Boost Your Content Marketing with these 6 Psychological Hacks

Psychology – the study of the human mind and resulting behaviors. In other words, what triggers certain behaviors in humans? It was only natural that those involved in persuasion, and specifically in sales, would begin to use the principles of psychology to influence behaviors and gain conversions. Here is a simple example: You are walking […]

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Psychology – the study of the human mind and resulting behaviors. In other words, what triggers certain behaviors in humans? It was only natural that those involved in persuasion, and specifically in sales, would begin to use the principles of psychology to influence behaviors and gain conversions.

Here is a simple example: You are walking through a store, perhaps intent upon picking up the items on a list you have prepared. All of a sudden, you see a sign, “Buy one, get one free!” It’s not an item you need right now, but, heck, this is a great bargain, and if you don’t grab it now, the offer will be gone the next time you need it. So, of course, you grab it. The store owner rather knew you and a number of other shoppers would. He and many other business owners understand the psychology behind persuasion.

Content marketers get it too. If they can use common psychological hacks to convert an additional, even small, percentage of consumers, their ROI from that effort is darn good.

An understanding of the following six principles of behavioral psychology and using them effectively can improve content marketing strategies and, ultimately, your bottom line.


We humans like to repay the kindness and other nice gestures provided to us by others. So, if a neighbor should offer to get our mail while we are out of town, we want to get them a gift or offer to do the same for them in the future.

Marketers can also use this principle in a number of ways.

Giving the customer something for free is a common way to instill in a prospect a sense of “loyalty” and even a slight sense of “obligation.” So, when that prospect is ready to buy a product or service you offer, he will buy from you.

Common freebies may include a product, an e-book, invitation to a webinar, etc. The prospect has received something of value without spending any money.

Christopher K. Mercer, marketer and CEO of Citatior says this about reciprocity: “We offer plenty of freebies – citation generators, useful blog posts on writing, and a host of other resources. Users feel good about us. So, when we recommend a fee-based resource or carry advertisements from those resources, our users are already primed to use them. They know us, know the value we have provided, and are ready to reciprocate.”

Here’s a great example from Adobe Campaign. While the company shares useful information and actual advice with their subscribers via email, it also suggests using its services to bring it to life and get immediate value. In this case – make your designer portfolio look better and improve your chances to get hired.

Image source: personal email from Adobe Creative Cloud

Social Proof

This hack is best described by the phrase, “Everyone else is doing it, so I guess I should too.”

If you can make prospects believe that “everyone” loves your product, then they will be inclined to as well.

The best social proof tactic is to use your happy customers as influencers – on your website, your blog, and your social media accounts. When there are actual customers who send photos or videos using your product and speaking to its value, you don’t have to promote that product at all.

The clothing retailer ModCloth is a prime example of the use of social proof. Check out the consistent posts from their customers sporting the items they have purchased.

Fear of Missing Out

Consumers hear or read about “limited time” offers all the time. And as common as this hack is, you would think they would stop responding. But they don’t.

There is just something about the urgency of the message that still triggers purchase behaviors. And this is precisely why marketers still use it.

The scarcer something appears to a customer, the larger the urge to buy it. In addition to limited time offers, there are such triggers as “only 25 left at this price.” When a consumer is given cause to worry that he cannot have something, he will want it even more. Jessica Fender, Chief Content Officer at OnlineWritersRating has this to say: “We review and write summaries of a lot of writing services. What we find is that when a company offers a major discount and bonus program, especially for a limited time, and we publish that, the company immediately has an uptick in interest and orders. The FOMO principle seems to apply to any niche.”

This special offer from Academia utilizes this principle just perfectly. It offers a personalized 50% discount that has to be used the day when one received it. The customer doesn’t have much time to think this through. He needs to take the decision right here and right now. In addition, there’s a little warning that this deal has already been extended for a day which only adds to the feeling of urgency.

Image source: personal email from

Faces and Eye Contact

Humans began their communication with one another face-to-face and eye-to-eye. And that type of communication was what occurred in marketing and sales for centuries – at least until television came along. But television did not change much. There was still face-to-face and eye contact that, psychologically, seemed to have the same impact.

Behavioral psychologists and neuroscientists have learned that this type of contact increases our production of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. And feeling good about someone allows that someone to influence our behavior.

So, how does this hack translates into content marketing?

Well, according to Hubspot, social media posts that have images result in 2.3x more engagement than posts without them.

Digging a bit deeper, however, the types of images that perform the best are those with images of real people, specifically, their faces. Hubspot also discovered that images of faces resulted in a 38% increase in likes over images that had no faces.

Humans are drawn to faces and eyes of other humans, from the time of infancy, as multiple research studies have shown.

The obvious implications for content marketing is that faces should be used frequently – not stock photos, but those of real live people – the business owner, members of a company’s team, customers, even faces of pets. This allows visitors and customers to personally (any psychologically) connect with your brand. Veronica Wright, CEO of ResumesCentre, puts it this way: “Our business is very personal. And, in order to give the customer a personal connection, we publish the photos of our resume/CV professionals. Our customers feel much more comfortable when they can put a face to the person who is crafting their resume.”

Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based razor and personal grooming company, has made wide use of the face of its CEO in explainer videos. The face-to-face contact with the owner, along with his witty and humorous messages about the value of his products, helps to make the brand “real” in the eyes of consumers. They can put a face on the company.

Image source: screen capture of Dollar Shave Club video

The Decoy Effect

This can be a powerful marketing tool. Basically, you can offer a product or service of lesser value at an attractive price but put some focus on the fact that it is not as valuable as the higher-priced option. There are two ways to accomplish this:

  • You are in the grocery store, and you see a sign that says, “$1.50 each or 2 for $2.50.” You have two options, but the second one becomes more valuable.
  • You go to the movies. Popcorn is sold in three sizes. You are looking at the first two options- the small and medium – because the large is just too expensive. Then, the clerk behind the counter points out that the large gives you 12 more ounces than the medium, for only $1.00 more. Suddenly, that large popcorn seems more valuable, and you are really tempted to buy it.

Marketers know that they can usually persuade a customer to upgrade to the more valuable option and spend more, by using the decoy effect. Consumers like to feel they have gotten a better deal.

Here’s a real-life example of the decoy effect as used by The Economist Magazine:

Image source: HumanHow

The Economist improved sales by 43% adding a decoy to its offers – an overpriced print version. It made a print + digital option look better for the subscribers.


This term came out of a 1974 study conducted by two psychologists. They determined that people have a tendency to rely on the first piece of information they receive. It makes things simpler for them, as they make decisions, even in purchasing. Here is how this psychological hack can be used:

  • Pricing by Multiple Units: In another study, reported in the book, Psychology of Persuasion, three psychologists conducted research on pricing in grocery stores. They found that, even though the price per item was exactly the same, multiple-unit pricing resulted in 40% more sales than did single-unit pricing. So, a 10/$10 fares better than $1.00/each. The reason? The number 10 sticks in the consumer’s mind as the anchor.
  • Another example of anchoring is pacing quantity limitations on a “sale” item – “limit four per customer” for example. This is not because the supply is actually limited. It is to place an anchor in the brain of the number “4.” Consumers will then tend to buy four.
  • A third example, which is not typically used in content marketing, is that of high initial price setting. If a seller intends to negotiate, he will place a high initial price, knowing he will come down. The customer has the opening price in his head. So, when he gets the item for a good deal less, he is thrilled with the “bargain.” In the digital universe, this hack is often used by having an original price, crossing through it, and then giving the “new” sale price.

Using These Hacks in Your Content

These are powerful tools to use if you know how to do it right. Because consumers are pretty savvy these days, you may have to be somewhat subtle n your approach, but if you can craft content that inserts these psychological triggers, you will see an uptick in revenue.

If you struggle with developing such content by all means, get some help from pros who are experts. There are a number of writing services and individual freelancers with a successful history of crafting content and visuals with a psychological/emotional appeal. Some writing services, such as FlashEssay, GetGoodGrade, and EssaySupply, have departments of content marketing writers. You might also check out Upwork, Freelancer, and even Fiverr as sources to hire freelance writers.

Or, give it a try on your own. You now have a cursory understanding of the psychological hacks that marketers use and how they use them in their content. Experiment with their use in your own content and use analytics to evaluate their success. You don’t have to be a psychologist to become good at using the tactics listed above. You just have to use the results of their research that applies to consumer behaviors. You can do this.

James Scott, an independent blogger and professional marketer. He is passionate about professional and agile team management. Even the smallest member of the team can change everything, so a wise manager should do their best to deliver the best working experience for everyone.