Creating music for our donor’s brains

Someone at Amazon accidentally sent out their email template.  I sympathize.  We’ve all picked the wrong distribution list, forgotten to put in the sub-head or [go back and put in third example later].

See what I mean?

Anywho, it really is a gift.  Not content to use the lorem ipsum so common in such templates, they created a little guide on how to write — the idea of creating music with your writing.

Why?  Your reader’s brain. 

Researchers looked at positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brain while people were silently reading.  There was increased blood flow to the left lingual gyrus, where they believe visual processing of letters take place.

So, when you read, you need to recognize letters.  Yawn.  Boring.

But the researchers also found increased blood flow to Broca’s area, responsible for understanding and forming spoken words.

Yes, when you read, even though you stopped reading while moving your lips many moons ago, part of your brain is still sounding out the words.  This is especially true if the word is unfamiliar.  You are translating graphemes, little bits of words, into phonemes, or little bits of sound.

Take reading “positron emission tomography” (please).  If you aren’t involved in radiation-based imaging, you may not know exactly what this means.  You know “emission,” so your brain builds on that.  OK, “positron” sounds like “proton,” “neutron,” “electron,” so we are probably talking a small particle.  So we’re shooting a small particle out to… well, enough of your school subjects ended in “graphy” to give you “the study of.”

So, we’re shooting particles to study stuff.  Good enough!  When you do this, you are leaning on your hearing brain.

In short, we read the music of words.  Just like Amazon said.  Part of that music is rhythm and cadence.  To get a non-boring flow of words, we need to vary sentences.

I know what you are saying.  Every fundraising training, every copy writer, and every editor has told you to shoot for reading ease.  Short words.  Short sentences. 

That’s right as far as it goes.  Easy things make our brains happy, and happy brains do the things we want them to (like donate).  Easy things are more persuasive.  Simply named stocks go up; simply named people become president.

And yet, too much simplicity reads like How I Spent My Summer Vacation or Dick seeing Spot go.  Then Dick seeing Jane go.  Then Dick wondering if he’s taking social distancing to excess.

The point is all short sentences don’t have music to them.  Our brain craves a little bit of novelty.  That’s why pop songs are usually written starting out in AABA form:

1. we get something

2. we get it again and the repetition makes us like it a little more

3. when we think we’re going to get it again, we get something different

4. and then we get that first thing again and we’re happily back to home base

Only simplicity can be too much of a good thing.  The Hemingway app, which does a great job of telling you (but mostly me) when you are being too long-winded, is a guide only.  We should have some mix in there.  Hemingway did: “Did you ever read Henry James?  He was a great writer who came to Venice and looked out the window and smoked his cigar and thought.”

So when you are writing for your donor, remember your donor’s brain.  Remember it is hearing the words while reading them.  And if you find you are giving them all short sentences, connect some; if you are going consistently long, break them up.  Good fundraising copy often breaks the middle-school taboo against starting with conjunctions for this reason; the variation makes the music.

And if you forget everything else, remember, Amazon counsels it and they sleep on piles of money in their vault.

P.S. If you are interested in more on how the brain processes fundraising copy, check out our free courses at the Neuro-Fundraising® Lab.

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