My background in psychology and my current work as Managing Partner at Hinge mean that I’m sometimes asked about the science behind the tools of the branding and marketing trade. Take content marketing, for example. Can psychological principles help you create more compelling content, driving a more effective content strategy and higher growth for your firm?
The answer is “absolutely.” Here are five psychological principles that can help you craft content to resonate more powerfully.
1) The Halo Effect
Once you form an impression of one aspect of a person or organization, that impression translates to the greater whole. So if you believe that someone is great at, say, public speaking, you’re predisposed to expect that they’re similarly competent in their other pursuits. Likewise, when one person makes a positive impression on the market at large through a thoughtful blog post or successful webinar, the resulting glow translates to the whole firm.
The authority you project on those topics will bolster your credibility.
At Hinge, we’ve explored how this ‘Halo Effect’ impacts brands at some length. Once you’re aware of the effect, you can use it to your advantage. Your content is an opportunity to highlight your areas of deep expertise—and the authority you project on those topics will bolster your credibility on other topics, too. By the same token, giving your firm’s star experts the chance to shine through educational content will reap benefits for the firm as a whole.
2) The Power of Social Cues
Once people perceive you as an expert, they’re more inclined to seek out your expertise and engage with it on a deeper level. That can lend content a great deal of power, but what makes people see you as an expert? At Hinge, we’ve recently conducted research on expertise and personal brands in the professional services marketplace. One major topic of the research was the criteria by which audiences—in this case, professional services buyers—evaluate the expertise of a vendor. Unsurprisingly, the results lined up with some fundamental ideas in psychology about how we use social cues.
We look to those around us to inform our perspectives.
Being talked about bolsters your image as an expert. When other people tell you that someone is an expert, you believe that they’re an expert. This is a simple but powerful principle: we look to those around us to inform our perspectives. If a topic is popular, we believe that it’s important—and the same goes for people. The more someone’s work or perspectives are discussed (on social media, for example), the more seriously we take them. When we can’t judge someone’s expertise ourselves, we rely on social cues.
By encouraging conversation around your content and the experts who create it, you give both social capital that will help the content resonate. Promoting content on social media, making it easy to share, and guest blogging are great ways to cultivate this effect.
3) Research Closes the Perception Gap
You might think you know what matters to your target audience. But don’t work off of a hunch, particularly if that means investing the time and resources it takes for a successful content marketing initiative. We’ve conducted extensive research on the perception gaps between professional services buyers and sellers, and we found that most firms misidentify their audiences’ priorities.
Want to avoid this trap? Conduct research. This research may take many forms: informal perusal of relevant websites, professional communities, and other primary sources. Focused research on the landscape of search engine keywords in your industry or area of interest. Exploration of trending topics on social media. Perhaps even more expansive marketplace research, whether conducted in-house or through a third party.
Learn what your audience is reading and talking about—which topics and answers folks in your industry are searching for. This way, you’ll know you’re speaking to an interested crowd rather than wasting time on misguided messages.
4) Experts Simplify the Complicated
If you can make the complex seem simple, people will see you as an expert. Think of the best teachers you’ve had—odds are better than even that they possessed this quality. Our research found that this is a trait professional services buyers actively seek out, and it’s a quality that human beings consistently favor.
If you can make the complex seem simple, people will see you as an expert.
If you can imbue your content with this quality, making it accessible enough to communicate effectively and thoughtful enough to break down complicated ideas, you’ll both establish your credibility with the audience and make your work resonate more powerfully with them.
5) Speak the Language
You may not naturally use the same concepts, buzzwords, jargon, or styles as your audience—but doing so naturally promotes a sense of insider status that fosters trust and familiarity. This is a phenomenon that plays out, on different scales, in every area of our lives. Those in longer relationships, for example, usually find that a sort of private language emerges between them, where certain words or ideas are changed with meaning that someone outside the relationship wouldn’t recognize.
Don’t let overconfidence and misperceptions waste your time…
A given group with a particular jargon and communication style is sometimes called a “discourse community.” The professional services industry, like any industry, encompasses many discourse communities. How do you learn to speak that language fluently? Research. Remember the perception gaps we discussed above? You may think you know your audience’s language, but don’t let overconfidence and misperceptions waste your time, money, and the opportunity to make a powerful connection with your audience.
Industries and business relationships function according to the same principles of psychology, and your ability to leverage those principles in your content marketing will determine its power. If you can speak as an authority to your audience’s existing interests and concerns, using a language that makes sense to them and makes them view you as one of their own, you’ll be poised to craft educational content that truly inspires.