Digital content that is consumed by audiences via connected devices has impacted society in ways beyond the printing press. Removing factors such as cost, durability and accessibility has made digital content a part of everyday life for people of virtually all cultures and locations around the globe. But there seems to be a difference in how people understand digital content, opposed to content that is not, and the data could provide an advantage to content marketers who understand it.

Does digital content achieve the same effect as identical paper content? That is the question that marketers need to know the answer to, in order to be as effective as possible with their content marketing. Science seems to have the answer!

The Science Of Digital Content

For some time, science has been studying the differences between digital content and printed content to try to understand how they affect the brain and its ability to absorb and understand information differently. The interesting part of this research is that there in fact is a huge difference between consuming digital content and printed content and how it is evaluated and absorbed. This should make content marketers stand up and take notice.

A recent group of scientific studies conducted by Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor lab were focused on the basic question of “would processing the same information in a digital format versus non-digital effect “construal levels” (or the ability to understand, interpret or explain the meaning of something) and the fundamental level of concreteness versus abstractness that people use in perceiving and interpreting behaviors, events and other informational stimuli.

Did I lose you there? I had to read the data several times myself. It is very complex and uses a lot of scientific wording that can be confusing. Simply put – The question is “does the ability of people to process the same identical information digitally or non-digitally have an affect on their ability to interpret and retain factual details aside from more abstract meanings and inferences. According to the study, the answer appears to be yes.

Factual Information Retained More Through Digital Content

The Dartmouth study found that using digital platforms for reading may make you more inclined to focus on concrete details rather than interpreting information more abstractly. Clearly put, people that consume content through digital media sources focus on and retain more factual details AND have a more difficult time drawing more obscure, random or abstract connections to the meaning of something when read on a digital device.

Here are some of the digital content study statistics resulting from questions asked participants after consuming content on either printed paper or a digital device:

Abstract questions:

On average, participants using the non-digital platform scored higher on inference questions with 66% correct, as compared to those using the digital media, who got only 48% correct.

Concrete questions:

Participants using a digital device to read the content scored better with 73% correct, as compared to those reading the identical content in printed form, who got only 58% correct.

Interpreting Content Differs From Print to Digital:

When people were asked to read information about 4, fictitious car models on either a computer screen or paper, and were then asked to select which car model is the best, 66% that used the printed content got the correct answer, as compared to only 43% of those using the digital platform.

Although this research is incredibly Interesting, I believe it goes well beyond that for digital marketing and more specifically content marketing.

How To Use Science In Your Digital Marketing

When science hands marketing studies like this, it is like being handed a map to a hidden treasure. Scientific data on human behavior related to digital content, which can be used to improve content creation, writing styles and the effect of content marketing is pure gold. This research is nearly the holy grail when evaluated from a marketing perspective and then utilized to make modifications to your digital marketing efforts. Let’s analyze how to do that from a more technical perspective.

1- Use Facts In Your Content: To be most effective with your digital marketing content, it needs to be literal and factual. You want to make your points in ways that do not require interpretation by the reader, but rather plainly and literally use facts to educate and entertain.

2- Make Your Content Meaning Clear: A lot of creative writing is focused on emotion and concepts that are void of facts and literal meaning, leaving the reader to decide it for themselves. The same content can easily be interpreted multiple ways, but inference drives the story. Based on this scientific study, marketing content should actually take a very clear path in its tone and construction.

3- Avoid Abstract Concepts: Be careful not to make paint broad concepts that require your reader to connect the dots and put meaning to what you are writing. Stay clear of requiring your audience to interpret your marketing content in order to apply it to their situation, instead be direct and use facts to make the connections for them. Define the meanings of the words and concepts within your content.

4- Write For The Medium: If there is one thing clear in this research is that the same content used on and offline can and will produce different results. If you are developing marketing content that will be used in both realities, their meaning and effectiveness will differ in each realm. If your marketing content is going to be used offline in printed form as well as online, be sure to make modifications to each that account for how people process and retain both.

5- Emotion Is Ok: It’s ok to use emotion and abstract concepts to draw people in, but use them wisely. Focus the emotion and concepts requiring interpretation in your titles and promotion of the digital content, but leave the content centered on substance and facts that result from the emotion you are drawing from.

Science is showing us that when people consume your digital content they lean toward factual retention over vague ideas that require thought and abstract interpretation. Effective digital marketers will use the data from this study to make changes to how they are creating content specifically for digital in ways they may not have considered before. To improve your content marketing results using this data, some of the modifications to your content production will be more subtle or simply conscious, while others will definitely require more drastic transformations to how you write and develop your marketing content. Either way, If you use the data from this research to fundamentally transform your content marketing it can result in a new level of effectiveness that you have yet to achieve.