How do you get someone to read your content and then keep coming back?
Having an audience that wants to continue consuming future content sets you up for success.
Your ideal prospect is checking their emails and browsing through their media platform of choice.
Then BAM. Your content pops up in their inbox or feed.
They begin consuming it. Then instinctively stop, scroll away, and exit the browser.
Eh… I’m just not interested.
It sucks when people unsubscribe, lose interest, or stop coming back to consume your content altogether.
You can never make another first impression.
And at the beginning of any relationship, there’s a higher risk that someone will drop off. There isn’t much investment involved yet.
That being said, if we don’t figure out how to get people to come back and engage with our brand, then we’re losing someone who could’ve been a true fan and long-term customer.
You could lose them forever.
Though it’s possible to get people re-engaged, it’s typically much harder once the bond has weakened.
If you want to build a strong audience, then it’s important to help your audience form a habit of consuming your content.
In this post, I’ll be investigating two main points:
- How to get people to consume your content and enjoy it.
- How to create a satisfying experience so that they form a habit around consuming your content… turning into a true fan.
Having a strong audience is a valuable business asset. And more specifically, the quality of that relationship to them.
And good indicator that your relationship with your audience is good and healthy is if they’ve formed a habit of consuming your content.
If they keep consuming it over and over again, week after week, then you’re in good shape.
This directly pours over into developing your business’ customer lifetime value and increasing retention rates.
The Tale Of Two Male Cichlids: Why Winning Reinforces More Winning
By creating a satisfying environment, you can facilitate small wins that reinforce desirable outcomes.
The African cichlid (Astatotilapia burtoni) naturally lives in Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa.
Within this species, there are two types of male cichlids. Let’s call them:
- Territorial Cichlids (“T” Cichlids)
- Non-territorial Cichlids (“NT” Cichlids)
The NT Cichlids aren’t the luckiest bunch of fish.
They’re subordinate. Since they don’t have much territory in the lake, they have a disadvantage in gathering food. And since they look dull and colorless, they aren’t an attractive option for reproduction.
In comparison, the T Cichlids have more territory. These dominant males have advantageous resources for food consumption.
And since their various fins and gill cover are dressed with brighter colors of yellow and blue, they’re an attractive option for the female cichlids. They have a reproductive advantage.
This has significant consequences for the NT Cichlid. Being both colorless and lacking territory means they aren’t in a good position to reproduce or gather as much food (compared to the dominant cichlids).
So with the T Cichlids hogging all the resources and acting more aggressive, it seems that the NT Cichlids are doomed and won’t live very long. Survival of the fittest.
However… there is one disadvantage for the T Cichlids.
One day a seagull comes diving into the water and scoops up one of these dominant cichlids.
Being so brightly colored with territory near the water’s surface makes them vulnerable to predators.
Suddenly, there’s vacant real estate in the lake!
For the NT Cichlid, this poses an opportunity.
This subordinate fish takes advantage of the vacancy and begins occupying this new territory.
And something interesting happens…
The rise in social status (more territory) is the catalyst for rapid behavioral, physiological, and molecular changes.
This subordinate cichlid begins to switch phenotypes!
Its various fins and gill cover begins to change physically. This once boring and dull-looking fish now starts looking bright and more attractive to the female Cichlids.
It becomes more reproductively active. And with its new territory, it’s in a good position for consuming food.
Until, of course, another Seagull gets hungry.
We Naturally Want To Repeat Behaviors That Help Us Win
I originally heard the cichlid story from neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Ian Robertson.
This is an interesting phenomenon in biology.
When an animal has won a few fights against a weaker opponent, it’s now much more likely to win future battles against stronger opponents.
Success breeds success.
In his book The Winner Effect: The Science of Success and How to Use It, Ian Robertson explains how this also applies to human nature.
Winning produces neurochemical changes inside of you.
Specifically, according to Ian Robertson, “Winning increases the dopamine receptors in the brain, which makes you smarter and more bold.”
Winning and feeling powerful switches on testosterone in the brain and body.
Then testosterone turns on the neurotransmitter dopamine. And this is an essential component for stimulating the “reward center” in the brain, responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
But dopamine is responsible for much more than just motivation and “feeling good.”
Dopamine plays a vital role in learning comprehension and retention. Elevated states of dopamine help facilitate improved performance and heightened learning potential.
Winning is a positive feedback loop. The more it happens, the more motivated you are to pursue the behaviors that helped you initially win (reinforcing the feeling of satisfaction).
It’s like a performance-enhancing drug, except free and naturally available to all of us. When used strategically, this will help improve your skills, decision-making, and perceptual abilities.
It helps you become clear, focused, motivated, and more likely to take risks.
The inverse of the “winner effect” is when you keep losing.
When you keep losing, there’s a reduction of testosterone and dopamine in the body… decreasing your performance and intelligence.
Why would the body do this to us?
Well, there’s a payoff. One could argue that being more “submissive” prevents us from getting into future situations that could hurt us (or cost us our life) when we have a history of losing.
We see how this is valuable in more ancient times, but it oftentimes holds us back in modern society.
For example, experiencing this “loser effect” isn’t helpful when receiving constructive criticism. Unfortunately, many people can fall into the trap of interpreting feedback destructively and experience feelings of loss and failure.
If this is perceived as a loss, then your physiology will put you in an unresourceful state.
This winner effect is critical for habit formation. By winning, we naturally want to continue the behaviors that serve us.
Someone will only form a habit around consuming your content if you help them win and feel satisfied.
So I explained how this works with fish. But what’s an example of someone who’s benefited from this?
Mike Tyson’s Comeback: The Winner Effect
Ian Robertson uses Mike Tyson as an example of the Winner Effect.
Mike Tyson spent 3 years in prison. Before this, he was a boxing champion.
But spending all that time in prison made him a bit rusty.
He was in poor shape. And Frank Bruno was the Heavyweight Champion now.
How do you get somebody who’s been in prison for 3 years ready to face the heavyweight champion?
The answer: tomato can.
In the boxing world, a “tomato can” is an idiom for an opponent that you’re likely to beat. Their skills are much weaker than their opponent (in this case, Mike Tyson).
His first comeback fight was in August 1995.
Tyson would fight the Bostonian boxer, Peter McNeeley.
McNeeley was knocked down twice within the first couple of minutes.
First, a straight hook. Then a right uppercut.
The fight lasted only 89 seconds. Easy victory.
His second comeback fight was against Buster Mathis Jr. in November 1995.
With about 40 seconds left in the third round, Tyson lands multiple right uppercuts and drops Mathias Jr. to the ground.
Now it was time to face the Heavyweight Champion, Frank Bruno.
Less than one minute into the third round, Tyson dodges one of Bruno’s jabs and proceeds to deliver a 13-punch combination.
Tyson slaughters him. And it’s ruled a technical knockout.
His comeback is an example of the Winner Effect at work.
If you win a contest, the mere fact of winning will make it more likely that you’ll win a future contest (which is very motivating and encourages more action).
If you want someone to form a habit around consuming your content, you’ll want to help them win.
Getting Your Audience To Form A Habit Around Consuming Your Content
When someone consumes your content, does it satisfy them?
Now let’s look at habit formation from the perspective of James Clear’s Model, which he shares in his book Atomic Habits.
In it, he shares the four laws of behavior change.
This is a simple set of rules for creating good habits.
Understanding and mastering each one will allow you to develop habits that serve your long-term success.
This is valuable for life personally, and it’s a useful tool for content marketing and business development.
What’s the purpose of marketing? Among others, it’s primarily concerned with persuading people to take action and behavior change.
So within the context of content marketing and business development, understanding how your audience and potential customers form habits is critical!
This is how you build a list of true fans. A true fan is someone who’s formed a habit of interacting with your business and brand.
They WANT to keep coming back and consume your content.
So if we want our audience to form a habit around consuming our content and interacting with our brand, how do habits form?
James Clear’s Habit Formation Model: 4 Laws Of Behavior Change
Understanding these four laws is essential if you want to motivate your audience to consume your content habitually.
Law 1: Make It Obvious
The first law of behavior change is to “make it obvious.”
This is where the cue for a habit is. It’s the trigger or catalyst for the action being taken.
If you make the cue more obvious in the environment, you’re making it more likely that an action will occur.
This is one reason why email marketing is so powerful. If you have someone’s email, you can send content directly to their inbox.
If your audience sees an email from you, it’s obvious that they’ll receive value when they click it (if you have a history of creating value).
Law 2: Make It Attractive
The second law of behavior change is to “make it attractive.”
If something’s unattractive, we’re not going to be motivated to act. Every perceived action has a payoff.
Some of these payoffs can be either effective or ineffective (eating a salad or a cheeseburger). Regardless of the choice, there’s a payoff for each.
James Clear explains this as a craving or desire that we have.
This is the purpose behind copywriting (and marketing in general).
As Al Ries and Jack Trout mention: “Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.”
For instance, if a headline is unattractive, we’re unlikely to click it and read the content.
If a headline clearly expresses the benefits and value of consuming the content, you’re more likely to click it (improving the open rates).
This law of behavior change has everything to do with “perceived value.”
People haven’t taken action yet. It’s the anticipation of value that they perceive they’ll receive IF they take action.
This is another reason why copywriters recommend focusing on the benefits, not the features.
Benefits are more attractive.
Law 3: Make It Easy
The third law of habit change is to “make it easy.”
This is where you take action, which James Clear calls the “response.”
As humans, we’re motivated to conserve energy. We’re going to choose the option that requires the least effort given our current level of skills, energy, and resources.
If we have to expend too much energy that we aren’t capable of exerting, we’ll avoid the action altogether.
In marketing, this is why it’s important to have a clear and simple call-to-action.
If the call-to-action is confusing or unclear, you’re making your audience think more (making it harder).
This creates friction and dissuades people from taking action.
Another application of this law is when you don’t cater your offers to the audiences’ level of investment.
If someone isn’t very invested in your brand or business, they’ll probably choose to conserve energy (instead of consuming tons of content from a stranger).
When I first started marketing, I created a giant lead magnet. It was a 13 lesson mini-course that would’ve taken someone many hours to consume.
For most people, this is a high level of investment. And the result?
No one finished it.
In other words, I made it too hard for them to invest in my content and brand.
Make it easy for your audience to invest and engage with you.
Law 4: Make It Satisfying
The fourth law of habit change is to “make it satisfying.”
It’s important to note here that laws 1–3 increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring to begin with.
Law 4 ensures that this behavior gets repeated (thus creating a habit).
In standard habit formation models, this is connected to positive reinforcement and the “reward.”
Once the newly-dominant male Cichlid began to get some satisfying results in its environment, it continued engaging in behaviors that allowed it to win.
This encouraged it to be more aggressive. If it were to become submissive again, it’d lose its survival and reproductive advantages.
Not only was it motivated to keep its territory, but it also rippled out into other benefits like more food and reproductive potential.
If something is satisfying, we’re likely to continue the behavior that originally produced satisfaction.
This is where the “winner effect” comes into play. When we start winning and begin feeling satisfied, we’re likely to continue the behaviors that allowed us to succeed (reinforcing a habit).
This also makes sense within the context of the content you create.
If your audience doesn’t find it satisfying or valuable, they probably won’t come back.
Since making something satisfying is how you get people to WANT to come back and consume more of your content… this will be our focus for the rest of the post.
Create Satisfying Content: Help Your Audience Win
Since we’re trying to have our audience form a habit of consuming our content, we want to make it satisfying (law 4 of behavior change).
Trying to force your audience to consume your content doesn’t work. It’s also not helpful to get upset if someone unsubscribes or ignores you.
People are busy. And it’s a big commitment to form a habit around consuming your content.
This is why I find it helpful to earn the right to be heard. We can do this by creating valuable content.
So how do you make it satisfying for your audience to consume your content?
The key is in helping them win.
You’ll want to create the “winner effect” in them so that they feel good and excited. This will tap that dopamine button in their brain.
They’ll want to come back and experience it again.
By helping someone win, you’re putting them in a more resourceful state.
This has clear benefits for your audience. And this also gives you and your brand an advantage.
Because how much content on the internet disappoints people? A lot.
So how do we create this “winner effect” in your audience so that they want to come back and consume more of your content?
Let’s look at three knobs that you can turn to increase your content’s value (and make it more satisfying).
3 Value Knobs: Content To Drool Over
Generating content that satisfies your audience requires an essential skill: value creation.
If you want your content to be satisfying, you’ll want it to be valuable.
Here are three areas where you can immediately begin increasing the value of your content.
1) Value Knob 1: Solve ONE Problem
I’ve found it more effective to focus on one theme or value proposition for a post.
Value is subjective and requires context. So it’s important to focus on one context at a time.
By adding multiple themes and contexts in one post, you create confusion.
What’s the opposite approach to this? A traditional college textbook.
Your professor tells you to buy it, and now you have to sift through the book to find the solutions to various problems.
In other words, “Here’s all the content you need, now go figure it out.”
Great content marketing takes a different approach.
Instead of dumping all your knowledge into a piece of content and expect someone to “figure it out,” you want to cater everything to ONE problem.
Start with one theme or value proposition, and utilize ALL your knowledge and experience to solve that one thing.
If you do this, your audience will be thinking, “Wow… they’ve spent all this time solving just one of my problems.”
This creates the foundation for the following two value knobs.
2) Value Knob 2: Aim for ONE powerful insight
Imagine a time when you’re queuing up a video or article that you’re interested in consuming.
It’s from one of your favorite content creators. So you begin consuming it.
Once you finish, the lightbulb goes off. Inspiration and excitement infiltrate your body.
You just learned something valuable that can help you.
What’s happening here?
After studying successful content creators, I’ve noticed that they have an uncanny ability to facilitate insight.
Insight surfaces when you learn something that empowers you. It’s extremely satisfying.
It occurs when you gain a deeper understanding of something.
Wyatt Woodsmall has a formula for learning: knowledge + experience = understanding.
Once you’ve figured out the ONE problem that you’ll be talking about, bring all your knowledge and experience to facilitate insight around it.
3) Value Knob 3: Clarity On The “Next Step”
If you’ve done steps 1 and 2, you’ve done most of the work to provide clarity for your audience.
And with this clarity, you’ll want to guide them to take the “next step.”
Here’s what I mean.
With the newfound insight you’ve guided them towards, how can they take practical action with it? How can they DO something with it?
This doesn’t need to be a huge action.
But it should be something pragmatic that they can implement in their lives.
If they have enough clarity on how to take action and you guide them towards implementing it, this is how you help facilitate a “win” for them.
And by helping them win, they’ll WANT to come back and consume more of your content.
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