Does language determine thought?
Probably not, but linguistic determinism was a very prominent idea throughout the 20th Century, popularized by the infamous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
Whorf claimed that native languages and language concepts inherently determine our underlying thought processes. Under Whorf’s theory, a language void of temporal expressions would leave its listeners and speakers unable to visualize and understand concepts of past and future.
Stephen Pinker would later counter that linguistic determinism was a conventional absurdity, though Whorf’s hypothesis brings up some questions about how much language influences thought and how much control we really have over our actions.
Can we influence thought and public perception through carefully worded language and euphemisms? Does a lack of critical language skills and knowledge leave us more susceptible to groupthink? Are our thoughts shaped by culture and other external factors, such as a speaker’s authority? Does linguistic determinism discount psychological biases?
Taking a universalistic approach, we hypothesize that language does influence language to a very large degree, except that there are other factors at play. These factors include our relationships with others, as well as how we remember and prioritize information in our minds. Pinker would refer to this process as “mentalese” to refer to thought without a native language.
Understanding this approach, we can analyze how our use of language and the way we present our brand could significantly influence the way our customers digest our content. Using some simple psychological concepts, we’ll illustrate how you can shape your content marketing campaign to drive big conversions and increase audience interaction.
If there are two concepts SEO practitioners preach, it’s authority and relevance. There’s actually a lot of proof behind the power of authority. Not only are we more likely to listen to people in positions of authority, but we’re also more likely to truly encapsulate and follow their messaging.
The principle of following authority represents one of Robert Cialdini’s The 6 Principles of Persuasion. Using Stanley Milgram’s infamous prison experiment, we understand that people are capable of extraordinary actions, even if destructive, based on a “deep-seated sense of duty to authority.” We surmise that people are led to actions if they believe they are receiving information from somebody who is a perceived authority.
Except, Cialdini primarily refers to people with titles of authority as wielding better influence than those with an authority on knowledge, though the two can be interchangeable.
Using these concepts we can formulate some strategies to enhance our content marketing campaign and drive more conversions.
- Feature content from expert sources on your website.
- Quote or mention expert sources in your blog posts to prove an argument or backup a detail.
- Gain mentions, quotes, or links from highly authoritative sources back to a piece of content you produced.
- Develop authorship on authority topics in high-industry publications to develop thought leadership.
Positioning yourself or someone in your organization as a thought leader could lead to something called the Halo Effect. Essentially, with enough trust, customers will think if you’re skilled in one discipline, you should also be skilled and helpful in other disciplines. If your content is actionable and authoritative, why wouldn’t your services or products be?
One key thing to remember is keeping your topics related to a single niche or cluster of topics. This builds authority in a single area first. Whether it’s crafting ad copy or content dealing with a complex topic, content needs to be actionable and lead users to desired choices. Leaving customers with open-ended choices could lead to a paradox of choice, where users are unable to decide on further actions for a fear of missing out on something.
Examples of highly authoritative content include:
Clustering for Paraphrasing
This next principle should be used to plan out your content calendar and navigation structure. People can only remember so much information and many users will only use your website for a few seconds to find the information they desire. Using topic clusters reinforces a customer’s memory recall and develops authority around important topics and subtopics in your industry.
HubSpot has coined its own practice “topic pillars.” Essentially, you create a broad overarching topic page (pillar page) that attempts to answer as many questions as possible. Then you create separate webpages or blog posts discussing more specific sub-topics with links back to your pillar page. This helps your website rank for multiple keywords and provides incentives for users to dwell on your website longer.
This principle could also be applied to copy-writing itself. Consider these strategies for better organization that will help users become more acquainted with your topic without having to read as much.
- Craft strong headlines detailing the main point of your topic.
- Segment subtopics or arguments into a bulleted or numbered list
- Format headers with supporting points in a different size for easy scanning
These strategies conform to the law of proximity. People will view hyperlinks, related articles, and navigation destinations as being related to the webpage they’ve landed on. If you’ve captured their interest with a strong headline and headers than they may navigate further for more information.
This all sounds easy right? We’ve already talked about authority and relevance, but how do we acquire trust? Perhaps the best method is to provide social proof for the efficacy of our products and our content.
This principle conforms to the ingroup bias as well. If a customer sees that everyone else is doing something, then they’re more inclined to do it. But establishing social proof goes beyond citing a few skewed statistics. Consider these strategies to establish social proof on your website:
- Publish testimonials and feature them on landing pages.
- Feature positive online reviews on major trafficked webpages or on a side-bar next to content.
Consider that 92% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase. When crafting page copy, always cite reputable sources and link out to websites that are trusted. False or deliberate claims will immediately destroy your trust with consumers. Consumer trust in brands is at an all-time low.
Information Gap Theory
Getting people to read your content in the first place is probably the hardest part of content marketing. Content marketers often employ a sense of urgency or scarcity to get users to take actions. One principle content marketers can leverage is the information gap theory, which seeks to create curiosity and anticipation among target customers.
People try to fill in the gaps between what they know and want to know, which creates a sense of curiosity. Targeting audience members with content that feature strong headlines and calls-to-action will break their short attention spans. Create a strong, cogent pitch and transition words that guide visitors through your content toward the end.
This principle can also apply to running a limited time contest, unveiling a new product, or running a weekly video on your website. Think of Moz’s often anticipated Whiteboard Fridays.
This principle is reminiscent of the principle of missing out. People feel stronger about losing out on information than they do acquiring it. This does not entail writing clickbait articles to pique reader interest, but creating striking, relevant headlines that actually relates to the information of your page copy.
Finally, content marketing is often referred to as a lead generator and lead nurturer. Content marketing can also be an effective tool for converting passive customers into brand loyalists. The theory of reciprocity could be applied to give people positive experiences that will help mould loyalty. Reciprocity occurs when someone rewards a positive action with another one.
In terms of content marketing, it could be offering users free actionable and informative advice to help better their lives and their business. This could be practiced through free blog posts, free ebooks, webinars, podcasts, or even a reduced price (or free) whitepaper.
Using Psychology to Improve your Writing
Understanding how to write and promote content that appeals to psychological biases will greatly improve your marketing strategy. While language does not determine thought, having mastery over it certainly makes you better at influencing it. Use these psychological principles and more to craft cogent page copy that builds authority, trust, and loyalty for more conversions.