Understanding the grieving process universal to all humans can help you write more emotionally arresting copy about nearly anything.

Understanding the grieving process universal to all humans can help you write more emotionally arresting copy about nearly anything.

Yesterday I wrote about how green copywriters can get better, fast. I’m going to use today’s Copy Tuesday post to dive into the whole “emotional writing” thing from another angle.

I was just working with one of my copy coaching clients on telling a story that may eventually work its way into copy.

Now this story was about a heart-wrenching experience this writer had. One that involved a family member.

I don’t want to tell this story on the writer’s behalf, and I don’t want to reveal their identity. So I’m going to leave out the details. But that’s okay, I can make the point and get to the lesson without them.

This writer did a great job of walking through the details of the story. I could see for myself what happened.

And on one level, I could think about how it all made the writer feel to experience it. I could put myself in the narrator’s shoes.

But I was the one connecting the dots.

If I were directing a movie, it would be all the detail I needed to visually present the scenes of the story.

But it wouldn’t be enough for me to FEEL it.

Still, in reading the story, I KNEW there was more to it. It was about a negative experience with a family member. There was a lifetime of relationship behind the experience. There were so many bottled up emotions that I’m sure that crisis brought flowing out.

And yet they weren’t on the page.

Now, it’s one thing to just say, “How about writing this with a bit more emotion?”

That’s the right idea — but it won’t get you there.

It’s like saying, “How about we go to New York City?”

Great idea — how? Are we going to drive? Fly? What route will we take?

And so I showed this writer a road map to expressing emotion in this story.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published a seminal work on life, death, mourning, and grief. It was called, On Death and Dying.

You may not know the book, or Kubler-Ross’s name. But you probably know its most important contribution to psychology.

This book was where Kubler-Ross first wrote about what she saw as the five stages of normal grief.

These are the universal emotions that loss — especially unexpected death — create in humans.

It doesn’t matter if you’re from Tuscaloosa or Timbuktu, Paris or the Philippines. If you experience loss, you are likely to experience this same set of emotions, at least in fleeting.

Of course, everybody grieves in their own way. And if a loss is expected — say, from old age, after a life well-lived — the emotions are often not felt as intensely.

But what matters to our conversation is that these are the universal emotions dealing with loss.

That means that every human being on the planet — barring any severe emotional disorder — has the ability to really get inside and experience these emotions.

And if you infuse them in realistic places in your stories, you’re going to write more emotionally arresting copy.

1. Denial and Isolation.

The first reaction to almost any negative news is a single word: “No!”

We don’t want to admit that it’s true.

Even my oldest son, just learning to play Super Mario Brothers on our Wii, has this every time he dies. “No!” he yells out in agony.

We try to separate ourselves from the loss. We don’t want to experience it.

No doubt it’s evolutionary. If your cave family is being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, and one of you gets taken out, it’s not a good survival strategy to stop and grieve on the spot. And so you deny the loss until you have some distance.

2. Anger.

This is perhaps the most powerful sales emotion — and the one writers are most often timid about using. Our culture doesn’t look kindly on anger. Especially from women.

And yet, it’s something we all feel. And justified anger resonates on a deeper level than nearly anything else you can do.

We feel it when facing death. But we also feel it with many small losses. Did your football team lose last weekend? You probably felt anger. Did you blow a deal with a potential client? You probably felt anger. Did someone say something stupid on the internet? Anger. The list is infinite.

Politicians know this perhaps better than anyone else. Every election, you’re manipulated to feel intense anger against the other candidate. This generates more political donations and votes than anything good the politician could ever say or promise. And so they keep going to the well. Even “Hope and change” was an anger approach. Hope against what? Change from what?

We’re all angry about something. Tying into that anger will instantly get your prospect on your side. Assuming you can be angry about the same thing. And if your product helps alleviate that anger — in ANY way — you’re already almost home with your sales pitch.

I’ll continue with the five stages of grief, although I’ll underscore that these first two are the most powerful in copy…

The thing is, if you can get people into these two stages and then bring them back to a positive solution, you’ve probably already made the sale.

And yet, in some cases it may make sense to play on the remaining emotions.

However, I make that statement with a warning. It’s possible to take someone too deep into the depths of agony, to a point where they’re no longer interested in buying. Or, if you get them through all five stages, you may have resolved their motivating emotions even before they purchased your product — again, preventing your own sale.

With that caveat…

3. Bargaining.

From the depths of anger, we start to bargain with the universe, with God, with the past…

We think of all the things we could have done differently. We promise a different future if only things will go our way. We wish and hope and pray for the best.

To a degree this is where your offer is positioned in the story. “You can get beyond the anger and despair. We have your solution.”

4. Depression.

There are two types of depression associated with mourning.

One is practical: sadness and regret about the real-world effects of the loss.

The second is private submission: a deep sadness and sense of loss.

The only way to use this in your sales copy and sales stories is to tell your own journey THROUGH this, on to a brighter future, with the help of your product or service (or what they’ll get in your product or service).

5. Acceptance.

This is a return to calm after the storm.

It’s a dangerous place to take your sales copy, except perhaps with some “future-pacing.” This is a term from neuro-linguistic programming. In essence, it’s painting the picture of an ideal future, with your product or service as the secret ingredient that got them there.

The idea, if you’re going to show the prospect this brighter future, is to transport them forward to a future time in which their problems and agony and anger are resolved. Show them what life will be like afterward — when they’ve moved through and beyond it.

How to use this…

After you’ve hammered out a rough draft of the narrative you want to tell in your sales copy, look back and see which of these emotions you’ve included.

What opportunities do you have to go back and bump up these emotions even more?

Look for places where it makes sense to fill in the gaps.

At what point during the story is there “room to breathe” where the narrator might take a moment to process these emotions? When the action dies down, what does the inner voice start to say about what’s just gone on?

These are great places to infuse even just a line or two — or far more — about the visceral reaction the situation brought out of you. Use these emotions as the starting point and idea generators to find those comments within yourself.

And don’t just say, “I was so angry!” Show it — and why. Come at it from a dozen angles to show the layers of anger.

And that’s one way to significantly boost the emotional power of your copy!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets