How to Use Psychology to Create High-Performing Content

Focus on what your audience is thinking, not what your competitors are doing.

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By Eric Siu

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When email marketing first started becoming popular in the late 1990s, it was possible to get open rates over 80 percent. When AdWords started getting traction, you could buy clicks for high-volume keywords at very low cost. In the early days of content marketing, it was easy to rank in search.

As time goes on, you have to deal with more and more competition, which makes it harder to stand out. It's not as easy to rank or drive leads as it used to be.

But, there's a deeper, more pernicious aspect of aging marketing channels that people rarely talk about: As more and more content gets created, it gets harder to make your company sound different from its competitors.

Related: The 3 Types of Marketing Emails That Nobody Has Opened in Years

One of the reasons for this is that we tend to look to our competition, rather than our audience, for guidance. If you're running a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, it's tempting to try and copy KISSmetrics or HubSpot when crafting your content marketing style. To see what writing styles work for other companies and just replicate them.

The best way to create content that stands out, though, is by considering the psychology of your audience. If you align your writing style with psychological principles, you can make your voice stand out in the sea of internet content.

Here are a few psychological principles that can help you cut through the noise:

Rule of reciprocity

If someone goes out of their way to help you, you're more likely to help them in return. If you create genuinely useful content that helps your audience take an action, they're more likely to return to your blog or sign up for your email list.

Us vs. them

Exactly what it sounds like, this principle uses both in-group and out-group bias. In-group bias refers to the idea that you're more likely to give preferential treatment to people who you see as part of your group. For example, you'd likely prefer talking to an alum from your school than a random stranger. Out-group bias is the opposite, referring to the idea that you're more likely to push away people that are not part of your group.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Customers to Open Your Emails

Use this to your advantage by creating an "us vs. them" paradigm with you and your audience against your competitors.

In-group bias

You can also use in-group bias by itself (without out-group bias) in your content marketing by understanding the words and phrases your audience uses to describe their problems. So, if you're talking to SaaS entrepreneurs, you might talk about increasing monthly recurring revenue (MRR) by "converting free trial signups into paying customers."

Social proof

We look to other people for guidance when it comes to making purchase decisions.

Leverage social proof in your content strategy through influencer marketing. Even if you haven't been in business for very long, you can gain instant credibility by having someone well-known in your industry vouch for your product or business.

Availability cascade

The more times a piece of information is repeated to us, the more likely we are to believe it.

It's a major reason why companies invest so much money in recurring television ads, billboards and other advertisements.

Related: Digital Marketing: It's Not Just Business, It's Personal

Use this to improve your email marketing campaigns. If you have a specific competitive advantage over everybody else in your market, talk about it as often as needed in your emails. Eventually, you'll become known for it.

The bottom line is this: The more you allow the psychology of your audience to influence your writing style, the more you'll connect with readers and the more you'll stand out from the pack on virtually any marketing channel -- no matter how competitive they get.

Eric Siu

CEO, Single Grain. Founder, Growth Everywhere.

Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain. Single Grain has worked with companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce to help them acquire more customers. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. 


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