Use ‘you’ in your copy to boost results
Second person pronouns (e.g. you, your, you’ll) make readers feel more involved. People will be more likely to engage with you and feel more positive towards your brand.
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Did you feel that? Maybe it wasn’t strong, but you may have felt a slight tingle.
By using “you” I am referencing you and speaking to you more directly. This makes you feel more involved.
And that’s a good thing - if you’re from an individualistic culture.
Let’s take a look at what the research found, and how you should use this.
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Use “you” in your copy to engage your reader
Channels: Copywriting | Social media | Website | Marketing communications
For: Both B2C and B2B
Research date: August 2017
Use ‘you’ to speak directly to your reader in your content and marketing communications (e.g. website, email).
For example, say “Save your money” instead of “Save money”.
People from individualistic cultures (e.g. US, Italy) will feel more involved in what you say, will like you more, and become more likely to engage with you.
Including second person pronouns (e.g. you, your, you’ll) in content increases engagement, feelings of involvement, and brand attitudes.
In an analysis of 4,124 Facebook posts of 10 major brands, likes, comments, and shares were significantly higher when posts used second person pronouns.
In two additional experiments:
A Facebook post that said “Maximize your savings!” vs “Maximize savings!” made people feel 19.7% more involved with the brand. In turn, this boosted brand attitudes
A blog post titled “Keep your data safe!” vs “Keep data safe!” improved brand attitudes by 9.2% (the blog also used a similar presence vs absence of ‘you’ in the rest of the blog)
The effect only works for people and cultures that are individualistic (e.g. North America, Western Europe), not collectivistic (e.g. Asia, Latin America). You can check how individualistic your target market is here.
🧠 Why it works
‘You’ is a special pronoun because it implicates us when we are reading. It increases the feeling that the message is referring to us.
This increases our involvement in the message, which in turn makes us:
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The study focused on the English language. Other commonly spoken languages such as Spanish, Chinese, French, or Italian don’t use a universal “you”. They use formal and informal second person pronouns depending on the situation (e.g. “tu” and “usted” in Spanish). We don’t currently know whether and how the effect should be used in these languages.
Related research did not find a significant effect of using “you” in direct communication between employees and customers (e.g. in customer service chats). This is probably because it is already obvious that the employee is speaking with “you”.
🏢 Companies using this
Only 22.3% of the Facebook posts from brands analyzed by researchers contained a second person pronoun. For example:
Insurance provider Allstate used it in 32% of posts
Reebok used it in 24% of posts
The Olympic Games used it in 10% of posts
Marketers seem to use “you” inconsistently in their copy and channels.
⚡ Steps to implement
Consider whether your main audience - or part of it - is from an individualistic culture (e.g. US, UK). If it is, use this.
Write your sentences in a way that includes “you”. For example, say “write your sentences”, not “write sentences”.
You can create a similar, probably stronger, effect by using the reader’s name in channels that allow it (e.g. email).
If you are interacting 1 to 1 with customers, remember to use “I” not “We” to increase their satisfaction, and your sales.
🔍 Study type
Online experiments and market observation (analysis of 4,124 Facebook from 10 renowned brands between June 2013 and June 2014)
Second person pronouns enhance consumer involvement and brand attitude. Journal of Interactive Marketing (August 2017).
Ryan E. Cruz. Thomas Jefferson University
James M. Leonhardt. University of Nevada
Todd Pezzuti. Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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