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Reading time: 8 minutes

The Psychology of Engagement

How to Use Biases to Create Content That People Love

You’re walking through the city and you see a long line of people queuing around the corner for something. You become interested in why all these people are queuing, so you go and have a look as well. In one instance you may find that you can’t quite see why, but you’re still interested, so you join the queue as well.

This is social proof, it’s a bias where you are being socially influenced by others because they are interested in something. Our brains have been wired to pay attention to information that is relevant to us. This is because of the variety of biases that exist. Social proof, as well as many other biases, can aid you in creating engagement with your audience.

In a world that is overflowing with information and distractions, grabbing and holding your audience’s attention is certainly a challenge. This is where the world of biases comes into play, they are mental shortcuts and patterns that shape our thoughts, decisions and perceptions. Though they are often seen as obstacles or negatives, they can be very useful tools to correctly engage your audiences. Whether you’re a marketer, business owner, content creator or something else, understanding and strategically leveraging biases can make your message, and your brand resonant with your audience better than ever before.

What I’d like to do is give you a primer on a series of pieces that I’d like to do in the future, exploring a variety of different biases that can be utilised to help to better engage your audiences. In this article, we’ll briefly explore three key biases, the familiarity bias, the confirmation bias and the storytelling bias. Alongside these, we’ll also look at how biases can be used to create relevant content for your audiences, how they can be used to evoke emotions, and how they can be used to create a sense of belonging for your audience.

So let’s dive in and discover how harnessing these biases can be the secret weapon in transforming and improving your business and communications strategies.

The Familiarity Bias: Tapping into the known and creating interest for your audience

The first bias I’d like to touch upon is the familiarity bias. This one can be a very powerful cognitive phenomenon, as it draws your audience to what they already know and are comfortable with. It’s the reason why we tend to choose familiar brands over unknown ones, why we feel comfortable with routines and favour people and places that we know.

To engage your audience using the familiarity bias, you should incorporate elements that are known and of interest to them in the content and experiences that you are providing. For example, if you were to create a webpage for a new service or product, use the knowledge you have of your audience to tailor the page to their needs. Design the look and feel of the page with a familiar colour scheme and layout that make your audience feel at ease. And highlight the aspects of the service or product that speak to their interests.

As an example, think about well-known and iconic brands, such as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. These brands have harnessed the familiarity bias by maintaining a consistent look and feel to their logos and slogans for decades. The moment you see the red and white or the yellow from the golden arches, you know exactly what to expect. It’s a very reassuring feeling for the audience and this is why they will keep coming back.

For you to be able to utilise this bias, you will need to establish what you want to be ‘familiar’ with and remain consistent with it. Incorporate the sense of familiarity in your messages, branding and storytelling, and use market research to discover what your audience finds familiar and is of interest to them. When you do that and know those things, then you’ve truly tapped into your audience’s biases.

The Confirmation Bias: Reinforcing beliefs and evoking emotions

If familiarity is about tapping into the interests and being known concepts of your audience, then confirmation bias is about stepping it up one level. Here you confirm what your audience knows or rather, believes to be true.

Confirmation bias is one where your audience will seek out and pay special attention to information that aligns with their existing beliefs and values. However, I would like to mention that the incorrect use of this bias has led to the creation of echo chambers filled with misinformation. My intention with this is to not have such things be created and it isn’t of benefit to you or your audience. A well-informed and balanced audience is more likely to remain engaged and loyal to you, than one filled with falsehoods and zealotry.

This bias, if used correctly, is a very powerful tool in your arsenal for engaging audiences. By reinforcing their beliefs and evoking the right emotions respectfully and authentically, you can establish a very deep connection with your audience.

One way to evoke the right emotions within your audience when speaking to their beliefs is by using language, imagery and storytelling that they are familiar with. But remember to deliver to your audience correct and informative information that helps them and that supports in aligning or perhaps realigning their beliefs.  

The use of confirmation bias is usually related to politics or similar fields. Some politicians are very good at leveraging confirmation bias by delivering messages that resonate with the core values of their supporters. However, the value of this isn’t so much in speaking to the already loyal supporters, or in your case, the already loyal audience. But rather in using the knowledge of confirmation bias to help you sway those on the fence towards you.

There is very little use in preaching to the choir, confirming their beliefs and evoking those emotions in them brings no additional value to you or them. They were going to go to you regardless. Nor should you engage in the exercise of trying to convince those unlikely to purchase a product or service from you by trying to sway their bias. Confirmation bias is at its most useful to you when you are successful in evoking positive emotions and confirming helpful information with audience members who were ambivalent towards your brand.

By tapping into that audience’s beliefs and emotions, you will gain new supporters, who if your message is respectful and authentic will become loyal followers of you. By speaking to your audience’s beliefs, you can create a sense of belonging with the story you provide.

The Storytelling Bias: Crafting Compelling Narratives and creating a sense of belonging

We all love stories; they transport us to other worlds and they connect us in a deep and meaningful way when we share stories. We as humans are intrinsically drawn to stories. The pull is known as the storytelling bias. Much like with the familiarity bias where we started, our brains are also wired to connect with narratives on an emotional level, making storytelling an unbelievably potent tool when engaging your audience.

You only need to think about your favourite book, movie or TV show to know how potent it is. I’m pretty sure my saying that sentence has caused you to think about which one is your favourite and with that a variety of emotions have likely flooded your mind. If that’s the case, then think about what draws you in and keeps you glued to the screen or page. It’s probably the captivating stories, the relatable characters and the desire to share that story with your friends and family.

When you weave a compelling narrative into your audience’s experiences, then you can essentially transport them into a different world, one that hopefully evokes positive emotions in them and one that leaves a lasting impression, lasting enough that they wish to share it with the community that they are part of.

Let’s take Pixar as an example of storytelling and creating belonging with that. Pixar masterfully crafts their stories to be emotionally resonant with their audience, be they children or adults. Pixar understands that stories can transcend age, gender, and demographics of all kinds, creating a sense of community in their audience and thus making their movies almost universally loved.

Crafting a story for a brand or business isn’t about creating some fantastical narrative set in a far-off land. It’s more about understanding what message you want to get across to your audience and how you can deliver this in a narrative fashion. My favourite example is always how the fast-food chain Chipotle wanted to communicate the importance that they place on having a sustainable food system. In the promotional video, they show a farmer turning his farm into an industrial plant, but the farmer realises the error of his ways and alters course to a more sustainable version.

This type of storytelling truly grabs your audience, because it is so relatable and something that can be easily shared with others. What it does so well is that it creates something familiar for the audience and helps those who weren’t sure about Chipotle to confirm the fact that they might be worthwhile after all.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and harnessing cognitive biases is a nuanced yet indispensable art when it comes to engaging your audience. We’ve looked at three biases, familiarity bias, confirmation bias, and storytelling bias, and how these are invaluable tools in your engagement strategy toolkit. How these can be used to create content that is relevant and interesting to your audience, and how they can be used to evoke emotions in your audience. And how they can be used to create a sense of community and belonging among your audience.

However, it must be said again that it is crucial that you use these tools ethically and responsibly. Using biases in audience engagement should never come at the expense of truth and ethics. By carefully considering your audience’s biases and employing these strategies thoughtfully, you can create content that captivates, resonates, and builds a meaningful connection between you and your audience. So, the next time you’re crafting a message, writing a blog post, or developing a marketing campaign, remember the power of biases and watch as your audience becomes not just passive consumers but active participants in your narrative.

I hope you found this piece useful, and if you did, then I encourage you to join others by clicking the button below to join the aeStranger email list. This way you can be the first among many to find out when aeStranger releases new pieces of content in the field of audience engagement. You will certainly be the first to know when the next instalment on biases will be released.

On top of that, you will also be informed in the very near future when aeStranger will be releasing the beginner’s course on AEX Design. In this course, you and others can learn more about how to craft an effective audience engagement strategy. What tools and techniques you can use to successfully engage your audiences. As well as a variety of case studies you can learn from about how highly successful businesses created their audience engagement strategies.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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