Content marketing is not the same as sales. For one thing, the goals are different (awareness versus revenue). In addition, the techniques differ.

Yet, there is one common thread that connects both of these crucial components, and that is convincing someone else to do something they might not have otherwise.

Every content marketing writer and content creator relies on persuasive writing to successfully attract and keep an audience. A casual browser has to click on a link to read.

As they browse, the page has to keep them there, and so on. Finally, the reader has to click a call to action button and create the conversion.

In each case, strong content marketing writers will incorporate the principles of persuasion into their writing so that the content is more powerful, effective, and valuable for the people they write for, their clients, and their clients’ prospects.

Understanding how persuasive writing works

Given the explosion in web access through the evolution of tablets, smartphones, and broader Wi-Fi access, we can safely assume that millions of people around the world live a great deal of their lives online.

The internet has lowered the entry barriers for many industries. Given all that new, fierce competition, why does any potential customer select one brand’s content over another?

Several theories explain different psychological aspects of persuasion. Let’s look at a few that are particularly relevant to digital content and persuasive writing techniques.

Conversion theory

If you present your main marketing message as a minority view to the general prevailing wisdom, you can sell it with consistency, confidence, and enough time.

Keep your rebuttals logically sound, well-sourced and simply framed, and over time, the minority view gains more focus and attention, simply because it’s different.

Infuse your writing with empathy for both the targeted audience and the mistaken ones who hold the majority viewpoint.


In priming, the reader is introduced to a concept or notion in a preliminary or unrelated way. This way, they become more ready to agree with the idea when it is formally introduced.

As an example, let’s say you’re crafting content that’s ultimately part of a campaign for a new line of hats. Before you even mention the hats, you write about getting ahead or being headstrong.

The word head primes the reader for the concept of a hat in this subtle persuasive writing technique.

Reciprocity norm

A social norm can be thought of as a generally accepted unwritten rule about behavior. In this case, the reciprocity norm is the tendency of most folks to return the favor. In other words, if you want to get someone to do something for you, first do something for them.

In digital content marketing, we see this reflected in the commitment to providing valuable content to prospects and only then asking for something in return (an email address, for example, or a sign-up for a free trial period).

Scarcity principle

One of the most obvious persuasive writing techniques around, scarcity works to overcome a user’s last little bit of resistance by pressuring them to act fast. If there are only 100 widgets available, or the discount code is good for today only, then those fence-sitters may be more likely to take the leap and act.

While scarcity is more common in sales than marketing, you can make use of it and the associated FOMO (fear of missing out) to persuade new users to subscribe to your list by promising them exclusive access to content or other valuable benefits (free shipping, early access to sales, special discount codes).

Social influence/social proof

Built on a psychological foundation of peer pressure and reinforcement, social proof persuades users to take a leap of faith and trust a particular brand or message because so many other users do.

Common examples and mechanisms of social proof on the web include comment counts, social media share counts, and high average ratings (i.e., 4.5 out of 5 on Amazon, or 9.2 out of 10 on IMDB).

Even a subjective perspective like, “everyone seems to be talking about Brand X shampoo” can operate as a form of persuasive writing and social proof.

Yale University’s attitude change

A multidisciplinary research project by Yale University showed that persuasive writing depends on, among other things:

  • Credible, attractive (i.e., warm and friendly) speakers
  • Messages that don’t seem to be designed to persuade at all
  • Transparent disclosure of the counter-argument (which the message then refutes)

Incorporate these findings into your content by adopting a friendly, open-minded “tone” of voice and including an opposing viewpoint, if applicable.

Build authority and trustworthiness

To make your persusasive writing more effective to readers, you need to give them a concrete reason to trust your brand.

To achieve this, tell relevant, engaging customer stories. These stories provide social proof that your brand’s solution solves the customer’s problem. They don’t have to simply take your word for it; your customer’s story proves you know what you’re talking about and can be trusted.

Another way to build authority with your readers is to look for ways to link out to reputable, authoritative voices in your field in each piece. Linking to other trustworthy experts in your field shows you’re smart and experienced enough to know who to trust.

Hence, you yourself (or the brand for which you’re writing) can also be trusted.

Finally, look for ways to highlight any awards or recognitions your brand has earned. Likewise, if you’re writing under your own byline, consider including your own expertise and career recognition in your bio.

Prove your value

It’s important to show your brand’s unique value proposition (UVP). Customer stories are powerful ways to do this, while also building authority and providing social proof.

Moreover, including a few relevant use cases can quickly and clearly demonstrate how your brand is different from the competition.

Another way to prove value in your content is to anticipate customer pushbacks and look for ways to counter them. Bolster your persuasive writing here with graphics. Simple comparison charts and quotes from reviews add visual reinforcement.

Whenever you can, share data in your writing to back up your claims. You can write that your running shoes have a 98% customer satisfaction rate, but a reader can dismiss that as meaningless sales talk unless you can prove it.

Finally, remember more isn’t always better. One streamlined, well-told story that demonstrates your overall point is almost always better than many.

Appeal to their emotions

Buyers think they make logical decisions, but the painful truth is that most of us don’t. Instead, emotional appeal is what gets us to act.

Think about any large-scale natural disaster. What gets you to open your wallet and donate to the recovery fund more efficiently?

  1. Recitation of statistics, including how many were hurt, how many homes were lost, and how many millions of dollars lost to the local economy.
  2. One first-person story about how first responders found and saved two children whose house had been swept away in the flood.

If you’re like most of us, the deeply personal and emotionally resonant story is the one that convinces us to act.

The persuasive writing lesson here is simple: Appeal to your reader’s emotional state, whatever that might be. Engage their pain points, then offer them relief and a more positive emotional state as an alternative.

Be transparent

Write so your audience understands you. It seems like such simple advice but it can actually mean any of a number of different things.

For example, Hemingway and Proust are both brilliant writers. Yet, it would be hard to find two famous authors whose styles differ more than theirs do. Hemingway is straightforward, simple, and direct in his writing while Proust is elaborate.

They each were comfortable with their own style and voice, but also, they knew what their audiences expected from them.

Of course, writing for digital marketing content isn’t the same as writing fiction, but the point here is that when it comes to satisfying your audience, it pays to be transparent and true to your brand voice.

Simplify and edit ruthlessly

Use assessment tools to check your content’s readability. One grade level isn’t necessarily better than another here. Instead, aim to speak to your brand’s key user personas. Use the language they use and speak to them in a way that puts them at ease.

Additionally, steer clear of jargon and lingo. Delete terms of art and any vague, tired expressions. Keep your language clear, clean, and vibrant.

Aim for:

  • Short descriptive sentences
  • Strong, active verbs (no passive voice)
  • Minimal adverbs

If you’d like some help trimming unnecessary words and tightening up your prose, the Hemingway App is free to use online.

Eliminate the fluff. It’s true there’s evidence to suggest longer content ranks higher in search results for competitive keywords than shorter pieces. However, don’t ramble just to hit a higher word count. It’s better to have a shorter piece that’s beautifully written, cohesive, succinct, and scannable.

To pinpoint awkward phrases and grammatical errors, you can try using a plugin such as Grammarly. Additionally, reading your piece out loud will help you catch a number of errors such as passive voice, awkward phrasing, long sentences, and more.

Persuasive writing is honest and ethical

While some business owners still shy away from the idea of persuading anyone to buy their products or sign up for their list, there’s nothing dishonest about persuasive writing.

It’s simply writing that states its case clearly and in ways that are likely to be better received by the audience that reads it. Aim for authenticity and transparency in your content marketing writing, but don’t be afraid to integrate a few persuasion techniques along the way to reach your targeted users.

Persuasive writing is an art that will amplify your results. Talk to a content specialist today about developing persuasive content for your brand.