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Consuming Different Types of Content: Know How Your Brain Responds

microscopic picture of brain structure


Today, people are consuming more online content and more types of content than ever before, from blog posts and articles, to images, videos and interactive media. Nevertheless, few take the time to contemplate how our brain processes these different content types and the impact they have on us as consumers.

Yet, understanding this can help both consumers of content and content creators. For consumers, it allows us to better understand our reactions to content, as well as the intentions of the author or creator. For marketers, it can help to ensure the right type of content is being used for the right purpose, in order to optimise results.

In this post, we take a closer look at the way the brain responds to and processes different types of content.


Written Content

For most people, written content is the most common type of online content they consume. It includes everything from basic website content, blog posts and articles, through to e-books, case studies, white papers and fiction writing. So how does our brain actually respond to the written word?

According to an article published by Scientific American, when we read, our brain processes words through the section of the brain used to process visual input. Essentially, this means the same part of our brain is activated, regardless of whether we read about something or see it in person.

Furthermore, as we read dialogue or quotations, the right temporoparietal junction of the brain becomes active. This is the section of the brain that allows us to empathise with other people’s thoughts, opinions, aims and objectives. As such, this means that we attempt to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

From the perspective of a marketer or content creator, all of this makes written content ideal for creating a meaningful relationship between a brand and its customers and for building consumer trust.


Graphic Content

Graphics are another form of content most of us consume regularly and this type of content includes images, photographs, infographics, charts, graphs, signs, symbols and slide shows. These can be combined with other content types, such as written content, or published or distributed on their own.

One of the biggest advantages of graphic content, from a consumer perspective, is that it is easy to process and aids our understanding quickly. In fact, it takes around a tenth of a second to understand a visual scene. Moreover, images and graphic content are stored in our long-term memory, which can help to improve knowledge retention.

For these reasons, graphic content is ideal for conveying complex ideas and helping consumers to commit those ideas to memory. Graphical elements can also help to make other content types more exciting and memorable, can help to grab a user’s attention, and can help to provide credibility and evidence for points being made.

Moreover, due to the speed involved in processing images and visual content, graphics are valuable for marketers who are trying to make a point quickly, in situations or instances where people will not have the attention span to read longer, more detailed text, or watch video content. Similarly, graphics can help content creators to ensure the most important points are taken from a book, article or blog post, even if the user is skim reading.


Video Content

Over recent years, video content has emerged as one of the most popular online content types. In fact, according to data gathered by Hubspot, 72 percent of consumers would rather watch a video than read text when learning about a product or service, and the average person consumes 90 minutes of video content every day.

Examples of the type of content that falls within this category include promotional videos, instruction videos, webinars, live video streaming and video blogs. While the recent rapid expansion of online video has a lot to do with improved internet speeds and mobile phone data allowances, it is also about effectiveness.

Did you know, for instance, that the brain processes video content 60,000 times faster than it processes text? As it requires less cognitive function, this also means video is easier to consume than text and that it can be processed more passively, whereas text requires more active participation. Due to this more passive processing, video can be watched and enjoyed even with a limited attention span, or while multi-tasking.

Video content has a number of uses, but is especially effective for showing an audience how to do something, or explaining how something works. Videos can also help to encourage viewers to make a purchase or perform a certain action and, as with written content, it can be used to build consumer trust and form emotional connections.

With that being said, it is also worth noting that there are some negatives associated with video content. For example, video often requires audio and this is not always possible or convenient, whereas written content can be consumed in a wider range of circumstances, even if consumption requires more effort.


Interactive Content

Finally, interactive content is a type of content where user participation is required. This may include quizzes, interactive infographics and even some online games. From a consumer perspective, it is much more active than video and traditional graphic content, and can be more immediately engaging than written content.

Crucially, interactive content tends to provide a multi-sensory experience, combining text, images, video, audio and/or gamification. This stimulates multiple parts of the brain at once, which can help to improve retention. In addition, consumers tend to appreciate being actively involved, especially when there is a degree of personalisation.

In many cases, there is also a desire among consumers to share the experience with others, which can be beneficial for marketers, because it increases the reach of their content. For this reason, interactive content is often targeted towards social media platforms, or made easily shareable on them.

For marketers, the main benefits of interactive content are this ability to generate a buzz through sharing, as well as the capacity to engage readers on a more personal level. At the same time, interactive content can provide a more memorable experience than many other content types, which can help consumers to form positive associations.

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