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Elizabeth JuranSeptember 23, 20207 min read

INBOUND Exclusive: 10 Secrets That Make Your Content More Compelling

Like pretty much everything else, INBOUND 2020 is totally virtual this year. While our team misses the excitement of tens of thousands of marketers descending upon Boston in person, it’s been nice to catch the informative sessions from the comfort of home. 

One of the best sessions we’ve seen so far was from Nancy Harhut (@nharhut): 10 Scientific Secrets That Make Your Content Impossible to Ignore. 

It was all about the psychology behind what makes certain marketing messages land, and others flop. At PR 20/20 we’re all about data-backed decisions, so this session was right up our alley. 

If you missed it, don’t worry—we’ve summarized the key takeaways below.

1. Use words that are proven to make people pay attention.

Human beings are programmed to constantly crave that next dopamine hit. One way to give that to your audience? Use words that scratch their itch for the new and novel. Try “new,” “now,” and any other word that implies something is never-before-seen.

Similarly, the word “free” produces an emotional charge in humans—so much so, that we place greater value on something that is free than on something that costs only a few cents. 

This may raise a red flag for those of us writing email subject lines: Doesn’t the word “free” automatically lob your email into the spam folder? Not necessarily. Over the last few years, spam blockers have become more sophisticated and recognize that “free” doesn’t always equate with junk mail. You’re more likely to get flagged on something like your send reputation. That said, you can always A/B test your emails with an alternative word, like “complimentary.”

Other ideas? Increase the use of “you.” It might sound like a general marketing rule of thumb to put your audience at the center of your content, but there’s science behind it. People care more about themselves than anyone else, so instead of referencing “our company can” or “our services will,” try “you’ll see these results.”

Finally, people are more persuaded by information they think isn’t widely available. Words that imply exclusivity of information? “Secrets,” “the truth behind,” “the real story,” and more. 

2. Choose eye-catching pictures.

People are evolutionarily predisposed to look at faces. So choose images that put a human’s face front and center. Bonus points for faces making direct eye contact with the viewer, which are more attention-grabbing. 

On that note, people will automatically follow someone’s gaze in a photo, so if a model’s gaze in the image on your page is pointed towards a form, you could see a lift in conversions. 

Also, there’s science behind outlining key facets of your page with a dashed line. Maybe it’s our propensity for coupon clipping, but dashed lines are proven to increase readership to the content they’re outlining. 

3. Utilize the scarcity principle. 

One way to get people to engage right away? Imply that the thing you want them to do isn’t widely available. The scarcity principle maintains that humans put more value on something that’s less available. 

Here are some tactical ways to employ this in your marketing:

  • Use a countdown clock. A ticking countdown clock is a visual cue that time is scarce and the viewer should act now. 
  • Use words like “flash sale.” Someone is more likely to convert when they believe they won’t always have the opportunity to access something at a specific price. 
  • Play up exclusivity. An offer to join a private Slack channel or exclusive event will grab someone’s attention because they want whatever isn’t widely available to everyone else. Similarly, marketing something to “people like you” implies that the offer isn’t for everyone, and is therefore more desirable.

4. Employ the availability bias.

People will naturally judge the likelihood of something happening based on how readily they can think of examples of it happening. For example, people who are afraid to fly on airplanes might have this reason: “Every time I see news about planes, there’s been a crash.”

Especially when someone isn’t “in the market” for your product or service, this bias can work in your favor. Before you ask someone to buy, get them to think of a time when having access to your product would have been really beneficial. 

With that knowledge in mind, they’re more likely to see the value your solution brings. 

5. Tell stories to appeal to skeptical buyers. 

Stories make great marketing for a variety of reasons, but one is that stories allow you to draw your own conclusion. 

People may not believe everything you’re telling them, but if you tell them a story that leads them to their own conclusion about why your solution is a good decision, they’re less likely to argue with themselves. 

Similarly, tap into nursery rhymes from your childhood. Did you know that people are more likely to think a rhyming statement is truthful than a non-rhyming one? Even if two sentences are saying the same thing, the one that rhymes appears more honest, accurate, and truthful.

6. Make people trust you with social proof.

When someone is unsure of a decision, they look to people like themselves for help. That’s why social proof is such a powerful tool. Consider this example:

Which of the following is more convincing?

“Find out why so many customers love our landscaping service.”

“Find out why so many of your neighbors love our landscaping service.”

Tapping into a viewer’s existing community makes them more comfortable with choosing your solution. Testimonials work in a similar way by relying on like-minded people to share their positive experience with your brand.

7. Be smart about asking people for money.

Here’s some science that may or may not surprise you, depending on your spending habits: The same part of your brain that activates when you’re in physical pain also activates when you part with your money. 

That means you should employ some science when you’re encouraging people to spend on something. 

One such way is by understanding the magnitude encoding process, which forces our brains to conflate the number of numerals with the amount. Therefore, $100.00 looks more expensive than $100. 

In practice, that could look like this:

“Customers save an average of $150.00.” Compare that to, “This upgrade only costs $150.” You can see why it’s beneficial to use more numerals when talking about savings, and fewer when talking about cost.

8. Understand that negative can be positive.

In other words, negative messaging can deliver positive results. It all comes down to one thing: Loss aversion. People are twice as motivated to avoid the pain of loss as they are to achieve the pleasure of gain.

Quick and easy ways to incorporate this into your marketing include:

  • Talk about the pain someone can avoid by using phrases like “don’t miss” or “the biggest mistake most companies make.”
  • Go a step further by including a parenthetical statement: “The biggest mistake most companies make and how to fix it.”

9. Create a ripple effect. 

Here’s a juicy selling secret: If you can get someone to say yes to you once, they’re more likely to say yes again. 

How do you achieve this? Simple. Start with a small ask. This method is directly aligned with the buyer’s journey—you don’t start by hitting a new contact with a CTA to buy. Instead, you might offer them a download. 

Those smaller asks eventually create a trail of breadcrumb "yesses" that lead right up to purchase.

10. Make yourself stand out with the authority principle.

We’re conditioned from childhood to listen to authority figures. Even as adults, we’re more likely to believe what an authority says and do what they command. 

This principle can work really well in marketing, and there are a few ways to enact it. 

One is to refer to authorities in the space and use their opinions to persuade (similar to the social proof concept, but instead of pointing to the audience’s lookalikes, you’re pointing to their authority figures). For example, you could cite research from Forrester when making a case for your solution. 

Another way is to paint your brand as the authority. For instance, if you offer “The Complete, 100-Step Guide to X,” visitors are likely to take note of this content’s depth and infer that you’re the authority on the topic. 

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Elizabeth Juran

Elizabeth Juran is Ready North's director of operations. She joined the agency in March 2017 with a background in corporate marketing and communication.