There are entire books devoted to investigating Likeability alone. In fact, Dr. Robert Cialdini delves quite a bit into this subject in his foundational persuasion marketing classic, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. There’s just so much to say about the mechanics of why someone actually likes you.

So let’s start with three simple axioms:

  1. People buy from people they like.
  1. People trust people they like.
  1. People buy from people they trust.


The other side of the coin

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating that the reverse also holds true. People do NOT buy from people they dislike or distrust. But this has far deeper implications. For instance, we know that liking or disliking Samantha influences our decision about whether to purchase her white paper services —but to what degree?

Let’s take a look at a personal example.

There’s a convenience store outside my apartment. When I first moved into the neighborhood a couple months ago, I bought things there almost daily. Then, every time I crossed paths with the owner and greeted her, she would return a blank stare—and say nothing.

I continued to greet her until these exchanges grew extremely uncomfortable.

Today, I go out of my way and inconvenience myself to travel an extra 15 minutes just to buy exactly the same products available to me immediately outside my home.

Yes, it seems petty. That’s because it is. Hell, I’m embarrassed even bringing it up.

But the lesson here is this: As humans, we can be petty, and it’s easy to be petty with someone you dislike.

There’s a deeper implication here too.

If I go out of my way to avoid doing business with someone I dislike in the real world, how much easier is it for a visitor to simply click away from your site?

Now let’s take a look at why emphasizing one feature your clients admire about your presentation can multiply their feelings toward your copywriting practice.

The Halo Effect

One factor that’s been heavily documented to influence people;s judgment is physical attraction (as if we needed documentation in the first place!).

But what’s less obvious is the Halo Effect. This phenomenon occurs when we allow our overall impression of someone to affect our thoughts and feelings about that person’s specific skills.

For example, if Jack’s handsome and wears glasses, we might assume Jack’s more capable of solving math problems compared to Brian, who’s not  a looker and doesn’t wear glasses. (This cognitive bias is backed by a ton of supporting research.)

“But hey, I’m not good looking!”

I’m sure you’re just a gorgeous tulip. And despite the myriad of other valid reasons that might make you want to avoid using your own face for your business (e.g., privacy or legal reasons), you’d be selling yourself short.

Sure, displaying your own face and being transparent about yourself and your skills makes it easier to sell your services (an absolute necessity when selling yourself as a freelance copywriter.)

So for whatever reason, if you’re hesitant about displaying your face, don’t be.

One way you could approach this challenge is to use a lot of “friendly-looking” people in your photos instead. You could use photos of happy clients after they’ve received your services. Or photos of how it’s changed their lives. Or you could print out a few shirts and have people wear them for the website.

Either way, testing has shown that “friendly-looking” people usually translates to women smiling and showing off their sparkling white teeth. But this assumption must be retested for your specific business. Maybe the sight of women with exaggerated smiles is somehow a sight that utterly repulses your audience.

You never know.

In what other ways can I take advantage of the Halo Effect online?

You’re right on the money if you thought that using only photos to enhance your business likeability is a myopic approach. It’s the equivalent of making yourself look pretty, but you forgot to put on your deodorant and your signature scent. In other words, you’re not maximizing the perceived attractiveness of your business presentation.

And that’s where branding comes in. (Did you really think a brand copywriter would be able to write an entire article without mentioning branding once? Oh the naiveté!)

This time, let’s take the example of James, a designer. I chose the designer example because the “feel” for a brand is more easily and readily communicated visually than textually. So say James has a visually stunning website, and all his design elements are consistently branded—but what about his copy? If his brand voice clashes with his visual components, then we have a problem because James has just signaled to his visitors not only that he’s inconsistent, but that he might even be inauthentic.

How so?

The opposite example

Let me illustrate with the opposite example.

As a copywriter, my main task is to get prospects to hire me for my sales-by-writing skills. But if my design is poor, I just won’t get as many clients. But forget about poor design for a second. Let’s go with something even more basic. Let’s say my brand colors don’t accurately reflect the tone or style of my writing. My brand colors are edgy and bold, but the tone of my brand voice is clinical and cold.

If such a strong contrast were to manifest in a real person and you encountered them, they wouldn’t just strike you as unprofessional. You’d probably make a run for it.

So let’s get back to my copy example for a moment: Let’s say my copy is glorious. (Bear with me here.) Say my photos are masterful. (They’re not, but let’s just say.) And everything is exactly where it needs to be—except for the footer. Something about it is a bit… off. Maybe it’s the margins? It’s something… but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

What’s this feeling “telling” you about the site?

Would you hire me now, with this nagging feeling itching away at your fight-or-flight response, signaling to you that something is definitely wrong? Keep in mind, this doesn’t have anything to do with my copy, and that is the only thing I’m selling. Not design, not even footers. Just copy.

But that’s your survival instinct telling you to GET OUT.

The lesson here?

Always be aware of the halo effect in your branding efforts. After all, just because you can’t see the hole on the other side of the ship doesn’t mean it’s not sinking.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how likeability works, let’s get into how to use likeability to our advantage online.

We like people like us, but not exactly like us

The first clause of this subheading reminds me of the famous Dale Carnegie quote: “People aren’t interested in you. They’re interested in themselves.” But the second clause of the subheading (“but not exactly like us”) means that although we like people who are like us, many of us tend not to like ourselves.

But let’s dig a little deeper here. Sure, we obviously like people who are similar to us, but more specifically (and this I feel is really the crux of it), we’re drawn to similar people who have traits we admire. In other words, whether we choose to admit it or not, these people may be more idealized versions of our own sense of identity because of these traits. We may even share these traits or skills we admire, except they might just be better at it.

When I applied this realization to my buyer personas, it had a noticeable effect on my prospects. They seemed friendlier. I lay out my simple yet effective twist to the buyer persona below.

A different approach to crafting your ideal client

So before I get into my custom approach to crafting your buyer persona, let’s go over what the buyer persona is real quick. It’s a representation of who your ideal client is and their traits. Example: James, designer, 28, loves walking and is environmentally conscious, etc. Once you get a general picture of your ideal buyer, you begin to understand their needs, and you can begin to mirror them in your marketing efforts.

So this is where my custom approach diverges from the traditional buyer persona. Here, instead of simply mirroring your ideal client’s traits, language, and personality, I complete an extra step, which I’ve come to view as critical. You’ll be glad you tried it:

Invest some time in getting into your ideal client’s head. Based on your picture of your ideal client, you should be able to infer their most basic human needs, traits, desires, etc. So let’s take this one step further. Based on your understanding of your ideal client, isn’t the next logical step to be able to determine which traits your client would most desire to possess? And would such a list not begin to give you a picture of what sort of person they admire, what kind of person they aspire to be like?

We already know it’s crucial to speak to your clients in their own language. But what if your business could assume the admirable qualities as well? If you’re questioning the ethics of this approach, then you might as well question why you’re choosing to speak to your prospects in their own language in the first place. Moreover, you don’t have to take on these traits directly; you can communicate them through your brand.

How does this work with testimonials?

Believe it or not, this also translates to testimonials, and that’s important because testimonials are the most effective form of social proof. You get to hear from someone real, someone like you. Someone who had real problems, similar ones, just like yours. The testimonial—if it’s a good one—will allow your prospect to “test-drive” your offer through the first-hand account of a past client who experienced your services. (This article delves deeper into the psychology behind effective testimonials.)

So say you’re a business owner with a local motorcycle servicing garage business, and you need long-form persuasive copy for a sales page. If you stumble across a testimonial on a copywriter’s site who specializes in motorcycles, and the testimonial details a positive experience by someone just like this business owner, this business owner will likely be interested.

But what we really want is to read testimonials from better versions of ourselves. Certainly, this includes this business owner. But say it had been from a motorcycle servicing garage that was a much smaller operation than the prospect’s own business. Would she be as easily persuaded? Probably not.


Let’s work together

sHere’s one way you can be more likable to your prospects: Focus your attention on cooperating to fulfill mutually beneficial goals. One great example of when you can apply this is during the investigation phase of your sales call.

An effective sales call focuses on delivering value and trying to understand the needs of your prospect first and foremost. After all, the best salesperson is someone who conducts their investigation trying to determine whether the solutions they can offer are a good fit for resolving the needs of the prospect. Even just approaching the conversation with this mindset, of tackling a problem together to uncover mutually beneficial areas to pursue, is one obvious way you can increase liking as well as boost your chances dramatically of closing the sale.

Can you apply this online? Certainly, by applying it to your marketing in general. For instance, you could inform your clients that you don’t consider your job complete until you’re completely satisfied you’ve helped them reach their business goals.

This not only increases liking because you’re showing that you care and take pride in your professionalism, and that you’re willing to work toward achieving a mutual goal. Your prospect knows that this is not just a job for you, and if they’ve worked with other service businesses before, they know a service differentiator when they see one. This level of dedication displayed to your prospect will do wonders for your brand and generate long-term positive word-of-mouth.


Authenticity = Liking + Trust + Knowledge

This article contains a lot of information for you to digest. So if you remember anything, make it this one thing:

If you want someone to like and trust your business, focus on authenticity. If nothing else, authenticity will communicate trust and likability.

Take the example of compliments. We like people who tend to compliment us. But frivolous compliments, especially when they’re frequently given, can easily backfire. Compliments must thus be well thought out, specific (so based on something you know means a lot to them), but most importantly, you must mean it. In other words, you must be authentic.

One easy way to display genuine authenticity

There’s a really easy way, and we do it all the time: Deliver value—“But V., isn’t that the same thing as giving away your stuff for free?”

No. First off, you’d be making a good point if you’re also wondering, “But everyone’s offering something for free these days. What’s so special about my content?”

But you’ve answered your own question. Yes, even your neighbor’s putting out the latest guide on building your own baby-clothing garage business. But with all this information overload, it’s difficult to argue the quality of information has deteriorated considerably. A lot of it appears to be regurgitated fluff. This means that people will always value valuable information.

Moreover, value delivery doesn’t mean you have to lose something of value. In other words, this value you deliver doesn’t actually have to hold value to you, but could be something your prospect appreciates a lot.

Example: You can provide considerable emotional value with something as small and helpful as an engaging blog comment. It would take you a few minutes to write, but to your prospects it might mean the world, especially because most people don’t comment on blogs, even popular ones that are read regularly.

Just showing someone you’ve engaged with their content and that you were thoughtful enough to post a relevant comment will inspire positive feelings in the writer, who took the time out of their day to write something they thought you might find interesting.

Speaking of which, congratulations are in order. Thank you for making it to the end of the article. This is the longest one I’ve written for this blog (with many more quality long-form posts to come). If you want to know more about this subject, especially about authenticity, I strongly recommend that you grab my manual on service branding. It’s free. Just email me for a link.

And if you disagree with any of the points I’ve made in this article, tell me in the comments below. I’m dying to know what you think, and I love being wrong. As Nietzsche once said in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (and I’m paraphrasing here), Good friends challenge us; bad friends find us agreeable.

After all, conflict fuels growth (and so do good readers.)

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