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Thirteen Psychological Triggers

Writing about the Jewish community these days has been terribly depressing … my most recent columns have focused on the increase in antisemitism here in the States and the war in Gaza in Israel. And then I heard the devastating news this week about the sudden death of Stamford’s favorite son, Senator Joseph Lieberman. (Ironically, I had just written a tribute to him about two months ago, in my column for The Jewish Link.)

So I’ve decided to shift gears and write something about my profession as a marketer. Hopefully, the advice I’ve provided here will help all readers, regardless of what profession you are in. After all, we all must focus on marketing at least in some small way, even if you don’t work specifically in the marketing field.

One of my marketing heroes is a guy by the name of Joseph Sugarman, who sold more than 20 million units of BluBlocker sunglasses (which are still being sold today, more than a quarter century after being introduced).

Sugarman wrote a book called Triggers, which identifies the 30 sales tools you can use to motivate, influence and persuade your prospect to make a purchase.

I was privileged to meet Sugarman once, and he autographed my copy of his book. It’s one of the treasures on my bookshelf, and the small volume should be purchased by any serious student of marketing… or for that matter, anyone who is interested in understanding what motivates an individual to respond.

Sugarman says that the sparks that cause a reaction in the human brain—and that trigger a desire to respond—can be used by anyone, regardless of what product or service they are selling. And these immutable laws of psychology will always work, regardless of what medium you are utilizing. That’s why they are so valuable and important.

I’ve identified what I feel are the most critical triggers that Sugarman describes, and I have added a couple of new ones, too.

Below are the 13 triggers that every individual should focus on before crafting their promotional copy and offer or trying to convince someone to purchase their product or service:

  1. Social Proof. We are designed to follow the herd. People want to belong to a group of people who already own something good. If you can tell people that your product is selling off the shelves, that people just keep on placing orders, that you have already sold 4 million units … they will desire your product even more. People will always want to jump on the bandwagon and be part of something that they feel is successful.
  2. Credibility. Always provide testimonials and third-party endorsements from happy customers. Your prospects want to know that you are a good person to do business with, and that your product or service will really do what it claims to do. People will purchase from companies that they trust and will shy away from companies they distrust.
  3. Demonstration. Did you ever wonder why the infomercial format is so successful? It’s because there is plenty of time to demonstrate the product being sold in action. When you can demonstrate what your product or service can do, it will help convince your prospects to make a purchase. And it’s not only limited to television or online videos—you can do it in print and direct mail, too, by including photos and outlining how your product works in step-by-step fashion. Always make your customer understand how it feels to own and use your product or service.
  4. Curiosity. Virtually all successful promotions pique the interest of their prospects and make them want to acquire what you are selling. This can be accomplished with seductive teasers in your subject line or fascination copy that begs to be answered. You want your prospect frothing at the mouth … and then you can eventually tell them more specifically about what you are selling and reveal a bit more about what made them curious in the first place. But don’t give away all your secrets—make sure that your prospect must purchase your product or service in order to get the entire story.
  5. Speed and ease of use. Speed is programmed into our DNA. We want results quickly. And easily. But make sure your speed and ease of use claims are reasonable. Your prospects are looking for a fast and easy way to solve their problems, but if you make your claims too unbelievable and outrageous, you will turn them off.
  6. Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This might be the most underutilized and misunderstood of the 13 triggers identified here. Your USP is defined as the characteristics that make your product different from your competitors … the ones that allow you to stand out from the other products or services in your marketplace. You’ll need to really think long and hard about this, but when you finally come up with a great USP, it will be invaluable in your promotions. Always position yourself with some unique attribute … focus on something that no one else but you is offering.
  7. Urgency. Give people a reason to act right now rather than delay their purchase. People will always look for a reason not to order, so make sure to give them a reason to act now. For the next 48 hours only … only five more available … price goes up in 24 hours … These are some of the techniques you can utilize to create urgency.
  8. Identification. Who are the people that your prospects identify with? What are the things that demonstrate that you understand where they are coming from? These are some of the questions you need to answer to make sure that your prospects will identify with your product or service. You’ll need to better understand what they want/desire/need, what they fear most, what their frustrations are, and what specific problems they want solved. When you can answer these concerns, you’ll be able to identify with your prospects in your promotional copy.
  9. Compare, contrast and prove superiority. Everyone is shopping for solutions, and there are a plethora of opportunities out there. That’s why you need to tell your prospects why you are far superior to anyone else, why there is no reason for them to look elsewhere. Tell prospects that other products are painful or expensive or time consuming compared to your product. Prove your value and substantiate your claims. And close the door to other options so your prospects have no choice but to purchase your product or service.
  10. New. We naturally want the newest things on the market. That’s why there are so many people online waiting to purchase the new iPhone on the first day of its release. It has always been a magic word in promotional copy because it triggers a desire to purchase, as we all want the newest contraption or device and not the old version.
  11. Risk reversal. People are fearful of being scammed or ordering something from a company that is not honest, so you need to remove that fear. The more you can relieve that fear, the better chance you have of getting someone to order. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to reduce risk. Virtually everyone will offer some form of a money back guarantee, so why not do something more dramatic to reverse the risk: double your money back guarantee: 30-day free trial … keep your free bonus even if you return the product. Make it a better-than-risk-free offer.
  12. Authority. Show that you are an expert in the field. It could be that you are the biggest, the smartest; Whatever your advantage might be, show your authority. Connect yourself with other experts in the field who you can use to endorse your product, so that you can further demonstrate your authority.
  13. Exclusivity. Prospects want to own something that only a select few can own. The collectibles companies are great at using this trigger when they create limited editions. But you can do the same thing by limiting the sale to a specific group or describing why the high demand might make your product more scarce. These techniques will help make your prospects feel that by purchasing your product or service, they will be part of an exclusive group.

If you can employ these 13 techniques in your business and in your personal life, you will undoubtedly trigger a symphony of persuasion that will be explosively powerful.


Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of “Meet Me in the Middle” (meet-me-in-the-middle-book.com), a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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