The Secret to Creating Effective Content Marketing Unlocked by Human Behavior

You can easily create much more memorable content by understanding a few simple concepts taken from the field of psychology. The best part is: You don’t have to add more budget for advertisements or hire a new person to do this. Understanding how the structure of your content affects how easily your audience can recall the concepts has the power to recall your brand.

Any brand can find an audience and simply pay to shout at them for days on end to buy their product. The difference is, the brands who succeed are the ones whose message sticks with the audience. When someone finds themselves, days later, re-reading an article or looking up a video to take a closer look, they are engaging with your brand on a whole new level. Your brand reaches this level in somebody’s mind and it is nearly impossible to dethrone you. All you have to do is keep reminding them of how much they love you. Their loyalty becomes yours to lose.

Human behavior is an extremely complex topic and we are constantly reshaping what we think we know about ourselves and how we operate. Lucky for us marketers, there are a few very simple theories that show considerable promise if we can integrate them into our content. These principles will help ensure that your audience is not only remembering your messages but also remembering the right messages.

These concepts are:

  • Chunking
  • Cognitive Load
  • Progressive Disclosure
  • Serial Position Effects.

These sound a bit intimidating but trust us, you won’t regret taking the time to implement them.

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Chunking

Chunking is simply breaking down your information into easily manageable blocks. The better you organize your information, the better chance that people will actually remember it by organizing the flood of information that is constantly bombarding us into an actual concept that can be handled. Think of it like taking your groceries from the store to your car. You don’t take each item separately. You group them into bags that you can more easily carry and you certainly don’t mix the bleach in the bag with your fresh fruit.

chunking-diagram

Actionable Tips:

  • Break paragraphs into just a few sentences each.
  • Use bullet points and white space to create more visual separation.
  • Spend extra time organizing your content because the flow may be more important than a clever sentence.
  • Be careful: Don’t get carried away when breaking it up. If you break every paragraph down to one sentence, your chunks have become too small to be useful anymore.

Cognitive Load Theory

Someone’s cognitive load is the amount of information or tasks that a person’s brain can actively hold in their working memory while not distracted. Think of it as, how many chunks someone can keep at the front of their mind before something gets pushed out.

The current theory is that people can hold up to four things (plus or minus one depending on the person) in their working memory at once. Many people have heard of the magic number seven which was the result of a study in 1956, but more recent studies have shown that this doesn’t hold true and four is the real magic number.

A concept that is related to this theory is progressive disclosure, which is the idea of only explaining the information that is needed at that time rather than dumping a heap of information all at once. When an author introduces a new character in a book, they don’t simply spend a chapter describing every aspect of that character to the reader. They only tell you the details of that character that are important to the story at that moment. Carry this same concept over to your content. You can reduce your audience’s cognitive load by only giving them the information they need at that time.

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cognitive-load-diagram

Actionable Tips:

  • Don’t have more than 5 general ideas in your content or people will start forgetting what they’ve read.
  • Subdivide each section into 3-5 sections/tips/concepts. 
  • Reduce all extraneous media such as images, links, quotes, etc unless they really provide value.
  • If your topic is particularly complex, consider breaking it up into 3-4 different posts so people remember each piece more accurately.
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Serial Position Effects

A serial position effect is the concept of how the sequence of things affects how easily it can be recalled later. The basic findings of studying this are that people remember the first and the last things best in general but this can be broken down even more.

There are two main concepts for serial position effects: primacy and recency. Primacy is the strength of recall of the beginning of something and recency is the strength of recall of the most recent thing, or in other words, the end of something.

Primacy is the stronger effect in written formats, meaning that at a macro level, the top of your post is likely what most people will remember. At a micro level, the first sentence of each paragraph, the first item in each list and even the first line of a caption are the things most likely to be read and remembered.

Recency however, is stronger than primacy in auditory formats such as videos and podcasts. This means that you should place the most important information at the end of these types of posts if you really want your audience to remember it.

serial-position-diagram
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Actionable Tips:

  • Place the most important things at the beginning of sections for written content
  • Place the most important things at the end of sections in auditory content
  • Avoid placing key information in the middle of content for any format
  • The more chunks that you break up your content into, the more beginnings and endings there are to remember

Conclusion

The more that someone remembers your content, the better that person will remember your brand, which translates into greater potential of them becoming a customer. Using chunking, cognitive load theory, progressive disclosure, and serial position effects in concert with one another can lead to much more memorable content for your brand.

Of course, there are caveats to these concepts. For example, if recency is the strongest effect in auditory formats, it makes sense to place the most important information at the end of a video as we discussed. But what if someone stops watching your video halfway through and doesn’t make it to the end? The most recent thing they learned will be something in the middle and that is what they will recall. The solution: Repeat the most important information throughout the entirety of your content. 

Human behavior is an extremely complex concept and we are oversimplifying it in this post just to better understand these principles. At the end of the day, you should take them all with a grain of salt and ultimately do what makes the most sense for each piece of content, the audience and the goals associated with it.

The beautiful thing about these concepts, regardless of who your brand is or the type of content you produce, is that you can start implementing them today to start seeing a measurable impact without having to add any budget or time.