Framing Your Words to Drive Conversions

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

How framing and word choice motivate decisions.

You may not rely on negative emotions, like fear, in your copy, but as somebody who writes for a living, it’s in your best interest to come up with copy that converts.

And the best way to get that conversion is to tap into the emotions. This is true in either B2B or B2C marketing.

In the old days of marketing, marketers were taught to use tactics in their copy that inspire fear. Fear is one of the most primal and strongest emotions you can feel.

Dialing up fear wasn’t intentional for the marketer. What they were really after were the emotions of their leads, prospects, and customers.

This is because emotions affect memory. It helps us remember. And if marketers had to use those negative emotions to advance the interests of their brand, so be it–that’s just the way it was.

What if I told you that you can frame your copy to drive conversions?

Here’s the deal.

If people remember emotions, they’ll remember the way your copy made them feel as they read it.


That means word choice matters to memorable content.

It may seem like bad advice to switch up fear-inspiring words with something else.

After all, those same words have sold well in the past. For instance, David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins were fans of hard sell tactics. Not arguing with that.

But positive words sell, too. What matters is how you frame them.

Memorable Marketing Begins With Frames

It doesn’t matter if the copy is positive or negative as long as it has a solid backing supporting it.

One example of this is the word, “hernia.” A “hernia,” by definition, is a negative word–it’s a medical condition.

Yet master copywriter, John Caples, for instance, used it to great effect. He wrote in his book, Tested Advertising Methods, that “HERNIA” was one of the most effective one-word headlines ever.


Again, a hernia is a medical problem.

Problems, naturally, are negative. And negativity grabs your attention. For example, consider Subway or Chipotle. Chances are, you did not think of Subway’s famous five-dollar footlong promotion, or Chipotle’s health-conscious Mexican cuisine. These are brands that have been racked with scandal in recent years. That’s what you remember.

John Caples' "Tested Advertising Methods" which covers how to frame marketing messages.

Getting back to the John Caples “hernia” headline, if you know enough about your audience, they’ll do anything to get rid of a problem. At least that’s what another established copywriter, Andy Maslen, said in Persuasive Copywriting: Cut Through the Noise and Communicate With Impact.

Maslen also touches on negative framing in Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Influence, Engage and Sell, summarized here.

To that end, it’s worth mentioning that positive and negative copy are for two distinct occasions.

Consider for a moment that you’re writing to emphasize the benefits of getting something for your business. You’d want your copy to be positive. You want to focus on copy that “gets.” In other words, you want your copy to be benefit-based.

For example…

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality under the Official Website of the Department of Health and Human Services, the below is a brief example of positive vs negative frames.

  • A positive frame would report the percentage of people who did not die.
  • A negative frame would be to report the percentage of people who died.

Source: AHRQ

This is referring to how you frame the presentation of data in a report. But it also provides equal insight into how you frame copywriting.

Negative copy attracts attention. Positive copy helps people connect with your brand.

Words Matter

All of this suggests word choice matters in copy. You knew that. But have you considered how your copy frames influence decisions?

Here, I must make a distinction between “decisions,” and “choices.” For example, a decision is more related to the process of making a choice, while a choice implies options–different decisions you can make.

Persuasive Copywriting by Andy Maslen

In another example, you want prospects and customers to choose you over the competition. This implies a careful weighing of pros and cons–that’s a decision. And then when the prospect stops this process and picks–that’s a choice.

To get a better handle on how word choice matters in copy frames, consider the findings of Eldad Yechiam, an associate professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He conducted experiments resulting in the finding that people generally tend to view economic gains and losses the same way:

“In our experiment, participants made 80 selections between an alternative producing gains and losses, and a second alternative producing smaller gains and losses (in one condition) or zero (in another condition). For instance, in one condition one alternative produced +5 or -5 tokens with equal chances and the other alternative produced +25 or -25 tokens with equal chances.”

Source: American Psychological Association

And what Yechaim found was that the more attention participants gave to the task to hand, the less likely they would be influenced by frames.

Putting this together, this means frames don’t work on people paying attention, but do for those who aren’t. But for those who are paying attention, their attention can become skewed by the frenzy of the emotional buying process.

This means there’s a time and place to use positively and negatively-framed copy (frames).

When to Use Positive vs. Negative Copy (Frames)

Enter Robert B. Cialdini. He’s a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today best-selling author on the subject of persuasion. He wrote a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which describes ways to get people to take the actions you want.

Robert B. Cialdini's "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion"

And according to Cialdini, you can enhance the effect of positive and negative frames through a psychological method of persuasion called conditioning and association.

For example, if copy is framed positively, when marketers tie their product or service to a successful entity, people are more likely to think of you in a positive light. On the other hand, when something is connected with a negative entity, the opposite happens.

In another example, consider a celebrity endorsement of your product or service. This is a good example of positive vs. negative framing because with a celebrity endorsement, you not only get their star power, but also any bad press they’ve acquired (or will acquire in the future).

For marketers to take advantage of conditioning and association, according to Cialdini, show them how much your product or service is just like them. People will then make the connection that what you market is specifically designed with their challenges in mind.

In sum, whether your copy is positive or negatively-framed, linking your product or service to your target audience will produce copy that converts.

What framing and word choice principles have worked the best for your business to convert prospects into customers? Share them with us in the chat below.

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