When studying marketing, I learnt an interesting phrase. It's a great couple of words — useful in conversations when wishing to sound clever. I'd probably already read and heard it many times. However, it wasn't until my lecturer brought it to my attention that I knew it existed. What's interesting, is now I notice this phrase quite often.

The phrase I'm referring to is perceptual vigilance.

What is perceptual vigilance?

You spot a pair of shoes that you've never seen before. Then, after you buy them, every woman and her Labradoodle seems to be wearing a pair.  That's perceptual vigilance. Or, like me, you learn a new phrase. Now you notice it all the time. That, too, is perceptual vigilance.

Why does this happen? Well, every day we're continually flooded with information. The human brain is pretty amazing (in most cases), but it can't absorb everything. So, it picks and chooses what to focus on — low-level information gets filtered out.

When something new piques our interest, our brains get the message, "Take note. This is important."

In this post I explain why acknowledging perceptual vigilance can help you write better copy. If you find this post useful please share. Also, please leave your comments at the end.

Related posts:

3 valuable tips for writing an advert that sells

How to write a web page people will read

How can perceptual vigilance help?

Knowing what's on your customer's mind is important. Without this knowledge, you'll struggle to write copy that connects with them. Before your copy gets read, though, you must attract the reader's attention. This is where the acknowledgment of perceptual vigilance is useful.

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People scan read

More often than not, people scan read copy — they don't read all the words. A bit deflating for a copywriter, but, hey, that's life. So, particularly when written for the web, your copy should be scannable with bold headings and bullet points, etc.

Words that the reader is familiar and has a connection with will stand out in your copy. So, you need to know what they are.

As a copywriter, I realise many people don't know what a copywriter is. Some think I'm involved with copyright law; they joke about hiding their illegal downloads.

So, depending on who I'm writing for, sometimes I don't call myself a copywriter. For example, a heading like The No. 1 Reason for Hiring a Copywriter might get more attention if re-written to say The No. 1 Reason for Hiring a Sales and Marketing Writer. In this situation I substitute copywriter for sales and marketing writer throughout the copy. This will get more attention from someone wanting a professionally-written advert if they don't know what a copywriter is.

How to find the right words and phrases

Finding the right words and phrases to use in your copy isn't hard. Here are some ways to find them:

  • Customer testimonials —  either your own or look at your competitors' websites
  • Conversations with clients
  • Emails from clients
  • Social media —   find out what  customers are saying about your industry
  • Comments on blogs within your industry — this is one of the benefits of having a blog. If you don't have a blog, you can find plenty relating to your business on the Internet.

When you notice useful words or phrases, write them down. Make a list to refer to when it's time to write.

What do you think? I'd appreciate your comments. If you found this post useful please share.

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  1. You make a good point Andrew.

    You may also be aware that the part of the brain responsible for perceptual vigilance is called the reticular activating system – buy a yellow mini and suddenly you start seeing yellow minis everywhere? The content marketing institute has a good article on the RAC’s function in marketing.

  2. Love the top of the article Andrew. Very punchy and I can’t stop thinking about it (black, white and red).

    I enjoyed this article, it was a good reminder that emotion or as you say “connection” is usually the initial driver in a decision. Rationale tends to always come second.

    I wanted to say “always” instead of “usually” but I have not done the research or read it anywhere to back this up.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Te Omeka. As a salesperson, you’d appreciate it’s important to mirror your prospects; to talk their language. Advertising is no different.

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