Content Marketing and the Art of Ethical Persuasion

  • AsuthoshAsuthosh

Campaigns continue to rule in B2B marketing. Content, on the other hand, remains an afterthought for most of us. Something that we think about after the campaign mechanics, metrics and tactics have been set.

But our customers are now connected like never before. Their buying behaviour shifts often and is influenced, however subtly, through forces that never existed even 5 years ago. If content is made the meat and connective tissue of marketing, the outcomes can be significantly influenced for the better.

Emeritus Professor Robert Cialdini of Psychology & Marketing at Arizona State University has postulated six key principles of influence, which resonate well in the context of content marketing.

Content influencing behaviour

1. Be an Authority

We no longer decide to buy after visiting just the official product or solution page. We read customer reviews. We hunt for people of authority. We share our research with other decision influencers. We do our due diligence.

Put your stamp of authority in your arena of operations through content such as white papers and e-books that directly address how your solutions meet buyer’s needs. Run webinars around these content and have an expert on hand for live Q&A. Conduct an annual industry survey and share your findings with analysis and insight. All these can help drive consideration towards your offerings.

2. Draw out Affinity

The distinction between someone’s virtual and ‘real’ personae gradually dissolves the more we get exposed to their social media persona (feeds, tweets, FB and LinkedIn posts). Research has shown that affinity grows as one “sees” someone more often.

Produce content that is rich in information that one can use, such as blog posts, cheat sheets, informational videos like visual explainers and post company updates on LinkedIn on a regular basis so that you appear in your prospect or customer’s radar without being intrusive.

And though RSS has been recently done disservice by Google, it remains a highly efficient way of being “omni-present”. Make your posts more visual so it draws attention, now that many would take to consuming RSS feeds through “magazine-style” apps.

Let the tone of such content be conversational and thus personal. That way its more engaging and easier for your audience to relate to, and ultimately make them want to know you better and perhaps even get in touch.

3. Show Social Proof

As business decision makers, we are no less swayed by what the crowd (or in this case, our industry peers) are doing, than the average joe. Perhaps we may choose not to act upon it as impulsively (such as a mob might) – but don’t underestimate the herd mentality inherent in all of us.

Enter the customer testimonial, success story or case study. A customer story well-told in a personal tone, creates a form intimacy that your audience can relate to, and relate to as a business.

To do this, words are fine, but visuals greatly increase the impact of the story. Unlike a work of fiction where a reader’s mind could create an amazing world of fantasy which filmed adaptations rarely match up to, a success story can be rather prosaic and video does wonders to bring out its authenticity.

4. Create Scarcity

There is a reason why words like “exclusive”, “limited-time”, “2 days only”, “early access”, “50% off for first 10” work. These are all levers that work (again, the primal) instinct to acquire something that’s rare or before anyone else.

Offer a piece of premium content free to the first 100 who sign-up for your newsletter, or to those who already subscribe to it. Offer a free consultation to those who attend your webinar. Give a sneak preview to a new solution suite and open pre-orders only to your LinkedIn followers or Facebook fans. All these serve a dual purpose – it makes your existing patrons feel appreciated, and feeds the scarcity instinct that few can resist.

5. Demonstrate Commitment and Consistency

Campaigns could come across as one-off attempts and transactional, an attempt to take something away from us. It’s like saying “wanna buy?!” with dollar-eyes.

Content marketing, when orchestrated thematically and executed through a structured nurturing program that’s attuned to the interests and behaviour of its audience, demonstrates a degree of commitment to the buyer’s needs.

Its consistency of approach and person to person tone of interaction, frames and gains permission to talk about business to business, easing into a call to action at the end. It’s no different from one-time acquaintances turning into deep friendship that one day culminates in happy marriage.

Looked another way, it’s about telling a wholesome message consistent with past actions and statements without prevarication.

6. Encourage Reciprocity

One good turn begets another as the saying goes. In a hyper-social world, favours rarely go unreturned. Share what you know, freely, and preferably in a form that compels a visceral (positive) response from the reader and compels to be spread around. We’ve likened this to world-renowned chefs sharing their recipes with abandon, knowing it won’t diminish their cachet in the slightest sense.

Think delightful infographics, fun videos, a touch of good humour in otherwise serious material – people crave a break from banality, so if something makes them laugh, or even smile, a share is a natural next step. You might be surprised how a new client is made because of something fun they saw a year back that was shared by a peer.

Do you agree with these ways of “ethical persuasion”? Chime in, and tell us the other ways you do it.

(Prof Cialdini’s ideas: hat tip to Conversation Agent

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