Being in the digital marketing business for ten years, I found myself wandering away from the large niche that was digital marketing and SEO services. It doesn’t happen every single time I sit down and do my job. It happened in-between intervals. And I realized my eventual wandering kept drifting towards basic knowledge about the psychology of the human mind.
Human psychology influences the trends and the fundamentals that surround content marketing — more than we know. For years, marketers recognized and have used psychology to influence the behavior of customers with great success. It doesn’t matter which way you would choose to look at it. Our mental processes — our every decision — direct and govern the way we behave and make decisions.
Content Marketing and Human Psychology
Whether you’re building a website, promoting your brand on Instagram, writing up an article for a blog post, or creating promotional videos for your social media platforms, psychological principles play a part.
It is the psychology that indicates which words to use to make your content more emotional. It’s what helps you choose the colors that will draw people’s attention. The more you’re familiar with how the human mind works, the more you can precisely home in on the exact strategies you’ll need to formulate and use.
Every person has his own subjective social reality, and when you understand them, you’ll be able to build a better user experience than before. The more you understand people’s cognitive biases, the more you’ll be able to create marketing strategies that will cater to every person’s specific needs and desires.
The challenge, however, lies in translating complex psychological concepts into reasonable and effective plans of action. It’s unlikely that you’ll get the chance to apply every one of them. But, knowing some of them will be well worth your time and knowledge.
Here’s my list of psychological principles that are important to every content marketing strategy:
#1 The Information Gap Theory
The Information Gap theory is simple. It’s rooted in what we currently know and what we want to know. When a gap is present between the two, our natural reaction is to become curious. The gears in our brains begin turning. And the more we think about it, our brains cultivate a “mental itch” — one that can only feel relief when we satisfy it with the right answer.
How does this become useful in content marketing?
Well, for starters, you can try withholding information. It’s good content marketing when you exhaust every kind of information there is — pour it all in so you satisfy your audience instantly. There’s an advantage to be had there, but there’s also one to be had when you hold back a little bit.
When I say withhold information, I don’t mean you should lie to your audiences. There’s a difference. Drip-feed your audience the information. It creates a desire before you swoop in and provide it in a silver platter.
Another way of doing this is posting questions on social media that your scheduled article will answer. Anybody who reads the mind-boggling query will be looking for answers to the question only you have the answers to.
Something like, “Do you know what’s really in your milk tea?” sounds more compelling than, “How to mix delicious milk tea.”
#2 The Rule of Reciprocity
The Rule of Reciprocity is a popular psychological principle when it comes to content marketing. You probably know it already, but it’s well worth adding to my list. And if you haven’t, let me give you an illustration.
When someone special gives you something of great value for free (whether it’s touchable or invisible), don’t you feel compelled to return the gesture? That very same situation is what is applied when marketers make use of the Rule of Reciprocity in their marketing strategies.
The premise is quite simple: give someone something extremely valuable, and they will feed indebted to you.
When it comes to content marketing, you can implement the strategy by constantly providing your niched readers with priceless and valuable information. Check back with them at some point in the future with a significant request — an opportunity for conversion.
#3 The Paradox of Choice
The Paradox of Choice was first discussed in a TED talk by Barry Schwartz. The basic premise of it is the narrower the choice, the easier it is for people to make decisions. Think back to your days as a student. Which was the type of test that posed a bigger threat of mid-exam headaches for students? Was it the test with the complex multiple choices, or the shoot-and-go true or false?
How do you apply the Paradox of Choice idea to your content marketing strategies? You can start by creating better but fewer articles for niched audience consumption. It’s better to post 5 mind-blowing articles than to post about 60 mediocre ones. Plant your calls to action clearly and concisely — don’t give your audience too many choices.
#4 In-group Bias
In-group biases happen in our daily lives. When you meet a person in a strange new place and you find out that the two of you are from the same country, you’re more likely to stick with that person. You might be more inclined to give them preferential treatment too.
The idea behind the In-group Bias is that we view people or organizations more positively if we feel and know that they are in the same group as we are.
When it comes to content marketing, this psychological principle basically tells you to speak the same language as your target audience does. The best web content writers on the internet understand the value of understanding the words your customers use. You don’t just associate with them — you become one of them, at some point.
When you do that, you let your customers know that you “get” them. If you can get your customers to see that they belong in the same “group” as you, you’ll most likely create a deeper connection and establish a relationship with them.
#5 Social Proof
Social Proof or Informational Social Influence is human behavior rooted to our very psyche. As social creatures, we have a natural tendency to follow the crowd — and go so far as to mimic the behaviors of others.
Think about it. When a new restaurant opens up in town, do you immediately go to it, or do you wait to hear others’ experiences before you check the restaurant out for yourself? According to Mintel’s American Lifestyles Research, “more than two-thirds of consumers trust the word of friends, family, and even strangers over any marketing content from a brand.”
That is what it means when we talk about Social Proof. Whether it’s watching a viral video, making a purchase, or going to a newly opened mall for the first time; people have that innate tendency to follow in the footsteps of others like them.
So what does that mean for content marketing?
This means a demonstration of “social proof” in your campaigns can improve the value of your work. It’s a good idea to include comment sections, honest customer reviews, and testimonials in your site. You can even feature a section where you show your customers interacting with you and each other.
#6 Availability Cascade
Frequent repetition in a joke doesn’t make it funnier. But the same doesn’t apply to constant repetition in any form of marketing. The contrary is the premise of the Availability Cascade. It’s one of the most famous biases in the marketing industry.
The more a piece of information is repeated, the more likely will we believe it to be true. So how do you use this? Simply take your service’s — or product’s — strongest quality and sensationalize it. For example, if your roofing service boasts itself as “A local roofing contractor you can trust,” keep reiterating it in your web content.
Whatever your business’ strong suit is, weave it into your campaign, and emphasize it time and time again. Eventually, you’ll be known for it.
#7 Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a timeless phenomenon in every generation. Everyone, at some point in their lives, experienced sitting alone in their room, drowning in worries that their friends are having a better time without them.
FOMO branched out of the scarcity marketing theory. Living exactly to its name, the premise of FOMO is all about being afraid or anxious that you’re missing out on greater things happening at the very moment when you aren’t around. “It states that people give more value to things they fear are scarce,” says Michael Georgiou.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate FOMO into your marketing strategies. You can highlight a limited time offer of the special product, or announce sales that will only last for 3 hours on specific dates. You can also create campaigns that highlight audience experience.
Whatever it is you choose to do, the idea is to create a strong sense of urgency.
#8 Surprising Headlines
Do you relish the thought of predictability in anything? Whether it’s a new movie, the latest RPG installment, or a special relationship, we all relish the idea of unpredictability. We appreciate it, really. It’s the same when it comes to content marketing.
Researchers at Emory University conducted an experiment that determined human beings’ reactions to predictable and unpredictable patterns. The researchers gave the participants two pleasant stimuli — water and fruit juice. Some participants received stimuli in predictable patterns. The other half received the stimuli in unpredictable patterns.
The conducted brain scans revealed the participants’ favorable reactions towards receiving the water and the juice in patterns they couldn’t predict. This research is proof that people appreciate unexpected pleasure more than things established in a pattern.
You can easily incorporate this into your content marketing strategies by providing your audience with content they usually don’t expect. Give them unconventional tips, or underrated ones — whatever floats your boat as long as it’s surprising.
#9 Cognitive Fluency
We make micro decisions daily. The number of these micro decisions are astounding. In fact, a 2012 study showed that visitors judge a site in a matter of 0.05 seconds — faster than your average eye-blink. And recently, various researchers’ studies showed that people’s attention spans have narrowed to a mere 8 seconds.
For this reason, humans prefer content they can easily consume. We also subconsciously avoid information that appears too complicated — like running into a giant block of text, for instance. Bite-sized content is preferable over the sight of a full-course “content meal.”
This right here is Cognitive Fluency. The easier your content is to understand, the more likely it is to retain your audience’s fleeting attention.
It’s already very widely practiced. We see it whenever we organize ideas into bullets or numbers; or when we chop up huge blocks of text into readable paragraphs with two or three sentences.
#10 Perceptual Set Theory
People’s expectations are shaped by past experiences. We choose what we’re familiar with, figure out how it works based on experience, and combine our present circumstances with past knowledge to interpret what we do. This is the premise of the Perceptual Set Theory.
Humans are creatures of habit. Just think about how much we value our morning routines. You can help leverage that fact for your content marketing strategies.
When creating content, keep in mind how the mind perceives situations. It’s tempting to deviate from the mainstream but decide wisely. Doing something new is great, but sometimes, the best course of action to take is to adapt to what people are used to — do what they need.
Guide them to the next step or you risk them getting confused and leaving your site for others who are far better at adapting to their needs.
Content marketing is an important part of the overall inbound marketing process. At times, it determines if your audience stays or goes. Of course, you’d want them to stay. But to do that, you must be equipped with knowledge on how the human mind works.
Implementing these 10 psychological principles to your content marketing can take time and some serious strategic brainstorming, but in order to create content specially tailored for your target audience, understanding the psychology of the human mind is necessary.
Al Gomez is an SEO Consultant. Al has over 12 years’ client digital marketing experience and has proven track records of successful projects and expertise in various marketing channels. He is passionate about solving online marketing problems like generating leads and increasing sales. He is also the Consultant for a digital marketing agency, Dlinkers offering services like SEO, PPC, Email marketing, & Web Development.