5 Psychological Hacks for High-Impact Content Marketing

July 20, 2015 Braveen Kumar

Psychology in Content Marketing

The goal of most marketing efforts is to elicit some kind of reaction from our target audiences—to get them to click, to opt-in, to ultimately buy.  

But it’s hard to reliably provoke these reactions. We're quite complex creatures, after all. 

Luckily, the field of Psychology offers many theories that help us understand ourselves, our customers, and our audiences. We can apply some of these frameworks to craft content and campaigns that stand a better chance of getting the sort of reactions we want.  

By looking at content marketing through this lens, we can approach ideation, creation and conversion with greater success. 

The Primacy and Recency Effects reveal a blog's best real estate

Let's not kid ourselves into thinking people read every single word of every blog post they click on. In fact, Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat has studied traffic to sites such as Upworthy and "found  effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading". 

Given the disengaged nature of reading in today's world, it's important to hone in on what people actually do read and remember.

The primacy and recency effects indicate that we remember what we read first and what we read last. Things sometimes get muddled in the middle. 

The start is what determines whether people continue to read and the end is what has the potential to carry the momentum forward in the way of further reading, sharing, or subscribing. 

You can integrate this perspective into your editing, content creating and copywriting process to enhance readability in any piece of writing. And by readability I mean the work's ability to funnel attention and deliver immediate value. 

Approach content with the understanding that beginnings and endings matter at the content, section and sentence level; put your best foot forward and pack a punch at the end.

Create content that addresses how your buyers see themselves

For most companies, content at the top of the funnel is created to identify and attract the right audiences. 

One way to go about this is to create content that appeals to how your buyers see themselves and how they want others to see them too. Go beyond buyer personas; look at your buyers' identities.

The Looking Glass Self is one way to understand identity by acknowledging that a large part of our self-concept is shaped by how others see us. 

How you see yourself and how you want others to perceive you are affected by the labels we ourselves choose to own. Pay attention to the kind of content you gravitate towards and share; chances are it illustrates how you'd like others to see you.

Labels are more than words. They have real consequences. 

For example, when I first started out as a writer, I would read content that spoke to "writers" in the headline. But as I shifted to identify myself as a "content marketer", I started to grow out of the old label and the breed of content consumption that came with it.

It's interesting to see how this manifests when you dissect your own content marketing.

Take our Portrait of a Content Marketer infographic, for example. Its Content Score in our Content Hub tells us what happened, how well it performed, but we can apply the Looking Glass Self concept to understand why it was popular among members of our audience.

 Content isn't just a way to build your own brand's identity, 68% of people share content to convey who they are and what they care about. When you speak to a specific identity in your content and your call-to-action, you stand a better chance of attracting the right people and getting them to fill out your form.  

Upon landing, your visitors should be thinking, "Yup, I'm in the right place." And when they're presented with a call-to-action, they should be thinking, "Yes, this is speaking to me."

Our brains tend to ignore what's not part of the context

Stop reading for a second and look at your nose. 

It's right in front of your face, but your brain ignores it most of the time because it's not a relevant part of the experience. The same phenomenon causes "banner blindness" in website visitors.

People visit your website or blog with specific intentions and expectations. The best way to catch their attention with your attempts to convert them is to speak to the specific journey they're on.

In fact, we saw a 9x lift in subscribers by applying more contextual call-to-actions across our Hub that "popped up" and asked visitors to subscribe while they were engaged with a piece of content.

Static CTAs, whether in your sidebar or at the bottom of a post, can be a poor use of digital real estate. Consider the context that your content is in before you determine the messaging, offer, and placement.  

Our perception is so thoroughly filtered that sometimes we fail to pay attention to the most obvious things.

In a study of 24 radiologists tasked with examining scans of patients' lungs for inflamed tissue,  83% didn't notice a picture of a gorilla that was 48 times larger than the nodules they were supposed to find. It's easy to miss what we're not looking for.

We take mental shortcuts all the time when we think

In a way, laziness—the noble pursuit of doing as little work as possible—is hard-wired into our brains. If we can take a shorter path to arrive at the same result, it's almost silly not to.

Many smart ideas remove steps and streamline action, like the way Uber replaced the need to stand on a street corner waving your arms to hail a cab. Now to get from point A to B, you don't need to feel like someone stranded on a deserted island trying to get the attention of a passing ship.

But a fondness for shortcuts is also baked into our thought processes; we use assumptions as a substitute for truth when the latter isn't readily available.

Social proof, for example, is often a good stand-in for actual proof—at least until we can experience the quality of something for ourselves. 

We land on a blog post and see a high level of sharing, which gives the content greater perceived value. Likewise, we land on a web page knowing nothing about a product and the presence of testimonials immediately heighten the value. 

Based solely on shares, which piece of content would you rather read?

Social Proof

These "heuristics" or mental shortcuts even influence how we perceive pricing in relation to the quality of a product. Expensive means good.    

The Rule of Reciprocity is the law of content marketing

The Golden Rule of content marketing is to help your audience and add value to their lives.

It's a difficult perspective to adjust to when you're used to more "immediate ROI" marketing strategies. That's where the rule of reciprocity, outlined in Robert Cialdini's book Influence, gives you a reason to keep it up when you're just starting out.

"We're just going to give away all this information" might not sound like a marketing strategy, but it has one almost guaranteed positive outcome: It creates an obligation between you and your audience.

On our side, the obligation is to create good content consistently. But if you're truly adding value to people's lives, these people might begin to feel a sense of obligation to you.

Whether what you're giving away is free content, tools, swag or samples, you're creating goodwill and starting a relationship on the grounds that you've already helped the other person out.

Take HootSuite for example. HootSuite used a freemium pricing model  in lieu of focusing on marketing and sales.

With no advertising budget, HootSuite was able to take their users from zero to 5 million in three years—many of whom were loyal users that spent time in their app daily. Sure, not all of them paid for the product, but many of their customers up-sold themselves.    

Content marketing creates a similar effect. Even if the obligation doesn't manifest as a splash of new business every time you publish, it does create ripples of good karma: social media mentions, co-marketing opportunities, positive comments, greater reach via sharing and more. 

And, if you're lucky, even if those who consume your content don't need your solution, they know who you are, have been educated about what you offer and may need it further down the road or know someone who does.

Understand what makes your audience tick

You can measure performance to understand what's going on with your blog, how long visitors are sticking around, what they're sharing and where. But when it comes to figuring out "why", there's no easy way to know—outside of asking.

That's why it's good to keep some of these frameworks in mind as we approach our content strategy. Although theories in psychology are prone to being debunked and contested, they do offer a way to look at how we react to certain stimuli or experiences when we're on "autopilot".

After all, when was the last time you thought long and hard before you clicked on something?

About the Author

Braveen Kumar

Braveen is a Content Marketer at Shopify.

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