The Psychology of Content Marketing

04.03.2021 Content Strategy
Eoin Dowdall
Creative Director

The purpose of all marketing content is to encourage individuals to gain an interest in your brand. Through this interest, you can build a relationship that will ultimately prove fruitful for all parties involved. But what is it that goes on between the ears that causes us to make these connections with particular brands? This is what theories regarding the psychology of content marketing are trying to decipher.

Whilst it may seem like an intimidatingly confusing subject, the notions behind these theories are actually quite simple. This is because they happen to all of us. Everyone has their favourite brands and below you will undoubtedly find some of the reasons that your personal favourites managed to climb their way to the top of the charts. These theories are by no means a roadmap to success, but they may be something that you can consider next time you are planning out a content strategy.

Psychological Theories Used in Marketing

Cognitive fluency

The term ‘cognitive fluency’ regards how easily the brain processes information. Or more accurately, how efficiently one associates a task with both its difficulty and the feelings associated with it. Not the easiest definition to wrap your head around, we know, but let’s try and break it down.

Neon sign

In the world of digital marketing, people make judgements at a rapid rate. In fact, studies have shown that individuals judge websites within 0.05 seconds of opening them in their browser. This is a testament to the mind-boggling rate at which our brains operate. Human attention span is alarmingly short – around 8 seconds according to some researchers – which gives marketers a small window in which to wow potential customers and clients. This is why it is so vital to ensure that the openings to your video content hit all the right spots. If you lose viewers interest in the opening moments then it’s game over.

Because of this, you must keep your content condensed. Rid your website of any frills and concentrate on the stuff that will catch the eye of your target audience. In terms of video, this means increasing production value as well as finetuning the content itself. If your videos have a slick look to them, then people are more likely to be drawn in.

If you work in a sector with a lot of technical jargon, such as the healthcare industry, try simplifying complex terms to prevent visitors from becoming distracted. Remember that you want to keep things as streamlined and eye-catching as possible to work around that short attention span. This includes using keywords that will pop out and reassure your audience that they are in the right place.

Social proof

Social proof refers to the psychological belief that people tend to follow the advice of the masses. Rather than this being a case of individuals mindlessly following the herd, it is more accurately a reference to the fact that consumers seek security through the opinion of others in their position.

Around 80% of people in the USA consult reviews and ratings before purchasing a new product. This signifies quite how influential social proof can be, which in turn outlines the importance of bearing it in mind when designing your content. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of reviews and ratings.

Social proof is often seen in the form of video content. Video formats such as testimonials and product reviews go a long way to building up the validity of your brand. Audiences are reassured by evidence of others complimenting a company’s products and services. This can be yet more effective if your testimonial is hosted by a respected figure within your field. People value the opinion of experts because authority is deemed to represent authenticity.

Approving thumbs up

Social proof also takes various forms on social media. People spend an average of 3 hours a day on social media and messaging apps. This statistic illustrates why social holds such importance as a marketing platform. Therefore, when your posts are liked or shared by the right accounts it more often than not results in both a positive reaction from prospective customers and greater affirmation for your current customers. This again illustrates the influence of authoritative figures within a field, as well as the growing importance of social media as a marketing platform.

Perceptual set theory

The perceptual set theory refers to our habit of tending to see what we expect to see. People see things in a different light depending on what they are expecting to see. Humans are creatures of habit and you can use this to your advantage through your marketing strategy.

Internet users tend to expect websites to play out in a certain way. In doing so, they will naturally look to follow the same paths and expect the same patterns, from the layout to the functionality. The same can be said for video content. This is the reason that each video format tends to follow a certain structure. We see common features in the most popular video series formats. It also extends to elements like CTAs. If they are positioned in the right places, where viewers are expecting them to be placed, then they are more likely to be engaged.

Essentially people choose what they pay attention to, infer how it works and interpret what should be done next. Varying your content from the norm is good for helping you stand out, but varying too far from the norm will see a drop off in desired results. Whilst people enjoy new phenomena, they are also very fond of familiarity.

Models of persuasion

Having studied what it is that influences people to make certain decisions, psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini discerned that there were 6 key principles of persuasion. These are reciprocity, consistency, consensus, liking, authority and scarcity. Using these techniques in the correct (and obviously ethical) manner can increase the chances that your audience will be swayed by your content.

Here is a look at these models in a little more detail:


People have an innate need to pay back what they have been given, even if it was intended as a favour. In the world of marketing, offering customers something can help access this feeling of reciprocity. For example, offering a freebie when people sign up can help them commit to your brand further down the line. Making the gift personal or exclusive can help bolster this feeling.


When barraged with a horde of different choices we often feel a compulsion to stick with what’s familiar. People don’t want to dive into commitments with things that are totally unfamiliar to them. By starting with something small and building it up over time, one can help their audience to become more absorbed in their brand. For example, drip-feeding audiences content through videos on your social stories will help increase the likelihood of a commitment to watching longer content further down the line.


This concerns the notion of people being more likely to indulge in what others deem worthwhile. Check out our summary of social proof above for an expansion on this concept.


This one is relatively self-explanatory – individuals are more likely to comply with requests made by people that they like. In the marketing world, this means making your webpage appealing, building relationships with customers and projecting your brand values through your content. Creating a likeable, amicable image of yourself will help draw all the right attention.


People tend to follow the lead of credible experts. Therefore, signalling that you are credible and knowledgeable within your field will go a long way to your audience trusting your brand. This is often most effective when declared by someone else, as no one likes a company overtly tooting its own horn. In terms of video marketing, this can be in the form of testimonials or positive product reviews. In seeing these, consumers are more likely to see your brand as influential within your field.

Extravagant crown


We are more likely to be attracted to something that we are told is rare. Similar to the economic model of determining something’s worth, brands and their products gain more appeal if what they offer is unique. Using terms like “one of a kind” or “limited supply” therefore adds an extra level of attractiveness to products.

Paradox of choice

Most people may think that having more choice is better. Who wouldn’t want a wider selection to help them find exactly what they want? Well, in reality, this isn’t the case. In fact, people really don’t like having too much to choose from. Think about it – when you are looking to buy a chocolate bar or bottle of shampoo and are inundated with hundreds of choices it only makes the task more arduous. However, people also don’t like decisions to be made for them. It can be a tricky balance to strike. And this is where the paradox of choice comes into play.

Full shelves at a supermarket

This is where you guide your audience in a certain direction, whilst making them believe that they reached the decision all on their own. Simply put, don’t offer too many options as this will put people off. Conversely, don’t tell your audience what to do as they want to believe that they have come to their own decision. Keep options limited and they will feel that they have chosen themselves and won’t be put off by quantity. It is not an exact science and may take some tweaking and testing, but finding that sweet spot will make it all worthwhile.

Other things to consider

Above is just a summary of some of the more popular all-encompassing theories behind the psychology of content marketing. In truth, there are hundreds of different psychology-based marketing tips floating about. Here are some smaller-scale ideas to consider for your next campaign:

Use more concrete terminology rather than abstract

Concreate terminology – i.e. being more to the point – will help your content stick in the minds of your audience. Waffling on can see people become distracted. This is particularly true of information snippets such as animated pop-ups within a video. This can also have the bonus effect of helping improve site SEO.

Honesty is key

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, being honest about admitting previous faults can help your brand image. By being truthful about where you’ve gone wrong, you gain an impression of trustworthiness. In turn, this will help your brand become more humanised in the eyes of your audience. However, perhaps refrain from outlining each and every error that you have made. This may go some way to painting a slightly different image of your brand…

Cut down on technical jargon

The goal of engaging content marketing campaigns is to get prospects interested in your company, educate them and guide them on a journey to becoming a new client or customer. Getting too technical can be a great means of scaring off prospects. After all, that stuff is your concern, not the customers’. This is particularly applicable to industries like tech and healthcare. Try to educate them by speaking their language and refraining from acting superior.

Keep it consistent

This is regarding the distribution of content rather than the content itself. It is important to have a clear content calendar lined up as part of your content strategy. Whether it be your blog, social media or video content, make sure that your posting isn’t sporadic. By doing so you will give off an impression of inconsistency and unreliability.

If you want to learn more about what else you should consider before creating new video marketing content, drop us a line.

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