5 Powerful Psychological Triggers That Can Help You Improve Your Marketing To Increase Sales And Profits

People like to think they’re in control, especially when it comes to their behavior.

Science has proven otherwise.

According to marketing psychology, most human behavior can be at least partially attributed to deep-set psychological traits or triggers. We may have control over our actions, but science has shown that we have cognitive biases and can be persuaded to take specific actions.

In fact, the higher a person’s motivation and the easier something is to do, the higher the chance an emotional trigger will successfully influence behavior.

But what are psychological triggers and how can you leverage them in your marketing to boost website sales and improve the user experience for your customers and prospects?

What are triggers?

Digitalpsychology.co explains triggers:

Triggers are anything that sparks us to complete a particular action. They tell us what to do next, and come in the form of internal and external triggers.

External triggers are things that happen externally to the person. They can take many forms but are generally tied to our senses.

For example, they can be visual, such as the way a page is laid out or the color or positioning of a “Buy Now” button. Or they can be scent-related, like how realtors try to add the smell of baking to a house they’re trying to sell to trigger feelings of coziness and home in potential buyers.

Such persuasive design techniques can create external triggers that influence how people react to something, and what they do.

Internal triggers are impulses that happen inside of us, in our minds. Digitalpsychology.co describes internal triggers like this:

Memories, emotions, or situations provide information for what to do next. For example, the fear of losing out on a moment triggers some people to take a photo and post it on Instagram. Internal triggers are a major factor for building habit-forming products, and are the drivers for the growth of billion dollar companies.

We already talked about the psychology of reciprocity as a major trigger that can influence people’s behavior, but there are other useful triggers your should know.

1. Calls to action

The “Call to Action” or CTA is one of the most powerful triggers used to influence behavior.

Understanding what makes a CTA successful is a fascinating mix of psychology, design, and strategy.

CTA’s can be as simple as text saying “Click Here” or as complex as the way a page is laid out, the copy on the page, the value proposition of what’s being offered, and much more.

People expect that any page or screen they encounter has an action that it wants them to take, so they’re already primed by their experience.

Then there’s the curiosity of what happens after the person follows a call to action. What happens after I click this button?

The CTA is possibly the most important trigger because no service, product, or idea can truly succeed without getting people to perform some action.

The trouble is, not enough companies and marketers are using CTAs effectively, if at all.

In fact, a study by Small Business Trends found that 70% of the surveyed B2B websites lacked an effective call to action.

How can you use CTAs to boost sales?

You can take advantage of CTAs by ensuring that any touchpoints you have with your customers (whether it be email, website, app, marketing campaign, and more) are optimized around a clear action that you want them to take.

Whether you’re asking a customer to buy, subscribe, sign up, inquire, share, download, or something else, make sure your call to action on your website is meaningful and provides value both for you and your customers.

2. Social proof

People are influenced by others. Dr. Robert Cialdini explains:

Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important guides in defining the answer.

Scientists have studied the importance of social proof for decades. A great example of social proof in action comes from an experiment done by scientists in 1969. They found that if they had a single person standing on a sidewalk looking up, very few people joined in to look up as well.

As they increased the size of the initial group of people looking up, the proportion of passersby that joined in and looked up went up as well. The behavior of the people passing by was triggered by the increasingly large group of people looking up.

Social proof explains why major brands invest so much money on influencers. Brands hire well-known athletes to promote sneakers, models to promote clothing, actors to promote insurance, etc.

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How can you use social proof in your business?

  • Add links to reputable sites or publications to your website,
  • Collect reviews and testimonials and display them on your site,
  • Show the number of subscribers to your service on the sign-up or registration page,
  • Display links to related products, like “Customers who bought this product also bought” or “Customers also viewed”, and
  • Show how many people have shared your products or content on social media.

Be sure that your social proof connects smartly to your brand. For example, if you run an ad in a local paper or online, make sure your company’s name is visible and near the social proof and be certain that your company’s logo is clear and readable. Too many businesses forget to connect their brand to social proof or have unremarkable, unmemorable logos that are easily forgotten by their customers and prospects.

To learn more about effective logo design, read The Psychology of Logo Design: How Fonts, Colors, Shapes, and Lines Influence Purchasing Decisions and Is Your Small Business Committing These 7 Deady Logo Design Sins?

3. Scarcity

No one wants to miss out on an opportunity they’re interested in, and that’s where the principle of scarcity comes in.

People tend to want what they can’t have, and giving the impression (hopefully a true one) that the thing they want may disappear, sell out, or otherwise become unavailable is a powerful trigger.

One of the most commonly cited studies on the power of scarcity was done in 1975 by Stephen Worchel.

Worchel tested the attractiveness of two different cookie jars: one that was full, and one that only had a few cookies in it. Test subjects were told that there were fewer of one of the cookies due to an accident or high demand. As a result, People rated the cookies there more scarce as being more valuable and more desirable.

How can you use scarcity to improve your marketing?

A common way that businesses use scarcity as a trigger is through inventory or availability numbers.
Amazon uses this trigger when they display “only 1 left in stock” on product pages. You see this as well on travel sites where they report “only 5 tickets left at this price”.

You can also create time-limited promotions. For example: “Sale lasts only two days. Visit our store now!”

Companies also can use scarcity through limited-edition versions of their products. We illustrated a great example of this in action when we looked at food packaging design:

Nutella introduced seven million different versions of Nutella’s graphic identity, each sold on a single bottle. The company used an algorithm to randomly generate the designs and stamped each jar with its own unique code so it could be authenticated by collectors.

The campaign ran in Italy and was a huge success, selling out in just one month.

4. Framing

Framing is the idea that people tend to make comparisons when making a decision. This means you can influence how people perceive something by the way it’s compared to something else.

Via William Poundstone‘s book Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (And How to Take Advantage of It)

A well-known example of framing in action was described by author William Poundstone in his book Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (And How to Take Advantage of It). Poundstone wrote about how a New York restaurant, Balthazar’s, used framing on their menu to influence people.

People tend to look at large images first when they scan a layout, and the restaurant took advantage of this to put two of their most expensive items right below a large copy of their logo. The two items cost $115 and $170.

Poundstone explained why the restaurant chose this strategy: “The main role of that $170 platter is to make everything else near it look like a relative bargain.”

Another example of framing is how companies display the regular price of an item along with the cheaper sales price, or when there’s a buy one, get one free offer. The focus is reframed from the original price (or the existing price of the item, for buy one, get one free) to the perceived new value.

How can you leverage framing to increase revenues?

As mentioned, displaying the pre-sales price of a product is one way to leverage framing.

Another way is to use what’s known as the Goldilocks pricing technique. Using this technique, you show a number of different prices from low to high (Good, Better, Best). Just like the fable it draws its name from, most people will choose the middle option as it seems “just right” – a good balance between the low-end and high-end options.

5. Salience

The principle of salience deals with the idea that people’s attention is drawn to the thing that is the most relevant to them at that moment.

One of the most common uses for this principle is seen in things like the ubiquitous up-sell during the checkout process.

Companies do this because consumers are already primed to buy as they’re already in the process of paying for something. This is also where companies often include promotions or other marketing because people’s minds are generally more receptive to taking advantage of a promotion during the checkout process.

People tend to take the path of least resistance and seek out the most important (or salient) thing for them when they arrive on a website. Designers can take advantage of this by knowing what people are looking for and then arranging the page to group similar things close to that primary goal.

How can you use salience to increase profits?

Integrating salience can be more difficult than some of the other triggers because it depends on what kind of goals your customers have in mind when they interact with you. The key here is to identify these goals and integrate related experiences that can take advantage of this innate focus.

As we mentioned already, up-selling is a great example of how you can use the principle of salience. We suggest you take a closer look at why your customers use your site or products and integrate related goals or products.


Understanding how your customers think and how you can influence their actions will help you to boost sales and profits.

But remember to use these strategies wisely.  After all, the best and most valuable connections with customers are built on trust and care.

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