Novelty – How to Use Psychology to Enhance Outreach: Part 5 of 5

April 30, 2018

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Welcome to the fifth and final part of our series on How to Use Psychology to Enhance Outreach. In the previous installment we talked about the decoy effect, a cognitive bias that causes us to change the way we evaluate choices when an inferior choice is introduced. In the context of outreach, we concluded that a modified version of the decoy effect was the only ethical and effective route, in which a “decoy” option is offered that actually is natural and reasonable, but is demanding enough to make your primary offer come across as less demanding.

In this part, we will be discussing novelty, the brain’s insatiable thirst for surprising information and experiences.

Since novelty is, by its nature, impossible to write a template for, this post is going to be a bit different. I will still offer examples of how to use novelty in concern with outreach, but I will not be focusing on email screenshots.

The Science Of Novelty

Most of the pop-science discussions about novelty focuses on how our brain is addicted to it: how it makes us bad multitaskers, how it can get us addicted to smartphones and video games, how it can lead us to risk-taking behavior, and so on.

While there’s a science to all of this, it’s a bias in the press that avoids one very important insight: novelty is for the most part good for the brain, has several positive impacts, and is certainly something we should be using if we want to get someone’s attention.

In one review of literature, published in Neuroscience & Bio-behavioral Reviews, Doctor Judith Schomaker and Martijn Meeter talk about how exposure to novelty improves perception and action, increases motivation, causes explorative behavior, and promotes learning.

When we’re exposed to something new, it activates the amygdala and puts our sensory systems into overdrive. In layman’s terms: we pay more attention to new things.

It’s also true that novelty activates the dopamine centers of the brain, hence the doom and gloom in the press about addiction. But much of this is misinformation about how the brain works, because despite how it gets talked about in the media, dopamine isn’t necessarily the “pleasure” chemical. In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter — a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve.

In fact, novelty seems to spur the brain by pushing it into “reward seeking” mode. In addition to being present when somebody feels “rewarded,” dopamine also acts as a motivator, and it’s present when we start looking for a reward.

When it comes to novelty, at least much of the time, dopamine’s role seems to be one of capitalizing on new situations, rather than addiction to novelty itself. In combination with enhanced activity in the sensory portions of the brain, dopamine is telling the brain, “this new situation could be an opportunity for you.”

Distilling all of this down into a message for outreach, we get this: the best way to get them to pay any attention to you is to do something they’re not expecting, and doing so puts people in a frame of reference where they are looking for something that can benefit them.

But novelty does more than getting attention. It also reinforces all of the other tactics discussed above. It’s cynicism and familiarity can cause these approaches to flop. When we understand that offering somebody a guest post is just a cynical way to get them to reciprocate, we aren’t showing gratitude, and thus, not building relationships. But, if we put kindness to use in novel ways, it’s treated as genuine, and the results are different.

It’s not hard to see how all of this fits together and makes innovation an important piece of the outreach puzzle. Somebody whose senses are heightened, and who’s in “reward-seeking” mode, is somebody you want to approach and reach out to.

Some Examples Of Applied Novelty

As you can probably imagine, giving useful examples of novelty is one of the hardest things to do. The whole point of novelty is that it is unique. A template for novelty is about as big an oxymoron as you can get.

At the same time, something need not be brand new in the history of mankind for it to be something that is new, or at least relatively unique, for your email recipients.

Novelty in your outreach is all but inseparable from novelty in the kinds of collaboration you are seeking. So, in order to fully embrace novelty in your outreach, you will also need to take part in a relatively novel project.

Here are a few examples of projects that are unique enough to be considered “novel” by most people you might consider contacting:

  • Web tools. Web applications like calculators, crawlers, games, business software, surveys, and any other innovative interactive tools you can put together are bound to be novel enough to grab attention in your outreach. Anything interactive is unique enough when compared to a blog post that it’s much easier to get attention, and your outreach is more likely to go smoothly.
  • Quizzes. Things like personality quizzes, interactive trivia, and the likes tend to do really well at attracting links on their own, and certainly stand out in your outreach. These fall under the category of “web tools,” but they are unique enough to deserve their own category.
  • Communities. Launching a community such as a forum or niche social network can be an effective way to earn some attention. Inviting somebody to join a conversation with your outreach is entirely different from asking somebody to take a look at a blog post, and recipients will look at it in a very different way.
  • Parody/Hoax. Parodies and hoaxes grab a lot of attention and are novelty buttons by design. A hoax like an April fool’s prank also means that you can take innovative approaches with the outreach itself.
  • Case studies. Since a case study is a very specific example of solving a very specific problem, it allows you to discuss a topic in a very novel way that is, to some extent, completely unique to that particular case. Much of what is discussed in a case study generalizes, which is of course a good thing, but since it is a discussion about a particular problem at a particular point in time and how it was solved, the fact that every case is unique means a case study is more likely to stand out in your outreach efforts.
  • Be controversial. This one’s always a risk, for obvious reasons, but when it comes to something you are passionate enough to be controversial about, controversy has a degree of novelty, all its own. While it’s true that some controversies have been around for a very long time, your involvement in a controversy is always novel. Plus it’s always better to be involved in a controversy of your choice than an accidental one.
  • Membership areas. Anything you might offer that involves membership, whether it is access to e-books and lead magnets, a video training course, or your SaaS, can be a good way to get attention. Of course, any kind of exchange for promotion must be disclosed and any links involved in that should be no-followed. Allowing them membership with something of yours can also be the start of a collaborative project.
  • Inviting them to post, linking to them, etc. You might have noticed that many of the emails I shared in this series actually involved asking people if they would be interested in an interview or being featured, etc. Most marketers focus their outreach on obtaining a guest post or a link, but inviting somebody to guest post on your blog can be equally useful. They tend to bring their audiences with them, and often share the post on their social networks or link to them from their blogs. Since most marketers are asking for an opportunity to do that, rather than offering that opportunity, this is relatively novel form of outreach that is often more likely to earn a positive response.
  • Invite them to an event. This works for similar reasons as inviting them to guest post or inviting them to a membership area. Since events are always unique to the space and time that they occur, they are inherently novel to some extent, more so if you go out of your way to make the event unique relative to other industry events.
  • Reach outside of your industry. The more creative the link between your industry and the recipient, the more novel the subject will be to them. I’m not advocating reaching out to random people from random industries with no cords attached, but I do feel like many marketers aren’t nearly creative enough with how they define their audience and who they choose to reach out to. Your target audience is inevitably much broader than your industry, with related interests spanning across many industries. Crossing industries allows you to inject new life into both your content and the content of those you are reaching out to.
  • Offer services. Whatever your expertise is, or whatever resources you have available with you, offer them as a way to open up a dialogue and start a relationship. This form of outreach is as unique as your company’s skill set, which should mean it’s relatively novel.
  • Correct a misconception of theirs. Obviously this needs to be done tactfully, in a way that comes across as you trying to help them, not as a way to insult their intelligence. But clearly, if you are addressing a misconception that they have, you are obviously telling them something that they do not know, which makes your outreach inherently novel. Think carefully about how best to approach this, and be sure to employ the other psychological effects.
  • Testimonials. Offer a testimonial in exchange for a link back to your site. Odds are most recipients have rarely had somebody contact them expressing an interest in leaving a testimonial.
  • Insider information. Investigative journalism isn’t exactly easy, and I’m not going to claim that it is. Nevertheless, being the first to break a story is about as close to the definition of novelty as you can get, without actually being the definition of novelty. Bear in mind that you don’t need to be the next Snowden for this to happen. A relatively small story in a relatively niche industry is still a great way to capture attention, if you are the one breaking the story.
  • Charts, graphs, and data visualization. I’m not claiming that nobody’s ever seen a chart before, but there’s plenty of data out there that has never been put in a visual format. Even better, if you involve a designer and come up with some more clever ways to visualize the data. In any case, data visualization is something most people you contact won’t see as often in their inbox.
  • “Skyscraper” content: Skyscraper content is any piece of content you produce that is specifically designed to one-up the best piece of content on the subject that currently exists. Just as the new tallest skyscraper is inherently novel, so is the next skyscraper content.
  • Original research: This includes any kind of industry survey, experiment, or quasi-academic work you might do. Since the results of original research are, of course, original, they are more likely to capture attention for their originality, their newness.

There can also be novelty in the way that you approach the outreach itself. For example:

  • Hand written letters: It might sound cheesy but it works. Hand written letters throw any suspicion of mass email campaigns out of the window, people respond more emotionally to handwritten letters than emails, and they are undeniably more novel at this point than emails are. Just avoid coming across like a stalker.
  • Phone calls: The dreaded phone call. Picking up the phone and dialing somebody requires facing a bit more fear than sending an email, but like a handwritten letter, it makes it clear you are human and that you are only talking to them. Phone calls also allow for decisions to be made more quickly and for ideas to be hashed out in more personalized ways.
  • Social media: Talking to people on social media is not exactly a novel concept, but most outreach is still done via email. Starting a conversation on social media and taking it to a messenger app is a relatively novel way to approach outreach and certainly allows you to approach it in a way that feels less like a cold approach via an unsolicited email. People are expecting comments from relatively unknown people on social media, especially if they don’t keep their profiles private.

This list of examples should help you approach your outreach and your projects in a more innovative way. Novelty’s power, as a method of capturing attention cannot be understated, and it is even more vital on the internet than it has ever been within previous generations of media.

This wraps up our five part series on applied psychology for outreach. If you want to learn more about how to apply psychology in this niche of the marketing industry, be sure to check out the previous installments as well:

If you found this useful, let me know if you would be interested in more content like this in the future. Thanks for reading.

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About Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, an SEO and content marketing agency. Pratik has contributed on sites like Moz, Fast Company, Social Media Examiner, KISSmetrics, and Content Marketing Institute to name a few. He's a "must-follow" SEO expert according to Search Engine Watch and has been named one of the top content marketing influencers by Onalytica. He's passionate about fitness, entrepreneurship, start-ups, and all things digital marketing. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik for a quick chat on any of these topics.