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Can’t Get Through to Your Audience? 3 Strategies to Get a Reaction

3 Strategies to get to your audience

All animals, including humans, are wired to react in a way that maximizes exposure to rewards and minimizes the chance of punishment.

What’s new in that?


You already have a fair idea of various discrepancies in human reactions.

However, as you build your personas or figure out your target audiences in another way, your success will depend on how well you define and cater to divergences in reactions.

I am going to make it incredibly simple for you to do that.

First, reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST) is the umbrella concept – people respond to happy or adverse situations based on their emotions and traits.

Now, let’s understand the three systems that make up that theory.

  • Behavioral approach: This system is divided into four sub-systems – rewarding interest, rewarding reactivity, goal persistence, and impulsivity. If an individual is motivated by the behavioral approach, they tend to be impulsive and more sensitive to your content.
  • Fight-flight-freeze: This system involves individuals who are usually sensitive to pain and fear. They will react to all your usual marketing efforts with apprehension. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt content will work well with these people.
  • Behavioral inhibition: People are not receptive to rewards or punishment. This system facilitates detection and resolution of conflict by cautious and vigilant behavior. Individuals in this system are the ones for whom you have to work the hardest and the longest to convert.

How do I know what my audience is?

To understand how RST works and how people can be divided based on their reactions, you can make use of a personality questionnaire. One such questionnaire is Corr-Cooper Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory Personality Questionnaire (RST-PQ). Feel free to jump directly to the self-rating questionnaire on Page 20; it helps you get more information about which constructs of RST apply to your subjects. The questionnaire includes over 80 statements to which the survey participant must say how well each describes him or her.


Image source

You can use the questionnaire as one input to create your customer personas, or use this simple guide to understand responses to various forms of content.

Behavioral-approach system

People who exhibit a behavioral-approach mindset are on the lookout for new products or product variants. They are eager to try out new things. Some of these people will be among your first customers, which may work in your favor at the introductory or launch stage. However, once the novelty wears off, they may be the first to leave.

Your first calls to action would be rewards and offers. After a while, though, even this strategy can fail. You need to understand the different types of behavioral-approach people to retain them longer.

Rewarding interest

This type is personified by Paul — that annoying, unapologetic guy who spends half his earnings on things he doesn’t need. The catchword here is need.

Rewarding Interest

Even though Paul isn’t your quintessential customer, you have a good chance to turn him into one. How do you do that? Old-fashioned SEO content and social sharing.

With this strategy, you can reach Paul and millions like him who are looking for new products. Just target the right keywords, publish rich content, and point social traffic to your website.

Once Paul stumbles onto your website, sees your product, and finds it nice, it’s just a matter of time until he becomes your customer.

Rewarding reactivity

Let’s move to Jane. Jane doesn’t have the urge to try new things. You need to use rewards as bait to catch her; a special discount or exclusive content can trigger a conversion.

Rewarding Reactivity

You need to find ways to appear perennially rewarding with your content such as these blog titles do:

  • How to Save $50 a Month on Groceries
  • Learn How This Couple Earned a Vacation While Traveling
  • Win a Camera Upgrade With This Photo Caption Competition

Now let’s look at some real examples. It is not necessary to shower your customers with actual rewards. You can show how your brand can help them solve their pain points.

Pet supplier Royal Canin’s contest for pet makeovers technically only rewards a select few. But for someone like our rewarding-reactivity persona Jane, the content effectively engages her because of the competition factor:

Royal Canin Contest

Rewarding impulsivity

Let’s call our next persona Mia. She connects her emotional ups and downs, feelings of validity, and life goals to impulsive decisions.

Rewarding Impulsivity

For instance, one of Mia’s goals is to lose weight. Despite having no time or inclination to make efforts to reach that goal, she buys a treadmill because she thinks it will help her reach the goal. We all know how this is going to end.

According to Psychology Today, impulse buyers are social, status-conscious, and image-concerned. Most of their decisions spring from internal factors like pleasure-seeking, mood, and desire, and external factors like visual stimulation, strategic product displays, and promotional banners.

Until a decade back, the bulk of visual/guerilla provocation was restricted to billboards and television ads, but now it has permeated our world thanks to social media.

It is no secret that Instagrammers and fashion brands have declared undying love for each other. See how Nautica rides the influence of Adam Gallagher, a menswear, travel, and lifestyle blogger. (He has more than 500,000 Facebook fans and 1.7 million Instagram followers.):


One of my favorite examples comes from Angelus Direct, which manufactures leather-care products. It has a brilliant way of building brand partnerships and executing sponsorship programs in parallel on its website and social platforms. Angelus collaborates with famous sneaker designers who have a fantastic social presence, and then showcases them on their website as well as promotes them on Facebook and Instagram to influence impulsive buyers with a me-too streak:

Angelus Direct

The bottom line is if an impulsive persona finds your brand through social media and it appeals to their emotion, satisfies their need for social status, and gratifies them, chances are high that they are going to convert instantly. Make sure you tweak your campaigns on social media to appeal to impulsive audiences by creating visual content in the form of really attractive (and relevant) images and visual content.

There is no dearth of brands that have perfected visual promotions aimed at impulsive buyers. From beautiful product pictures to presentations and awe-inspiring videos, Ikea uses visual appeal in its content marketing strategy to woo its audience. Here’s a great example: Ikea created Share Space, a microsite where its bloggers and customers come together to share ideas, get inspired, dish advice, etc. The inspiration page showcases real transformations of homes and spaces using Ikea products. The minute you see something you like, hover on the object and see the product details along with a link to the Ikea website.

Ikea Share Space

From perishable food items through software, all businesses need a strong visual content strategy, which is their best hope of consistently nudging an impulsive audience through the sales funnel.

Rewarding goal-driven persistence

I am going to name this persona Atman after an acquaintance who has his life planned to the last second. People like Atman don’t like to lose focus from their core jobs. Any distractive content won’t help you convince Atman.

Rewarding Goal-Driven Persistence

To convince people like Atman you need to be well prepared with facts, statistics, and detailed content such as white papers and case studies. Arm yourself with all the reasons your brand’s content can help them be better at work or life.

They will examine the effect that their decision will have on their life. Suddenly, all those web-hosting review sites, email marketing suite comparison posts and WordPress theme guides now have an audience – the goal-driven.

Fight-flight-freeze system

This persona, Bob, bears no similarity with any person, living or dead, whom I know by name or characteristics. Bob is the opposite of Mia. While she makes a purchase in an instant if there’s a sale or discount, Bob freezes or panics at the idea of making a quick decision.

Fight-Flight-Freeze System

Even after the purchase, he might panic and call customer service a thousand times. The problem here is not buyer’s remorse; Bob just wants to reaffirm his decision. To convert people like Bob, limit your emails, discount offers, and other promotional gimmicks. One email too many and Bob will unsubscribe from your mailing list.

If Bob is a lead, avoid aggressive subject lines and carefully word your emails to ensure that Bob doesn’t feel cornered or strained. This doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. Here’s an excellent example of an email for this persona:

Yesware follow-up email

Here’s another example:

Rite Tag

Image source: Author’s Inbox

However, a better way to target Bob is passive promotion – inbound marketing. This is best done by way of content-intensive landing pages. Shopify has perfected the art of building landing pages with content and widgets that educate/reassure their potential customers. Such content never directly promotes the primary product – the e-commerce platform – but instead serves to corroborate it and lend it credibility.

Let’s consider this page that takes the indirect route and propounds the benefits of invoice generation, a complimentary service for Shopify customers.


The landing page doesn’t provide offers or deals that promote Shopify’s CMS (its product); in fact it does the opposite and proclaims “No online store required!”

Prospects can see all the usual benefits – like flexible invoicing, personalized orders, customizable and shipping rates, and easy billing, but those benefits may not be sufficient to allay Bob’s fears. He needs to know about the free trial. He needs to know if others have used it before and survived, hence the success numbers, testimonials, and customer pictures. He needs to know whether Shopify can help at any time of the day, which explains the 24/7 help section.

Shopify does all that and more with – I repeat – secondary/supportive content. You cannot woo the fight-flight-freeze personality with limited-time offers or fancy videos tooting the promotional horn. You have to convince these prospects beyond a doubt that they aren’t getting a bad deal.

Behavioral inhibition system

Our last persona is Richard, a CIO at a large company who constantly worries about the short- and long-term implications of every decision. Many SaaS providers might have encountered this kind of senior IT manager who takes weeks or even months to come to a conclusion.

Behavioral Inhibition System

Richard might show immense interest in the beginning only to disappear for days on end and then reappear. As Richard is resistant to rewards and punishment, consistent and personalized emails, educational drips, re-engagement drips, and even top-of-mind drips can help convert him by assuaging his concerns and building trust.

Pardot campaigns

Parting thoughts

Your content marketing strategy should be aimed at converting several behavioral types by capitalizing on reinforcement sensitivity and overcoming the challenges it poses.

Create a well-defined audience persona, segregate your lists with the help of surveys and tests, and then create a multichannel content mix with the help of available data.

Do you think your content can influence people’s habits and buyer behavior? Would you use human psychological traits to spread your message as an organizational marketing practice? Love to hear your thoughts – talk with you in the comments.

A subscribed audience is one of the five core elements for running successful, scalable content marketing operations. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations for an overview of the full strategic blueprint. 

Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, Gratisography, via