Disclaimer: there’s not much digital marketing in this article. There are some valuable insights that can help you with your content marketing though.

Prelude

Lots of people like listening to music while they work. Quite often if you look around the floor in Wolfgang Digital there’ll be more people wearing headphones than not.

Regularly, throughout the day a Wolfganger will get up from their desk, undock their laptop and head to a meeting room. The odd time the person might forget to pause their music, so when they unplug their headphones everyone can hear what they’ve been listening too.

Normally, this is fine. Unless you’ve been listening to your guilty pleasure.

This happened to one of the lads in Wolfgang and out from the laptop came Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

Some people (not me) would argue this is a fine choon. But most people in Wolfgang were a little surprised that this incredibly smart individual was listening to Bonnie.

This got me thinking… not whether “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (a better NSFW version) is or isn’t a good song but why do we like what we like?

The Secret Lives of Our Brain

A good place to start learning about this topic is the book by David Eagleman “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain”.

This is a deep dive into the inner workings of our brains to understand how we come to make choices.

It sounds heavy, but it’s a great read. Eagleman presents a complex topic in an extremely digestible way.

The central point to the book is that what we like has little to do with conscious decisions.

Here are three good quotes from the book to sum this up.

ONE – Inspiration… not really a spark, more a series

“The conscious mind is not at the centre of the action of the brain; instead, it is far on the distant edge hearing but whispers.”

Did you ever, all of a sudden, get a flash of inspiration that turned out to be a really good idea? We all have in different scenarios with varying degrees of impact.

Yet, that idea wasn’t created in an instant. This is very similar to the overnight success story that was 10 years in the making.

The ideas had probably been ruminating in your head for a while and had been influenced by some previous experience or the pre-coded information in your brain that you were born with. (More on this in #3)

The amount of conscious thought involved in decision making is quite small. Yes, you make the final conscious Yes/No, Go/Stop, Another drink/Go home… but the series of micro-decisions that led to the visible macro decision was the iceberg below the waterline.

TWO – Nature vs Nurture

“That is not to say that choices and environment don’t matter – they do. But it is to say that we come into the world with pre-dispositions.”

There has been hours and pages devoted to the debate as to whether nature or nurture is more important in our personal development.

The answer is they both are AND it depends on the person too.

A good example that Eagleman uses is in a description of our genetic make-up.

There is a derivative form of our gene material called an allele. If you possess a long allele in your genetic make-up you are less likely to be influenced by your environment, like LeBron James. I’m guessing he may possess the long allele structure. He overcame tremendous adversity in his childhood to become the greatest ever basketball player. Most people subject to the start he got in life don’t make it to the NBA.

THREE – Pre-existing conditions.

“We are not the ones driving the boat of our behaviour, at least not nearly as much as we believe. Who we are runs well below the surface of our conscious access, and the details reach far back before our birth when the meeting of a sperm and an egg granted us certain attributes and not others.” 

At the risk of labouring the point… we inherit a lot of the operating systems in our brain that we use to make decisions. To prove that point…

“Consider babies. Babies at birth are not blank slates. Instead, they inherit a great deal of problem-solving equipment and arrive at many solutions ready at hand.”

Within 10 minutes of being born, babies are aware that you look at someone’s face and not their knees, for example. They are also acutely aware of where they can go for food when lying on their exhausted mother.

According to Eagleman, the process that leads us to make the ultimate decision is largely beyond our control.

These quotes are only scratching the surface of Eagleman’s book.

But, this is probably enough to get the Wolfganger off the hook for poor song selection to a certain extent.

Wait… What?

As a content creator and digital marketer, this is kind of perplexing.

Figuring out the best content to produce is the hardest part of the process.

One of the main functions of content is to try and get the pages from your website to rank #1 in a Google SERP.

If we ask Google or the SEO experts “How can my site improve its rankings?” the stock answer most often is something like: “Create great content that your audience loves.”

How do we channel our inner Bonnie and make “content that our audience loves”?

Especially when we now know that what people like can be a subconscious act.

Biology presents the most appealing answer.

Physical entrainment – biomusicology

This is such a cool word – biomusicology.

It is the synchronization of organisms to an external rhythm. Simply put, this is what happens when music plays. Dancers feel the beat and move in time with the music.

A practical demonstration I try at presentations is to put a slide with just the words ‘Follow Me’ up on the screen. I start to clap, after a few (long) seconds the room will join in and clap along. If you change speed during the clapping the audience will catch up.

This is biomusicology or physical entrainment in action – a physical response to an external stimulus.

Neural entrainment

Taking it a step further, neural entrainment is exactly as it sounds. It is a response in your brain to an external stimulus.

If you want to get a good flavour for this topic, Uri Hasson has an excellent TED Talk about what happens in your brain when we respond to stimuli.

Hassan conducted some studies with subjects connected to fMRIs. An fMRI gives you a heat map so you can see when and what area of the brain are firing during the stimulus.

In one study, Hassan had 5 people hooked up to fMRIs. He noticed that as they began conversing their brains were firing randomly at different times and in different areas.

Once he introduced a 6th individual who began telling a story, something remarkable happened.

Both the storyteller and listeners’ brains began to synchronise. The same areas of their brains lit up at the same times. It was as if the listener was in the story; they were on the same wavelength.

The key ingredient is the presence of the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone” –  oxytocin.

Oxytocin is released when people hug or bond socially but also during the storytelling process.

The release of oxytocin is triggered by a stressor. Once the oxytocin is released while the body is in a stressful state the reader/listener/viewer is now feeling of empathy with the principal on the receiving end of the stressor.

Here comes the science bit

As I said, this is possibly the least digital marketing article ever written for Learn Inbound, but bear with me… we’re getting there.

Before we dive into how oxytocin works during storytelling, let’s take a quick look at the brain.

There are three levels to our brains.

  • The oldest part is referred to as our Lizard Brain. This is where things like habits reside in the basal ganglia which controls repetitive functions that we can complete without much memory or conscious thinking.
  • Our Monkey Brain is the limbic brain. Here we consider things like ‘fight or flight’.
  • Our newest Human Brain is where we process language, which is really useful when we’re choosing things from a menu for example.

It is our limbic brain that fires up during a story.

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus – then released by the pituitary gland – which is controlled by the amygdala. All parts of the limbic brain, which does not have the ability to process language.

Simon Sinek deals with this in his book “Start with the Why” and the now-legendary TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action”.

This is the most important part of this article.

Words are not enough.

You need to create emotion in your content/story in order to bond with your audience.

The Maya Angelou quote is true and it’s grounded in biology.

‘I’ve learned that people will FORGET WHAT YOU SAID, people will forget what you did, but PEOPLE WILL NEVER FORGET HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL.’

How do we do this? Add some stress to your content.

A list of features, a detailed user manual, a list of clients using your service will not stir emotion.

Hit people with problems, things that make their life hard, show them all the roadblocks they are going to encounter doing a particular task. Get the oxytocin flowing.

The best medium for achieving this is through a story.

Further Proof

Not every story is going to hit the jackpot.

But like anything in life, if you want to get good at storytelling (and connecting with your audience) you need to tell more stories.

While we’ve only begun to truly understand things like the limbic brain, oxytocin and the power of storytelling, in the last 30 years, stories have been foundational to the success of humans taking over the world.

Yuval Harari in his book Sapiens discussed why he thinks humans triumphed over other species to become the dominant rulers of the planet.

(His TED Talk will give you a good overview of his book in 20 minutes.)

He believes this is down to:

  1. Flexible cooperation – humans are the only animals that can work in both large and small groups and move between the two as required.
  2. Imagination – we have the ability to dream beyond our own existence and imagine ourselves in scenarios that either have not or may not occur.
  3. Stories – we are the only animal that can get behind an idea or story and will it into existence.

Things like religion, money and politics are all fantastic examples of how humans have cooperated, imagined and got behind the story to make these things happen.

Stories > Content

Let’s circle back to our question from earlier… How do we channel our inner Bonnie and make “content that our audience loves?”

With all this extra understanding about biology, it’s still going to be a tricky thing to master.

We are still going to need the technical content that lists the product features, but if that’s all you’ve got on your site you’re missing a trick. This ‘feature’ related content is the bottom of the funnel play.

Unless we’ve warmed up our audience with content/stories that make a connection you are probably going to struggle to position your content for the various stages of the funnel based on what we’ve learned so far:

  • Awareness – For the top of the funnel content provide explanations, definitions, listicles that demystify the world your product or service is operating in. Highlight the problems and stress points that your audience might encounter so they can relate to the situations your presenting. No selling here please, we’re just getting the oxytocin levels jacked.
  • Interest – Now it’s time to go for the ‘feels’. Give examples, practical applications, case studies for your product or service in action and how it made a customers life so much better after purchase.
  • Action – Now you’re on the same wave-length you can hit them with the features, benefits and pricing pages.

How can you make it happen?

Simple… talk to your customers.

Find out what got their oxytocin flowing and double down on creating content that replicates that experience.

It won’t be easy but it will be rewarding.

This approach to content creation won’t do away with the need for SEO or even a paid distribution strategy.

What it should mean is your content is read by the people you are trying to appeal to.

You should begin to see a gradual increase in time on page, pages per session and scroll depth.

If your content marketing has not been working so far, it is not because content marketing doesn’t work. Maybe it didn’t have enough biology in your process.

Try and apply some of these insights and let me know how you got on.

Postscript

If you want to try a story style article for the Interest stage in your content marketing funnel you can hijack this approach to help the creative process. This is a framework that Pixar has adopted into it’s creating stories for its movies.

 

Gus Ryan

Gus Ryan is an experienced content creator having worked both in-house and for an agency. He has created content across a wide variety of media and has a particular grá for podcasts. Past work includes technical articles for B2B companies and multi-media sports coverage for some leading Irish outlets.

All articles by Gus Ryan »

you might also enjoy

Siobhán McGinty
3 min read

Friday Night Takeaway: Reach, Social Media Posts, Blogging, SEO & Instagram

As it’s Friday night, we’ve rounded up all of the must-read inbound marketing news of the week. In today’s edition, we take a look at content reach, schema.org and blog idea generation; plus more useful tips from content expert, Neil Patel.

read post
Ercus Long
5 min read

12 Takeaways From Learn Inbound

We were absolutely thrilled to host our first ever Learn Inbound event! It was a full house of inbound marketers and we can’t be more grateful for them all. We’re bringing you 12 actionable takeaways from these three incredible speakers!

read post
Share your email address and we’ll keep you updated on all upcoming marketing related events and news so you never miss a beat...