Fast and Slow Content: Marketing to Instinct and Intellect

Topics: Axis41, Marketing Strategy

Thinking, fast and slow

As marketers, particularly those of us focusing on content, we use all kinds of models to help us understand customers and their buying behaviors, as well the content that will attract them to your brand, engage them in your topics, even persuade them to buy. There are a plethora of sales cycles, sales funnels, content blueprints, and editorial calendars, not to mention personas, experience maps, and all the qualitative and quantitative research we do to figure out our audience’s psychographics, intent, content consumption patterns, and who knows what else.

But oftentimes it’s best to look outside content strategy, marketing, and even business to find insight. And for answering the never-ending “right content, right time” challenge, the best answer might be the non-businessperson Daniel Kahneman. If you haven’t heard of Kahneman, be sure to Google him. He has a Nobel Prize in economics, influenced some of the greatest minds of the past century across numerous disciplines, and is generally more brilliant that just about anyone alive.

Among his long list of accomplishments, Kahneman is likely best known for his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” In it, he illustrates how the human mind has two ways of processing information: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is automatic, emotional, and fast, while System 2 is conscious, logical, and slow. Kahneman, a psychologist by training, arrived at this fast and slow thinking model through behavioral studies. But it mirrors what neuroscience understands about our brain. In other words, it’s not just theory. It’s how our minds are wired. And when content taps into that wiring, it’s doing its marketing job.

Quick lowdown on fast and slow

We regularly react to information instantly and from the gut, per Kahneman’s System 1. We laugh at jokes, instantly judge, and regularly make blink decisions. And this immediate reaction maps to more primitive parts of our brains, including our limbic system, a critical engine behind our emotions and basic human drives.

Other times we engage our System 2 thinking, giving information serious thought over time. We prep for tests, read in-depth analyses, and occasionally even do math. To paraphrase Kahneman, our System 2 tends to be lazy, so we’re not prone to engage our prefrontal cortex to do it, but it’s a necessity for overcoming biases and assumptions hardwired into our System 1 thinking.

Of course, it’s not always just one or the other. Many times you use both System 1 and 2, to varying degrees, depending on the situation and mindset. When you’re buying a house, for example, there’s the emotional curbside appeal, the gut feeling you get when you first see a house. But if you’re wise, there’s also a logical and lengthy crunching of the numbers. You have to know if if it’s right for your needs or even if you can afford it.

Content that speaks to fast and slow

The ability to be mentally ambidextrous is something we marketers are increasingly called on to do. To be a top-notch marketer now, you have to be both emotionally resonant with your customers, and data-driven in your decisions. And this marketing requirement, to speak both emotionally and rationally, also extends to content. Content, which is nothing more than packaged information, can appeal to System 1 or System 2 thinking.

As an example, let’s continue on with the real estate/house buying theme. If you’re a good real estate agent, you’re posting videos of that beautiful kitchen and creating glossy collateral featuring the amazing border gardens. To bring potential buyers in the door, you have hit them with this kind of emotional hook. But to close the deal, the wise real estate agent will also supply potential buyers with the specifications and the inspector report. They know that just getting a potential buyer to love a home doesn’t always equal sealing the deal, especially when hundreds of thousands of dollars and a major life decision are involved.

Same principle applies to a broad range of marketing situations, particularly when offerings have long, complex sales cycles. In the B2B tech world, for example. Despite the cerebral nerd stereotype, IT decision makers with engineering degrees have an emotional side. They immediately react subconsciously to a certain brand, and they read social media posts that stir up instant emotions. At the same time, even rapid-fire executives now look for in-depth information to support their buying decisions. The days of unsupported hunches are over.

But the era of using fast and slow content to connect with customers is just beginning.

When to be fast? How about slow?

Many content marketers already use a mix of fast and slow content, even if they don’t use those terms. But with careful thinking (of the System 2 variety), they can better leverage fast and slow content. In fact, it can be a central component to an effective content strategy.

When creating content blueprints for our clients, for example, we at Axis41 look to identify key moments for fast and slow content across target audiences and the buying journey. For example, C-level executives certainly want to know at least something about cybersecurity, but only have so much time to dedicate to it. So we might use System 1 content that implies there is plenty of System 2 reasoning behind it. To support that, we’d likely look to get the highly substantial cybersecurity content into the hands of the C-level executives’ trusted and cybersecurity-savvy advisors, those people who are invested in truly understanding the subject matter specifics.

Of course, we don’t merely follow our gut in this process. Key to our process is a thorough discovery stage, as well as ongoing optimization, based on quantitative and qualitative insights. That said, to create emotionally compelling content, it’s necessary to make a creative leap, to go beyond numbers and outside System 2 logic.

How do you approach your mix of content? We’d love to hear your perspective.