What’s the body language of your content really saying?

by Zoë Courtman-Smith, 31 Jan 2018

Body language isn’t just for bodies. If your content isn’t converting like you’d like, take a look at the body language of your website, email, landing page or social post. It could be signaling something other than what you really want to say.


Anyone who’s ever prepped for a presentation, an interview or even a first date knows you don’t keep your arms crossed—you keep an open posture. You don’t stuff your hands in your pockets; you keep your hands where we can see ‘em. You also make eye contact, and generally don’t look shifty. There are a bunch of other body language dos and don’ts, but those are the basics.


Why does body language matter to us?


Because we’re primates. We’re monkeys with lizard brains designed to assess our world and keep us safe. This has to take place quickly—in a split second, so we don’t get eaten by a tiger or clubbed by a rival. (It’s why you keep your hands visible; it instantly shows you’re not carrying a weapon.)


So we use non-verbal cues to transmit those signals. And when you’re looking to communicate with, do business with or host other primates, you’ve got to signal three primary conditions: that you’re safe, that your audience is welcome and that they can trust you.


Take a look at Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs to see why.

Physiological needs are the absolute foundation—think food, water, shelter. But safety, belonging and esteem are the very next steps, almost as important as breathing itself.


What in the world does this have to do with content marketing?




Forget people-based marketing. This is monkey-based marketing.

You’re a primate talking to other primates. And we all have the same basic needs (safety, belonging and esteem), which you have to address before you can engage with your audience, much less sell them anything.


And remember, this happens on a primal, almost subconscious level.


One of the most basic ways you can do this is to consider the body language of your content. It’s what signals—or doesn’t signal—that you’re safe, that your audience is welcome in your world, and that they can trust you.


Content body language basics


Bad content is usually hampered by bad body language. This generally looks like a bunch of dense copy, non-intuitive navigation, too many red, screamy headlines, wild claims, too many options or CTAs, etc. Very much like crossed arms and hidden hands, these mistakes can push people away before they even really know why. Fix it by asking yourself this:

1. Does my content look safe?


If there’s a lot of the above, the answer is no. It doesn’t look safe—it looks like you’re going to have to go through a lot to get to a payoff that may or may not even be there. You can fix this by using:

  • Lots of white space (let people breathe and feel there’s an easy way out)
  • Plain, simple language (don’t be clever; be clear)
  • Give ‘em one CTA button, option or message to consider

2. Does my content make people feel welcome?


You want your audience to feel at home in your world, like they’re among friends. Here’s how to signal this:

  • Show them immediately why they’re here: Use your headline to show you know your audience and can solve a specific problem they have
  • Speak their language and anticipate next questions (and answer them!)
  • Don’t put up a lot of barriers—e.g., maybe don’t make them fill out 17 form fields when three will do

3. Does my content look trustworthy?


This one is pretty easy:

  • Take it easy on the hard sell; again, state your benefits clearly
  • Be eagle-eyed about typos and errors; these chip away at your credibility
  • Include social proof right up front (case study links are fantastic for home pages)
  • Consider offering something of value before you ask for something, like a free white paper, a first-time-user discount, etc.

It’s pretty simple. My designer friends will say this is really just good UX. And they’re right. It’s just a different way to think about it. So if your content isn’t performing, take a step back and scan it to get a sense of the body language of it all. Make sure it signals you’re safe, welcoming and trustworthy—before you try to sell.

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