Marketing psychology

Effective content marketing is intentionally crafted, but easily taken for granted — especially if it’s working its magic. You’d never say something like, “Awesome copy, it made me buy that thing!” Well…maybe, if you’re a word nerd, or a web copywriter. Here’s a secret ingredient from our toolbox: using psychology in content marketing, for the win.

The Hook

Consumers convert because their minds tell them to. Understanding how the human mind is wired, and how people interact and react to external triggers — based on scientific study and established, data backed psychological principles — can only help a marketing campaign’s effectiveness.

From Robert Rosenthal, in Fast Company: “Smart, skillful, honest marketers use psychology legally, ethically and respectfully to attract and engage consumers, and compel them to buy.”

Complete agreement here with being legal, ethical and respectful. We prefer persuade to compel, but either way, it’s all in the mind.

The goal of content marketing is to influence consumers’ minds, and through that, their behaviour — so they click, share, favourite, comment and ultimately, buy.

The Bottom Line

How do psychological principles apply? Chances are you’ve tried a few in a content marketing campaign or in web design. Here are some we like, that have a good batting average for quick wins as well as the long game — ask us how we know, or tell us what you think!

1. Reciprocity:
A “sense of future obligation” where people feel they should, or must, give back to others what they’ve received — whether good or bad. If it’s a positive gift, not returning the favour can result in social disapproval or feelings of personal guilt.

Content marketing takeaway: Give consumers something they’ll value, for free — such as insightful, beneficial, or just plain fun content they can read online, download, watch, listen to, or share (blog posts, articles, e-books, video clips, podcasts) — to build loyalty that will induce them to convert.

2. Conformity / Social Proof: Two closely related theories of social Influence where people change how they behave or think, to be more like the majority or to reflect what seems to be “correct behaviour.”

Content marketing takeaway: Demonstrate your content, and ultimately your business, is valuable or desirable — use the experiences of other consumers (testimonials) and experts (guest blogging and endorsements by key influencers, thought leaders, industry leaders) to highlight the business’ benefits and unique value, so that consumers feel they are making “the right choice” to convert.

3. Familiarity: Also known as the “mere-exposure effect” where the more that people are exposed to something, the more likely they are to recall it (including at a subconscious level), and to view it positively.

Content marketing takeaway: Repeat, repurpose and repost content and key messages across platforms and media, following a content strategy and an editorial calendar. The familiarity principle works with both long-form and short-form content, though in social media it can have a more immediate impact in terms of rapid engagement. The most obvious long-term benefit of familiarity is to a business’ brand equity [].

4. Curiosity: The “information gap theory” suggests that when people feel a gap between what they think they know, and what they want to know, an emotional desire to find out the missing information (curiosity) is triggered.

Content marketing takeaway: Create a “knowledge itch” with content that questions, suggests, and hints that the consumer is “missing out” on something they should want — headlines, captions and callouts are a great way to do this — or deliver content in a planned rollout that entices consumers to keep “scratching that itch.” As the content continues to provide the emotional gratification of satisfied curiosity, consumers will be hooked, follow the principle of reciprocity, and convert.

5. Scarcity: People place a higher value on things they feel are harder to get, and a lower value on things they feel they can get easily. This principle works together with social proof, as scarcity can imply something is good because everyone wants it.

Content marketing takeaway: Generate a “fear of missing out” by presenting your content and product as rare and therefore more valuable and desirable. How? Create content with time-limited availability, or provide offers to target audiences to access exclusive content, or certain types of content before anyone else. The scarcity principle works very well in calls to action, but also anywhere and any time consumers need a strong incentive to convert.

The Crystal Ball

Psychology tells us specific actions produce specific outcomes — yet each business has different branding, attributes, requirements and consumer profiles that make its marketing approach unique.

And, as a recent Entrepreneur piece points out, “consumers are irrational and in different settings they react differently to the same stimuli.” If that weren’t true, marketers could bat a thousand every time simply by executing a rotating list of generic campaigns, with minimal cosmetic changes.

Applying best practice psychological principles to content marketing is a great strategic starting point. But only ongoing surveying, testing, and optimization can show how well any principle really performs for each business or campaign.

Psychological principles can be used just as effectively in web design, and for graphics and video content elements. What are your go-to content marketing psychology tips?

Web content
We’ll show you ours, if you show us yours. Contact us about how our web copywriters can work with you to implement content marketing psychology effectively.


  1. Dave Gill says:

    Cool read! Scarcity is used all over the place…we just don’t realize it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *