5 Simple but Insanely-Effective Content Marketing Hacks Influenced by Psychology Research

John Stevens
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Content marketing is hands-down one of the best ways to generate traffic, leads, and sales. In fact, content marketing is so effective, research shows that:

  •     Content marketing generates three times as many leads as outbound marketing while costing 62 percent less.
  •     Content marketing generates six times as many conversions as traditional marketing.
  •     Content marketing drives three times as many leads as paid search per dollar spent.

Despite the above statistics attesting to the effectiveness of content marketing – especially compared to outbound marketing – research also shows that more than half of those who use content marketing fail to get results from their content marketing efforts.

If you’re struggling to get results from your content marketing, the following five hacks – influenced by psychology research – will help make your content marketing efforts much more effective.

Hack #1: Use the IKEA Effect to Enhance the Reach and Success of Your Content

People love things they build themselves.

The mere ownership effect, the tendency to evaluate an object more favorably due to owning it, is a well-studied concept in the field of psychology. Psychologists have tried to explain why people place more value in an object they own, and “attachment theory” (in which people become emotionally attached to what they own) is one of the popular theories.

No study demonstrates the significance of the mere ownership effect better than a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In this study, psychologists observed people as they built Lego pieces, folded origami, and assembled IKEA boxes. The results were surprising. These consumers believed their amateurish creations to be of equal value to similar creations by experts – and, perhaps more noteworthy, they expected others who were not involved in their creation to share the same view of its value.

For you as a content marketer, this has serious implications: when users get involved in helping create a piece of content (free or paid), not only will they value it more but they are more likely to share it compared to something they did not help create.

A notable case study that demonstrates this is the Coca-Cola ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. While Coca-Cola first launched the campaign in Australia, it became so successful that it was rolled out worldwide.

The Share a Coke campaign, in which Coca-Cola produced customized versions of its soft drink bottle with the consumer’s first name on it, recorded the following impressive results in the first year:

  •     Coca-Cola users created over 6 million virtual Coke bottles.
  •     Coca-Cola users posted over 500,000 photos online and on social media using the #ShareaCoke hashtag.
  •     Coca-Cola’s Facebook followers increased by an impressive 25 million people.

How does this affect your content marketing efforts?

Remember, people promote content they helped to create.

You can use the IKEA effect to enhance your content marketing efforts in the following ways:

  •     Tap into user-generated content to increase the reach of your content as well as users’ loyalty to your brand.
  •     Involve users as much as you can in the process of creating your content: get their input, feature them, interview them, have them vote on what kind of content they want, etc.
  •     Involve users in the process of creating your products; users are significantly more likely to buy a product they helped create.

Hack #2: Design Your Content (and Optimize Your Website) to Cater to Short Attention Spans

In a series of experiments famously known as the Marshmallow Test, performed by Stanford psychologists in the 1970s, researchers tried to study when the control of delayed gratification begins in children. In the experiments, children aged four to six were put in a distraction-free room where a treat of their choice (a marshmallow, pretzel sticks, or Oreo cookie) was placed on a table. The children were then told that they could eat the treat whenever they wanted, but if they waited for fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with a second treat.

Of the 600+ students who participated in the experiment, only a third delayed gratification long enough to get the second treat. The majority ate the marshmallow either immediately or within the fifteen-minute wait period.

What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the discomfort experienced by the children during the fifteen minutes when trying to decide between eating the treat immediately or waiting and being rewarded with a second treat; some of the children “stroke(d) the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal,” some began to “tug on their pigtails,” some “covered their hands or turned around so they couldn’t see the tray,” and others started “kicking the desk.”

While the Marshmallow Test involved children, it reveals a major fact about our programming as humans; our inability to delay gratification. When we really want something, we want it NOW. If we don’t get it immediately, we start to feel seriously distressed. This aligns with research that shows that the human attention span is rapidly declining – with a particular study claiming that humans now have an attention span of eight seconds (shorter than that of a goldfish at nine seconds!).

This has some implications for your content marketing efforts:

  •     A one-second delay in page load time will cost you 7 percent in conversions.
  •     47 percent of visitors expect your content to load within two seconds, and 40 percent of people will close a site that takes longer than three seconds to load.
  •     When your site takes too long to load, or worse, doesn’t load at all, not only are people highly unlikely to read or share your content, but your conversions and ROI will suffer.

What to do:

  •    Optimize your website to ensure a faster user experience. Here are some hacks to try.
  •     Monitor your website for uptime/downtime performance as well as response time to ensure it is always up and running (and fast!) for all your users. There are many free and paid website monitoring tools that will help you do just this.
  •     For web pages that must take a longer time to load, use a progress bar to help users see where they are in the process. Progress bars have been shown to help users feel more comfortable when going through a process that might take longer. In fact, a study by Leadpages found that progress bars can boost conversions by 28.29 percent.

Hack #3: Pay Attention to the Principle of Just-Noticeable Difference – Don’t be Hasty to “Disrupt” the Status Quo

In an industry where “disruptive” is one of the major buzzwords, it is important to realize that some things just do not need to be disrupted. In content marketing, sometimes it’s important to maintain the status quo.

For example, when trying to get people to opt in to your newsletter, don’t be too hasty to use an opt-in form pattern that differs from what is generally used in your niche, and don’t rush to change the style of your CTA button.

An important psychological principle is Weber’s law of just-noticeable difference (or JND). Just-noticeable difference refers to the amount in which something must change for the difference to be noticeable and detectable at least half of the time. In most cases, if your changes are above JND, it could backfire (you might see a reduction in conversions or protests from users). Just ask Snapchat, which lost millions of users after a redesign due to ignoring this principle!

In an A/B test, Hubspot showed how violating Weber’s law can play out. They tested  a “disruptive” CTA that included the image of a sprocket against a usual button-type CTA. The button-type CTA performed 13 percent better than the CTA that went against the status quo.

So, whenever you’re trying to change something that users/readers may be accustomed to, such as the format of your content, your design, or your content schedule, it is important to make the change gradually and subtly, in a way that stays below JND, to avoid blowback.

Hack #4: Always Speak from a Position of Authority

Picture two scenarios:

Scenario #1: A random stranger asks you to change the toothpaste brand that you are using. What do you do?

Scenario #2: Your dentist asks you to change the toothpaste brand that you are using. What do you do?

In the first scenario, you are likely to ignore the stranger altogether. In the second scenario, however, you are highly likely to heed the instructions of your dentist, or at the very least, ask him/her why you should stop using your toothpaste brand. That’s how powerful the perception of authority really is.

The Milgram experiments, conducted in the 1960s, were designed to see the lengths people go to obey an authority figure. For the experiment, participants were recruited through a newspaper advert and then instructed by an expert in a lab coat to administer electric shocks to someone strapped to an electric chair – from a scale of 15 to 450 volts, with 15 volts producing only a mild shock and 450 volts producing a fatal shot. Unknown to the participants, the person strapped to an electric chair is an actor recruited to act each time an electric shock is administered.

Quite shockingly, upon the instruction of the authority figure (the expert in the lab coat), Milgram found that a whopping 65 percent of participants administered the electric shock up to the “fatal” 450 volts. This demonstrates the power of authority.

When people consider you to be an authority, they will pay more attention to your content: they will share it more, spend more time reading it, click your CTAs more, and convert more.

So how can you become an authority? Here are some tips:

  •     Have an authority figure endorse you. The fastest way to be seen as an authority is to have an authority figure endorse you – they lend you their own credibility. Whether this is an industry thought leader or a well-known celebrity in your industry, the effect will be the same.
  •     Get a qualification that is well-recognized in your industry. This could be an industry certification, a professional degree, or anything else that shouts “expert.” If you don’t have one, get it. If you do have one, make sure to regularly showcase it.
  •     Highlight successes by people who have listened to you. Showcase and highlight results from people who have achieved success by directly and indirectly following your advice. The more success you can highlight, all the better. When people see how many others have gotten results from your content, you will become more authoritative.

Hack #5: Repeat, Repurpose, and Redistribute. Tap Into the Familiarity Principle

If you’d like to enhance the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts, it is important to live by the 3Rs (Repeat, Repurpose, and Redistribute). This is known in psychology as the familiarity principle, or the mere-exposure effect (not to be confused with the mere ownership effect discussed earlier in this article). Its effectiveness is demonstrated in Charles Goetzinger’s Oregon State University experiment conducted in 1968.

For his experiment, Goetzinger had a student come to his class dressed in a large black bag and then observed the reaction of his class. Initially, the class treated the “black bag” with hostility. Over time, with more exposure to the “bag,” this hostility turned to curiosity and eventually friendship, proving that repeated exposure to something not only helps us take note of it more but also increases our chances of liking it.

Here’s how to use the 3Rs principle to enhance your content marketing:

  •     Repeat: Whether it has to do with sharing your article on social media, emailing prospects about an offer, or notifying a particular channel about your offer, the importance of repetition cannot be overemphasized. The age-old marketing axiom “the rule of seven” states that you have to tell prospects about your offer at least seven times before they take note of it. Don’t just talk about your offer once and stop; keep talking until everyone that needs to hear it, has heard it. Talk about it in blog posts, on social media, in emails, on forums, and everywhere you can.
  •     Repurpose: You can repurpose a single piece of content into more than 100 different pieces of content to amplify its effectiveness. A blog post, for example, can be repurposed into a podcast, a video, a slide presentation, an image, social media posts, and much more. These different content types will carry the same message and will enhance each other’s effectiveness.
  •     Redistribute: Research by Buzzsumo, based on an analysis of 100 million articles, also found that constantly resharing your articles can increase engagement by 686 percent. Don’t simply share your content once and call it quits. Share again and again until engagement goes through the roof.

In Conclusion

The above tips are based on simple psychological truths, and many can be implemented in a matter of hours. Yet, the ROI can be massive. If you’re struggling to get results from your content marketing efforts, the above five hacks, shown by psychology research, will significantly increase your content marketing ROI.

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John Stevens

John Stevens is the founder and CEO of Hosting Facts.

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