Using Science to Sell: Psychological Techniques for Content Marketers

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.

Oxford Languages

Applying psychology to your content can provide you with the inside track into how your audience typically responds. A number of psychological techniques for content marketers can assist to master the art and help to drive conversions.

Here are seven psychological techniques that can be applied when marketing content:-

1. Social Proof

Consumers tend to trust the opinions of family, friends and acquaintances before they trust brand marketing. This is a psychological principle called social proof.  People are likely to follow suit if they see others do something.

The reason for this is actually obvious. People’s assessments of most things in life are affected by cognitive biases. We all do it. It is easier to follow the crowd than to personally investigate something before making a decision.

The inclusion of testimonials, influencer endorsements and accolades in your content helps to establish social proof and trust. This motivates visitors to talk about and share your brand. Consumer reviews and other user-generated content boost the social proof in your content to drive conversions, while media promotion and authentic case studies also establish social proof.

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2. Perceptual Set Theory

Past experiences often dictate how people do things and what they expect to find. Consumers who visit landing pages or websites are already conditioned, on a subliminal level, to look for the buttons to push, and links to follow. Visitors also actually expect your calls-to-action as their subconscious minds are already searching for what they regard as important. This is known as perceptual set theory.

Logical and insightful copy caters to perceptual set theory. These stimulate visitors’ curiosity, encouraging the satisfaction of this curiosity and the resolution of their subliminal expectations through further investigation. So always include a simple call-to-action, as your audience is actually expecting it.

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3. Theories of Persuasion

“Persuasion is an active, intentional attempt to change non-verifiable evaluations, feelings, values, norms, and related behaviors.”

Richard R. Lau

Psychological theories of persuasion are plentiful and should be incorporated to motivate an audience to investigate, assess and buy into a brand.

Perceptual set theory, cognitive fluency and social proof are all theories of persuasion as persuasive theories incorporate many other scientific techniques. Persuasive theories of your choice can be applied to assist in planning your content.

The underlying strengths identified as requirements in most theories are:-

  • To persuade consumers with simple, precise and strong content.
  • To include a captivating trigger or CTA that encourages action.
  • To use sincerity and authenticity in your content.
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4. The Psychology of Colour

Visual elements play a large part in content marketing. Statistics show that colour is the primary deciding factor when it comes to brand reactions and conversions:-

  • The 2004 Secretariat of the Seoul International Colour Expo revealed that 92.6% of consumers regarded visual factors as most important when buying.
  • A study by the University of Loyola in Maryland found that colour determines 80% of brand recognition.
  • A 2003 Xerox survey of 1,013 U.S. small businesses showed that over 90% felt that using colour in their documents and marketing materials helped to attract new customers.

Content marketers should assess what colours help to draw the desired emotion from their content. The use of brand colours on platforms, and contrasting colours for CTA buttons can create urgency. Using brightly-coloured images on home pages and blog content can set a desired tone and trigger emotion in an audience.

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5. Cognitive Dissonance

Applying cognitive dissonance as a marketing tool can create an internal struggle within a consumer. By including a controversial statement in your content, you can produce an emotional response from your audience, as opposed to a simply rational one.

“It’s a tool that marketers and advertisers use all the time. A lot of advertisements are set up where they’ll make this explicit claim that you’re only cool or beautiful or worthy (or some other positive attribute) if you own this product or service.”

Prof. Matthew Johnson

Cognitive dissonance makes an audience feel discomfort through marketing and influence. It can sway moral values and drive conversions through feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, shame or guilt. As ugly as this sounds, it is a historically-successful tactic as people want to “keep up with the Joneses” even if they don’t feel great about doing so.

6. The Rule of Reciprocity

How do you feel if you receive a gift from somebody on a special occasion and you haven’t brought one to give them? This example forms the foundation to the rule of reciprocity. You feel bad or indebted if you’re not able to reciprocate when given something of value.

This psychological bias is the foundation for a common technique in content marketing. Brands share free information with target audiences on websites, in blogs and through social media. This free and valuable information prompts audiences to commit, often through a like, comment or share. This early commitment can lead to a subscription or sharing an email address as the urge to reciprocate intensifies.

“We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behaviour that they have first given to us. Essentially thou shall not take without giving in return.”

Prof. Robert Caldini

The rule of reciprocity results in audiences moving through sales funnels to buy product or pay for services. Be sure to share free expert knowledge in an authentic manner and convince your audience that you empathise with and understand them. Show how you can benefit their lives to provide your audience with the psychological sense of wanting to reciprocate.

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7. The Availability Cascade

Large brands run recurring television ads based on availability cascades. Repeating slogans and catch-phrases builds belief in consumers – they must be true!

De Beers came up with “A Diamond is Forever” which changed the World’s view on diamonds, well, forever. The diamond price soared on the back of ongoing De Beers marketing campaigns. With these campaigns, De Beers made the idea of a diamonds connect with a “forever” commitment, like an engagement or wedding.

By entrenching a belief in your brand you create authority and build the same belief in your audience. Your audience then starts the cascade effect by spreading the word. The advertising of consistent brand advantages raises awareness among your audience, hence creating their realisation of the benefits your brand affords them. The availability cascade will fast become one of the most effective brand content marketing techniques you can use.

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Other Techniques I’ve Previously Covered

I’ve previously covered some other psychological techniques. I wrote an article called “Applying Science to Copywriting: 11 Psychological Techniques” for another blog where I covered the following:-

  • The Illusory Truth Effect – Subliminal repeating of an idea numerous times helps convince your reader’s brain that it is the truth.
  • Rhyming – Rhyme influences your audience’s perception of accuracy.
  • Cognitive Fluency – If your reader’s brain understands something, the capacity for believing it is higher.
  • Positive Emotions – Instill an interest which encourages further exploration by visitors, leading to positive emotion.
  • Narrative Transportation – Storytelling improves your audience’s receptiveness and understanding.
  • BYAF – The suggestion that your readers are welcome to look at other alternatives displays confidence.
  • Mirror Neurons – Relating to your audience’s pain points and feelings enhances the impact of your copy.
  • The Serial Position Effect – Words that are positioned at the beginning and end of sentences are proven to be noticed more by readers.
  • The Odd Number Effect – Odd numbers are more thought-provoking to visitors than their even counterparts.
  • Justification – Justifying a question or statement in your copy provides evidence and authenticity to back up your information.
  • P.S. Lines – ‘P.S.’ is the last line that your audience sees in your copy and, hence, is in the perfect position for a call-to-action.
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Over two articles, I have covered 18 psychological techniques for content marketers. Many other techniques based on science exist but, from the ones I’ve covered, a conclusion can be drawn. With the correct implementation and application of psychological content marketing techniques, science does most certainly sell.

Header image source: Peter Shallard

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