Understand human behavior, lead with empathy, create space to help readers reach AHA moments on their own.

What We Read is a new first-person feature by the in-house conversion copywriters at Copyhackers. We read, we think, we write about it. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

I once went on a Tinder date with a psychiatric nurse.

And, like any semi-awkward conversion copywriter, I told her alllll about work. 

Specifically – (and spoiler alert: that was our only date) – I outlined the Stages of Awareness.

“What? Weird,” she said, as we walked on crunchy gravel along the river. 

“That’s pretty much exactly like the 5 stages of addiction recovery,” she told me.

I looked it up afterward, and she was right. 

Turns out:

Unaware > Problem aware > Solution aware > Product aware > Most aware 

is a heck of a lot like: 

Precontemplation stage > Contemplation stage > Preparation stage > Action stage > Maintenance stage

This parallel exists because of one thing: human behavior. And understanding human behavior is the foundation of what makes great copywriters great.

And in our favor, as self-reflective humans, we’ve studied the shit out of it.

I thought about that river walk this morning while sipping my dark roast and reading an older but highly relevant study called Therapeutic Emails, published in BioMed Central.

The study looked at how email can enhance the bond between clinician and client – specifically for those seeking support with addiction.

And here’s what it found: “It is not the availability of the online service that creates the impact; it is the content of what is said and done online that is important.”

Did you catch that? 

Copy, baby. 

It’s not about the emails themselves. It’s what’s said in the emails that make them effective.

Which got me thinking: the job of the conversion copywriter is a lot like the job of the therapist.

  • You think about your prospect first
  • You understand what propels their journey, and where they are on it
  • You sequentially share information that guides them toward change

And the authors of Therapeutic Emails did just that:

“While some clients may not go through all these steps, or may skip steps in their progress, it is our experience that many do proceed sequentially through the change process,” the study states.

So the authors not only structured each email thoughtfully, like so:

(Extra props to the “one message per email” direction, which is a fundamental we teach in Copy School.)

The authors also structured a multi-email sequence that mirrors clients’ “progression from thinking about change to succeeding at it.” 

Which looked like this:

  • Email 1: Assessment 
  • Email 2: Identify consequences of substance use 
  • Email 3: Develop a plan for recovery
  • Email 4: Admit to substance abuse and mobilize support for change.
  • Email 5: Identify problematic interpersonal relationships
  • Email 6: Adjust daily routines
  • Email 7: Create a sense of spirituality and community through group action
  • Email 8: Identify substitute routines through group action
  • Email 9: Share success with others
  • Email 10: Address cycles of relapse

Each email has one goal. Collectively, the emails follow the journey from problem-aware to most-aware. From contemplation stage to maintenance stage. These journeys share the same, human roots.

The goal, with the therapeutic emails, was not to tell clients what to do, how to think or how to act.

The goal is to focus “on the client’s own perception of the problems and what the client would like to do to attempt to change the situation.”

And it worked. 

Clients responded positively. 

So how can you step into the role of empathetic therapist? What can you share with readers to empower them to make the decisions you’re asking them to make?

WIthout a doubt, it starts with understanding human behavior. 

As online marketers who often spend more time in front of rectangular screens than 3D faces, we might forget that, whatever we’re selling, we’re writing to the human experience. We’re taking people’s hands. And we’re transforming into their guide toward behavioral change.