Why people click on your content (and why they ignore it)

A science-backed checklist for startups who want their marketing to get noticed.

Startups shouldn’t try and be liked - Instead, they must strive to be noticed and remembered  – that’s any new businesses biggest marketing challenge. Why is that?

Let’s paint a picture. Did you know that:

With 5.9 million businesses in the UK, startups face a daunting challenge to get their marketing even noticed – whether they are operating in a post-COVID 19 lockdown, a global recession, or in prosperous times.

Even though businesses spend $300-billion dollar a year in content marketing, why is so much of it ignored?

Having worked for London ad agencies for 15 years for large brands, startups and established small businesses, often what makes marketing ineffective is what goes into the content. The creative soul of it.

According to a study into 6,000 award-winning Effie campaigns, creativity (or that lack of it) separates a profitable marketing campaign for a poor one 47% of the time. The importance of reach (22%), brand (15%), and targeting (9%) are significantly less paramount.

How do you improve your content, so it doesn’t get it ignored?

Is there a process behind it that you can replicate?

Fortunately, the latest in marketing science shows us precisely how to create content with oomph. It shows us how to get an emotional reaction from customers. It shows us how to get them to act and consider our business. And to do this requires understanding three creative principles that can enormously transform the quality of your marketing output.

What are the three principles?

  1. Create a motivating message that unfolds from headline to the last scene or sentence

  2. Spark a big emotion that moves your audience with a human story

  3. Shamefully brand, so people know it’s you first

Before the end of this piece, you’ll learn what these principles are in detail, why they’re important and how to apply them – whether you’re creating a YouTube video, audio podcast, or weekly newsletter.

Let’s break each one down, one principle at a time.

Principle 1 | Create A Motivating Message

If you're sitting at a slot machine and the lid holding your brain popped open, a passer-by might see that a bunch of reward centres and neurons firing on overdrive. 

So why does this happen in our brains?

Rewards heavily drive our grey matter

As humans, if we think we're going to get something special in return for some small action (like clicking a link), then we'll go hell-for-leather to get it.

And a terrific piece of content does just that to our brains: it will set fire to our reward centres.

That’s why a tantalising headline is key

A headline that promises a reward will take someone from where they are now to a better place to where they could be. If you make a specific, and tantalising offer, you’ll get the click and people will hurriedly consume your content to the end to get their full reward.

See these headlines, for example, that are popular on BuzzSumo as I write this:

  • How to Create 64 Pieces Of Content In A Day

  • 3 Ways Content Marketing Boosts Your SEO Rankings

  • Pitch decks that helped hot startups raise millions

Can you see the promise in each headline?

Can you see how specific and tantalising that it sounds?

It feels like you're about to strike gold. 

Yes, you’ve sold them a magic trick.

Now you need to deliver on it in the rest of your content

Specifically, you’ll need to:

  • Create an immediate connection with your audience in your first line (Did you see how I asked you a question at the start of this article to grab your interest?)

  • Detail what your audience is going to get in the content, and the benefit of it

  • Deliver in full what you’ve promised (this is where the value comes)

  • Give a unique perspective that isn’t cut and paste from somewhere else

  • Give proof with numbers, quotes or personal stories, so people buy into what you say

And only once you've done this, can you ask people to act (like downloading a lead magnet, reading more content or signing up to your email list).

However, it’s easy to pummel people into boredom. 

Your headline might have got you noticed, but your audience has glazed over after 12 seconds.

Which is why you’ll need to use our second creative principle: spark a big emotion in your audience and make them feel something!

Principle 2 | Spark A Big Emotion

Let's pretend it’s Christmas – and you give your other half a shiny present that you’ve wrapped in yesterday's old newspaper. I bet he or she won't be that impressed, however much you spent on the gift.

Studies into thousands of advertising award-winning marketing campaigns by The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising shows that sparking a sizable emotional reaction in your audience leads to more profit. The more boring and rational you are, the less money you bring in.


How do we spark emotion in our content?

How do we rev our audience’s emotional engines?

The answer lies in the two words: push-pull

Think of ‘push-pull’ like emotional judo. 

The idea is to take your audience in one direction, then pull them in another. Each scene, section or paragraph has a chance to pull the audience one way then the other, and that’s what keeps people paying attention. 

Too much push with too little pull leads to boredom 

The content becomes too one dimensional.

The right balance of push and pull, however, creates attention and builds emotion.

In my experience, the best way to do this is to tell a personal, human story that is utterly relatable and moving. 

John Lewis does this with its TV ads at Christmas. It’s why a lot of ‘get rich quick; schemes are successful because they push and pull people’s heartstrings with their ‘rags to riches’ stories. 

This week why not look out for good TV ads? Why not look at content with lots of views on YouTube? Try and spot how a simple human story is told and pushes and pulls you from start to end, and leaves you with a big emotion by the end. 

Yes, emotion and a motivating message is what gets your content remembered, shared and noticed. 

But these are not quite enough

What if people like your content, but don’t remember it’s from you?

Principle 3 | Shameful branding

Have you ever seen an ad on TV, liked it but had no idea who it's for? 

That's often because inferior branding is to blame, however motivating and emotional the ad feels. And the same is true for content marketing.

If you don't let audiences know that it's you immediately, people are far less likely to associate your brand with the motivating message and emotion that you’ve worked so hard to create.

Marketing Professor Mark Ritson is a thought-leader in this area. In a recent article, he writes: "Most ads are a total waste of money, not because the media choice was flawed or the creative was poor but because almost no one knew the ad was from the sponsoring company…. you must still double, triple, quadruple down on it [your branding] in all your executions. What you think internally is overkill is noticed by only 12% of your customers, once."

Doing branding well is not complicated either

Here are some pointers on how to brand your content well.

From the very start, introduce your brand and gently pepper it throughout the content. For example:

  • Your brand’s palette of colours (Coca Cola does this consistently from a TV ad to a can of Coke that you buy in a supermarket)

  • A character that’s associated with your brand (whether it's the owner, like Richard Branson or a fake character like Ronald McDonald or the Honey Monster)

  • Jingles, music or sonic device (like at the end of an Intel Inside ad) 

  • Your logo (like the McDonald’s golden arches or Audi’s rings)

  • Your name (business name and personal name)

  • Your reputation (examples of what you’ve achieved)

It doesn't matter if you are a small brand or a big brand, you have to build associations of your brand in people's heads slowly, so when they see an ad from you, they know it's you before they engage with it.

Branding is a simple win when improving content

It's also critical for getting you remembered, but, in my experience, many don’t do overtly brand! They get too ‘creative’, shy or embarrassed. Yes, it’s our final principle, but it’s the most overlooked.

Now, let’s recap our three principles, so you can create content that is somewhat ‘unignorable’:

  1. Motivate people with a reward from start to end. Promise them a unique result, that ideally no one else can do and deliver on it

  2. Leave people with one big emotion by the end. Make your content feel human and try to move people emotionally. Don’t just bombard them with cold facts.

  3. Shamefully brand. Your goal is to get noticed and remembered as you, not someone else, so don’t make your precious brand shy away.

If you use these three powerful principles in your marketing, you’ll find that your click-through rates, open rates, shares, enquiries and conversions will grow and you’ll enjoy the art of marketing even more. 

Remember, the goal isn't about getting liked or disliked

It's about getting noticed and remembered, and that’s our hardest job.