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I am frequently asked to reveal the secrets of writing sales copy and I have often talked about the mechanics of writing an effective sales letter, but here I'd like to talk about the psychology behind the sales patter -- essentially the key reason why any sales letter is successful or not.

All sales copy appeals to human nature on some level or another.  We all have the same basic physical needs for food, clothing and shelter as well as the need for security. We have the social need to be loved, accepted and to belong as well as the need to be appreciated.  Ultimately, when all these needs have been met, we share a need to achieve our full potential.  In fact Dr Abraham Maslow suggested this hierarchy of human needs way back in the 1950s and those basic needs are still valid today.  The hierarchy works like this...

1.   First of all we have a physiological need for food, clothing and shelter

2.   Then we those first needs have been met, have a need for security and safety, including a need to be free from physical danger and to feel secure that our physical needs will be met

3.   When these needs are satisfied, we have social needs which involved the needs to be loved and accepted and to belong to a group, such as a family

4.   When all these needs are satisfied, we have to satisfy our ego -- in other words we need to be heard, appreciated and wanted for who we are

5.   Then finally, we have self actualisation needs, which is the need to fulfil our human potential

If our basic needs are not met, then we are not motivated to fulfil our other needs further up the hierarchy.  However, most people in the western world have plenty of food, clothing and shelter and feel relatively safe and secure -- that means they are motivated to satisfy III, IV and V on Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- social and ego needs, as well as self actualisation.

Pitch your product

Before you pitch any product to the market, you should think about where on this hierarchy of needs your product is positioned.  For instance, if you are selling clothing or food, you are offering to fulfil a very basic physiological need.  If, on the other hand, you are selling a psychological self-help book, you are offering to fulfil a higher need involved in self actualisation.  These products will appeal to a very different audience.  A person who is hungry or does not have adequate warm clothing for the winter will have little interest in becoming a better person until his basic needs are met.

Products with wide appeal

But here's the thing -- many products can appeal to every level on the hierarchy.  Imagine a winter coat.  You might think that it could only appeal to the first basic need for clothing and warmth, but it could also meet a consumer’s need for security and freedom from danger if, for example, it is made from fire resistant material, has a safety reflective panel for cycling at night, it's weatherproof and so on.

The hierarchy of needs

What about social needs -- how could a winter coat possibly fulfil our need to be loved and expected?  Well, this is where fashion dictates.  People who follow fashions and trends (and even those who say they don't) are projecting an image of themselves through the clothing they wear, which fulfils a psychological need to be accepted for who we are.  A person in ripped jeans and a T-shirt is projecting an image, just the same as someone in a smart business suit.  Your warm winter coat as a product will have a style and colour that can help fulfil a customer’s social needs.

The same with ego needs.  A designer label can help fulfil our ego needs, and so can any high-street brand -- they appeal to different types of people.  Even people who buy their winter coats in charity shops and look for bargains are fulfilling ego needs in their own way – perhaps they were brought up to be thrifty and are part of a family of bargain hunters.  Think about the section of the market that your product appeals to.

Finally, a winter coats can even offer to fulfil our needs for self actualisation.  Think about fair trade products and the growing trend for people to buy products that are environmentally friendly -- make sure you don't try to sell a real fur coat if you want to appeal to people with a conscience about animal welfare!

Fulfil a need

Make sure your product fulfills a need for your customer and make sure you communicate this in your sales copy.  Let's go back to our example of a warm winter coat. Make sure your prospects know that your coat is the warmest, cosiest coat that will keep them warm through the harshest winter, that it will keep them safe on a dark night when they are cycling home, that the style and colour is right up to the minute and that the material of the coat is ecologically friendly and manufactured on a fair trade basis.  That should cover all bases!

Make sure you get your reader's attention with powerful headlines that describe the benefits of your product and appeal to this hierarchy of needs.  Describe each of the benefits under powerful sub-headings.

Sales copy basics

Don't forget the basics of sales copywriting as well as addressing the hierarchy of human needs.  Your products or services should solve a problem and your sales copy should reflect this.  Make sure you talk about benefits not features and appeal to the physiological and psychological reasons why people are motivated to buy something.  This alone will give you a head start when it comes to writing successful sales copy.