Triggers according to Joseph Sugarman

signs of triggers

Joseph Sugarman is a legendary copywriter that has dedicated his life to understanding how people work and what triggers them. In his well researched book, “Triggers”, he explains that every person has an automatic emotional responses to certain situations based on past events.

How are trigger formed?

All triggers are formed by past events. If something traumatic happened to you, you might form an anchor. This emotional anchor only activates when you in a similar situation and it usually does not matter if you aware of it or not.

Full disclosure:

Triggers do not need to be traumatic. This is just an example. They could be something joyful that you forgot about.

The anchors you form are formed in your subconscious. You can only spot them when it’s triggered by a similar situation. We all have our own unique triggers but some triggers seem to be universal.

  • Have you ever gotten sick from eating a certain food, like fish and the smell of fish automatically makes you feel sick?
    • The smell of fish is the trigger, eating the fish is the anchor.
  • Have you ever been to war and back, come home fine, however events like the 4th of July trigger PTSD?
    • The violence and guns being fired at war is your anchor, 4th of July is your trigger
  • Have you ever found yourself disciplining your child the same way your parents disciplined you? Do you find yourself saying the same things they said to you in similar situations with your kid?
    • You being disciplined is your anchor, your child doing something naughty or annoying is your trigger.

Your brain remembers everything, it’s the ultimate data harvester, even if it’s not the best at data organisation. You recall information best from what you feel and experience. Data is often better remembered better from the senses over the specific intellectual data pieces. If the smell was strong enough you will remember that, if their was a strange looking clown you will remember that, if someone said something in a certain way, then you will remember that.

These senses often out weigh the information you gathered. The information often gets scrambled up and you remember it differently as to how it actually happened but one thing you won’t forget so easily is the smell of the eggs that day, the look on your mother's face, the way you father said “I will be right back, I’m just gonna…”.

We all have experienced triggers. You can think of it as emotional anchors that fires off when a specific event takes place. That being said Joseph identified 30 different types of triggers, we will be going over the ones I identified as most important.As Joseph Sugarman was a copywriter, we will only focus on triggers related to copywriting.

Copy can communicate your senses effectively:

You can communicate a smell, taste and feelings with copy. Have you ever cut a lemon in four and then taken a big bite into a piece of juicy lemon? As the lemon pieces get stuck between the upper part of your teeth, the lemon juices flow into your tongue and back of your throat. It’s hard not to taste the lemon with this description.


Curiosity is a very powerful tool that can be used in the beginning of a sales presentation to keep the reader or viewer glued to the story, message or advert. The best way to use this trigger is to keep the prospect interested and involved until the very end of your presentation.

Action Step: Early in your sales presentation, use seeds of curiosity and promise a payoff that will cause a prospect to keep reading.

Example: You can start with a brief story about James the happy customer and then say read more about James's story, instead of a boring testimonial. They might actually read it.

Example: “Do you know what [competitor name]  just launched, wanna beat them?”


This is focusing on an audience that wants to be the owner of something that few can own. This is one of the strongest human motivations, especially with more affluent clients. Who wants to ‘keep up with the Johnsons’, when you can own things they can never own?

Action Step: You need to either make a collectible, limited edition, short production run, or something so expensive that only a few can afford it. You could do this by having a limited colour run (i.e. Motorola Gold Edition), it might be a limited period for a new flavour, this is where your creativity can shine. You need to limit availability and make sure people know that it is limited either by amount, time or availability. The most important thing is to enforce the limit or your customers will not respect or trust you.

Example: A coffee shop offering seasonal pumpkin flavored coffee.


When you use specifics, your advertising copy is a lot more believable. However if you too specific it has the opposite effect. So if you say you have helped 120 000 people that may sound believable compared to saying you have helped 123 987 people. You should try and be specific to be believable but not too specific as you will lose the prospects trust and you will derail yourself from your core marketing message. If you using typical advertising language, you would be too general and therefore you will be dismissed by your prospect. When you use specifics, you will be enhancing your offer and you will come across more credible.

Action Step: Add specifics to your claims. Research the facts and use the details.

Example: “We have helped over 3500 businesses transact better”


Simply put, is your message believable? If it's not believable, it does not matter what you have to say because you won’t be trusted. This is a fundamental element in persuasion. People have extremely sensitive “bullshit detectors” and if you do not come across as a genuine person or business then you might as well stop. Make sure each statement you make is truthful and not too exaggerated. You want to be believed, so if you want to make a bold claim, make sure you back it up with facts.

Action Step: You need to look at each statement you make for accuracy. Assume you are in a court of law and have to defend everything you have said. Will you be found innocent or guilty?

Example: [Bold Claim] Yoco has the best support in the industry for small businesses. [Facts] What separates Yoco from the rest, is the pro-active support that calls you when there is a problem before you call Yoco. The average response time is within 15 minutes. [Bold Claim] No one else in the industry offers this level of support for SME’s. [Facts]This is why Yoco has so many positive reviews and virtually no negative reviews in comparison online. Yoco continues to invest in customer support as a core focus of the company.

Random company I love: If you looking for a great card reader for your business, try Yoco.


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