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Writing To Influence: The Art of Persuasion in Content Marketing

🤩 The Psychology behind great content that sells.

🧠 Ten-seconds takeaway

Behind every neatly structured and eloquently worded content piece lies in-depth research and a whole lot of psychology. That’s right. Whatever you craft – a tweet, a blog, or even a marketing email – psychology plays a MAJOR role in how your audience will read it, share it, or react to it. The colours you choose, the layout, the format, the font, the imagery – all of them influence your audience’s biases and heuristics, how long they stay on your page, and what makes them take out their wallets to make a purchase.

Let me just put it this way: Psychology is so important in marketing (aka content) that we should actually call it Psyketing! 🙈

The trick to using psychology within content marketing is to apply theories to speak directly to the audience’s unconscious minds. No, I’m not saying you need to be the next Freud, but understanding how the mind deciphers marketing messages will surely help your conversion rates to shoot up.

Read on for some insiders’ tips that you can use to scale your content marketing efforts, be the marketing guru of your group, or maybe just bore your partner with. Whatever floats your boat, it will be useful, nonetheless.

Alright then, let’s dive in! Here are my top favourite psychological triggers that can help persuade your audience – 

1. Marketing Funnel

Also known as the AIDA Model, the marketing funnel follows a Knowlege-Attitude-Behaviour (KAB) process that starts from getting the Attention (or awareness) of the audience, to get them Interested, and influence their Desire for the product, and then persuading them to take an Action (= purchase).

Try to create a positive impression through your messaging. It makes the audience feel optimistic about the brand and trust what they say. Plus, this can turn your target audience into customers!

2. Persuasive Language

Your title, headline, and introductory paragraph are the first things your target audience reads. So, it should hit them like a bullseye. But that’s also the biggest hurdle. Nail it, and you’ve just earned yourself a few more seconds of attention. Tank it and prepare to be ignored. For a killer headline, create a listicle of ‘trigger’ words that will grab the reader’s attention and then nicely cushion them with equally effective neighbouring words. Another trick is to pepper your title with a number. Numbers act as visual anchors for your title and make it more noticeable. In fact, BuzzFeed’s most successful titles of all time were the ones featuring a number, like ‘5 Signs…’ or ’15 things you should do…’

So, here’s a simple formula for all your headline writing woes: 

For instance…

8 unbelievable things guys at ContentNinja can do with a 3D pen.

Daaaayum! Who wouldn’t want to click on this absolute beaut?

Taking personalisation one step further.

Personalisation is a powerful psychological trigger. It makes the reader feel more in control and reduces their perception of information overload. When crafting the copy, play with words that will resonate with different personality types. This level of personalisation goes beyond the old, run-of-the-mill email personalisation that just auto-fills the receiver’s name. Instead, use terms that will engage specific traits. For example, when targeting an extrovert, convey messages with excitement and social rewards. And for introverts create messages that influence their emotional stability.

Also, increasing personalisation in your messages across all channels can lead to a 500% increase in consumer spending. Um, what?! 😱

🧠  Take a few personality tests with your teammates as if you are the target audience. This will help you understand and segment the different sections of your target audience.

3. Elaborate Likelihood Model (ELM)

Persuasion impacts almost every aspect of our lives – from people wanting us to like them to brands selling their products. This holds true for apps, content, websites, and other marketing tools too. For example, clever copy and design make readers engage with your content in a way that steers them towards your desired outcome.

ELM also relates to User Experience. UX can reinforce your target audiences’ attitudes, and a poor experience can equally dissuade them. Pay attention to the minutest experiential factors such as load speeds, pop-ups, and disclaimers, which can make the viewer backspace into the search results before they even scroll through your website. Similarly, printed marketing collateral with a spelling error can push away some of your Grammar-nazi audience and even lose them as customers.

Hence, distractions and errors are the villains of content psychology. Whether visual or printed, they can ruin the ‘buy-in’ process between brands and customers in one fell swoop.

4. Central and Peripheral Route Processing

When an individual is presented with information, some level of elaboration occurs. When you elaborate on something, it means you are really thinking about it. For instance, if you were thinking about buying a new smartphone, you’ll start with a certain amount of research that can influence your decision to buy. You might Google different brands, speak to friends or visit several outlets to speak to experts – thus elaborating on the information you need. This is what the ELM model is based on: how likely are we to elaborate, think hard about the information we see, read and hear? The level of elaboration then determines which processing route the message takes: central or peripheral (as marketers, we look to push our audience into the central route).

  • The central route processing means that your audience cares more about the message. So, they’ll pay a high level of attention and fine comb the quality and strength of your pitch. The opinions formed in the central route are resistant and inflexible; therefore, the positive impact of your message will stick around and turn your audience into brand advocates.
  • The peripheral route requires lesser attention and happens on a more superficial level. Your audience is most likely to be influenced by secondary factors, like visual appeal, presentation, and humour, instead of the message. Attitudes and opinions formed in this way are less enduring and subject to change with new information.

The crux: how the eff do you encourage your audience to the central route?

Via motivation and ability.

To feel motivated, a reader has to relate to the information provided. If your audience feels directly impacted by a message, they are much more likely to process through the central route. Similarly, your message must align with your audience’s ability to think. For example, using heavy colloquialism and extensive research data for a budget product may probably flop as the demographic won’t identify with it. If they can’t engage, they might just comment on the font or a freebie you’re offering and move on.

🧠 Test multiple methods of communication on your target audience to see what sticks. The best way to do that of course is to A/B test your promotional emails!

5. Cognitive Fluency

An average internet user analyses a website in 0.05 seconds – faster than the blink of an eye. And our attention span is now lower than that of a goldfish. As a result, readers prefer to consume bite-sized, simplistic content and unconsciously avoid information that appears complicated. That’s what cognitive fluency is all about.

🧠 Cognitive fluency explains why people like emojis – they communicate emotions fast and straightforward.

They’ll run away at the first sign of complexity, so explain your offering in basic terms. Seriously, from tweets to blogs, minimal content will keep your audience hooked. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make your social posts as brief as possible
  • Create concise CTAs
  • Focus on one theme per blog, video, or social post
  • Use eye-catching and minimal graphics that quickly communicate the message
  • Use keywords in branded links so readers have an idea of what the link will address (and also avoid looking suspiciously spammy)
  • Use infographics and videos to communicate complex ideas
  • Use emojis in email subject lines and blog titles that suit your brand voice
  • Use hashtags on social media to highlight your content

Bonus: Psychology of Content Marketing cheat sheet! 🤩

Besides the above theoretical concepts, several psychological tactics and behavioural cues can grab your audience and make them want more. Here are some mention-worthy techniques: 

  1. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): People desire things that are limited and only available for a short duration. Like how Myntra will tell you that the shoes you are eyeing are on sale for 24 hours and that only 2 pairs are left! The product will then seem much more valuable to you than when it is listed at its original price. The same concept can be applied to your content marketing strategy. Make your readers know that you have a rare piece of information related to their search, and they access it only after they subscribe!
  2. Social Proof: Seeing real evidence of other people liking and recommending a product makes us a kajillion times more likely to trust the brand. An average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making a buying decision; that’s why you should feature REAL testimonials, reviews, and/or other user-generated content on your social pages and websites. 
  3. Authority: This plays on the tendency of people to accept an opinion, product, or service if it is backed by a perceived expert, authority figure, or globally recognised platform. For example, ContentNinja’s platinum-tier channel partnership with Hubspot increases our likability on a global scale! 
  4. Anchoring & Priming: Our natural attention bias relies more heavily on the FIRST piece of information we receive when making decisions. This is WHY first impressions are everything. This psychological trigger involves exposing your audience to information BEFORE the buying decision, increasing their likelihood of saying yes later on. 
  5. Specificity: This is such a simple yet powerful psychological trigger. There are two ways to use it. One – when using a story in your copy, be as specific as possible and emote real feelings. Being specific in your experience will make your audience FEEL more connected to you and, thus, your product. Second – use specific numbers when communicating figures or amounts. Presenting numbers exactly as they are can build trust and evoke curiosity, so don’t round them up. 9,587 happy readers are much more believable than 10,000. Amirite?  
  6. Reciprocity: This concept is the basic law of social psychology and is widely used across all industries. Reciprocity plays on the universal tendency of humans to feel compelled to repay after an act of kindness or generosity by another. The idea is that you do something for your audience that will win their loyalty and respect. This trigger is literally baked into every single opt-in page used for lead gen – “enter your email id, and I’ll send you something really cool”. Even offering whitepapers or webinar recordings can get your audience on board! 

That pretty much wraps up my list of psychological concepts to help you craft insanely persuasive content marketing strategies. Holler at me if you found this post useful. Just remember, once you complete the piece of content, re-read it as an audience. Is the title, sub-heading, bullets and images uplifting the piece? Does it lack appeal or requires some last-minute cosmetic changes? If you’re satisfied, then happy posting! 

Author avatar
Anindita Roy