Message Framing: The Basics

Message framing is an integral part of your communication strategy and therefore critical to your copywriting success.

Image shows a quote in a frame

What is message framing?

Message framing is how you choose to present information to shape perception, stimulate a certain emotional response, or influence someone’s decision.

Remember the old expression about the glass being either half full or half empty? That’s a form of framing.

How you frame something doesn’t change its meaning – it’s the same thing, just expressed differently.

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Why is it important?

As humans, we are all particularly prone to a cognitive bias known as ‘framing effect’.

Put simply, ‘framing effect’ refers to how our brains make decisions depending on how the information relating to that decision was presented.

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That’s why message framing is particularly important to marketers, copywriters, and PR professionals—because how you frame a message will determine how persuasive your message is.

Consequently, message framing directly impacts your conversion rate.

Image shows many different types of frames stacked up against a wall

What are the different ways to frame a message?

Anyone that has to change someone’s opinion on a specific topic will use framing in their communications. That’s why it’s useful to know the different ways you can frame a message.

Below are some of the most common framing tactics you’ll find in marketing and advertising—and therefore copywriting.

Positive / Gain Framing

This approach highlights the benefits or what you gain from something or an action. You would use positive (optimistic) semantics in gain framing for example, “if you exercise every day, you lower your risk of heart disease.”

Negative / Loss Framing

This approach highlights the risks or what you would lose by not taking a certain action or doing something. For example: “If you don’t exercise every day, you increase your risk of heart disease.”

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Action-oriented Framing

‘Action-oriented’ is defined as using practical methods, which involve doing things to deal with problems, not just talking about ideas, plans, or theories.
To frame a statement in this manner, use active voice or incorporate a call to action. For example: “Stay safe, wear a mask.”

Passive Framing

Unlike framing something in an action-oriented manner, passive framing involves having the subject be acted upon by the verb rather than actually doing something.

Optimizely has great examples of action-oriented vs passive framing. Namely “Create a webpage for your business” vs “businesses grow faster online!” respectively.

Two-sided Framing

This refers to presenting both the pros and cons of something. In business, two-sided framing is most commonly found in reviews. You will most frequently find this type of framing on e-commerce, hotel, as well as travel and tours websites.

One-sided Framing

The opposite of two-sided framing whereby only one kind of feedback – normally positive – is the focus of the information shared.

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Reward Framing

This is an interesting one in that it’s all about how you express a reward so that the customer will perceive it as valuable. When done right, you motivate the customer to convert and increase loyalty. That is, the customer keeps returning.

You might have seen this type of framing used by airline miles / travel reward credit cards. Sign up for the airline-branded credit card and get X-amount of miles or points immediately credited to your account.

You’ve also probably seen a simpler (old-school) version of this in play at your local coffee shop. For example, buy 10 cups and get the 11th free.

These are all framing techniques you can use to create persuasive copy. And when used effectively and applied appropriately, you can increase your conversion rate.

If you’re having difficulty incorporating these techniques in your writing, then that’s a good indication (among others) you would benefit greatly from a copywriter.