As content marketers, we’re responsible for creating content that resonates with our core audience, motivating them to action during various stages of the buyer cycle. We often pour countless hours into audience research, and yet it’s easy to lose sight of the most fundamental characteristic of all audiences: they are human beings.

To better understand what motivates our audience, it’s important to take a look at what we know about human psychology and thought processing. In the course User Experience Design for Engagement, Dr. Susan Weinschenk examines the psychology behind human motivation, and how to apply it to .

While many of the concepts covered in the course align with current best practices and common sense, there were a few outliers. So, without further adieu, the top three mistakes you’re probably making:

1. You’re gating content

Lead-capture is an essential part of any successful marketing program, and many marketers rely on it to capture valuable information. But what if you asked users to register after they download your content? It sounds radical, but here’s why it works:

Indebtedness: When you give someone a gift, even if it is very small, they feel a subconscious sense of indebtedness to you. In the interest of alleviating that discomfort, they are more likely to say yes to any reasonable request you make of them.

Proof Point: Robert Cialdini, a professor of marketing and psychology, conducted a study in which he mailed one test group requests for donations to a veterans association. He received an 18% donation rate. When he included a set of personalized mailing labels in his request to a second test group, donations increased to 35%.

Even a very small gift or offer can go a long way in motivating people to act in your favor.

2. You’re listing your pricing model from low to high

Many technology companies offer different tiers of service, ranging from free or trial accounts all the way up to the premium level. While it’s common practice to display these tiers in order of least to most expensive, you may want to rethink it. Here’s why:

Anchoring: According to the principle of anchoring, people have a tendency to become attached to the first number they see, and evaluate all subsequent numbers in relation to it. This applies even when the anchor number is unrelated to the content that follows. (For example, if you read that a group has one-million active members shortly before you are asked to pay a ten dollar registration fee, the number ten will seem small in comparison to one-million.)

Proof Point: In a 1998 field study of three Iowa supermarkets, customers purchased more cans of soup when they were told there was a twelve can limit versus when there was a four can limit or no limit at all. This suggests that customers anchored to the number 12, making 4, 5, or 6 cans of soup feel like a relatively low quantity.

It’s good practice to display tiers of service in order of most-to-least expensive. Also, think about the tier of service you really want customers to purchase, and make sure there is at least one more expensive tier for them to anchor to. But beware of overwhelming potential customers with too many options — try to limit yourself three or four tiers.

3. You’re using verb phrase CTAs

You’ve done your audience research, crafted that killer content, and now for the make-it-or-break-it moment of truth — the Call-to-Action (CTA). CTAs are all about motivating your audience to take action, so it may seem logical that the best way to do it is with action words, or verb phrases. But on the contrary, research shows that the most effective CTA’s incorporate “to be,” noun phrases. Here’s why:

Sense of belonging: As humans, we have a deep desire to identify as part of a group. We are more motivated by phrases that encourage us to claim an identity than those that evoke action.

Proof point: Gregory Walton conducted a study in which he asked participants to rank on a scale:

How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?


How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?

Those who were asked how important it was to them to be a voter ranked participating in the election as significantly more important than those who were asked how important it was for them to vote.

Remember, if you really want to motivate your audience to action, describe a group identity that aligns with their needs and interests, and give them the opportunity to be part of it.

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