It might be the biggest challenge a content marketer faces: how do you make sure that your content is engaging? The ultimate goal of content is that it triggers your target audience to undertake action, share the content or – even better – signs up as a customer. One of the most important things is that your content is convincing. But how do you make that happen?

Processing a text

As a tool for choosing the right strategy in persuading the reader, Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo developed the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’. According to that model there are two ways of processing a text. First of all, you can read a text carefully and weigh all pro arguments against the counter arguments, to reach a well-considered conclusion. Then you would be taking the ‘central route’. Readers that take the central route are interested in the topic, and have the time and capacity to absorb all the information. Besides this group of readers, there is another group that is less interested or has less time or capacity to be able to let the information sink in. That audience is less easily convinced by just strong arguments. The way in which this reader processes, and at the same time judges the text, is what Petty and Ciacoppo call the ‘peripheral route’; a simple and superficial way of choosing if he is convinced by the text or not.

Rules of thumb

According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the way to make a good impression on this superficial reader, is to take into account a set of ‘rules of thumb’. Those are simple rules like ‘more arguments are more convincing than less arguments’ and ‘if a lot of people think this is a good product, then it must be good’. Besides by these thumb rules the superficial reader can be influenced by so-called ‘peripheral cues’. Adjectives are examples of such cues. In 1996 Hans Hoeken researched the effect of the use of adjectives in travel guides. What turned out was that a text that contained a passage about a ‘nice train that lead to the starting point of an exciting hiking trip’, was rated more positive than a text in which the words nice and exciting were left out.

It would be easy if from now on you could just boost your content by adding a few adjectives here and there – if it weren’t for the other group of readers. As we mentioned in one of our previous blogs,  The interested, thorough reader that weighs all the words before making a decision about the text is not amused by this strategy. Even though informative adjectives like 19th century [train] had a positive influence on their judgment, evaluative adjectives like nice [train] were actually less convincing.

It’s not easy engaging your entire target audience of the quality of your content. But in order to approach all readers in the most positive way possible, it’s recommendable to take  both the interested, critical reader and the reader, that hastily browses your content and forms his opinion in a flash, into account. In doing so, engaging your audience will be more comprehensible.