In 1949, three scientists made a significant discovery. They found how a particular part of the brain works. It’s called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). This critical part of our brain controls attention. It scans our surroundings. It ignores most things. When RAS deems something critical, it will focus our attention. Notice how you’ll scroll through Facebook, Twitter, or a site, and suddenly a picture or post grabs your attention. That is your RAS working.
“Once his mind was made of aware of something, it was like his mind expanded. RAS was a natural phenomenon. Medically it was described as the ability of the mind to have a heightened sense…alertness. Everyone had it. You buy a car. One that you think is slightly unique, maybe because of its model or color. The second you get on the road, though, you start seeing identical cars to yours everywhere…Thing was — they were always there. You just never noticed them…they were invisible. Invisible until you bought one. RAS.” — Dave Buschi, author
The first job of a profit-making copywriter is to grab attention. RAS Triggers make this possible. Once you have your audience’s attention, use more RAS Triggers to hold it.
RAS dramatically popped up in my life recently.
It began with a bright light in a store window. It was a winter night in Brockton, Alabama, in 1899. Will had poor eyesight. He was a typewriter salesman.
He was carefully slogging through the muddy streets. Will couldn’t trust his eyes in the low light. But that intense, steady light from the store across the street caught his attention.
Will entered the store seeking the source of the light. A strange lamp was the origin.
It had a mantle instead of a faint flickering wick seen in most lamps. It used pressurized gasoline instead of kerosene.
This gas lamp was far brighter than the dim electric light bulbs of the time. The poor-sighted Will could read the tiny writing on the bottles in the store.
Will could see at night for the first time in his adult life! Within a day, Will signed a deal with the store owner. Will could reproduce and sell these “magic” lamps.
Will didn’t sell many more typewriters after that. The lamps were a huge success.
Who was Will? He was William Coffin Coleman. He founded The Coleman Company. They’ve now sold over 50 million lamps and lanterns.
After hearing this origin story, I headed into the garage. What did I notice? A Coleman cooler. I knew I had a cooler but never bothered to notice the brand until now.
I then headed out to my sister’s for a hike and dinner. But what did I see as I pulled out? A camper with a Coleman spare tire cover! More craziness happened on the short drive to my sister’s place. I spotted several more Coleman tire covers. Numerous Coleman campers were also spotted on the roads.
Finally, I got to my sister’s apartment. I hopped in her car. Something bumped me in the back of the head. I turn to shove it away. It’s a Coleman Tent wrapped in a Coleman tent holder!
This story created a RAS Trigger in me for the Coleman brand. What used to be invisible to me became important. Coleman was top of mind for a time, thanks to the story.
I needed short stories to weave into articles like this. Who tells excellent short stories? Paul Harvey came to mind. He delighted millions of radio listeners with his short stories. They’d end with: “Now you know…the rest of the story.” He’d keep the story’s subject a mystery until the end. The Coleman Company’s origin was one of his stories.
Harvey created a RAS Trigger in me. Copywriters shouldn’t aim to create RAS Triggers. Instead use research to uncover existing RAS Triggers. Don’t try to create demand and interest. Find what your audience is already demanding and interested in.
“The greatest mistake marketers make is trying to create demand.” — Eugene Schwartz, legendary copywriter.
As a copywriter, I know grabbing attention is my first job. I study winning copy daily. The best stuff has targeted RAS Triggers.
RAS Triggers are a great secret to effective marketing and writing. It makes sense. Find out what is attractive to your readers and prospects. Then inject that in your headlines and content. Once the RAS activates, readers have no choice. Their brain makes them stop and take notice.
RAS Triggers have 3 main areas. Ask the following questions when researching key contacts:
- PERSONAL: What is important to them personally?
- What can I learn about them from this post, this article, this like, etc.?
- Do they have family?
- Do you know anyone they know? Mutual connections?
- BUSINESS: What is going on in their business life?
- What news or new products is their company releasing?
- What is happening in their industry right now, that would impact them?
- How does their company make money, and who do they sell to?
- What is their company doing on social media right now?
- What influencers do they follow?
- LEISURE: What kinds of hobbies and leisure interests do they have?
- Have they been on vacation lately?
- What kinds of sports do they like or follow?
- What kinds of hobbies do they have?
Have fun with this. Pretend you’re a private eye. You may not get all the answers for the above. That’s OK. If you aren’t getting much, you can always switch to another person. There are over 7 billion of us to choose from!
Here are 3 ways to gather RAS Triggers:
- Action 1: Create a research document or spreadsheet. Store contacts and their RAS Triggers in it.
- Action 2: Find the names of 10–20 appealing contacts in your niche. Or find contacts related to your client’s products and services.
- Action 3: Review their LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media. Read personal, group, and association comments to which they contribute. Search their name and find articles, press releases, or other writings tied to them.
Use RAS Triggers in your headlines and email subject lines. They’ll grab the attention of your target audience. Continue to use RAS Triggers in the rest of your copy to hold their attention.
About Charles Polanski: I help people prosper through online marketing. Click this link to unlock a world of possibilities with online marketing.