The Psychology Behind Content Marketing

by Federica Rustico

12 min read
Last Updated: May 26, 2023

If you’re a marketer, I’m sure you're aware that all promotional materials should be geared toward a single goal: getting people interested in your product. Because let's face it, it’s thanks to this interest that you can lay a foundation for a lasting friendship that benefits both you and your customers. But what exactly is it about certain brands that causes us to have an emotional connection to them? This is the mystery that content marketing psychology theories aim to solve.

Now, don't be put off by the jargon; the concepts underlying these theories are actually rather straightforward. They're pretty much the explanation for why everyone has a preferred brand. You’ll probably even find some of the reasons for why your favorite brands have become your go-tos. While these concepts shouldn't be used as gospel, they could provide food for thought the next time you're developing a content strategy. Imagine this as a hidden tool for boosting brand recognition. Let’s get this party started!


Psychological concepts applied in marketing

Ads and slogans aren't the only things that matter in marketing; the human mind plays a role as well. Le’ts delve into the psychology of marketing and into the psyche of the consumer. 

Cognitive fluency

Cognitive fluency is the capacity of the human brain to quickly and efficiently assimilate new knowledge. Or, to be more precise, how well one connects the dots between the difficulty of a task and the emotions one has when performing it. We recognize that this is not the simplest definition to grasp, but let's do our best.

In the realm of digital advertising, snap decisions are the norm. Researchers have found that the average user's initial impression of a website is formed in less than 0.05 seconds after the page has loaded. These results are proof of the incredible speed with which our brains process information. Some studies have put the average human attention span at just 8 seconds, giving businesses only a little window in which to capture the interest of potential customers. That's why it's so important to give your videos perfect introductions. In the event that the audience is not hooked within the first few minutes, the show will be doomed to fail.

As a result, you should try to make your writing concise. Get rid of the extraneous on your website and put more emphasis on the things that will interest your target audience. If your industry uses a lot of technical jargon, like the healthcare field, try reducing difficult words to avoid losing visitors' attention. Keep in mind that you need to simplify and draw attention to things as much as possible to accommodate people's short attention spans. One way to do this is to use prominent keywords to reassure the reader that they have arrived at the correct location.

Social proof

The term "social proof" refers to the idea that individuals are more likely to act in accordance with the consensus of others. Consumers look for reassurance in the views of those who are in a similar position to themselves. In the United States, over 80%  of consumers read reviews and ratings before making a purchase. This demonstrates how significant the impact of social proof can be, highlighting the significance of keeping it in mind when crafting your material. This doesn't have to take the form of ratings and reviews, but they can be helpful.

In many cases, video information is used as social evidence. The use of video formats like testimonials and product reviews can do wonders for establishing your brand's credibility. People are more likely to buy a product or subscribe to a service after seeing positive feedback from other customers. Having a well-known expert or influencer in your field host your testimony might boost its impact even more. Experts carry more weight than the average Joe's perspective because people associate credibility with authority.

On social media, social proof can also take many forms. Social media and messaging applications consume an average of three hours each day of people's time. This data shows why social media is such an effective medium for advertising. In light of this, it stands to reason that having your posts liked or shared by the appropriate accounts can generate a good response from potential clients and provide more validation for your existing clientele. 

The Theory of Perceived Sets

The term "perceptual set theory" is used to describe how we look for what we expect to find. To some extent, one's perspective is shaped by one's preconceptions and biases.

For example, people's expectations of how a website should function online tend to follow a pattern. In doing so, they will inevitably search for and anticipate similar patterns, both in terms of design and functionality. Essentially, individuals choose what to focus on, infer how something operates, then draw conclusions about what should be done next based on those assumptions. If you want to stand out from the crowd, mixing things up by deviating from the standard fare of content is a fantastic idea. Although the general public loves experiencing novel things, it also has a deep appreciation for the tried-and-true.

Persuasion Models

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a psychologist, found that there were six main principles of persuasion after researching what influenced people to make particular choices. These include things like helping each other out, getting along, having similar tastes, having respect, and being in a position of power. To maximize the likelihood that your audience will be persuaded by your material, you should employ these strategies in the correct (and ethical) way. Let's dive into them:

1. Reciprocity

According to the principle of reciprocity, when someone does you a favor or shows you kindness, you should return the favor. Offering a free trial or a free present to potential clients is one way to apply this notion in marketing. Think about it, it’s no wonder businesses create giveaway contents. Incentives like free gifts given out at signup can go a long way toward ensuring long-term customer loyalty. Plus, making the present unique or one of a kind can do wonders for the recipient's feelings. Remember this: customers who feel appreciated are more inclined to make repeat purchases and spread the word about the business.

Deliver Alarm Clock GIF by Curology - Find & Share on GIPHY

2. Scarcity

Has it ever happened to you that you don’t really feel like eating the last cookie but then you find out it’s the last one and all of a sudden you can’t resist it? It’s called scarcity and it’s applied in marketing too. According to the law of scarcity, demand increases when individuals believe that a commodity is scarce. An application of this notion in marketing is the use of scarcity to increase sales through limited-time promotions or limited quantities. Furthermore, it can be used to make a product or service seem more desirable by increasing its perceived scarcity. Because of this, things that are advertised as "unique" or "limited" are more alluring to consumers. 

3. Authority

This principle is what drives influencer marketing. According to the concept of authority, when people are approached by someone who appears to be an expert or authority figure, they are more likely to comply with the requests made of them. The marketing of goods and services can benefit from this idea by helping consumers have faith in the company behind the goods and services. One way to do this is to highlight the expertise and credentials of the company, perhaps by employing celebrity or expert endorsements.

Schitts Creek Comedy GIF by CBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

4. Consistency

Have you ever heard of “funnel marketing”? You know, when you get people to sign up to your newsletter and you slowly take them down a funnel of steps until they take your desired action?  It’s exactly what consistency is all about. According to the concept of consistency, people are more inclined to comply with requests that are consistent with their previous behaviors and decisions. People are wary of making long-term commitments to ideas with which they are unfamiliar. This idea can be applied to marketing by convincing clients to make a minor commitment (such as signing up for a newsletter) that paves the way for larger commitments down the road.

5. Liking

Everyone knows that if someone you like asks for a favor, you’re more likely to go through with the request. In fact, according to the principle of likeability, people are more inclined to comply with requests made by someone they like or who they feel a connection to. This concept can be applied to advertising through fostering connections with customers, developing a positive image for a product or service, and humanizing it through the use of comedy or other approaches.

6. Consensus

Related to this is the idea that people are more willing to partake in activities that are deemed valuable by those around them. Using social proof like testimonials or customer reviews, marketers can increase their products' perceived quality and earn the trust of potential buyers. One way to accomplish this is to emphasize a product's widespread acceptance by pointing out how many satisfied customers have bought it.

Product Review Self Care GIF by Lushious Play - Find & Share on GIPHY

The paradox of choice

People tend to think that more options are always preferable. But in the actual world, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. It turns out that too many options might be overwhelming for consumers. Having too many options might make it more difficult for people to settle on one. This is because having too many options might make people anxious and unable to make a final decision. It's possible that this would cause worry, second-guessing, and disappointment with the choice. The paradox of choice is based on the premise that more options don't necessarily lead to happier or more confident consumers because they can make fewer well-informed decisions. 

While the "paradox of choice" is not explicitly mentioned in Dr. Robert Cialdini's book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," several of the principles he explores are similar to the idea of the detrimental impacts of too many options on decision-making. For instance, the principle of scarcity can increase a product's appeal if it's scarce, but it can also cause "analysis paralysis" if consumers are overwhelmed with choices. The paradox of choice also has an impact on the concept of consistency; when people are faced with too many options, they may be less willing to commit to one since they aren't confident they've made the best choice.

Other content marketing psychology theories

All that was just a quick rundown of some of the more widely held hypotheses in the field of content marketing's psychological underpinnings. In reality, hundreds of varying marketing strategies based on psychological principles are available. Some more modest suggestions for your next drive are as follows:

Replace abstract language with more concrete examples

The Italians say “mangia come parli” or “speak like you eat”. It’s the idea of speaking naturally and candidly as if one is talking about something they are familiar with. Concise language, or language that gets right to the point, will help your readers remember what you have to say. Being incoherent can cause listeners to lose interest. 

Honesty is the best policy 

It may seem counterintuitive, but owning up to past mistakes can improve public perception of your business. By admitting your mistakes, you establish credibility. This will, in turn, make your audience feel more connected to your brand. Try to resist listing every single mistake you've made, though. 

Ditch the use of technical terms

Inspiring content marketing initiatives are meant to pique the curiosity of potential customers, inform them, and lead them along the path to making a purchase from your business. If you want to turn away potential customers, getting too technical is a wonderful way to do it. Remember, the customers don't care about that nonsense, and neither should you. This is especially true in technological and medical fields. Do your best to teach them by engaging with them on their level and using their language.

How GIFs can be used in the various persuasion models

By adapting the ideas developed by Robert Cialdini, GIFs can be employed in models of influence. Utilizing a GIF to display social proof (i.e., a group of people using a product or service) is one technique used to encourage conformity. Using a GIF to establish credibility (for as by displaying the endorsement of a well-known figure) can compel people to take action. You can get others to agree with you more easily if you utilize a GIF to show them that you like what they're selling (for example, by showing them a satisfied customer). Plus, GIFs are a visual method of communication that can be utilized to make a brand more approachable by giving its message a more human quality. Some examples of how GIFs can be used to give a company a more approachable vibe are as follows:

Showing emotions

Unlike with text or still images, GIFs lend themselves well to conveying emotional states. If a brand wants to make its products or services more approachable, it can use GIFs to demonstrate a character or spokesperson experiencing positive feelings like joy, excitement, or even empathy. 

Well Done Love GIF by LEGO - Find & Share on GIPHY

Creating a sense of humor

Adding some levity and lightheartedness to a brand's message is possible with the use of GIFs. This has the potential to increase brand affinity and recall.

GIF by Wendy's - Find & Share on GIPHY

Showing behind-the-scenes

GIFs can be used to give consumers a view inside the inner workings of a company, showcasing the people and procedures that give a brand its distinctive character. Making the brand seem more open and trustworthy is one benefit.

Bed Building GIF by TLC - Find & Share on GIPHY

Highlighting products in action

Showing a product in use is an excellent method to showcase its features and benefits, and GIFs are ideal for this purpose. This may enhance the product's appeal and ultimately boost its sales potential.

Some well-known companies that have opted to use GIFs to connect with their customers on a more personal level are:

Using GIFs in this way allows businesses to engage with their customers on a deeper level, which can lead to increased brand loyalty.

Wrapping up

You get it now; the secret to successful content marketing campaigns is a deep understanding of the science behind consumer behavior. Applying Cialdini's techniques of persuasion is like adding the finishing touch to your campaigns. But it's not enough to simply follow these guidelines; you have to also consider your target audience's position in the buyer's journey before developing content. Don't forget about the significance of storytelling either; it's the glue that keeps everything together emotionally. And let's not forget, GIFs can be a real game changer when it comes to persuasion.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the psychology behind marketing?

Aligning your content, communication, and methods with the many predictable, often subconscious, human behavioral patterns that have been uncovered through experimentation and research is what marketing psychology entails.

Why do we love some brands?

Psychologist and writer Robert Cialdini has defined six elements of persuasion: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus. These theories shed light on why we may have either good or negative associations with various companies. For instance, we may get fond of and have faith in a brand because of its continuous delivery of high-quality goods and helpful customer care. On the other hand, we may grow to loathe a brand if it is linked in our minds to dishonest practices or low-quality goods. The concept of consensus also suggests that we are more inclined to promote a brand to others if we have had a positive experience with that brand ourselves.