1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. Content

7 Powerful Content Secrets That Move People to Take Action

Do you want your audience to act on your content and call to action? Then discover seven powerful content secrets that will stir your audience to action.


When U2 performs a concert in a packed stadium, they know their reach is the 70,000 eagerly expectant fans waiting for them to perform.

Before he sings the first lyric, Bono knows that he needs to create an emotional connection with each person in that stadium.


Because if the experience doesn’t affect and change any one of those eager fans, then those fans might as well have stayed at home and listened to their music on their iPod.

It’s the same way in the digital marketing world.

Reach isn’t the end goal. It’s a milestone on the way to delivering value to your audience that will impact them and their lives in a positive way.

A lot of content gets published every day. Some of it is educational and useful. But you should ask yourself these questions while preparing content:

  • Without your audience taking action, will this content have any impact on their lives?
  • Does your content drive people on to the next step of the buyer’s journey?
  • Does it give rise to the kind of engagement you seek?

Did you answer no to any of these questions?

What, then, can you do to stir your audience to action?

If you have been involved with content or conversion optimization of your site, then you know that calls to action play a key role. In other words, if you want your audience to do something, then you’ve got to stir something in them before they’ll follow through.

While calls to action are important, what happens before the “call” often isn’t discussed.

To stir your audience, you need to evoke an emotional response that will make them want the outcome you describe and to act on that want.

Here are seven essential content secrets to achieve that.

1. Leverage the Halo Effect

Relationships can’t exist without trust. So, if you want your audience to follow through on your call to action, then you must first earn their faith. The tricky part doing that without ever meeting them offline.

One effective way to build trust online through content is the halo effect. This effect refers to peoples’ tendency to form a positive judgment of something or someone by transferring their feelings about things they are familiar with to other unrelated attributes.

For example, on the 4-Hour Work Week website, Tim Ferriss uses the logos of well-known publications and testimonials to create a halo effect over the site and book.

4-hour work week

You can leverage the halo effect in a few ways:

  • Feature well-known public figures or brands in support of your brand.
  • Feature a CEO who is well known for his expertise or personality.
  • Show your team being involved with charitable organizations. Not only does this give a more human face to your organization, but it also helps create a halo effect.

2. Use Storytelling

Storytelling, as it is being heard, can affect parts of the brain and also can evoke emotions, especially if the story’s message is similar to the audience’s core beliefs.

For example, take this ad by fitness expert Matt Furey, in which he uses storytelling to explain the effects of an exercise regimen to an audience of people wanting to get fit themselves.


This story also forms the basis of this ad from Sonos that identifies with experiences to which most people cannot relate.

How to Use Storytelling

Freytag’s pyramid, named after German playwright Gustav Freytag, offers a chronological structure to help unfold events in a story form. He studied dramatic work and distilled his findings into an arc as in the link below.

freytag's pyramid

You can use each part in the image above in your storytelling endeavor as follows:

  • Exposition: Introduce the topic. Regardless of whether it’s about Google’s new algorithm release or a new Facebook experiment, draw in your readers by clearly describing the facets of what you will cover.
  • Inciting incident: Tell your readers why exactly they need to read your article. Answer the following questions concisely and succinctly. Why should they read on? What’s in it for them?
  • Rising action: This is where you support what you told your audience in the inciting incident. Support your argument with numbers, data, and evidence.
  • Climax: This section needs to be carefully crafted for the reader to ensure it becomes a “light bulb” or “wow” moment for them.
  • Falling action: This is where you need to ease your reader of the emotional climax, reinforcing why your point makes sense and preparing the reader for the wrap-up.
  • Dénouement: This is where, having taken your audience through a journey and taught them something new, you now reinforce the point with an angle the audience hadn’t considered before to make them delve even further into the topic. Don’t be afraid to use a controversial or memorable angle.
  • Resolution: It is time to wrap up your content piece. So, remind your audience what they learned and how that knowledge can help them.

3. Use Unity

Author and persuasion expert Dr. Robert Cialdini says that the more people share a sense of identity, the more likely they are to influence each other. In other words, reminding someone of a shared identity makes you more persuasive.

Cialdini conducted an experiment to compare the attitudes of students and their parents. He asked them both to fill out questionnaires.

Initially, student compliance was high. Parents, however, responded at a lower rate, below 20 percent.

He then added a change to the experiment. He offered to give the students an extra point on one test only if their parents completed the survey. The result: the parent response rate increased to 97 percent.

Adding one point to a test in a semester’s course has little benefit to a final grade. But by invoking the emotions associated with helping a family member, Cialdini increased the response rate quite dramatically.

unity effect

So how can you invoke the same effect?

  • Get people involved in creating something together successfully to create the IKEA effect.
  • Use familial references or language. For example, you might use words like “brother,” “sister,” “parents,” etc., depending on the age and situation of your audience.
  • Emphasize shared ethnicity, location, and other factors to build unity. For example, the statement: “We are Asian. Like you.” from a Jewish scholar persuaded Japanese leaders in 1941 against following the example of the Nazi treatment of Jews.

4. Inspire Curiosity

Ever wonder why sites like ViralNova have become so popular?

How is it that the content they create goes viral?

The secret is that they use a simple headline formula for their articles, like the one below.


Here’s how it works:

  • They take a news story
  • Add the phrase “you won’t believe” or “this ____ made me cry, but”
  • Add an intriguing sentence: “what happens next will blow your mind” or “then this happened.”

This type of headline was first used in 1926 by copywriter John Caples in this ad:


At the time, it was one of the most successful ads and continues to inspire ads and sites like ViralNova.

So, what is so special about the headline?

John Caples, in using this headline, created a “curiosity gap” to make people want to know more.

In processing, such a headline the brain notices that it does not have all the information pertaining to the subject. This, in turn, creates a feeling, not unlike an itch we just need to scratch. So, to stop the itch, we read or click a link to satiate our desire for knowledge.

How to Create a Curiosity Gap

Push your audience’s emotional buttons. For example, humor can be a highly effective tool in producing content like the Dollar Shave Club video did.

  • Use it in headlines and subject lines, but deliver on its promise or you will disappoint your audience.
  • Don’t give everything away. In other words, in creating the curiosity gap, do not share everything you will cover in the headline.
  • Don’t chase virality of your content – instead, focus on the analytics of how your content is performing.

5. Remove Clutter

According to Steve Krug, author of “Don’t Make Me Think“, people don’t much care for content that requires them to figure out what it is all about. Why? Because people’s brains don’t like burning too many calories.

So, unless you’re offering an exclusive or desirable product or service, people would rather move on than to figure out what your point or offer is all about.

The real cost of not being able to achieve an outcome on your webpage is how it affects a person’s perception of self-efficacy. According to psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is the belief that people have their own ability to execute the actions required in a certain situation.

For example, the Norwegian site Arngren does little to help build one’s self-efficacy, as you can see from the screenshot below. The site is quite cluttered.


On the other hand, a site like Freshbooks makes it much easier to digest the content and act on its call to action.


The more confident your audience is in being able to accomplish a task, the more likely the audience will act on it.

An easy way to build their confidence is to design the site to increase the perception of ease. In other words:

  • Remove any clutter or distractions.
  • Have a clear and sensible navigation.
  • Make your calls to action stand out on the page.

6. Gain Momentum & Engagement Until the End

In her TEDx presentation, Nancy Duarte shows how two of the best speeches followed the same formula. She compared Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch speech.

Both speeches had their respective audience’s rapt attention and moved them toward action.

Duarte points out that the audiences in each case were physically responding to the speech. They were laughing and clapping. The speakers literally had the audience in the palms of their hands. So, by the time the speakers gave the calls to action, little doubt if any remained as to what the audience would do.

How to Gain Momentum

  • Use metaphors.
  • Use power verbs in headlines like these.
  • Intrigue the audience with your introduction.
  • Use visuals.
  • Use bucket brigades, a technique used to grab the reader’s attention and improve readability. This involves breaking down an idea in multiple lines to keep the reader interested. You can find examples in this post.

7. Show Don’t Tell

Research has shown that most people process visuals faster than text. Today you need more engaging ways to express or perceive emotions and visual media like memes, GIFs, and videos.

You don’t have to read long paragraphs to understand how excited a person is about something. Instead, you can preview an actual service, watch people’s reactions, and/or watch video tutorials on how to do something.

While adding visuals is a vital part of conveying a message and stirring your audience. showing people without telling is also about helping the audience experience the realization of the importance of your point and call to action without “telling” them why they should do what you want them to do.

Consider using the elements above:

  • Create a halo effect that naturally helps your audience place trust in you.
  • Tell a story that is so vivid they can see themselves achieving the outcome.
  • Craft your message so that it is clear and so that people can easily understand it. The message should remove confusion and be clear on what to do next.
  • Inspire enough curiosity that will help them realize that your proposed course of action will result in the answers and outcomes they seek.
  • Create realization that they are fighting for a cause that like-minded people also rally around.
  • Create momentum through your content, which should naturally spark an emotional response amongst people and the desire to follow through on your call to action.

Aim for a Win-Win

You now know that emotion is critical to:

  • Stirring your audience.
  • Driving strong engagement with your content.

By using your creativity and the content secrets mentioned above, you can design content that appeals to your audience in a meaningful and real way.

That said, your audience won’t do something they don’t want to do – no matter what techniques you use. The desired action must be in your audience’s interest first and yours secondarily.

More Content Marketing Resources Here:

Image Credits
Screenshots taken by Vinay Koshy, November 2017

Category Content
Vinay Koshy Sproutworth

Vinay Koshy is the founder of Sproutworth and helps digital marketers and businesses build influence, increase sales and conversions with ...

7 Powerful Content Secrets That Move People to Take Action

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.