10 Ways That Content Can Move a Sale Forward

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"Your customer may be starting from a point of skepticism. Showing them that others have already taken action can help move along their consideration process... 'Almost sold out' lets people know they need to act fast, while a long list of customers, donors or attendees gives them confidence that others have already taken the leap."

That paragraph comes from a well-done article this week by Beth Negus Viveiros, covering a talk by one of our favorite speakers, Nancy Harhut (pictured), chief creative officer of Nancy Harhut and Associates, for Access Intelligence's Chief Marketer.

Let's combine some Harhut-isms from the past with a couple from Negus Viveiros for a new list of ways that content can connect with your audience:

Get people in the right frame of mind to make a purchase. "We think about what's readily available to us, what's relevant," Harhut said. "You want to get people to think of a time in their past where they could have used your product or service or think of a time in the future when it would it fit into their lifestyle."

Offer some options. "Options help in making a purchase decision," Harhut said. "With one option we may not be quite sure—2, 3 or 4 options are best; 5 or more are a bit much and could give analysis paralysis."

Give a reason why. From Chief Marketer: The word "because" is extremely powerful, said Harhut. "People are more likely to do what we ask them to if we give them a reason why. The word 'because' is a compliance trigger—when we hear it, we start to act like little bobble heads and just nod in agreement, even before we hear the actual reason."

Use numbers—not spelled out—when possible. We skim and scan, Harhut said. Numbers promise ease and order. Odd numbers are more credible and show that we may have given it a little more thought. But any denomination of 10 is also good—it gives cognitive fluency and is easy for us to process.

Align your choices. An email requesting a set appointment time is better than an open-ended one asking what time might be convenient. "They didn't have to take action to schedule," Harhut said. "They had to take action to [change] it" which can be more comfortable.

Start with an easy question. "When people make a commitment or take a stand, they like to stay consistent," Harhut said. So give them a soft question first—register for an Amtrak promotion, take a free week of Boston Globe digital—and then follow up with bigger commitments.

Put the emphasis on what someone can avoid. Harhut mentioned a website that helps you break habits. They'll ask you to pledge maybe $100 to a cause you despise if you fail to quit smoking, lose weight, or whatever you sign up to do.

Get people to commit. From Chief Marketer: Once something is in writing, it seems more concrete and more real. "Something interesting happens when you write something down," Harhut said. "You feel like you need to live up to those words." This is the idea of cognitive dissonance, she said. "If we've gone on record saying something, we will change our behavior to sync up to that."

Put sale prices on the right. For sales, Harhut recommends always putting the original price on the left and the sales price on the right. And that people may look at relative difference more than the absolute value. The further apart the two prices are distance-wise, the better the deal appears to be. Bigger gap, bigger savings.

Add imagery. The credibility of text increases when accompanied by a photo, Harhut said. She gave an example of a quiz that asked if a celebrity was dead or alive. A photo made more people guess alive.

Harhut can be heard from a recent SIPA webinar (Feb. 15, 2017) titled Brain Science in Business: Using Psychology to Increase Response. It is grouped by date with many other great webinars in SIPA's Webinar Library.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…