A holistic approach to humans and data analysis
At the beginning of digital communication, marketers had a restricted resource of data, tools and knowledge, and the platforms were also in their early phase of evolution. As a standard tactic, ads triggered fear, social proof and scarcity.
However, there is no clear evidence that fear-based advertising is significantly harmful; we must note that the digital communication ecosystem has changed drastically throughout the years and affects one's mindset, perception and mental health.
Today we no longer discuss the feelings triggered by a single ad, post or piece of a brand’s communication. Still, we need a holistic approach and understanding of the impact of the entire digital-informational environment.
While headlines try to be accurate, there's a massive tendency to use attention-grabbing wording and structure. Tabloids focus on sensationalised stories and use language that can be inflammatory or divisive, and we find primarily negative and controversial stories in the spotlight.
Lastly, let's check out the social media platforms. Users on social media platforms can get angry and frustrated due to echo chambers and opinion bubbles. Users can also share information that reinforces their beliefs and values due to a lack of empathy or understanding of others.
Make your message resonate with your audience by understanding the beginnings of digital communication, and the informational and emotional background.
However, marketers still use old-school psychological triggers; we can see a shift in activating positive emotions too. Advertisers use emotional triggers for happiness, excitement, and curiosity. Brands want to create emotional connections.
Trends show that users might be more interested in ads that portray real customer experiences, showcase the company's values and mission, or engage with narratives that speak to them personally. Instead of fear and scarcity-based tactics, we experience user-centred, value-focused, and experience-driven advertising and digital marketing communication.
What is the new approach?
There are several ways to approach data, understand information and build data-based digital communication ecosystems.
Since two-way communication and social media platforms have changed digital communication, businesses and brands invest more in building communities than pushing their services and products.
At this point, the ability to
- engage with the audience,
- understand customers’ thoughts,
- gain insights about the products and services, and
- write customised messages
helps marketers develop more effective digital communication ecosystems. Artificial intelligence and machine learning help us a lot. Technology can enhance marketing campaigns' effectiveness by identifying behavioural patterns and data trends. AI and MI, combined with data visualisation tools and additional databases, might provide stakeholders with valuable insights.
1. Listen to the target audience: Listening to your target audience's needs, pains, and expectations is key to building a digital communication ecosystem that works.
2. Evaluate data: Data gives marketers insights into the behaviour, preferences, and interests of their audiences, which helps them create more effective campaigns.
3. Understand the information: It's crucial that marketers interpret and make sense of the data they collect to make informed decisions.
4. Build the ecosystem: Develop an account-based marketing workflow or a digital communications ecosystem that integrates the whole funnel so that all stages of the customer journey are considered and optimized.
5. Measure performance: A marketing campaign's efficiency is vital to evaluating its success and identifying improvement areas.
6. Optimise communication: Enhance campaign effectiveness by optimizing ad copy, website, headlines, wording, visuals, and CTAs.
7. Measure again: Once the communication elements have been optimized, marketers can assess their efficiency again and make necessary adjustments.
8. Evaluate: A continuous improvement cycle ensures marketers improve their digital communications ecosystem and adapt to their audience's changing needs and behaviours.
9. Restart: The continuous optimization cycle assures the ultimate growth factor when building a data-based digital communication ecosystem.
How do we perceive data and understand information?
The characteristics of the digital environment and the characteristics of the target audience, especially the way humans perceive and understand information, should be taken into consideration when planning and developing successful digital communication campaigns.
My favourite source of information is the results and findings of neuroscientific studies, modern psychological descriptions and, of course, the effects of cognitive biases and opinion bubbles on perceiving and evaluating information.
Andreagiovanni Reina, Thomas Bose, Vito Trianni & James A. R. Marshall published their work on Psychophysical Laws and Superorganisms in 2018. They discussed how the honeybees' decision-making is similar to the human brain's collective decisions.
Why are this study and information relevant when discussing digital communication? With consumers being overwhelmed with options and distractions, marketers must find ways to truly differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering high-quality products and services that stand out. A human brain has a limited capacity for processing information, which is an essential consideration when it comes to decision-making.
Marketing professionals can use this information to develop digital communication strategies that maximize sensory quality and minimise the cognitive load on target audiences, ultimately leading to better decision-making.
Triggers, responses and free will
Marketing communication uses specific psychological triggers to evoke certain behaviours. At this point, there are two essential elements for us to consider.
First and foremost, knowing that human decision-making depends on previous experience is helpful. As well as the information gained during human development (essential biological characteristics, childhood experiences, school background), previous experience also includes information that one experiences through scrolling and reading news articles and social media posts daily in our digital world.
We can also know that "despite the varied and dynamic nature of human environments, the patterns of behaviour and cognition that constitute personality tend to be enduring and broadly predictable." We are distinct but all the same. We have our individual experiences and specific patterns, but the answers follow general trends regarding the reaction.
So, when researching and understanding free will, we might say that human beings can have free will, but practising free will requires awareness, learning and willingness to quit mental barriers or so-called prewired neural/cognitive responses.
Cognitive biases and opinion bubbles
Understanding prewired neural structures and human perception is like understanding the target audience. Cognitive biases are a whole new chapter when discussing how people interpret information. Additionally, we must also mention the opinion bubbles we find ourselves in due to our online behaviour and the effect of algorithms.
Marketers and communicators must consider cognitive biases when crafting their messages because they can affect how people perceive and respond to digital messages and brand communication.
Let's look at a couple of these biases to better understand what we are talking about.
- Confirmation Bias: Selecting, interpreting, and favouring information that confirms one's preexisting beliefs and values and ignoring or discounting information that contradicts them.
- Anchoring Bias: Tapping into the first piece of information that comes to mind when taking a decision, regardless of how relevant or accurate it is.
- Availability Bias: Overestimating the significance or likelihood of easy-to-find information rather than considering all relevant information.
- Social Proof Bias: Adopting the opinions or behaviours of others in a group despite one's own beliefs or values.
- Bandwagon Effect: Following others even when there may be no logical or rational justification for doing so.
- Overconfidence Bias: Overestimation of capabilities, skills, know-how, or knowledge in the face of negative outcomes.
As if the biases in our heads weren't enough, we also have an opinion bubble on social media. Social media users tend to interact with content and opinions aligned with their beliefs, values, and attitudes. Due to this behaviour, people in the digital world rarely see alternative viewpoints or perspectives.
When we're in social media bubbles, cognitive biases can have a significant impact on our decisions. People may overlook or dismiss information that challenges their perspective exposed to information confirming their beliefs and values. Furthermore, social media algorithms tend to promote content that aligns with users' past engagements, further reinforcing their beliefs.
Therefore, people may be less likely to change their minds or consider alternative viewpoints. The result is a phenomenon called group polarization, where individuals in an opinion bubble get more extreme over time.
Constant exposure to polarizing content can also lead to emotional arousal, which impacts decision-making. It's more likely that people will rely on heuristics or mental shortcuts while experiencing high levels of emotional arousal.
So as a digital communicator, it's essential to know about these cognitive biases and their potential impact on decision-making, especially when creating social media content. To avoid contributing to the reinforcement of social media opinion bubbles, as a marketer and digital communication professional, it's crucial to share balanced and diverse content and information.
Virality: clickbait or value-based communication?
I believe it's fair to say that every digital communicator's dream is to produce content that impresses the audience. However, the bigger question is, how do they achieve that impact? Shall it be quick and based on clickbait techniques serving instinctual reactions? Or shall it be a bit slower but based on values resonating with the real needs of the audience?
Clickbait aims to grab users' attention and entice them to click a link or engage with content, usually to drive traffic or revenue. Typical clickbait phrasing promises the reader/viewer something that's usually too good to be true.
What do these patterns look like?
- Headlines that are vague, exaggerated or sensationalized: such as "You won't believe what happens next!" or "This one trick will change your life forever!"
- Teaser phrases: showing just a tiny bit of the content, like "Find out what this celebrity did that shocked the world!"
- Headlines aim directly at the reader or viewer through personalisation, like "You'll be amazed when you see this!"
- The use of urgency creates a sense of urgency among the reader/viewer, making them feel like they should act now, like: "Limited time offer!", “Sale ends in 12 hours. Order now!”
- Claims that are misleading or exaggerated: like "The secret to losing weight without diet or exercise!"
Despite short-term results, this technique can damage a brand's reputation and lead to disengagement with its target audience.
The use of clickbait techniques isn't just bad for audiences' trust and brand reputation. For years, algorithms powering online platforms have recognized these malicious patterns. Thanks to this “built-in” feature, if clickbait patterns are detected in texts, images, or audio, the algorithm might lower content reach and increase advertising costs.
If you want to define valuable content, it's anything that meets an audience's needs, interests, and preferences and gives them a positive experience. A valuable product or service also meets a target audience's needs and wants, solves their problems, or enhances their lives somehow. These products are trusted for their quality, reliability, and consistency.
Value is something we appreciate, something we care for.
Rather than concentrating solely on features or specifications, marketers should emphasize the benefits and unique selling propositions (USPs) of valuable services and products. Make sure you show how they can meet the target audience's needs and provide them with added value or convenience. Communicate clearly, concisely, and transparently, and put a lot of effort into building trust and establishing a good reputation for your brand. Aim to engage and resonate with the target audience by tailoring it to their preferences and communication channels.
Active listening, responding to feedback, and creating content that resonates with the audience are the keys to meaningful engagement. This leads to long-term loyalty, brand advocacy, and positive word-of-mouth.
Six STEPS to virality
As true professionals, we don't have to limit ourselves when building value-based communication. Long-term success is about linking valuable information with viral factors.
According to Jonah Berger, a message or piece of content can go viral if it adheres to six fundamental principles.
- Social currency: What people share to make themselves feel like insiders or look good, like exclusive access, insider knowledge, trendsetting content, and status-boosting posts.
- Triggers: It's common for people to post things they're thinking about or are associated with. For example, a recipe video for a quick and easy breakfast, a meme incorporating a popular catchphrase from a recent movie or TV show or a fitness influencer posting a picture wearing trendy workout clothes at a gym.
- Emotion: Sharing something that evokes strong emotions, whether positive (awe, excitement, amusement) or negative (anger, anxiety, sadness), such as a heartwarming video, an inspirational story, a funny meme, or a shocking video.
- Public: People share things that are visible or public, so they can express their identities, such as political issues, charity or social causes, products or services that signal a particular status, and high-profile events or experiences where people get the chance to show off their participation or attendance.
- Practical value: People share things that are useful or solve problems, like how-to guides, life hacks, product reviews, checklists and templates.
- Stories: People love stories because they're more memorable and engaging than facts or information. Whether it's brand storytelling, user-generated content, narrative-driven content, emotional storytelling, or behind-the-scenes stories, stories tell it all.
So, the only thing we have to do when building value-based communication is to phrase our value propositions in a way they go viral.
Data, communication and Psychology
Last but not least, using analytical tools, a holistic approach and common sense will help us get to know our target group and identify their values.
Demographics and socioeconomic background
Knowing audiences' demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds will help us tailor marketing communications. Millennials appreciate content that speaks to their values, uses cultural references and presents information visually. In the meantime, we might need to use more straightforward language and more traditional advertising methods to reach baby boomers.
You can also use demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds to understand the audience's buying power and behaviour. Your pricing strategies, promotions, and messaging can be shaped based on this information.
Content and interests
Content marketers can get more engagement and virality by understanding the audience's content consumption habits and interests. For instance, a brand can create content about healthy lifestyle tips, workout routines, and healthy recipes if a target audience is health-conscious. In such cases, it is also crucial to tying the products and services to health-related values. Let your audience know how your products and services support their preferences and goals.
Analyzing the audience's content consumption patterns can also help identify the most appropriate channels and formats for delivering the message. This will ensure the message gets to the right people, on the right platform, at the right time.
Personality, habits and mindset
It is important to understand the personality, habits, and mindset of the audience in order to develop engaging, viral, and value-based marketing communications.
You can use personality traits to determine how different messaging types will resonate with the audience. Introverted people, for example, may prefer subtle, thoughtful messages that appeal to their introspection. The habits and mindsets of audiences will also affect the performance of digital communication. Alternatively, extroverted audiences may respond well to bold and attention-grabbing messages that appeal to their extroverted nature.
Understanding the audience's mindset helps marketers identify pain points, aspirations, and motivations. Marketers should adjust their strategy based on audience habits, such as when and where they consume content. Engaging your audience with a message that resonates with their mindset leads to higher levels of engagement and sales.
Clearly, there is a lot of information about the target audience in the age of digital communication. Measuring effectiveness is easy; you'll know when, what, and how it works. Communication flaws are relatively easy to find in a well-built digital ecosystem. Also, the data can be used in many ways; it can allow manipulation and benefit your target audience.
At the beginning of online communication, marketers used to influence consumer behaviour by triggering tension and negative feelings. Still, nowadays, responsible and sustainable communication it's more about value-based communication, community-building, and meaningful connections.
There's no doubt that clickbait is effective in the short term. We already have the knowledge also research results that support marketers and digital communication professionals who want to build lasting, value-based campaigns instead.