How a Common Content Strategy Unites Marketing’s Different Natures

I recently wrote about the two “natures of marketing”brand awareness and short-term sales activation (or leadgen, as we B2B marketers are used to call it) and the role of content within the overall marketing strategy. The latest seminal research of Les Binet and Peter Field, Effectiveness in Context, analyses hundreds campaigns of the IPA Databank, with a focus on marketing effectiveness, and well clarifies the dual model. Here I want to focus on the role of content strategy within an overarching marketing strategy, and how content will contribute to a common alignment across the different marketing natures.

The last few years have seen short-term sales activation becoming enterprises’ first priority, especially in the B2B domain. Enterprises invested most of the money in short-term, bottom of the funnel, campaigns driven mostly by online paid media programs and related content, in the hope to lift sales for the next few quarters. I had a similar priority when I led marketing for a division of a large enterprise in the field of Energy. Brand was a minor focus. I keep seeing this as a practice in many of the enterprises I consult. Short-term activation campaigns and sales programs were successful in most of the cases. At least, this is what I (and most marketers) thought.

According to Binet and Field, marketing effectiveness is in decline and “short-termism” is, in many ways, the mother of all marketing problem. What exactly happened? As I have mentioned, marketers are increasingly short-term in their focus. They spend money on immediate sales activation rather than longer-term brand building. They opt for bottom-of-the-funnel tactics because in a one-year time period that will pay better in the majority of the cases. But in one of the most important sections of their research, the two authors demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing. Too much time spent picking the low-hanging fruit means less time watering the tree. Eventually the tree stops growing.

As a consequence, content creation has focused mainly on bottom-of-the-funnel and product (or service)-focused content to support short-term paid media and sales activation programs. In most of the cases a solid and documented content strategy was even not requested and not in place. You don’t need a content strategy for executing short-term sales activation campaigns.

I have seen this happening with the clients I consult and work with, which are mostly large enterprises in the sectors of tech, finance, energy. While in the past my strategy workshops were mostly attended by brand and content leaders, now a vastly heterogeneous crowd of marketers belonging to different domains shows up. People from performance marketing, but also paid media, social media and PR teams are common audience of my strategy exercises. The main challenge all of them have is alignment across a common audience and buyer journey.

In fact, they share:

  • Common business and marketing goals – marketers might have different micro-goals (eg. brand lift or number of leads) but the marketing function always share common macro-goals
  • Common audience – they are targeting the same audience, but their approach targets different phases of the buyer journey: brand and content focus mostly on awareness, performance marketing on consideration, decision and buying
  • Common buyer journey – again marketers target different stages and they clearly have different needs. Marketers focusing on brand/content need to design a centralised audience-centric content strategy; performance marketers need to understand what resonate with the audience in the decision/purchase phases of the journey, and use good content for their activation campaigns; field marketers need sales enablement content which span across different stages; social media & comms marketers need to secure alignment with the previous functions in order to support with solid content distribution.
  • Common strategy – built around audience and buyer journey; top-of-the-funnel content and storytelling will fuel brand awareness and its need to build enduring memories; medium and bottom-of-the-funnel content will feed the immediate need for sales activation programs. 

Marketers belonging to different functions within the same organisation share the same need: alignment across a common audience and buyer journey.

The role of content marketing is evolving. From an individual and isolated rebel approach at the times of the first books of Joe Pulizzi ( early 2010s?) to a consolidated mainstream role within the overarching marketing strategy. 

Hypocrisy and Brand Purpose

The more I help large enterprises with the design of their marketing (or content marketing, which is the same thing) strategies, the more I’m concerned about the race to find – sometimes to invigorate – new socially-acceptable, ethically-sustainable brand purposes. Enterprises that have done business, more or less ethically, more or less successfully, in the last decades, are now discovering that having a brand purpose might boost revenue, especially within the new generations of consumers – Millennials and GenZ.

I cannot hold back a smile every single time I hear words like: “Our audience has to understand our new brand purpose” or “It’s time to rethink our North Star”. If you had no brand purpose until today – and still run a successful business – why should you think about a new brand purpose NOW?

Maybe because, as Hanneke Faber, President for Europe at Univelver, points out, brand with brand purpose are destined to grow at much faster rate that brands without a noble promise. I might argue that all analysis presented by Ms. Faber are vague and without analytic foundations. Mark Ritson does a better job, here.

But let’s assume for a moment that the Unilever’s exec is right; still, the journey to an genuine brand purpose is full of dangers:

  1. By definition, brand purpose should be authentic; which means the purpose is supposed to have preceded the products and should represent the center of gravity of that enterprise’s activities; this is far from happening, in 99% of the cases;
  2. The reality is that most consumers (yeah, even young generations) don’t give a shit about brands, and as a consequence, about their purposes;
  3. Finally, we/consumers are not idiots; we can still feel the hypocrisy of selecting a purpose while ultimately pushing it for pure financial benefit.

Yet, there are some brands that are genuinely purpose-driven. Think at Patagonia, for example, where the purpose has always preceded the products, since its foundation – I will spend some time on Patagonia at the end of the post. Mark Ritson estimates “they (brand-purpose led companies) consist of about 0.2% of the world’s brands. The rest are commercially driven operations that are not necessarily evil, and often take a responsible approach to packaging and other business challenges, but are not in a position to intervene on major societal issues”. A sad scenario.

And so, let’s have a look at these authentic brands. My list is definitively not comprehensive. Still, it provides a good overview about enterprises who are embracing the brand purpose mantra; and all the lies they are telling us.

Starbucks, inspiring human spirit?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Inspire and nurture the human spirit. One person, one cup and one neighbour at a time. 
  • The reality: Starbucks tells us its brand purpose is to build community, while doing everything it can to minimise its tax payments. Last year Starbucks paid 2.8% of taxes: exactly £ 4.5m on £ 162m profit. And we all know the the best way to inspire the human spirit one neighbour at a time is paying local taxes, right? Actuall, we’re just happy with a good coffee experience, too.

Volkswagen, environmentally sound?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: the Group’s goal is to offer attractive, safe and environmentally sound vehicles which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set world standards in their respective class.
  • The reality: Volkswagen intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing which caused the vehicles’ output to meet US standards during regulatory testing, but emit up to 40 times more poisonous toxins in real-world driving. The folks at Volkswagen deployed this programming software in about eleven million cars worldwide, including 500,000 in the United States, in model years 2009 through 2015.These toxins which were partially responsible for the death or disability of hundreds of people. 
  • The reality/2: Volkswagen itself continues to insist that although eight million cars sold in Europe were also fitted with defeat devices, they were not needed to pass more lenient EU emissions tests and therefore it has committed no crime in the EU. Weren’t environmentally sound vehicles???

Siemens, ethical and responsible?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Being Responsible – Excellent – Innovative, with responsible meaning that the company is committed to ethical and responsible actions.
  • The reality: Really? Siemens ended one of the biggest corporate corruption probes in history when it agreed in 2008 to pay about 1 billion euros in fines and penalties after investigations by U.S. and German authorities into bribes it paid to win contracts.

State Street and the diversity?

Google and accessible data?

Cadbury and the generous principles?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Cadbury launched a new purpose-filled positioning in 2018, to “shine a light on the kindness and generosity that we see in society”; it re-launched its global brand positioning as a “family brand founded on generous principles”.
  • The reality: Cadbury manages to pay zero corporation tax, for the seventh consecutive year. The company, which is a subsidiary of US giant Mondelez International, recorded a 740% jump in profit for the year to 31 December 2017, with turnover rising to £1.66bn from £1.65bn. Yes, very generous principles behind Cadbury’s actions.

Audi and the equal pay?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Spent millions on a feminist Super Bowl spot last year, which proclaimed: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.”. In the ad, a father watches his daughter in a downhill cart race and thinks about whether she is being judged based on her gender. At the core of the ad is whether she will be paid less than a man, despite her talents.
  • The reality: No women sit on Audi’s Management Board and its 14 person American executive team only has two women. In the press release for the Super Bowl ad, the car company said it was publicly committed to supporting women’s pay equality and pointed out that half of the candidates for its graduate internship program must be female. Rather than avoiding the conflict Audi has responded to negative commentsgenerating even more criticisms.

Yet, there are some brands that are genuinely purpose-driven, as I mentioned already.  Take Patagonia: it helped create a national park, its supply chain boasts fair trade certified wages, organic cotton, traceable down, and responsibly sourced merino wool. What is absolutely clear is that Patagonia’s CEO Yvon Chouinard’s experiment – an experiment that may be possible only because Patagonia is not publically traded – is like nothing that has come before, and therefore deserves our closest attention.

But beside individual cases like Patagonia, what is generating this recent proliferation in term of brand purpose? Are we marketers overestimating our roles in our audience’s life? Is this the reason why we’re creating so many cases of disgraceful brand promises?

While we might do not discuss company’s rights to (legally) reduce tax bills we still suggest to not associate it with brand purpose exercises and pretend that consumers believe in its genuineness.

It’s just a way to boost your profits, and we all know it.

Reference list

When did marketers become so ashamed of managing brands?

Interbrand 2018 top brand list

Stop propping up brand purpose with contrived data and hypocrisy

I’ll have my lamb without the lecture on the side, thanks

Obsess over your brand conviction, not brand purpose

How millennials’ taste for authenticity is disrupting powerful brands

The Long and the Short of it. And the implications for Content and Storytelling

If I think about the brands I’ve been working with or consulting in the last few years, the majority of them in the B2B tech space, short-term sales activation (or leadgen, as we B2B marketers are used to call it) has always been first priority. Enterprises invested most of the money in short-term, bottom of the funnel, campaigns – and related content – in the hope to lift sales for the next few quarters. I had a similar priority when I led marketing for division of a large enterprise in the field of Energy. Brand was not a focus. Short-term activation campaigns and sales programs were successful in most of the cases. At least, this is what I (and most marketers) thought.

The latest research of Les Binet and Peter FieldEffectiveness in Context, analyses hundreds campaigns of the IPA Databank, with a focus on marketing effectiveness.

According to Binet and Field, marketing effectiveness is in decline and “short-termism” is, in many ways, the mother of all marketing problem. What exactly happened? As I have mentioned, marketers are increasingly short-term in their focus. They spend money on immediate sales activation rather than longer-term brand building. They opt for bottom-of-the-funnel tactics because in a one-year time period that will pay better in the majority of the cases. But in one of the most important sections of their research, Field and Binet demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing. Too much time spent picking the low-hanging fruit means less time watering the tree. Eventually the tree stops growing.

Also, distracted by a continuous flow of short-term data, marketers won’t realise that something eventually will go wrong. And when they will, it could be too late.

Field and Binet demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing.

There are additional notable discoveries mentioned on the latest research:

  • Online brands tend to pursue short-term sales activation effects more than offline brands because of the availability of clients
  • Brands in high online research categories (financial services, durables, etc.) tend to follow online brands and pursue short-term sales activation effects because it’s easier to activate responses
  • Marketers in subscription-based selling brands (eg. mobile network operators, software brands) have diverted expenditure away from brand-building comms

Based on my experience I would add: most of the B2B tech brands tend to prioritise short-term strategies too, because of the easier availability of clients online.

“The digital revolution tends to leading to increased activation efficiency and so a higher proportion should go to brand. It seems paradoxical, but what’s happening in the digital world means you need to build that brand even more,” Binet says. “Online brands that sell or reach online need a higher percentage of their spend going to brand building because they already have direct channels to conversion. Digital realisation is leading to increased distribution efficiency, so more emphasis needs to be on brand.”

B2B tech brands tend to prioritise short-term strategies because of the easier availability of clients online.

Same for brands in high online search categories, same for tech brands, same for financial subscription-based brands, same for all enterprises that have neglected long-term brand awareness strategies.

As a consequence, content creation has focused mainly on bottom-of-the-funnel and product (or service)-focused content to support short-term sales activation programs. In most of the cases a solid and documented content strategy was even not requested and not in place. You don’t necessarily need a content strategy for executing short-term sales activation campaigns.

Now, Field and Binet advise a combined brand awareness and sales activation strategy, in order to reach the maximum of marketing effectiveness. They advise a 60/40 split for optimum impact across many different categories, which means you are supposed to invest at least 60% of your budget in long-term brand awareness and 40% on more immediate sales activation. And there may be variance in this balance from sector to sector; for instance the financial sector is the one where brand building looks being more important. 

You don’t necessarily need a content strategy for executing sort-term sales activation campaigns.

Brand communications create enduring memory structures that increase the base level of demand and reduce price sensitivity. Sales activation triggers these memories and converts them efficiently into immediate sales.” Binet says. 

Brand building and sales activation are not choices or alternatives – they are mutually interdependent and both are essential to long-term success. The authors explain that sales activation style marketing is about growing physical availability, and is best served by tight targeting and relevant messages. In contrast, brand building is about increasing a consumer’s mental availability for your brand, and is driven by broad reach, stories, emotions and associations.

The ideal scenario would be executing integrated brand awareness and sales activation programs. And here is where content strategy and tactics as storytelling will come into play. Top-of-the-funnel content and storytelling will fuel brand awareness and its need to build enduring memories; medium and bottom-of-the-funnel content will feed the immediate need for sales activation programs. The money is in the memories – and content is at the core of them.

How Visual Design Can Improve Content Marketing

Visual Design

Technology and consumer preferences are continuously evolving but we often forget that some core principles of visual perception and human psychology remain always the same. After all, humans are visual creatures: half of the human brain is directly or indirectly devoted to processing visual information and have a remarkable ability to remember pictures.

But, how do users scan a website or a content hub and on which page location do they spend the majority of time while visiting them? Also, how can we secure that our site structure and layout facilitate content consumption? 

This is the third post of my series about psychology and design: so far, I have written about how to use the principles of psychology to better understand your audience and improve design & content marketing and how colors psychology can affect human behavior. This time we will focus on core principles of visual perception and how we view and process visual information. Understanding these core principles will represent an unquestionable benefit for content marketers.

Nielsen Norman Group’s F pattern

Regardless of geographies and cultural background, most of the users generally consumes content from the top down, and the majority reads from left to right. Readers will rarely commit to reading every word on a website; they typically scan web content as quickly as they can to determine if they want to dive deeper.

Understanding core principles of visual design will represent an unquestionable benefit for content marketers.

In 2006, a study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group examined eye-tracking visualizations on different types of web pages: an ‘about’ page, product pages on eCommerce websites and Google search results page. They found that the human brain commonly scans content in two distinct patterns; users typically read web pages following two full horizontal stripes followed by a vertical movement. For text-heavy pages such as blog posts, or pages with consistent blocks of images, such as product listings, scanning behavior consistently happens in an F pattern. The implications of this reading behavior have been written about and have extensively influenced website design.

‘F’ Pattern

The F-shaped pattern is characterized by many elements concentrated at the top and the left side of the page. Specifically:

  1. Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top horizontal bar.
  2. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower horizontal bar.
  3. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eye-tracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.

The F-shaped pattern describes people’s behavior when they visit a web page and assess its content, not their behavior when they are in a new section of the website and inspect the navigation bars (typically at the top and/or left of the page) to decide where to go next. 

Throughout the years, because of the increased prevalence of mobile apps as well as mobile web browsing, changes in content formats, innovative use of CTAs, and a relevant transformation in the display of search engine results, Neil Patel has argued that the F-shaped pattern “isn’t a commonality anymore”. Patel states that there are a couple of major mistakes in accepting the F-shaped pattern from 2006:

  • Our reading habits, search engines and technology have tremendously evolved in the last 12 years. Mobile and social media are now the core means of content consumption
  • The “F-shape” wasn’t really pixel-perfect behavior. In the study itself, it was found that users also read in an E or inverted L shape. 

NNGroup’s recently conducted a new eye tracking research showing that the F-shaped scanning pattern is alive and well in today’s world – both on desktop and on mobile. In addition to the F-shaped pattern, there are many other possible scanning patterns, including spotted pattern (consisting of skipping big chunks of text and scanning as if looking for something specific, such as a link, digits, a particular word or a set of words with a distinctive shape) or marking pattern (which involves keeping the eyes focused in one place as the mouse scrolls or finger swipes the page, like a dancer fixates on an object to keep balance as she twirls). Marking happens more on mobile than on desktop.

How can you incorporate this concept into your website or product to improve UX and gain conversions?

It’s common practice for web designers to craft their pages explicitly around these psychological behaviors. As both patterns begin the same way, it’s a smart choice to position your most important information in the top left

You’ll notice that logos are usually placed at the top-left corner of the page. On the opposite side, there are sign-up/sign-in options. Then, as eyes make their way to the middle, visitors are directed to look at products. The end points typically warrant a CTA for further action. Using these psychologic tendencies and scanning patterns to your advantage will not only help you entice users to explore your platform, but also effectively guide their subconscious decision-making process down the sales funnel toward a conversion.

When writers and designers have not taken any steps to direct the user to the most relevant, interesting, or helpful information, users will then find their own path. In the absence of any signals to guide the eye, they will choose the path of minimum effort and will spend most of their focus close to where they start reading – which again is usually the most top left word on a page of text. It’s not that people will always scan the page in the shape of an F. Although years of reading have likely trained people into thinking that more important content comes before less important content, no user really feels that the content has been arranged so the most important things appear in an F shape. The F-pattern becomes the default pattern when there are no strong cues to attract the eyes towards meaningful information.

It’s hard to control people’s motivation or their goals, but you can optimize content and presentation so that users can find what they need quickly. In particular, use good web-formatting techniques to draw attention to the most important information instead of relying on the arbitrary words that people may fixate on when they scan in an F-shape.

Mobile users

Reading web content on the smaller screen is an altogether different experience than reading on desktops. A mobile user also has the chance to physically interact with your web content by touching and tapping the screen – which, for example, is one of the reasons that make social media so engaging on mobile.

The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (GRCAI) conducted a study to find out how users read text passages on a mobile touchscreen device. They found the following reading pattern among the participants. It’s clear that the left side of the screen still gets major attention. Also, they classified the readers into three categories (and this categorization was confirmed by other studies, e.g. the iPhone reading eye-tracking investigation that was conducted by SensoMotoric Instruments to find out how users read and navigate mobile news applications and websites):

  • Scanners – the majority. Almost 58% of users scanned content
  • Navigators – 38% only read the headlines,
  • Reader – Only 5% actually read the content

As an implication, if a majority of your audience visits your digital proprieties from mobile, then it is suggested to rethink your web content strategy.


As a data-driven marketer, you should know there are many tools at your disposal to discover your site’s particular viewing patterns.

These include software solutions for eye trackingrecording user behaviorheat maps, click maps, scroll maps, and funnel visualizations

Regardless of the screen size, what appears at the top of a web page will always influence user experience. The difference in how users treat information above vs. below the fold is 84%.

I don’t encourage you to place a call-to-action (CTA) above-the-fold if your value proposition is complex. Your CTA placement should depend on your product complexity, among other factors. Instead, use compelling content and visuals to encourage users to scroll. Interesting information, at the top of the page, that builds a story gives users a good reason to navigate to the bottom of your website.

In case the majority of your audience visits your blog from mobile, here are some tips for crafting engaging content for the smaller screen:

  • Stick with essential info – It’s 108% harder to understand content when reading on mobile. So don’t overload your posts with irrelevant information. Mobile users have little patience and lesser visible context. 
  • Make your writing tighter, well-formatted and entertaining. And, prioritize your information with progressive disclosure, using accordions.
  • Above-the-fold (the top section of the screen) is the most precious piece – On the mobile screen, it’s extremely important to keep the user’s attention from the beginning. The immediately visible part of the screen, including your headline and introductory paragraph, should be compelling. Shorter headlines work better, as they would be clearly visible above-the-fold and can be viewed in a snap.

So, a good mobile user experience and nailing user intent are critical for gaining visibility in mobile search results. 

I hope that you can use this information to better design your content marketing strategy.

Featured Image by Harpal Singh

How to Make Video a Better Part of Your Content Strategy

Branded video

Note: this post has been originally published on MarTech Series online mag.

By all accounts, video is the future of content marketing. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, it will account for 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2019. But just because video is popular doesn’t mean brands know how to do it well. Branded video can only be as great as the strategy behind it.

Video content is simply one tactic that has to be part of a wider marketing strategy. Regardless of what tactics you choose, a strong strategy starts with your audience. Do you want to reach people in a particular industry? A certain title? Does geography matter? Your team should also grapple with audience data including surfing habits, time spent on-site and preferred devices, long before anyone takes the lens cap off a camera. When brands reach that point, then video can be an effective way to engage people through emotion and narrative.

As a tool, video is optimal for specific objectives like brand awareness and lead generation. These goals translate well to quick explainer videos and short interviews or profiles. But the format does have several weaknesses. For example, it’s not an ideal tool for conveying a lot of complex or detailed information, especially in technical B2B fields.

As long as your strategy is balanced, that’s OK. It’s become commonplace for companies to “pivot” to video at the expense of all other content programs, but a valuable idea can live across different formats. A finance company can create a top-of-funnel video about people saving for retirement and then drill down on different retirement options in a more detailed e-book. That approach will also prevent Scope Creep from draining time and talent away from the rest of your marketing content.

Once an audience is defined and a strategy has been designed, marketers can turn to distribution. If you’re going to spend a considerable amount of money and dozens of hours on a creative video project, you can’t just post it on your blog and expect everyone to find it. Video has started to dominate social platforms and mobile engagement. Per comScore, the average user watches more than 40 minutes of YouTube videos a day on mobile devices. So, whether you’re using Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter or a combination, there’s a growing audience for your clips. The trick is that each platform draws different people with different desires and expectations. You have to study the algorithms to learn what kind of videos get prioritized.

Finally, if you want to stay one step ahead for the future of video, revisit that audience you outlined in your original strategy. The way we consume content is moving more and more toward video, GIFs, animation, motion graphics and audio. The growing sophistication of technologies like virtual reality, voice recognition, and artificial intelligence means we will soon interact with screens very differently than we once did. For marketers to keep being successful with video content, they must continue to adapt to the changing landscape.

Featured Image by Kushagra Kevat

The psychology behind content: how to trigger your users’ behaviour

Note: I’ve updated the original post with new studies; I’ve refreshed Fogg’s Behaviour Model with the latest researches and I’ve added a couple of missing Cialdini’s principles of persuasion. Also, I have included a new paragraph to clarify when (in which phase of the buyer journey) we should be using these principles. Finally, I’ve added a reference list at the end. This is the most complete article so far summarising my researches on Content/Digital Marketing and Psychology.

This may sound counterintuitive but success in marketing strategy does not start with strategy. Rather, it should start with the context, being the context a deep understanding of your business objectives and your audience. There is no tactics without strategy; and there is no strategy without a clear understanding of your audience. Here is where psychology – better, a comprehension of basic psychology principles – can help.

Psychology and Persuasion

Psychology is the study of mental processes that lead to human behavior. It affects everything we do. As a content marketer or designer, it’s helpful to understand psychological principles, whether you’re working to make an existing website more intuitive or building a digital experience aligned with how users make decisions.


Psychology can help us answer questions like: Why do users behave the way they do? Which elements of design will facilitate the behaviors I want users to engage in? Yet, psychological principles mostly reside in the realm of academic research and literature, which are often inaccessible for marketers.

Before we start, a note on persuasion. This post covers a few principles focused on persuading users. Although persuasion has a bad reputation – and I understand why – it isn’t an inherently negative action. It is just a way to influence, for better or worse. Victor S. Yocco, author of “Design for the Mind: Seven Psychological Principles of Persuasive Design,” put it well:

Utilising dark patterns or tricking a user into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do is not persuasion. It’s being an asshole.”

That’s exactly the point. This post is not about that kind of persuasion. What I’ll present here is a collection of principles, examples, and best practices that will make your content and design more persuasive, in order to trigger behaviors users were already considering. In other words, you’ll learn how to increase conversions by understanding psychology, engaging readers in specific behaviors, and creating calls to action at the right time.

Utilising dark patterns or tricking a user into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do is not persuasion. It’s being an asshole.

Victor S. Yocco

Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model 

Persuasion is part of every aspect of our lives. Businesses want us to buy their products. Politicians desire our votes. And people want us to like them. The same ideas hold true for websites, apps, content destinations, and other digital properties. Good design persuades users to engage with your product or content in the way you intend, leading to your desired outcome. 

Persuasion involves more than words. Aesthetics and user experience can make a website or application more persuasive. They can reinforce your audience’s attitudes. A digital experience can also dissuade users. If someone encounters nine pop-ups, a long loading time, or three pages of disclaimers to get to your core message, there is a high probability they will leave your site before you get your point across. Distractions, whether physical, visual, or intangible, can temporarily halt the whole persuasion process.

Academics have attempted to explain how persuasion works on individuals for decades. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), one of the most frequently cited models of persuasion, explains how shaping attitudes also shapes behaviors. Incorporating the principles of the ELM into your message and design will maximize your influence on user attitudes and, therefore, behaviors.

Central and peripheral routes

When someone is presented with information, some level of “elaboration” occurs. To elaborate on something means to take the time to really think about it. If you have to buy a car, for instance, you will spend a lot of time thinking about which car is best for you. You will search on Google, talk to friends, and visit car dealers. This is what the ELM is about: How likely are we to elaborate, and on what level? The level of elaboration determines which processing route the message takes: central or peripheral.

Central route processing (high level of attention) means your audience cares more about the message. They’ll pay more attention and scrutinize the quality and strength of the argument. Any attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be more resistant to counter-arguments. Attitudes formed through central route tend to be hard to change – either they are positive or negative attitudes.

Peripheral route processing  (low level of attention) happens on a more superficial level. Your audience will pay less attention to the message itself while being influenced by secondary factors, such as source credibility, visual appeal, presentation, and enticements like food, sex, and humor. Attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be less enduring, subject to change through counter-arguments, and in need of continual reinforcement.

A view of the two routes

To illustrate the difference between central and peripheral route processing – and how messaging and design can address each – let’s look at an example.

Imagine two potential customers, both in need of a new compact car. Abby is a car expert who often reads car magazines. Joe barely knows about cars; he’s interested in finding a quality car, with good design (he loves design products) at a good price. While both users will have some level of central route processing (i.e. pricing), it is more likely that Abby, with her interest in cars and mechanics, will be attentive to the messages. Abby searches for car details, specs, and comparison information. Her process will likely follow the central route.

Central route
Central route

Joe, instead, looks at different sites before deciding on a new Mini Cooper model. He’s not really interested in technical details. He likes the way the website presents the car. He loves the design, and he’s attracted by large images and customizable color combinations. Joe goes the peripheral route.

Peripheral route
Peripheral route

Promoting the Central Route

This example leads to our next area of exploration: what promotes central route processing and high elaboration? How can we push visitors to the central route? Researchers have found two main factors influencing a shift to the central route: motivation and ability.

Motivation (relevancy) is often influenced by relevance. A user who feels directly impacted by a topic is more likely to process a message through the central route.

Ability (capability) is a straightforward concept. For central route processing to occur, your message must align with your audience’s thinking capabilities. If people lack the mental ability to process your message, they will not be able to critically evaluate it, and are guaranteed to process it through the peripheral route.

In other words: If you want people to pay attention to your content, make it relevant and easy to understand. The Fogg’s Behavior Model can help you connect motivation and ability.

Fogg Behavior Model: motivation, ability, and prompts

Dr. BJ Fogg founded the Persuasive Technology Lab (now renamed Behavior Design Lab) at Stanford University, and has done some amazing research on behavior design. Behavior design is where psychology, design, and technology meet – a systematic way to influence a desired behavior. Fogg defines behaviour design as a way to “computerise behaviour change” and “computerise persuasion“.

Behavior design is where psychology, design, and technology meet – a systematic way to influence a desired behavior.

BJ Fogg

Fogg’s model explains that three elements must come together at the same time for a behavior to occur: motivation, ability, and prompts. If one of those elements is missing, then the action won’t happen. In short:


Fogg’s Behavior Model: Ability, Motivation, Prompts

Ability and motivation have a trade-off relationship when it comes to performing behaviors. That’s what the curved line on the Behavior Model represents. You can see the point when we should ask users to engage in a behavior (check our site, click this button) because they’ll be most likely to say “Yes!”. We must design our content to increase motivation and ability to the point where a prompt will be successful. If a design presents the prompt (trigger or call to action) before motivation and ability reach sufficiently high levels, the behavior won’t occur.

Here’s how you can account for each in your content and design.


The most effective way to increase motivation is through strong messages that show why your product and content are relevant to your audience. Several factors can also boost motivation, like:

  • status
  • early access (remember Gmail?)
  • pleasure or pain
  • hope and fear
  • social acceptance and social rejection
  • power
  • and rewards

Take this example from Vitality insurance. Most people who visit the site already have strong motivation, and an Apple watch reward may further increase it.


Convey your message in a way that your audience understands. There are two paths to increasing ability. The hard way is to train people to understand your message. The easier (and best) path is simplicity. Make it easy for your audience to understand what you offer and how to receive it; make your design accessible.

This leads to an important rule: If you must choose what to optimize for, always choose ability over motivation. Simplicity changes behavior. Become a master of simplification, not motivation.

Become a master of simplification, not motivation.

Victor S. Yocco, Design for the Mind

Simplicity is the minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost. Simplicity has a direct connection to persuasive technology. Technologies that make something easier to do are more likely to get people to do that thing. An obvious example is Amazon’s Buy now with 1 click.

Simplicity is the minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost.

BJ Fogg, Persuasive Technology

Oscar’s website is a perfect example of simplicity. The health insurance company makes a complex topic accessible. The Oscar website enables ability and facilitates a central route.

The Prompt

Without a prompt, a target behavior will not happen. Prompts tell people to do it now. Sometimes a prompt can be external, like a message alert. Other times, the prompt can come from our daily routine: walking through the kitchen may trigger us to open the fridge. The concept of a prompt has different names, but content marketers generally refer to it as a call to action or CTA (Fogg once called this element the “Trigger”; he changed this term in late 2018. Now he uses “Prompt”).

The way to encourage desired user behavior is to “place hot prompts in the path of motivated users,” as BJ Fogg would say. The closer the timing of an external prompt with an internal prompt, the sooner an association forms. In general, an internal prompt is created when a user has a consistently great experience with content or an application. After continuously getting rewarded by the application, an association is made between the application and the need that prompted the opening of it. Since internal prompts take the form of internal drives and thoughts, they’re pretty much impossible to measure or rely on. That’s why external prompts are a product designer’s best friend. Examples of external prompts are:

  • Emails
  • Push notifications (eg. email subscriptions pop-ups)
  • Text messages

These prompts are most effective when actionable, personalized, and timely. If a user is presented with a CTA when they’re able and somewhat motivated to perform a behavior, it’s likely that they will.

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion

We have seen how elaboration occurs and how it is facilitated by motivation, ability/simplicity, and prompts. Persuasion expert, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, adds one more element. Since we live in an age of information overload, we don’t always have the time to process all of the information and make informed decisions. This incapacity makes us look for signals that help us decide if we want to do something. Cialdini calls these signals “shortcuts.” Enabling these shortcuts through design and content will facilitate users to adopt the central processing route:

Status Quo: People generally prefer status quo, even if they say (or their actions suggest) they’re open to new ideas or ways of doing things. If your company’s products or services require customers to venture out of their comfort zone, explore risk-free mechanisms that allow customers to experience them. Meal box companies like Blue ApronPlated, and HelloFresh do this by offering free meals to new customers. This tactic is appealing to everyone, but especially those who are reluctant to try a new dinner routine.

Reciprocity: People generally feel indebted to those who do something for them without asking for anything in return. Simply put, the more you give to your customers, the more they’ll be willing to give back to you. Whether it’s bestowing customers with an unexpected discount or free gift, the idea is to go above and beyond without requesting anything in return. Some B2B software companies do this by automatically extending free trials or giving customers exclusive access to new product features. For example, Freshbooks has been known to send automated free trial extension emails to users who haven’t purchased after initial trials. This is also the concept behind the big rock content marketing model.

Social Proof and Acceptance: We generally value opinions and ideas from people like us, and we feel greater compulsion to act when we see others like us taking action. Social proof comes in a lot of forms: customer case studies, testimonials, reviews, and social engagement, to name a few. For example, MarketingProfs applies this principle on its new membership page by pointing out that more than 600,000 marketers have signed up, motivating the reader to become part of that group, as well.

Scarcity and Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO): When we fear that something is scarce, we feel compelled to act – buying, stockpiling, or experiencing that thing before it’s gone. This is an incredibly powerful psychological principle that marketers have used for years to drive action. By using limited time offers or showing consumers what their friends are purchasing, you can create a sense of urgency to buy. Amazon’s Deal of the Day is a perfect example. It hits on both scarcity (only so many deals are available) and FOMO (you only have so much time). Same with airline companies that show how many seats are left at specific price points.

Authority: influencer marketing’s principles are based on the authority shortcut – people will consume your content (and will buy your services/products) because you have some degree of knowledge and authority, enough credibility for people to want to read what you have to say. It works well in B2B and B2C, even if the kind of authority can be of very different nature. Kaya Skin Clinic, a beauty clinic that focuses on improving the looks of a person by delivering services that enhance beauty and skin, found that including the word “expert” in the opt-in form as a call to action was a powerful application of the law of authority. In fact, lead generation increased 137%, and as a consequence revenue increased 22%, when Kaya’s agency decided to change CTA, including now the expert term.

Kaya’s website
A new CTA, making advantage of the authority principle

Liking: finally, liking (or likeness), based on the straightforward principle that we are easily persuaded by people who are like us, or people we like. Similarity boosts liking. If we are members of the same group or have commonalities, it’s even easier to like you. Cialdini suggests using the About Us page to become more likable, by including individual information and personal interests. represents a good example of well designed About Page, and a good application of Cialdini’s liking principle.

How (and when) we should use the principles

Let’s now translate what we’ve learned into a message clearly understandable by content marketers. The question we should ask ourselves is: when should we use the psychology principles? If we consider the simplified buyer journey we can summarise saying that:

  • Central Route Processing should drive the entire journey. In fact, we have seen how any attitudes formed or reinforced this way will be more resistant to counter-arguments; attitudes formed through central route will tend in fact to be hard to change. Which means we need to work to increase motivation and ability/simplicity through the full journey;
  • Fogg Behaviour Model: similar consideration here. Prompts (CTAs) will trigger behaviours in different phases of the journey;
  • Cialdini’s principles of influence: some principles could be more appropriate for a specific phase vs others. For example, the principle of scarcity can trigger consumer’s action in the purchase phase. Authority can be extremely useful in the very first phase of the journey, where enterprises (especially B2B) should be considered authoritative and gain trust because of their understanding of specific domains. Social Proof is extremely helpful in several phases of the journey and with specific audiences.


Psychology principles and the simplified phases of a typical buyer journey


You should all pay close attention to these principles, learn what they’re all about, and apply them to your own content hubs, apps, and digital properties. If you incorporate them properly, you’ll notice an unmistakable boost in your conversions over time. Understanding your audience’s behaviour will be instrumental for the success of the overall content marketing strategy.


How Content Marketing Can Transform All Departments Across the Enterprise

Content Marketing Across All Departments

“Content is the most critical digital asset for every organization, embodying its knowledge and processes.” This quote is from Microsoft, but it might come from any large enterprise. Content is everywhere; it starts with marketing and shouldn’t stop there.

Based on the latest statistics, most successful marketers allocate 40 percent of their budgets to content, and 38 percent even plan to increase their content budgets this year. Content is proving to be a powerful tool for marketers, but what about the other departments within those companies? What about human resources, internal communications, customer service, or account management?

Content shouldn’t be limited to marketing departments; every part of an organization can benefit from it. From large firms to small and medium enterprises, content is, in fact, the “atomic particle of company strategy”; it’s the article that helps sales secure a client meeting, the personalized deck from account managers that keeps customers up-to-speed, the document or the social media conversation from customer service that solve clients’ common issues, the message from internal communications that announces quarterly financial results or a new acquisition. Think about all the departments within an organization and you will see how content plays a major role and, just like in marketing, comes in a variety of formats: articles, videos, interviews, and podcasts, just to name a few.

Despite content being vital to every department, companies rarely have a content marketing strategy that encompasses every department. Unfortunately, this often leads to content that diverges from the company’s voice, brand, or vision. And if the content is deployed without a distribution strategy, it can ultimately end up being a waste of time and money.

So, how to avoid those issues? The last thing we, as marketers, want to do is push individual departments to start creating more content. The marketing division needs to integrate each department into the overall content marketing strategy. Each department, with the marketing team, needs to first define its audience and personas, and document a content marketing strategy complete with goals and KPIs. Ideally, the marketing or content team should act as the hub for company’s content. It’s the center of gravity when it comes to generating high-quality, engaging content and finding creative ways to distribute that content to external and internal audiences.Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 12.15.00 am.png

Let’s see how each department can benefit from a proper, content-centric model.

Public Relations (PR)

PR has traditionally pushed out information to consumers, through partnerships with editors and media, to build awareness around new products or corporate initiatives. While this approach was effective for many years, it’s far less so today. Yet, PR departments and firms continue to use these tactics that are isolated and detached from the company’s content marketing program (assuming that one is in place). This means that the PR function doesn’t benefit from the synergies that an integrated PR, content, and social media approach could generate.

In addition, PR professionals have historically relied on soft metrics, such as placements and impressions, to measure value. It hasn’t connected actions to outcomes that demonstrate how PR activities impact KPIs that are relevant to the business.

The old way of doing PR doesn’t make sense, anymore. It’s time to integrate PR with the content strategy.

The primary goal is to gain earned media. To do that, PR departments need to start thinking like publishers and the media they’re trying to pitch. When PR departments switch from push to pull, they can start generating content that has more depth and value. This can boost media placements and increase the velocity at which stories get picked up.

General Mills made the shift from traditional press releases to an audience-first blog. The company had grown tired of waiting for earned media coverage after making traditional press announcements around new products. In an effort to get information out to consumers in a timely manner, General Mills created its own blog, a Taste of General Mills. The blog focuses on news, new products, and company results. It’s a creative and clever deployment that mixes the best of marketing with PR. And it’s tremendously effective.

“Our team looked at the blog as a way to keep customers and journalists up to speed on what’s going on across General Mills,” says Kevin Hunt, General Mills’ Corporate Social Media Manager.

The strategy has proven fruitful. For example, one day after General Mills posted an article about the release of its new beer, HefeWheaties, NPR, Fortune, and NBC News picked up the story. As Hunt noted,“In many instances, Taste gives journalists a reason to pick up the phone and call us.”

A Taste of General Mills.png

Integrating PR with content will bring numerous other advantages, including unified reporting and the usage of relevant metrics that map toward common goals.

Customer Service 

Companies increasingly use social media to gain a greater understanding of customer desires and to react to customer feedback more efficiently. But today, when anything online can go viral within seconds, we need to go above and beyond “simple” engagement and turn a customer support environment into a proactive listening and solutions-creation space.

Dell went the extra mile in delivering an exceptional customer support experience through content and social media.

Giovanni Tavani is Dell’s Social Media Support Global Leader; his team’s mission is to facilitate a two-way conversation between Dell and users. Tavani’s team has seen success by increasing both the number of conversations and the quality of interactions. They achieved this by creating a global, integrated central team that drives a digital and social environment built on three key pillars, which Tavani recently shared with me:

1. Active Listening. Through Global Listening Centers, Dell’s Social Media Support tracks all public, online mentions related to Dell and its products and services to understand what users need, their opinions, and how to better interact with them. When customers need support or advice on a specific topic, Dell moves to the second pillar.


2. Content Creation. Helmed by a centralized leadership team, Dell’s Social Media Support took an activity traditionally found in marketing and translated it into a services environment to create meaningful content that helps anticipate customers’ needs.

Today, the department’s creative team is able to produce visuals for all the company’s social media accounts and videos for YouTube channels. A team of millennials was hired for Dell’s internal movie production studios to create videos based on users’ expectations.

Let’s not forget that this is a two-way conversation; Dell is creating content customers have indicated that they want, rather than content built only with the company’s own idea about what could be good for customers.

Dell Social Media Support.png

3. Customer Engagement. Dell’s daily largest operations see full engagement in all support-related conversations with queries on every social media platform. Dell has just one obsession: outstanding customer experience. Dell’s subject matter experts are capable of closing cases on several issues. Customers can use the company social media platform as a one-stop shop for their queries.


Of all the departments outside of marketing where content can directly impact the bottom line, sales is probably top of the list.

However, according to SiriusDecisions, “at enterprise-level organizations, an average of 65 percent of content is never used by sales reps.” With content marketing spend expected to reach $300 billion by 2019, this statistic is worrisome. If enterprise organizations are investing millions in content development, why aren’t the people responsible for selling products and services aware of these assets? When you get the departments working together, though, the results are apparent. On average, companies with sales and marketing teams that work closely together see a 32 percent growth year-over-year. Content is clearly an effective way for sales teams to build their authority without overwhelming prospects.

“Your leads are people, not just email addresses,” says Ellen Gomes, then Content Marketing Specialist at Marketo. “Personalize your messages by speaking to each lead about his industry, his pain point, his stage in the buying cycle. Personalization may sound like a lot of work, but the right marketing automation platform can make it simple and scalable.”

Think about the following scenario: A salesperson emails you after she saw you recently downloaded an e-book her company produced. She sends you a link to a blog post that might be relevant to your needs, as well as a compelling reference about a company similar to yours. You haven’t had time to read the e-book yet, but the article seems informative, and the case study attracts your interest, so you agree to talk. You begin your conversation by discussing issues you read about in the content.

If we continue this content-first hypothetical scenario, we see that content can be valuable in all stages of the sales cycle: awareness (the original e-book), evaluation (the blog post and the reference), and the acquisition.

A recent article by Docurated, a marketing and sales enablement platform, confirms the effectiveness of using content to close deals. After surveying 27 CEOs and sales executives, 74 percent concluded that original content is essential to win over prospects. Of those 20 respondents who believed in the sales value of content, half specified references and case studies as their specific choices.

Internal Communications

Whether we work for a large enterprise or a small startup, internal communication is a critical function. Especially for companies running global content marketing programs, it’s necessary to establish internal communication channels between teams. This will ensure that everyone knows the latest information about content processes, frameworks, methodologies, and best practices.

As I wrote in a blog post when I was VP of Content Marketing at Schneider Electric, a large energy company with more than 150,000 employees and an internal population of thousands of marketers, my team had to prioritize internal communications.

In fact, our first challenge was to inform and educate regional marketers about the global content marketing program we had just launched. We had to explain why we moved from a traditional, campaign-based methodology to an always-on content marketing model. We also had to share new processes, frameworks, tools, and goals.

The solution: Use content marketing tactics internally. Email newsletters, content hubs, and apps are all great ways to solve internal communications challenges and keep employees aligned. My content team created, in cooperation with internal communications and HR, an internal bi-weekly content marketing newsletter called “The Content Strategist.” Having a steady stream of communication – never missing a deadline, even if collecting content from different teams and sources – was a challenge, but helped us convey the same message across all geographies.

Schneider Electric_Content Strategist.png

AJ Huisman of YContent, an expert in global content marketing programs, suggests to “establish clear lines of communications and to secure mutual understanding beyond the time zones. Also, a proper internal communication plan will help to get to that point faster.”

Our content newsletter became a success just after few months. The initial audience grew five times larger and we had an average open rate of 80 percent. After six months and with thousand readers, Schneider Electric’s CMO mentioned our newsletter as an innovative and efficient means of internal communications.

Human Resources (HR)

Content marketing helps you cultivate an audience of potential customers. Can it also attract prospective employees? And can you use content to recruit top talent – and maybe even retain the highest performers you’ve got? In a word, yes.

HR not only interfaces with every single part of an organization; it also directly engages with the external talent marketplace. HR represents your brand, everywhere.

From employee onboarding, to training and education, to recruiting, HR has many opportunities to take advantage of content marketing. Think, for instance, about using videos to tell company stories and help employees find their place in the company’s overall vision. Or what about creating online training libraries, like LinkedIn’s Lynda does with short videos that allow people to take courses on demand? Or think about the engagement that might come from featuring your company culture on a blog or social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They can be recruitment channels that generate applicant interest and bring in resumes.

Cisco is a good example of a brand the uses content marketing for HR. Its ongoing #wearecisco campaign features photos and videos posted by Cisco employees who speak about why they love working there. It’s a clever way to utilize user-generated content (UGC) to reach potential employees on a more personal level – especially given that employee posts see as much as eight times the engagement of brand posts, as people trust peer statements over brand advertisements.

Your content marketing can showcase the unique perks your company offers. Take LinkedIn’s coverage of its Bring in Your Parents Day program. LinkedIn turned an internal initiative into a worldwide program in which any organization can initiate. Not only does this program garner publicity for LinkedIn, in general, it also shows prospective employees a little bit about what it’s like to work there. And as competition for employees increases, companies need to actively promote their business as a desirable brand to work for.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 12.57.53 am.png

Beyond recruiting, content marketing can educate and inform current employees – potentially assisting in retainment.

Why circulate a boring memo (that’s easy for people to ignore) when you can use more attention-getting content formats? A detailed and fun infographic could be a better way to communicate changes in healthcare plans or benefit packages. Short videos could present HR updates in a more engaging way and be shared via email or on a company intranet.

GE, for instance, has used its internal content hub to educate a specific set of employees – union employees – on an upcoming labor contract vote. The campaign’s internal hub and app were designed specifically for these employees, with the goal of being a comprehensive information source about the contracts. The site received more than 65,000 hits and nearly 50 percent of users were repeat visitors.

This internal content program was part of a GE’s larger initiative to deliver value to employees, which included the development of an internal platform, “My GE,” where people could share their own stories. The program was so innovative and effective that GE won PR Week’s “2016 Internal Communications Campaign of the Year” award.

Account Management

Account managers have a unique duty that rests somewhere between sales and customer service. In a traditional role, an account manager is assigned once a customer becomes active, and it’s their duty to manage that account going forward. This can include managing service-related issues, upsell opportunities, upgrades, and new orders.

Because account managers are assigned to a group of customers, they have the opportunity to use content as a means of building the relationships and nurturing those customers in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sending targeted, value-driven emails
  • Sharing helpful content specific to the customer, such as blog posts, whitepapers, videos, and infographics
  • Creating feedback loops to engage the customer and solicit information that can be fed back to marketing, production, sales, and leadership
  • Providing additional onboarding resources depending on the customer’s use of a product, or red flag metrics that indicate diminishing use or engagement


Virtually every department in your organization can benefit from content marketing.

The best way to start is by working with key stakeholders in each department to define their goals and KPIs. Then, craft a content marketing strategy that’s aligned with the overall company content marketing strategy. Each department will, however, have its own model for managing, creating, distributing, and measuring its own content.

Each will also likely have a central resource responsible for producing the final copy, such as an outside agency. Give each department input and let them guide the process for developing their content with outside resources. This way they will share in goals and vision while retaining some measure of autonomy over their department’s content. Depending on your content strategy and the departments involved, you’ll begin to see soon improved acquisition and a positive change to your performance.

Featured photo by Dylan Nolte

Psychology, Design and Content Marketing

Psychology of Colors

My second post about #Psychology, #Design and #ContentMarketing is now live.  

After the study of behaviors – Elaboration Likeliwood Model, Fogg Behavior Model – and Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, I investigate here psychology of colors and the impact they have on branding and content marketing across different geographies.

How to set up an Editorial Board for your Content Marketing

Editorial Board

If you work for a large enterprise, and you move from a “traditional” marketing model to a content/editorial marketing approach, you need to think about the transformation and the new skillset that your team/division might require. An Editorial Board is at the core of this transformation. 

An editorial board defines the full process around the content marketing strategy, handles all content-related requests and issues, manages the content distribution and amplification strategy, and establishes the content measurement framework. 

Here is my new piece, via NewsCred‘s Insights Blog. 

Featured image by Chris Knight