How to use psychology to structure your campaign

As we examined in this blog, psychology offers good reasons to embark on a content-marketing campaign. Here, we look to psychology for insights into how to execute them. Below are three approaches and one piece of food for thought that you might want to consider for your next campaign.

Give something back
In social situations, free gifts have a significant effect, known as Reciprocity. Let’s say you buy me a drink. I’ll feel obliged to buy you a drink, or something else, back. In the early 1970s, psychologist Dennis Regan tested this out by taking subjects to an art gallery. Some were given drinks on arrival, and some were not. Later, the same subjects were offered raffle tickets by the hosts. Those that were given drinks bought many more raffle tickets, and to a value that exceeded the drink.

If your content offers something for free, this can be tremendously useful for your brand, and is  why O2, Microsoft and Fujitsu offer free business advice, and why companies like Asos take so much time and effort with their content-marketing activities.

There is of course a big but. If the content is not executed well or doesn’t really offer anything, then your offer isn’t really an offer at all. So make it worthwhile. If you want to give, then give something useful.

Power of authority
In 1961 Stanley Milgram conducted the most controversial social psychology experiment in history.

Subjects were told they were to assist in an experiment on learning. They were to administer electric shocks when instructed by a scientist when another person, unseen in another room, failed to get answers right in tests. Unbeknown to the subject, the set-up was fiction. The scientist was an actor in a white coat, the person in the other room was another actor. The electric shock machine was a Heath Robinson device that did precisely nothing, but did have a large dial indicating voltage. The real test was to see how far subjects would go in administering shocks.

From the off, the actor in the other room gets all the answers wrong, and the ‘voltage’ is cranked up. Milgram predicted few of the subjects would administer what they believed to be dangerous shocks. He was wrong. Subjects went on giving harsher and harsher shocks until the ‘subject’ in the other room was apparently unconscious. Why? The person asking them to give the shocks wore a white coat and was perceived to be a person of authority.

For marketers the implication is simple: people trust experts. It’s why brands use expert endorsements. It’s why Sensodyne always uses dentists (wearing white lab coats) in its ads, and why books carry those praiseworthy quotations on the back cover. Experts sell.

Halo Effect
The Halo Effect was first described in the 1920s by prolific psychologist Edward Thorndike. He spotted that the unconscious judgements people form about other people is based on attractiveness, intelligence, clothes, and other traits that can be measured.

The effect is striking. Attractive people are more likely to be acquitted in trials. The idea can be extended to brands too.

Take Red Bull, which is much more about racing cars, stunt flying, DJ culture and jumping from space than a peculiar tasting fizzy drink. Red Bull has built an empire out of the Halo Effect. It’s also the reason celebrity endorsements are so popular. But choose your celebrity carefully. That halo could turn to an Albatross.

Social proof
In the mid 1930s, Psychologist Muzafer Sherif developed sets of experiments to examine the influence of groups on individuals. In one he took advantage of a psychological quirk – the Autokinetic Effect – to test this.

The Autokinetic Effect is what everyone experiences when they stare at a dot. It appears to move. Each person experiences the autokinetic effect differently but consistently. This is initially what Sherif tested. He then tested subjects again but in a group and out loud.

This time, subjects abandoned their own experiences and instead developed a group consensus about the ‘movement’ of the dot. The group mind took over, re-writing reality. When tested a third time, alone, the subjects stuck to the group perspective.

Food for thought
Now consider social media. Social media feels like a group activity, but like the moving dot in the experiments, this is an illusion. My experience of social media is exclusive to me. If you are involved in social, make sure the content draws the user in and becomes part of the debate. This groupthink may prove significant, particularly as engagement rates for social advertising seem to be low, and under heavy scrutiny.

This is the approach taken by Innocent Smoothies in their much lauded social campaigns – they enter the debate but with a light touch. Users feel validated and Innocent become part of their group.

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