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The Consumer Psychology Behind Content Marketing


Part I: The Dance

The ritualized courtship dance between hungry consumers and the marketers vying for their attention has increased in complexity and scope during the information age. Digital marketing, a nascent craft in the 1990s, is now the primary marketing channel for most businesses with an online presence.

Early digital marketing campaigns had the advantage over many consumers who were becoming newly acquainted with the internet and what it meant to be connected to the web. Despite being meme-status now, these early campaigns were highly effective at engaging people.

Not all of them had good intentions, either.


An Example: The Nigerian Prince Email Scam

Think of the early Nigerian Prince email scam. Though ubiquitously regarded as an obvious trap today, in the late 1990s, this scam was highly effective at convincing people to wire money over to the scammer.


The original scammers were not well-intentioned, but they certainly understood human psychology well enough to take advantage of many unsuspecting early internet users. Early users didn’t have the accumulated wisdom of future email users to fall back on.

To an early email user in the late 1990s, it seemed odd, perhaps, but entirely plausible that someone from the other side of the globe was reaching out to them and desperately needed their help.


Why It Worked

The genius of this scam is that it framed the victim as a sort-of-hero. A protagonist. A chosen one— “Help me, Obi-Wan-Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” This Nigerian prince could have reached out to anyone, but he chose you, and there’s a reward for you at the end of the journey.

The Dark Side of Marketing

Catfishing scams are one example of the dark side of marketing. They take advantage of our desires to be the hero in our own journey. They prey on our desires to help others and feel special.


Getting Scammed was the Inoculation Against Scams

This catfishing scam seems humorous to readers today. Readers might ask, “How could someone fall for this?The answer is that the average person is inoculated against these types of scams for the very reason that so many people fell for them.


The Light Site of Digital Marketing

To tie this back to the beginning, marketing techniques—whether nefarious or well-intentioned— evolve alongside a consumer’s reaction to them, and consumers expect better.

That’s why it’s up to digital marketers to understand this ritualized dance to craft better, more helpful content that actually responds to the consumer’s needs. This is the light side of digital marketing.


Part II: Using Consumer Psychology to Craft Better Content

Consumer psychology is a social science that studies how thoughts, feelings, social trends, and beliefs all shape and are reciprocally shaped by consumer behaviors. Marketers can create better content by analyzing how people think about and relate to goods and services.


What Are Some Insights from Consumer Psychology?

Here are some of the central tenets of consumer psychology digital marketers use.


Cognitive Fluency vs. Cognitive Disfluency

Cognitive fluency and disfluency refer to the subjective ease or difficulty of completing a mental task or processing information. Digital marketers aim to create extremely digestible, concise, and straightforward content.

Generally, people avoid information presented in a cognitively disfluent manner and prefer information presented in a cognitively fluent manner. They will even find false but cognitively fluent content to be more trustworthy than true but disfluent, poorly presented content.

This natural bias toward simplicity that content marketers need to keep in mind when creating content. When making content, consider:

  • Short Sentences. Short Paragraphs. Simple Words.
  • Effective use of headers to organize information
  • Clear infographics that are concise and to the point
  • Don’t get caught in the weeds
  • Use shortcuts—emojis and images in social media messaging
  • Avoid industry-specific jargon
  • Sleek, elegant, high-production content
  • Use Bold Font and Italics for emphasis

Social Proof

There is safety in numbers. It’s true for sheep trying to avoid wolves and for consumers trying to avoid scams. Social proof refers to the tendency for consumers to trust their peers’ reviews and testimonials for a good or service even over the word of the company itself. Social proof is the pumping heart of viral marketing campaigns and can be observed most obviously on social media.

People are more likely to use your product if they see everyone else using it. That’s why ‘social media influencer’ and ‘brand ambassador’ are lucrative career paths for people with hundreds of thousands of followers. Companies will pay a premium to get their product in the hands of someone who boasts one million followers on Instagram.

How to take advantage of social proof:

  • Ensure that customer reviews and testimonials are easily found and abundant
  • If a social media presence makes sense for their business, they need to engage with customers on social media.

Perceptual Set

Humans use “cognitive maps” when interacting with the world (which—surprise—includes your content.) However, these cognitive maps represent much more than a geographical map represents.

A more appropriate term might be “cognitive model.” These models, also called perceptual sets, help us navigate through the world and address new challenges by formulating new solutions based on past experiences.

We use perceptual sets for everything. When you crack an egg, you know what follows. When you drive in the rain, you know what to expect. When you visit a website, you have a certain understanding of how the experience should happen.

You’ll hardly notice when things happen according to your perceptual set—you expect poor visibility when it rains. But you’ll notice right away if something is off.

When content marketing, you need to make sure the UX is excellent. Someone engaging with content on your blog will notice right away if things are formatted oddly, if the load time is slow, or if the CTA is hard to find.

Crafting your content according to user expectations is a must if you want the UX to be seamless and smooth.


Take Your Content Marketing To The Next Level

Understanding consumer psychology is a great way to transform mediocre content into content that converts leads, engages customers, and establishes brand authority.


Roni Davis is a content strategist, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area. She writes for Mosser Appeals, a civil appellate attorney in Pennsylvania.

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