Sensory words and vivid descriptors—how to increase purchases by 28% (your results may vary)
You’ve probably heard the advice that your should use “power” words in your copy or marketing efforts.
The promise is that you will instantly be a better writer if you do.
And that’s probably true.
Words that amplify fear, anger, hunger, sexual desire, greed, disgust and other emotions catch our attention.
So using them tends to make your copy more interesting.
And people read what interests them.
The same is true for sensory words—words we associate the things we feel, smell, taste, and hear seem to attract more attention than other words.
Scientists have studied the way we process the words we hear and read.
This suggests that conceptual processing is grounded in sensory systems.
Or, in less science-y terms, we more easily understand words and concepts related to the things we feel.
Which makes sense given human history.
Our ancestors evolved to seek out places, experiences and food sources that made them feel good. And safe. And happy.
And they depended on their senses to do it.
We share those genes.
So we seek the same things—and while our experiences are different, our brains process sensory inputs just like our caveman ancestors.
Using words that evoke these kinds of sensory experiences may help you connect to your customers more deeply.
What’s more, the way we process sensory words is exactly the same way we process sensory experiences. There is very little difference between hearing a sensory word and actually experiencing the sense it evokes
And it’s not just sensory words that get a subconscious response from our brains.
Scientists have also studied what they call vivid descriptors—adjectives like home-made or farm-fresh—to see how they impact our thinking.
And they discovered that vivid adjectives are significantly more persuasive than other words.
Researchers found that simply labeling oranges “Florida Fresh” increased consumption in school cafeterias by 26%.
Same oranges. Better words.
In another study, participants were given menus with differing food descriptions. Some were offered tender grilled chicken or satin chocolate pudding while a control group was offered grilled chicken and chocolate pudding.
Not only did participants eat 28% more of the foods with vivid descriptors, but they also reported that those foods were more appealing to the eye, better tasting and had more calories.
Same foods. Better words.
Even more interesting, when participants were asked to describe the foods they ate, those who were served the plainly labeled foods focused on the utilitarian aspects of the food, saying things like, “it’s a little dry,” or “it was very filling”.
Those who were served the vividly described foods made comments focused on the hedonic (enjoyable) aspects of the food, saying things like “it was delicious,” and “the meal was excellent”.
And it’s not just words. Menus with enticing photos of food increase the sales of the foods in the photos.
At least until we see what the un-doctored foods look like in real life.
By the way, the opposite also works. You can evoke disgust with words and images that will change how people perceive a product for the worse.
The New York Department of Health did this with a disgusting visual aimed at cutting soda consumption:
But what if you’re not in the restaurant industry? Can this work for your products or services?
Absolutely, though finding the right sensory words or vivid descriptors may take some work.
If you’ve ever bought paint, you’ve seen this in action.
You’ll have a hard time finding green or light blue at the paint store.
But there will be endless options with vivid descriptors like desert sage, creamy avocado, and morning sky.
And while factory-made DIY furniture kits appeal to some people, handcrafted, heirloom-quality or Amish furniture all have a higher perceived value than their generic versions.
Even professionals like attorneys, photographers, and doctors can find descriptive terms to use that evoke trust, creativity and competence in vivid and sensory ways.
And because so few of them do it, this could be a game changer if you do.
Make your customer feel something.
So think about this… how can you use sensory words and vivid descriptors to get an emotional response to your product or service? What power words can you use to amplify your competence and skills and connect with your customers? Are there images you could use that do the same thing?
Something else to think about: if you need help with finding the right sensory words to use in your copy, let me know. I might be able to help.
Did that tickle your brain?
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