Content marketing is supposed to entice loyal customers to your business. It is supposed to be useful, informative, and entertaining. It should hit key principles of persuasion. But how can content do any of these things if no one reads it, watches it, or listens to it?
The articles your business publishes should be read top to bottom. If your company makes a video, you want folks to watch it twice. Your podcasts should be anticipated and appreciated from the opening to the outro.
Thus the key requirement of content marketing is to be engaging. Without engagement, content cannot fulfill its potential as a marketing tool. In this article, I’ll explain why.
I am not going to suggest writing techniques or patterns. I am not going to explain how to compose better sub-headers or describe how Malcolm Gladwell, a superb writer, can make an article about ketchup interesting enough to get published in The New Yorker magazine. I am, instead, going to encourage you to write better copy, make better videos, and produce better podcasts.
Principles of Persuasion
Dr. Robert Cialdini is a psychology and marketing professor and the author of the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Cialdini suggested that influence is based on six principles: authority, likeability, reciprocity, consistency, consensus, and scarcity.
“In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (likeability), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity),” wrote Dr. Douglas T. Kenrick in a 2012 Psychology Today article about persuasion and Cialdini.
Content marketing can position your business as an expert in a particular field (authority). It can endear you to your audience (likeability). When your company offers free and valuable content (scarcity), your audience of potential customers may feel obligated to your business (reciprocity).
In this way, content marketing employs at least four of Cialdini’s key principles of persuasion. If your content also reinforces a reader’s ideas or beliefs (consistency) or discusses popular positions (consensus), it is possible to use all six principles.
Over time, content marketing helps your business build a relationship with your audience so that when you do recommend a product or a service, folks buy it.
Content marketing, however, only works when it engages. A mediocre article will not position your business as an expert in the field. If your presentation is too sales-focused, it will not be likable. If your content does not provide value, there will be no sense of scarcity or reciprocity.
In its “The Definitive Guide to SEO in 2019,” the search engine optimization firm Backlinko argues that user experience signals represent an increasingly important ranking factor.
The firm believes that Google is using artificial intelligence algorithms to measure “how users interact with the search results and rank them accordingly.”
“For example, let’s say you search for ‘cold brew coffee’ in Google. The fourth result looks especially enticing. So you quickly click on it. And when you get there…wow! It’s the best darn article about coffee you’ve ever read. So you devour every word,” the guide said.
Google “is going to take note and likely give that fourth result a ranking boost.”
The idea is that if a search engine such as Google or Bing can determine how long a user dwells (dwell time) on a page, it may reward the most engaging pages.
The concept, however, is not a certainty. Joshua Hardwick of Ahrefs wrote that “dwell time is a confusing and misunderstood metric,” adding that Google has not officially said that dwell time — “the amount of time that passes between the moment a user clicks a search result and subsequently returns to the search result page” — is a ranking factor.
Nonetheless, it is fairly clear that search engines such as Google and Bing are at least considering user experience as a ranking factor. It is also clear that user experience is an indication of relevance and intent.
Bottom line, engaging content that keeps visitors on your website may have an impact on organic search rankings. If your audience of potential customers is reading every word or watching to the last second of each video, you may not only be persuading them to buy your products, but you may be earning a better rank on search engines and thereby growing your audience, too.
The Right Thing
Earlier I quoted Douglas T. Kenrick in Psychology Today. His position, however, was not altogether positive. Kenrick had some reservations about how marketers use the principles of persuasion. Here is the quote from above:
“In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (likeability), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity).”
And here are two additional sentences from the original article:
“We follow these general rules because they usually work to lead us to make the right choice. But because we often use them unthinkingly, they are commonly exploited by compliance professionals and con artists, many of them wearing nice business suits, religious robes, or reassuringly friendly smiles.”
Kenrick also described a particular instance of persuasion.
“Unless you’re living in a cave, people are trying to influence you all the time. Sometimes they’re doing it in an annoying or underhanded way. I signed up for a credit card recently, and the bank that issued the card sent me a ‘thank you gift,'” Kenrick wrote.
“It sounded pretty good, a case of fine wine chosen by connoisseurs, themselves sponsored by The Wall Street Journal! I’m inclined to be grateful until I read the fine print. It’s really a con designed to get me to sign up for a program in which I’m sent a case of wine every three months, and unless I specifically opt out, it’ll all be billed to my new credit card. Now instead of gratitude, I feel anger, and I’ll be careful not to trust the bank or The Wall Street Journal in the future.”
Content marketing, done right, provides real value and asks relatively little in return. It works because it is engaging. It helps a consumer solve a problem or achieve some end.