The 3 NLP Secrets of Master Copywriters

by John McIntyre

Have you ever struggled with writing powerful copy?

The kind of copy that engages your reader and compels her to happily click the buy button with credit card in hand?

The kind of copywriting that makes other writers gasp in shock at its emotional pull?

Or do you write copy that seems “off”, but you aren’t sure why?

Maybe you’ve looked at the copy of someone like Chris Haddad, Gary Bencivenga, or John Carlton and thought, “if only I could write similarly?”

The secret to their copy is rooted in the power of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, also known as NLP.

What is NLP?

In the 1970s, psychologists Richard Bandler and John Grinder researched successful therapists.

They wanted to know why some patients saw results within hours while other patients took months or years to achieve the same– if ever?

Bandler and Grinder listened to their therapists and discovered something new.

They observed language patterns and mental models which, when manipulated toward healthy versions, produced instant changes in the patient. The pair codified the patterns of thought and language. They called the therapy model Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP for short).

NLP practitioners believe that the world is subjectively experienced and that changes to the subjective internal representation causes subsequent changes in behavior.

So how does this translate to better copy?


NLP is the study of changing someone’s mind. What is the purpose of copy if not salesmanship in print?

It’s no stretch to simplify copywriting as a sales conversation between two people.

Let’s imagine it.

In your mind, picture a table with two chairs. On one side of the table is your ideal buyer. You sit at the other side. Your job as a salesperson is start a conversation, pull out what interests her, and convince her that she has a problem only you can solve.

That’s where NLP comes in.

The Power of Your Words

NLP is the study of language and its connection to thought.

In another book by Eugene Schwartz, Breakthrough Brilliance, Schwartz describes how each word is really a picture.

Your job as a copywriter is to paint easy pictures for your buyer so she doesn’t have to work too hard at it. It’s to create a “greased slide” of persuasion so that she effortlessly slides through your copy, breathless until the very end when she clicks the buy button.

The power of the imagery separates mediocre copywriters from the control-beating experts. NLP can help you discover which words to use when.

Three questions from NLP can help you pull out the right words every time. These are:

  1. Are we in rapport?
  2. How clear is the image?
  3. Are you using all the senses?

Are we in rapport?

The first step in any NLP session is to build rapport.

That occurs when two individuals are in sync in how they speak, move, and think.

As a copywriter, the rapport building occurs in the add and the copy’s lead.

To discover what words and beliefs you need to mirror, you’ll perform market research. As a copywriter, you build rapport when you use the same words your reader uses. If she calls the U.S. healthcare marketplace by its proper name, the “Affordable Care Act” or by its shortened “ACA”, you better not use “Obamacare”.

Find out the exact words, phrases, mindsets, and beliefs your buyer has about the problem and market you’re in.

In your copy, rapport is built most strongly in the lead.

The lead is your headline and first few paragraphs. Your headline will join the conversation already in her head. You’ll ask questions about her problem that she’d respond to. In NLP terms, you’re working in her frame, not in yours.

Your job with the copy is to pull her frame to yours until she believes the same way as you about herself, her problem, and the fitness of your solution. This requires empathy and a firm grasp of your buyer’s state of mind.

If you’ve ever wondered why using a copy template failed you, then this is it. Copy “tricks” only work when they’re backed by rapport with your ideal buyer.

How Clear is the Image?

Building rapport is done best with imagery.

In the Brilliance Breakthrough,  Eugene Schwartz wrote, “In order to have your reader form a visual image from your words, the word image you give him must be complete.”

It seems simple to say that words create pictures in the reader’s mind. Yet how many sentences have you written…or read… which meant nothing? In order to persuade, you must know exactly what images to paint for your buyer.

So when you sit at the metaphorical sales table, you have two big images to paint.

The first image is the problem, which is the buyer’s current situation. Rapport comes when you paint this image perfectly. How does she feel now? Can you describe it in her words? If you paint a true picture and you’ll have her rapt attention. She’ll nod.

Yes, yes, yes.

Then, you carve a mental relief which reflects her ideal future life, or the solution.

What does her future look like in her words? Note that this isn’t your future, it’s hers.

Your job is to describe an image that’s clear, bright, and colorful. Chris Haddad talks about making the promise as large as possible- just to the point before straining credibility. Can you describe her perfect future? The one that she dreams of? When copywriters talk about benefits and the “so what” factor, they’re really talking about this image. Her desire isn’t for a twelve-lesson course on entrepreneurship; her desire is for more money and for success to come naturally and easily… whatever that means for her.

In NLP, patients are asked to visualize frequently. Watch a video by Tony Robbins and you’ll see this clearly. He’ll talk about “picture” this and “imagine” that. This isn’t accidental. It’s NLP.

Are you using all the senses?

Finally, creating images in your buyer’s mind requires that you use all of the senses.

In NLP, this is called a modality. When a therapist seeks to build rapport, he’ll find the patient’s main modality and mirror it.

These three main modalities, abbreviated VAK, are the primary ways people take in and process information:

  • Visual – Sight/See
  • Auditory – Sound/Hear
  • Kinesthetic- Touch/Feel/Movement

A therapist has an advantage because he’s working with only one person at a time.

Your job is to reach many.

The entirety of your target audience may share the same problem, yet the individual members may not describe their image in the same way.

Some might use visual words such as “see”, “vision”, “clarity”, and “look”. Some might use more auditory words and phrases such as “hear me out” and “sounds good” and “in tune with”. Others might use mostly kinesthetic words such as “feel”, “roll up your sleeves”, and “move”.

Consequently, this means that you must create each image using all of these senses. You the writer may have one way of sensing. Your client has another. Your buyer may have even another. Can you imagine how these differences can cause problems in sales between these parties?

Many copywriters do two things incorrectly. The first is they write primarily in their own modality.

The second is they use too many neutral words and phrases. These neutral phrases include “learn”, “discover”, and “get”.

Can you imagine how un-engaging your copy would feel if woven entirely with neutral modality words? Create images with a mix of neutral and modality-specific verbs and phrases for copy that resonates.

Your job as a copywriter is to align your buyer’s vision of herself with your own so you can sell her on your product or service. By applying time-tested NLP techniques of rapport-building, image creation, and modalities, you’ll write more impactful, emotional copy.

This is a guest post by Lynn Swayze. Is your website converting like it should? Get Lynn’s free report, “7 Website Copy Tips to Transform Your “Billboard Website” into a Digital Salesman”. Discover the seven most common reasons that websites don’t generate leads for your business.

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