
Because next what I want you to do is pick up another imaginary M&M, pop it into your mouth, and start all over again… imagining each detail, front to back.
Not once, not twice, but 30 times.
See, recently researchers did a test.
One group, they gave the same exercise I just gave you. Imagine eating 30 individual M&Ms in as much detail as you can. A second group had no such exercise.
Then they gave both groups bowls of M&Ms and told them to help themselves. What happened? What you might think is that the group that imagined eating would gorge themselves with extra watch-your-hands-and-fingers ferocity.
What actually happened was the opposite, says the ABC News report covering the study. Instead, the imagine-it group ate about half the quantity from the bowl.
Because, said the researchers, just imagining the eating process was enough to trigger dopamine in the brain, as if they were actually doing it.
So their appetites were partially satiated.
If you’re on a diet, that’s good to know. This holiday season, think more about the food you don’t want to eat much of… rather than less.
If you’re a marketer, however, this is an equal revelation. Before I explain how, let me jump to another story (also on ABC News — can you tell who’s been playing with their iPad app?)
This time, imagine yourself older.
It’s a few years down the road. Your hair is whiter, your skin perhaps a little more the map of your life that it’s going to be. And you’re retired.
This is what another researcher did in a lab at Stanford. He took 20-somethings and 30-somethings and had them watch and interact with their computer-aged virtual avatar.
Then they took participants and got them talking about how much money they needed to set aside for retirement.
The people who spent just a few minutes interacting with their older, grayer selves were ready — at least on paper — to set aside up to twice as much money for those later years.
It was, said the reporter, jarring. Like planning your future while looking over your own shoulder.
So… what’s this have to do with the price of a coffee in copywriter café?
In both cases, you notice the researchers are persuading their study gerbils (aka people) to do something… whether that’s to eat less or to save more.
But what you might not notice, until you look a little closer, is that they’re doing this in exactly the same way in both studies, which is to make participants persuade themselves, via the all powerful but simple act of… imagination.
Opportunist that I am, I see here a big lesson for career persuaders like us. And it’s a lesson I’m not sure we’re always in tune enough to remember.
Simply put, that one of the most powerful marketing tools in the world is not limited to “magic word” headlines or the perfect sales pitch outline.
Rather, those tools and others like them might just be ways to tap something much greater, which is the imagination of the prospect you’re hoping to jolt into action.
Think about it.
The stories we tell to sell… the gooey descriptions… the hard-hammering verbs that crunch and energize… the proofs and prods of logic… and dripping swathes of emotion…
Aren’t they all there to transport a reader to where he already wants to be or to inspire him to get up and move away from a place where he doesn’t?
Too often, we write copy that says “I want you to imagine what I’m seeing.” And then we try to force an image and the emotions that go with it onto a reader.
But if these studies are right, and they seem to be, you want to say, “Go ahead and imagine what you want to
change or how you want to be” and then prove you can help them get there.