Five psychological principles behind great content

Our brains may be complex, but they are also pretty predictable when it comes to instinctual reactions. Here are five psychological principles to remember when creating content.

Self-determination theory

Have you ever avoided an essential task because you believe it will be dull? You know you’ll have to complete it eventually, but can’t face it yet. Self-determination theory explains why humans are motivated to engage with tasks and activities. Our intrinsic motivations are those that tell us to do something because it makes us feel good inside, and you should be aiming content towards these.

How? By giving readers a sense of autonomy, competence and connection. In other words, content should allow readers to have a role in decision-making, to be challenged in a constructive way, and to feel a personal connection.

In short, if readers have a good time, this will make them more engaged, and more committed.

A feast for the eyes

Our brains are wired for visual stimulus, so it’s no surprise that imagery and colour should be key considerations.

Amazingly, simply pairing an image with text means that readers are 6.5 times more likely to recall it. And if you’re looking to sway readers towards a particular view, an image accompanying an argument is 43% more likely to persuade people than one without an image.

Human brains also respond innately to colour, associating different colours with different emotions. Fiery colours like red and orange are more likely to provoke urgency, whereas mellow greens and blue are calming. It’s well worth considering how colour can help to tell your brand story.

Layout is crucial

Huge blocks of text are intimidating, and can be the reason that the viewer hits the ‘x’ button before reading. The way content is structured on the page is crucial. Text boxes, titles that stand out, column formats, emphasised quotes, illustrations and photos; all are features that can make a reader engage with content and remember it. This is because they create markers, allowing our eyes to navigate the page and quickly focus on the most important things.

Returning to the human brain’s preference for visual stimulus, layouts with visual appeal and indicators make marketing content more engaging and more memorable.

Mere exposure effect

Change can be exciting, but our instinctual brains actually prefer what we are used to, things we’re already familiar with. Think about choosing cereal in the supermarket – of all the boxes in front of us, we’re most likely to go for the brand we know we enjoy. This is the mere exposure effect.

It’s important, therefore, to communicate with your readers regularly so that they become familiar with your brand and content. But practice caution, because this natural appeal reaches its peak after about 10-20 exposures.

When it comes to targeting new customers, marketers should plot content with this in mind.

The halo effect

We might not like to admit it, but brains are very judgemental when it comes to aesthetics. When we go to a job interview, for example, we all know that we need to make an effort to look smart, that it gives us a better chance.

If something doesn’t look good, it’s more likely to be thought of negatively, even if other elements say otherwise.

The devil is in the detail, and even small slip-ups in quality control can create a negative view of your brand. So check and double-check, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to format.

Written by Nick Mason, CEO and founder of computer software firm Turtl