While you may not need a PhD in psychology to write sales copy, it helps to take a lesson or two from the study of human behaviour to get the maximum value from your writing.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Need

In the 1950s Dr. Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of human needs:

1. Physiological needs include the need for food, clothing and shelter.

2. Security and Safety needs include the need to be free from physical danger and to be secure in the feeling that physiological needs can be met.

3. Social needs involve the need to be loved, to be accepted and to belong.

4. Ego needs involve the need to be heard, to be appreciated and to be wanted.

5. Self Actualization needs involve the need to achieve one's fullest potential.

He suggested that people are motivated by this hierarchy of needs and as they are met, beginning with step 1 those needs are no longer motivating.

In general, most people in industrialized nations have met their physiological and safety needs. Therefore, they are seeking now to satisfy social needs, ego needs and self actualization needs.

It is probably no coincidence that social media is such a fast growing phenomenon in societies that seek acceptance and belonging.

You can apply Maslow's hierarchy to sales writing by understanding where your product fits on the hierarchy of need and where your target market sits on the hierarchy of need, then tailoring your writing to respond to that need. For example, retailers who sell clothes may fit on one of several levels:

1. Physiological: Durable, warm children winter coats.

2. Security: Children winter coats with no dangling pull strings that could strangle, reflective material that can be seen in the dark and weatherproofing against snow and rain.

3. Social: Children winter coats in up to date styles and colors.

4. Ego: Children winter coats with high status brand names such as Tommy Hilfiger or celebrity status such as part of the Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers collection.

5. Self Actualization: Children winter coats that are made by women cooperatives or do not contain any material from animals.

Your children winter coats may actually respond to each level of the hierarchy. You might write about the coats differently, depending on which target market you hope to attract.

Attract the reader with a powerful headline.

Your sales copy needs to begin by attracting the reader's attention. You can attract attention in a number of ways.

1. Describe a benefit that responds to the hierarchy, e.g.:

a. Physiological: The warmest winter coat you will find this year.

b. Security: Keep your child safe and warm.

c. Social: She will be a fashionable in our faux leopard print winter coat.

d. Ego: Vera Wang gave our children fur lined Sherpa jacket as a gift.

e. Self Actualization: Your child will love our ultra warm winter coat and she will love helping a child in Botswana as well.

2. Use an emotion that responds to the hierarchy:

a. Physiological: Your child will never be cold again.

b. Security: Safety first with our best winter coats.

c. Social: Belong to the in crowd with our fashion first winter coat.

d. Ego: Your child will turn heads in her new winter coat.

e. Self Actualization: Build a bridge of caring with our top of the line children winter coat from the Mexican Women Cooperative.

3. Announce something new or special about your product:

If the headline does not grab your customer, they will not read the rest of the copy.

Solve your customer's problem.

One of the biggest mistakes that sales copy writers make is to focus on the product features, at the expense of making the connection between the customer's problem and how the product solves the problem. Here are some examples.

Instead of:

'Our portable cell phone charger has 1800 mAH.'


'You can use your cell phone for six hours longer when you use our 1800 mAH portable cell phone charger.'

Instead of:

'This blouse comes in five jewel toned colors.'


'With this blouse's choice of five jewel toned colors, you can choose the color that best expresses your personality.'

Take a step back and think about your product in terms of the needs it meets and/or the problems it solves, then try writing problem solving phrases. Do any of those possibilities resonate as a possible headline or component of the copy content?

Bottom Line

Understand why your customer wants and needs your product, then frame your copy in those terms.