With inbound content becoming increasingly popular, finding new ways to hook readers has become the name of the game.
Catch phrases. Snappy slogans. Famous one-liners. What do they all have in common?
But what exactly is schema, and how can we use it to compel more readers to love our content?
In this article, we’ll cover exactly why schema theory can directly benefit your inbound marketing campaigns, and how to boost your content click-through.
Schema: Your Brain On Patterns
Imagine walking into a pub. You go up to the bar to order a beer. The bartender gives you a strange look. “We only sell tea and cakes,” he says.
You take a step back, confused. Your brain is now processing what you expected to encounter (a beer, in a pub) based on conditioning, versus what you actually experienced (a rather rude bartender telling you that there’s no beer. In a pub. What?).
If you’re from the UK, ordering a beer in a pub was probably a schema script your brain has built over a lifetime. This has always been considered “normal.” We generally need this normal, predictable pattern — otherwise known as schema preservation — in order to function.
This tea-and-cakes-only pub is an example of a disruption to that schema. In everyday situations, schema disruption can be frustrating at best, and potentially life-threatening at worst.
That’s because schemas are the blueprint for living that we’ve built throughout our lives. They form an instruction manual – or script - based on various experiences that help us navigate our current situations. We basically need them to survive our experienced world.
Literary researcher Guy Cook explains that schema disruption is “a new experience… understood in comparison with a stereotypical version of a similar experience held in memory.” (Cook, 1994, pg. 9).
Now, here’s the important part: “The new experience is then processed in terms of its deviation from the stereotypical version, or conformity to it.” (Cook, 1994, pg. 9).
Why Schema Theory is Important to Marketing and Sales
So we know that schemas are cognitive frameworks which help to organise our past experiences. They can also provide a foundation from which to process new information.
But how can we apply schema to marketing and sales? Through providing information that your prospective customer can either incorporate into their existing framework or use to challenge their established script.
Creating content that triggers a script challenge can be the most effective way to engage readers – and potentially get new customers. This is because it’s difficult to change an individual’s specific schema once it has been formed.
This could be one of the reasons your sales team sometimes has to work harder to get customers to buy your new products. First, the prospective customer needs exposure to your company or product multiple times (i.e., The Marketing Rule of Seven). Even with these repeated communications, it’s often down to the sales team to trigger the right conversation that challenges a prospective customer’s current script.
But what if we started triggering their schema disruption earlier? If your inbound content does something to challenge – and even change – your reader’s script, they’ll likely not only be more engaged but also more primed for your sales team further down the funnel.
How to Incorporate Schema Theory into Your Inbound Content
Before we continue, it’s important to note that too much schema disruption isn’t a good thing. One example is an infamous Reece’s commercial which features a woman giving birth to… a giant Reece’s Pieces candy (with a face!). This amount of schema disruption left consumers feeling disturbed, rather than craving candy.
Our content goal is to provide just enough new information that triggers a disruption in a way that causes your reader to challenge their existing frameworks.
Linguists specifically call this schema refreshment. I call it the goal of any marketing campaign.
So, how do we trigger schema refreshment?
This is where things get tricky. Our schema frameworks are all highly individualised — almost as variable as DNA . That said, it’s pretty much impossible to incorporate a one-size-fits-all template into the perfect experience of refreshment.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few broad sets of schema that larger groups share.
Let’s take mobile phones, for example. Back in 2006, most people from first-world countries either owned – or at least knew about – mobile phones. They understood that these phones could enable them to call or text from just about anywhere with a signal.
Enter the Apple iPhone. It was an arguably massive game-changer in the industry that would certainly disrupt our mobile phone schemas. Apple needed to introduce the iPhone in a way that balanced schema preservation with the obvious disruption of a novel technology. Too much disruption, and they risked alienating large groups of people.
So Apple did something genius. Their first iPhone commercial, which aired during the U.S. Oscars, was simply a montage of famous (and globally recognisable!) movies and TV scenes showing people answering their landline phones with “hello.” Schema preservation for most people, right?
At the very end, they revealed the iPhone home screen indicating a new call coming in, tied together with a final “hello” in a simple font.
Here, Apple appreciated the massive change that was coming their consumers’ way and ensured that this first ad focused almost entirely on schema preservation.
Had they spent that commercial showing off all of the iPhone’s new functions, they might have scared away their wider consumer audience which was looking to maintain their current schemas around mobile phone use.
With this simple, yet groundbreaking commercial, Apple cognitively primed and prepared the market for what was to come. And now, almost two decades later, we see how successful they were.
The same schema refreshment method words for inbound content, too. If we want to impress a wider audience, we just need to find that balance between schema disruption and preservation.
Here’s what to do to refresh your readers’ schemas:
- Know your audience. This might already have been obvious, but now you have a new reason to deep-dive into your target personas. You need to identify what their current schemas might be.
- Make it new. The information you provide in your article or blog post needs to be novel enough that it challenges your reader’s existing schemas, or adds to them in some way.
- Stay balanced. We want to keep schema disruption and preservation in mind while we write. If we find the right balance between the two, we have better odds of triggering schema refreshment in our readers.
Using schema theory to attract and delight your readers can set an important foundation for their understanding of both your brand and your product.
But no worries if you’re feeling overwhelmed about what to write and how. That’s where we can help.
We at BabelQuest are offering a new Copywriting Consultancy service tailored to you. It comes as a series of bespoke training sessions to coach you on copywriting skills and best practices, including how to use concepts like schema theory to boost your writing.
Call us on 01235 313 555 or click the button below to learn more about our Copywriting Consultancy aimed at taking your — or your team’s — business writing to the next level.