We spend every single day making decisions.
We like to think these decisions are simply choices—from getting dressed to eating dinner, or even small things like which toothpaste to buy—all driven by logic and reason. In truth, the majority of human decision-making is initially influenced by everything but logic.
A complex web of autonomic emotions, desires, and rewards fuels our every choice, and these feelings are ultimately what guide us throughout life.
From a marketing perspective, this offers a powerful opportunity to generate a sense of desire and need around our products. But it isn’t enough to simply test or utilize historical data to find out what motivates people. To create desirable products, we must leverage user psychology—a method of understanding the how and why consumers make decisions.
Armed with this kind knowledge, it becomes possible to create a content marketing strategy that taps into customer desires and makes our products truly irresistible.
Apply User Psychology to Your Content Ideas With This Template
Later in this post, we’ll cover how to brainstorm emotionally-driven content ideas that connect desires to rewards. But first, download this template to store those ideas, so you’ll be ready once we reach that point.
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Why User Psychology Matters
User psychology is aimed at understanding subconscious triggers—automatic feelings that we associate with products, services, and experiences. Since triggers influence consumers at every stage of the buying cycle, learning more about them can bridge the gap between basic marketing and effective consumer influencing.
Unlike traditional marketing, psychology-driven marketing doesn’t attempt to influence consumers through product features, price or value propositions. So instead of asking questions like, “How can I boost newsletter signups?” or “What piece of content is most shareable?” user psychology prompts questions like:
- What deep desires influence a customer to consider buying our product?
- When in the buying cycle does our customer feel unsure or abandon our web page? What prompted that feeling of uncertainty?
- What feelings arise when customers encounter our brand, and how can we strengthen them (or relieve them if they’re negative)?
The core difference between traditional marketing and psychology-driven marketing is that the latter prompts marketers to think from the customer’s point of view.
Effective user psychology strategies are often built upon some variation of the ELMR framework. ELMR, which stands for Emotion, Logic, Motivation, and Reward, helps you see things from the customer’s perspective, and was first coined by Brian Balfour as part of the Reforge growth series. It’s important to first understand what each of these terms mean, before we can see how they can be applied to a content marketing strategy.
We cannot understand customer emotions without first understanding desire. Think of it this way: If a person is happy, it means one of their desires has been fulfilled. If a person is sad, it means they’ve lost or missed out on something they desire. When marketers create messaging that fulfills desire, customers are more likely to associate that product with happiness and joy. As a result, they’re more likely to make a purchase.
The next portion of the ELMR framework is logic. After someone has an emotional response to something, they’ll look to rationalize their emotions with a logical reason. Educating a customer about a product's facts, features and competitive details are all ways to appeal to the logical brain and make a customer more confident in their decision.
To motivate someone, we first need to learn what’s preventing them from taking the desired action. How large and influential are these barriers? What can be done to make them smaller and more approachable? Reducing these barriers will make it easier to create a sense of need and motivate people to action.
The final portion of ELMR is reward—creating a sense of approval and validation about one’s decision. Reward can come in many forms, but most are either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic rewards are associated with a product that offers benefit in the form of time, finances or knowledge. Extrinsic rewards tap into personal desire, and usually comprise social or career accomplishments.
Applying ELMR to Your Content Strategy
Applying the ELMR framework to your content marketing strategy can help you create more powerful content that in turn influences user triggers. Content that delivers well-timed triggers can drive signups, improve social engagement and increase conversions.
Content Marketing and Emotion
Humans have and always will be driven by rewards, whether they’re related to finances, career, knowledge, or something else. By thinking from the customer’s point of view, content marketers can determine the rewards associated with their product.
According to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, the most powerful triggers work in tandem with negative emotions. Negative feelings make us feel distressed and distracted. So when a marketing message or piece of content briefly relieves that negative thought, it creates an addictive trigger. As Eyal puts it, “to make a truly effective hook, we have to capitalize on users’ negative emotions.”
So how do we create content that relieves a negative emotion? Consider this Instagram post from Whole Foods as an example:
The copy in this post reminds customers that they should be eating an apple a day (a healthy suggestion they’ve been hearing throughout their lives). Assuming that most people don’t eat an apple a day, these words effectively tap into a sense of guilt, or fear about being unhealthy.
After triggering these negative emotions, the post offers an overt push, “make it happen” and suggests a number of healthy, easy recipes. Thinking about eating the recipes in the picture offers relief from the guilt that people feel about not eating enough healthy food. This creates an addictive sense of need that entices people to walk into their nearest Whole Foods and buy a bag of apples and healthy toppings.
In your content marketing strategy, consider this: What are my customers afraid of? How does my product or service alleviate that fear--even if only for a moment?
Content Marketing and Logic
Once you’ve determined the emotions that influence your customers, you need to introduce logical rewards that justify those emotions. The logical brain is constantly searching for a quick win of support and justification, and finding a way to influence it isn’t the hard part. What’s most important is that your logical appeal is well-timed and balanced in scale and scope.
That way, it creates the right amount of confirmation at the right time, without overwhelming the user or turning them away.
To see how this works in blog content, take a look this article on patio furniture from retailer Crate and Barrel. This post, titled “How to Give Your Patio a Summer Makeover” is filled with logical appeals that justify buying Crate and Barrel’s products. In addition to a smattering of enticing photos featuring gorgeous summer weather (and an adorable dog to boot), the writing is filled with logical queues.
In a section on choosing outdoor pillows, the post explains that they’re “stuffed with quick drying polyester fiberfill” and “polypropylene yarn.” These product details alone aren’t enough to justify purchasing the pillows. But the sentence that follows, however, is what does the trick:
“In other words, they dry quickly after a rainstorm!”
Summer rainstorms are common, and wet patio furniture is a common annoyance for homeowners. The fact that the pillows dry quickly after a rainstorm is a perfect justification for buying these stylish pillows over others.
In your content strategy, think about how you can turn a product feature into a relatable story. What do your customers value? How can your content strategy tap into those values in a way that relates to their everyday life? Appeal to your their sense of logic. Tell them something about your story that feels impossible to refute (who can disagree with the benefit of quick-drying patio pillows, for example?).
Content Marketing and Motivation
As we discussed earlier, the motivation portion of user psychology is about reducing barriers to purchase. When you understand the things that prevent your user from buying, you can create content that helps reduce these barriers. If your company is in the retail fashion space, for example, you might automatically think that key barriers are only financial—things like item price or shipping cost.
But what about more complex barriers, like how a product fits or whether or not it can be paired well with a person’s existing wardrobe? Fashion retailer Aerie taps into such complex concerns on its branded fashion and lifestyle blog. For example, in the post “Styling the Cutout Floral Dress with Amanda Oleri” Aerie has a fashion blogger style one of its main seasonal products in her own way.
This is more motivational than a simple product page because it provides styling tips from someone that the audience can relate to. This is perhaps the most effective approach for online retailers because it makes the product more approachable--customers can visualize it for themselves.
Regardless of barriers like price, people always have reservations about buying things online. Connecting to your users through an influencer or a blogger helps reduce emotional barriers around sizing, fit and style, making the thought of purchasing items feel more realistic to customers.
Content Marketing and Reward
Both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards create an opportunity to influence buyers. However, intrinsic rewards differ more from person to person, making them harder to tap into.
Here’s where putting yourself in the customer’s shoes comes in handy. Think about what your target audience values most, on a personal level. Let’s say your target audience is moms. Providing their children with a memorable, happy, and joy-filled childhood is a desire of all moms. Disney is one brand that consistently taps into these intrinsic desires because it’s based on the idea of an experience--and the happiness and joy it brings.
In Disney’s online website series “Mom Panel Monday,” Disney moms have the opportunity to share what they and their families love about the theme park and other Disney experiential products. This video, “Moms Panel Monday: A Mom’s Take on Cruising with Disney Cruise Line,” features one mom discussing her family’s experience on a cruise.
This strategy is effective because it shows immediate rewards that a Disney Cruise might bring, like good food, live music and fun games. What’s even more powerful is that it also shows the long-term rewards, like friendships and memories, that a Disney Cruise might bring a mom and her family. By hearing another mom say things about what her family loves and what makes them happy, parents (and moms especially) are motivated to create that experience for their own kids.
To truly put yourself in your customer’s shoes, think about what you might have in common with them. If you were them, what would be your primary reason for purchasing your product? Make it a habit of creating marketing content from this perspective.
Applying User Psychology and Content Marketing: How to Get Started
User psychology’s core method, the ELMR framework, is designed to help you connect with consumers on a deeper, more personal level. It works by exposing the core triggers that motivate your customers to interact with your brand and purchase your products or services.
Here are a few easy, effective ways to start applying it to your content strategy.
Conduct a Brainstorming Session
Before you dive in and start drafting, gather a few team members to help list all the desires a customer might associate with your product. Depending on the size of your team, try to get people from different departments (thus, different perspectives) to help you here. If you’re not sure whose perspectives might be helpful with this exercise, here are some suggestions:
- Marketing managers
- Sales representatives
- Product developers
- Customer support representatives
- Data analysts
Reach out to your team members and let them know you need their help with a brainstorm, but leave the topic a mystery for now. It will help if everyone comes to the meeting with a fresh mind and no preconceived opinions. This way, the ideas the team comes up with together will trigger new thoughts quickly and on the spot, leading to a dynamic and effective brainstorm.
Utilizing something like a whiteboard will be really helpful in jotting down ideas in a flow chart, scatter plot chart or something else that helps you organize quick thoughts. Your chart might begin to look something like this, which means you’re off to a good start:
During the brainstorm be sure to write down everyone’s thoughts and ideas, even if something seems silly at the time. The benefit to brainstorming is that you never know what word or thought might ignite your next genius idea. Once your chart seems full, you can thank everyone for their help and get started on distilling the strongest ideas.
Identify Rewards to Connect with your Product
Next, you should start considering the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that your customers could associate with your product. It will be helpful to start a list for this somewhere that you can keep track of, like a Google Spreadsheet. Since you’ve gone through a brainstorm already, this is an opportunity to gather everything in one place, so I suggest using columns in your sheet to organize. Here’s how to do that:
Open a Google Spreadsheet and use columns to store the ideas you came up with in your initial team brainstorm, similar to this:
Now use additional columns to jot down intrinsic and extrinsic rewards associated with your product. If you need some ideas, here are some examples of topics that fall under each category:
Let’s take the desires we identified above, for example, to identify a few rewards that someone might gain as a result of buying your product:
- Desire: To be more attractive >>> Rewards: Social acceptance, personal confidence, looking great
- Desire: To learn something new every day >>> Rewards: Impressing others, personal satisfaction, new skills
- Desire: To accomplish something on your own >>> Rewards: Sense of self-worth, personal confidence, task completion
Now think about how to position those rewards clearly to customers in a meaningful and relatable way. The positioning ideas you come up with can be directly translated into new content pieces, so add those ideas to your spreadsheet in a final column for easy reference later on.
Analyze Your Current Messaging
Chances are, the topics and ideas you’ve identified through the process above may have led you towards value propositions and positioning statements that haven’t yet been part of your brand’s core messaging. This is a good thing! You’re now thinking about marketing from a psychological perspective.
You can now take a look at your current marketing messages with fresh perspective. If you haven’t done so already, creating a "Core Message Document" can help to collect everything in one place. That will allow you to easily edit, or built upon, your brand positioning which will be reflected in all of your content pieces.
Use your new psychological perspective and include these points in your Core Message Document:
- Vision & Mission Statements. What does your product and company strive for? Think about the emotions you hope to trigger when connecting with your customers.
- Positioning Statement. What do you do better than anyone else? Think about how you can help your customers gain intrinsic and extrinsic rewards most effectively.
- Elevator Pitch. How would you describe your product and company in under 30 seconds? Try to touch quickly on Emotion, Logic, Motivation, and Rewards.
- Taglines & Slogans. What is your product or company all about? Try to elicit an emotional response or use something that a customer might quickly associate with a reward.
- Key Messages. What are three things you want everyone to know about your product? Identify a few key points and jot down short paragraphs for each. This is a great place to focus on the rewards you’ve identified!
- Competitive Differentiation. How do your key messages set you apart from competitors? Think about how you can help your customers achieve their desires in a way that no one else in the market can.
- Value Propositions. What is the value of your product in the mind of the customer? Take extra care here to stretch that psychological muscle you’ve been strengthening throughout this whole process.
- Benefit Statements. What is the benefit of buying your product? You’ve already done the hard part on this one, these can be directly tied to the rewards you’ve identified.
After all of this, you should have new ideas from a healthy brainstorm session to help customers psychologically connect with your product, and a hefty document full of fresh message points to weave into future content pieces.
When applied to your content strategy, user psychology can create an addictive product that keeps customers coming back for more. Just remember to step out of your own head and think like your target audience—empathy drives better customer interactions, which leads to true authenticity.
And as with all good marketing experiments: test, measure, and repeat.