The aim of all marketers is to change the behaviour of their audience in a way that benefits their business. Understanding some key principles of behavioural psychology can take your content marketing from good to great in a matter of days.

Many businesses use content marketing as a way to drive traffic to their site, build an audience, boost engagement levels, convert leads, and ultimately complete a sale.

All of these are actions that the consumer needs to take, and behavioural psychology allows us to understand what will encourage them to take that action. 

Here are six psychology principles that you can use to improve your content marketing efforts:


Reciprocity is a psychological principle regarding a positive action that takes place in response to another positive action. If someone is friendly to another person, then this principle suggests they would be friendly back.

Brands can use this principle by giving their customers something for free and building up loyalty. Content marketing is a great way to use the reciprocity theory, as any content created for your audience should be insightful, beneficial, and free for them to read or use. 

The content you are giving your customers could be helpful articles and blog posts, free e-books to download, online webinars they can join in with or informative podcasts they can listen to and learn from.

If you can make your customers feel like you are giving them something great without them spending a penny, the chances are they will be loyal to you and buy from you in the long run. 

Information Gap Theory

In psychology, the Information Gap Theory refers to the curiosity that humans develop if there is a gap between the information we already know and the information we want to know.

Developed by George Loewenstein back in the early 1990s, this theory suggests that when there is a gap in knowledge, humans are triggered to take action to find what they want to know.

Using the Information Gap Theory in content marketing involves creating curiosity within your audience, triggering them to want to find out more from you and then delivering the information to them.

The easiest way to do this is by creating eye-catching, attention-grabbing headlines.

It’s important to spark an interest that already exists within your audience, so choosing the right topics to write about is essential. Find something that your audience will want to know more about, and hand them the answer on a plate.

Draw them in with the right headline and you have given them something great for free, taking us back to the Reciprocity Theory.

Social Proof

Content marketing and social proof work hand in hand. This theory proposes that people are automatically drawn to a product that they know others already like and trust.  

The concept revolves around the conformity developed when we follow the actions of others, as we are unsure of what to do, but trust that a large group of people have more knowledge than us as an individual.

Carlsberg 'Probably the best poster in the world'

In terms of content marketing, social proof works when people can see that their peers have an existing opinion on a service or product they are focusing on. This could be in the form of a review, endorsement, or share.

If readers can see that other people have already commented on your blog post or shared it with their friends, they will be more likely to do so too.

Make sure you have clearly implemented social sharing buttons on your blog that display a counter showing each time it has been liked or shared. Encourage reviews and social mentions, as anything that highlights your brand in a positive way will encourage your audience to also trust your business and engage with you.

Fear of Missing Out

Or FOMO, this is a part of the scarcity marketing theory, which states that humans put more value on things they feel are scarce and a lower value on anything that can easily be attained.

When people worry they can’t have something due to a limited time or quantity, psychologically they will start wanting it more.

Have you ever been on a ticketing site and wanted to buy a couple of tickets to see your favourite band but baulked at the price, then gone back a few hours later to see the words “Limited Tickets Available” and instantly bought the tickets regardless of the cost?

That is FOMO and it shows how things become instantly more valuable when they appear to be scarce.

When it comes to content marketing, you need to show your customers that your content is rare and therefore valuable. If you have an e-book, only make it free to download for a limited amount of time, or if you have a newsletter, tell your customers that there is new content on your site that they have the opportunity to see before anyone else.

Loss Aversion

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to the way people tend to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. It has been suggested that losses are psychologically twice as powerful as gains.

The best way to apply the loss aversion principle to your content marketing is to work out what exactly makes your audience tick.

The way you write and the words you use can be powerful, especially when you know what your audience are worried about losing. Your content needs to show them why your service or product will prevent them from losing something important to them, like time or money for example.

Focus on the benefits of your product or service when creating your content, and work out how it can target the challenges and reservations your customers have and instantly alleviate any of their fears.

Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice principle proposes that humans become less satisfied if they have too many choices. People often struggle with important decisions, and when we are given too many choices, we often worry later that a different option may have been better for us.

Freedom of choice is important, especially when it comes to marketing, as consumers should have full control over the decisions they make. The problem comes, however, when businesses offer their audience too many options and it ends up having a negative effect.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s important that you don’t completely put your audience off by giving them too many options.

Keep your content clear and concise and don’t overwhelm them.

When they have read your content, you want them to take a further action, so offer them two different routes, for example sharing it or reading something similar, and avoid giving them too many options that results in them leaving your site. 

There are so many factors to take into consideration when creating and implementing a successful content marketing strategy, but keeping these psychology principles in mind will help you focus on your consumers’ thoughts and behaviour, and help you to stand out in a crowded world of digital marketing.