Understanding psychology is a crucial part of being a successful marketer. What I’ve discovered is that the most powerful advances in content marketing don’t come from “hacks,” “tricks,” or “techniques,” but from science-backed psychology.
One of the most powerful and interesting areas of psychology deals with excitement. How can content marketers get people more excited? How can we raise their level of emotional engagement to bring about content engagement? Is there any way that we can get more comments, more shares, more likes, and more of the content marketing KPIs that we crave?
The answer is yes, and the psychology of excitement shows us how.
How Does Excitement Work?
To understand how excitement affects marketing, we need first to understand how excitement works. Here are some of the key features of excitement.
Excitement is mental, but it affects the whole body.
Excitement begins in the brain just like any other emotion. Emotions, however, have strong physiological responses.
Many people are familiar with the experience of stomach sensations (“butterflies in the stomach”), trembling, weakness, and sweaty palms in response to a state of fear or excitement. These are the body’s complex responses to a mental condition.
Excitement is a condition of physiological arousal. ChangingMinds.org explains what happens when we are aroused in this way:
Arousal typically happens when the body releases chemicals into the brain that act to stimulate emotions, reduce cortical functioning and hence conscious control, and create physical agitation and 'readiness for action.' The endocrine system stimulates various glands, in particular adrenaline, which increases oxygen and glucose flow, dilates the pupils (so you can see better), and suppresses non-urgent systems such as digestion and the immune system. Arousal is spread through the Sympathetic Nervous System, with effects such as increasing the heart rate and breathing to enable physical action and perspiration to cool the body.
Excitement is temporary.
The human body is always seeking a state of homeostasis, a condition of stability. The mind and body are constantly undergoing changing conditions -- fluctuations in temperature, pressure, etc. Despite all the changes, the body can dynamically adapt to maintain homeostasis.
Excitement disrupts the body’s homeostasis -- but only temporarily. Since the body is constantly returning to homeostasis, a condition of true excitement (in the biological sense) can go on for only so long.
How long? It all depends on the level of excitement. An article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that it takes 20 minutes for the power of excitement to pass.
Excitement makes people more likely to act.
When the body is excited, it provides the perfect conditions for marketing to have its effect. Excitement of any kind is a state of arousal. Arousal means that the heart rate increases, the sympathetic nervous system increases activity, and the brain begins to signal the increased production of hormones.
When a person is excited, their emotions become more powerful and can affect their decision-making abilities. Excited people are more likely to make a decision -- any decision (even a bad one). Excitement leads to impulsivity.
In “The Psychology of Social Shopping,” Paloma Vasquez makes this point:
In a state of excitement or arousal, people think and behave very differently. Emotional states trump rational thinking; it’s easier to sell to consumers when they are excited.
This can be a good thing. As marketers, we usually want people to act, not overthink. We realize that quick decision-making can be important to moving someone through the buyer's journey.
What Can Help Create Excitement?
With a basic understand of how emotion works, we can begin to discover how content can create excitement. Here are the broad categories of excitement-inducing content.
There is wide consensus on this point: Users are excited by with emotional content. They engage with it passionately, intensely, and automatically.
People are emotional creatures. We decide and take action (including buying decisions) based largely on emotions. So, if your marketing content tries to reach your audience only through a rational approach, there’s a good chance it will fall flat.
Users will respond to content that affects them on an emotional level. Emotion is part of decision-making and action. What kind of action? Social sharing is the most obvious action.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study to answer the question “What Makes Online Content Viral?” Their study quickly brought them to this conclusion:
Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral.
Simply put, if you want to create shareable, viral content, then make it appeal to people's emotions.
Psychologists have long understood that making progress is one of the most important features in an individual’s satisfaction and wellbeing. The Harvard Business Review explains:
Through exhaustive analysis of diaries kept by knowledge workers, we discovered the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress … Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress -- even a small win -- can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.
The progress principle applies to the microcosm of content, too. JeremySaid.com explains, “One of the best ways to motivate behavior is to create a sense of progress. If a user can win new levels of rewards, they are much more likely to make an attempt to do so.” This is the principle that creates excitement over the Starbucks loyalty program:
When it comes down to content, the user wants to both understand and feel a sense of progress. On Slate’s sidebar, they tell users how long it will take to read an article, thus suggesting progress, presumably to encourage engagement.
Strong Design Features
Consumer psychologists understand the powerful role of environmental cues in the way that people act and shop. The same things hold true for website design -- elements like color can have a huge impact on how people engage with your website. In fact, color is one of the easiest ways to enhance the sense of excitement.
To see what I mean, look at Coca-Cola's blog below. Their strong use of red in their Tumblr design helps spark excitement and drive more engagement and interaction with the content.
Impulse shoppers act on the basis of excitement. One of the driving forces of impulse is the product’s price, according to the Wall Street Journal. You can keep your prices low, or use the price anchoring effect to make it seem low. Either way, you can generate excitement because of the low price.
When a customer gets a great price, they are more likely to share it with others. The reason, explains Robert Schindler in Advances in Consumer Research, is because they’re proud of it. A good deal sparks the “ego-expressive” response, making the customer “feel responsible for the discount.”
To capitalize on this excitement response, you can use sharing icons at appropriate points throughout a conversion process. For example, Amazon prompts customers to share their purchases on social media. The reason people are likely to do so is because of the state of excitement that they experienced after making a purchase.
To a lesser extent, the product itself can create excitement. Mark Macdonald’s article on Shopify explains that products themselves can generate excitement and eagerness to buy, especially when they are “seasonal or limited products.”
For example, every March when my friend gets her green Shamrock Shake from McDonalds, she crows with happiness all over the social media.
A similar product, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte creates a frenzy of excitement on social media. This is from the Starbucks PSL information page:
Truthfully, this can be the hardest thing to implement at your company -- it involved company-wide changes. But the Shamrock Shake and PSL induce the kind of response that you want. If you can focus your marketing on a unique or excitement-worthy aspect of your product, it’s easier to help customers read about it and share it.
To improve engagement with your content, it’s not enough to simply produce information and hope it gets action. You have to create a strategy that activates users emotionally. Once you lay the intellectual foundation with content, then you can go on to activate their emotions through empathy.
As you interact with content on the web, identify what features make you excited. These are the same features that will prompt excitement in your users. Exciting content is the path to engagement.
What do you do to create exciting content?