Marketing is the bridge between your product or service and your consumers.
Without marketing, products and services exist in a vacuum. According to Eric Samson, a marketer’s success is:
contingent on their ability to influence customer behaviors which makes doing marketing an exercise in consumer psychology.
Considering how important marketing is, businesses should be doing everything they can to improve their marketing strategy and techniques.
But where should you start?
Here are 7 fundamentals of marketing psychology that you can implement today to help your business succeed.
1. Emotion Trumps Intellect
One of the most valuable rules consumer behavior has taught us is that people respond better to emotional appeals than intellectual ones. Roger Dooley’s article “Emotional Ads Work Better” reveals that emotional ad campaigns perform nearly twice as well as ads with a rational focus.
It’s more persuasive to show consumers how a product or service can benefit their life in a meaningful way rather than showing them a list of features. Neuroanatomist, author, and public speaker Jill Bolte Taylor reflects,
We live in a world where we are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think.
So, according to Jill Taylor, humans are feeling creatures first. But, why does how we feel impact marketing, sales and profit?
Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, asserts that emotion is an integral element of the decision-making process:
…emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions. When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision.
When we understand that emotions inform our decisions through their linked associations, it becomes easier to see how you can use this information when planning your marketing strategy. While every consumer is unique and each has a unique set of emotional associations, we can nonetheless make certain generalizations.
For example, most people like to feel positive emotions like happiness, connection, and pride. Most people dislike sadness, loss, fear or regret. So, linking your product with positive feelings or showing how it can eliminate negative emotions is a compelling sales tool.
One good example is when companies use taglines or slogans. Positive taglines tend to perform better than negative ones.
Start by doing your research. What associations will create positive emotions for your demographic audience? Conversely, what do they dislike or fear?
Then, build a campaign that helps your unique audience envision how your product or service will directly benefit their life on an emotional level. Create positive associations with your product by linking it to things your audience will like… or by showing how the product can eliminate things they don’t.
2. Me, Too! The Power of Conformity
In 1951 Solomon Asch, a social psychologist, designed a study testing whether a lone subject would, when questioned, give the obviously correct answer if they were surrounded by subjects giving an obviously wrong answer. The study revealed that 37 of 50 subjects conformed to the larger group and gave the obviously incorrect answer. Asch later reflected,
The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black.
This concept is called Social Proof. In essence, it means that people look for reassurance and behavioral cues from those around them. The logic goes something like this, “If everyone else likes it, maybe I’ll like it, too.”
It’s well known that such behavior is common among people. In fact, T.H. Morgan and K. Laland’s study “The Biological Bases of Conformity” suggests that conformist behavior in humans has its basis in our biology. They report that:
Humans are characterized by an extreme dependence on culturally transmitted information and recent formal theory predicts that natural selection should favor adaptive learning strategies that facilitate effective copying and decision making….early findings imply that humans may possess specific cognitive adaptations for effective social learning.
As Asch, Morgan and Laland point out, conformity is a powerful motivator. Since this drive to conform has been shown to be so deeply pervasive, it stands to reason that it can be a reliable tool for persuading consumers. As a marketer, you can use consumers’ desire to be included to affect their decision-making process.
Create a social group to which consumers will want to belong. You can do this on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, or even offline, depending on the products and services your business sells.
Gather and display positive testimonials to create a social group of happy customers. Testimonials from real-live people inspire trust in new customers; as well as the desire to join the ranks of those who have benefitted happily from your product or service before them.
A good example of this is zealous advocates for Apple products. Apple takes great care to create phenomenal products and makes sure that the buying and unboxing experience matches the quality of the products. As a result, people who buy Apple products tend to be happy customers and zealously advocate to others.
3. Reciprocity: One Good Turn Inspires Another
Have you ever been caught off guard (and quietly dismayed) by a surprise gift at Christmas when you haven’t gotten that person a gift in return? We’ve all been there. And I’m betting I’m not the only one who hates that low feeling when you have to confess, “But, I didn’t get you anything…”
That discomfort is due to the principle of “reciprocity”.
Reciprocity is the idea that we want to do nice things in return when people do nice things for us. Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, tells us that even the simplest gesture can trigger our desire to reciprocate.
He reports that when a server in a restaurant brings a mint along with the bill that the resulting tips increase by 3.3%. But, if a server brings two mints, tips jump significantly to around 20% above their usual tip rate.
Dr. Cialdini is not the only one to note this phenomenon. In 1974 a sociologist from Brigham Young University, Philip Kunz, sent roughly 600 Christmas cards to folks he had never met. To his surprise and delight, roughly 200 strangers wrote back. Cialdini explains,
We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behavior that they have first given to us. Essentially thou shall not take without giving in return.
According to Cialdini, all cultures embrace this law of reciprocation. If cultures all over the globe ascribe to this social imperative, that implies a wide audience of consumers who may be affected by this technique.
So, how can you make reciprocity work for you?
Offer your customers something small, thoughtful and free that is not contingent on purchase. Charitable organizations have already mastered this technique. They will frequently send a calendar, mailing labels or stationary to encourage donations. For more about using promotional products in your business, read “3 Ways to Make Promotional Products Work In the Digital Age“.
Be creative with your gifts and make sure that they are an item that will be of use to your demographic.
4. Priming and Foot-in-Door
NY University professors Bargh, Chen and Burrows conducted a study in 1994 asking their students to decode sentences from a random scrambling of words; and then to touch base with a nearby researcher when the task was complete. The words could create a wide variety of sentences depending on how the students chose to order them.
The resulting unscrambled sentences displayed varying degrees of rudeness, neutrality and politeness. The most fascinating part of the study is that the tone of the sentences the students uncoded predicted how each student would then interact with the researcher. Polite sentences yielded a polite interaction, while ruder sentences lead to more aggressive interrupting behavior.
This study showed a direct correlation between a primed frame of mind and a resulting action.
Priming is the process of presenting someone with a word, image (or sentence) that prepares them to be more receptive to a particular point of view. This study showed that priming can influence action as well as thought.
Similarly, it is possible to prime someone to say “Yes.” This specific form of priming is often called the “Foot-in-Door” method.
Don’t let the pushy visual of a foot blocking your door fool you. Foot-in-Door technique can be executed respectfully and with subtlety.
But, what is it?
Foot-in-Door is the technique of priming consumers with small asks (such as signing up for a free e-letter) to prepare them to be more receptive to larger asks (like buying a subscription to a paid newsletter). Neil Patel of Forbes sums it up this way,
The principle is this: Start by asking someone for something small. If they comply with your first small request, they will be more likely to respond to your next and bigger request.
Prime your customers to say “Yes” by building a relationship of small asks early on. Forbes recommends requesting that consumers share comments on social media, read blog posts, attend free webinars or download an ebook as other useful examples of small asks that can prime consumers to say “Yes” later, when it counts.
Also, keep color in mind, as it has an important psychological impact on your messaging. Colors have certain associations that naturally lend themselves to priming.
5. Framing: The Art of Asking the Right Question
What would you say if I invited you to share a meal that is extremely low in nutritional value, but very high in calories and which may lead to poor health and weight gain?
I’m guessing you’d say no.
How about if I invited you to share my Chicken McNuggets- “They’re crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and fresh out of the fryer!” There’s a better chance that you’ll say yes to that one.
The fact is that those meals are one and the same. I just framed them differently. The Psychology Dictionary defines framing as:
the process of defining the context or issues that surround a problem or event in a way that serves to influence how the context or issues are seen and evaluated.
In other words, framing is the act of manipulating context to make consumers more receptive to your product or service. Our brains take in all outside information and then filter to determine which bits are important. This means that context is just as important to the decision-making process as your product or service itself.
The framing phenomenon was studied in the early 1980’s by Dr. Amos Tversky and Dr. Daniel Kahneman. Their studies showed that “…seemingly inconsequential changes in the formulation of choice problems [framing] caused significant shifts of preference.” They found this to be particularly true of decisions involving money.
What framing teaches us is that how you ask a question can determine how people will answer it. Tversky and Kahneman’s research revealed that 72% of people chose a positively framed option over 22% choosing the same option framed negatively. The research suggests that positively framed offers can increase sales.
The simplest way to use framing to your advantage is to frame your product with a positive context. A more sophisticated application would be to create a positive framing context that appeals specifically to your audience.
Neuromarketing, a website devoted to studying neuroscience in marketing, suggests,
The way to maximize the impact of your marketing message is simple. Express the risk in negative terms, but present your solution using positive framing.
6. Mere Exposure and the Propinquity Effect
Mere Exposure Theory and the Propinquity Effect are both based on the same basic tenet- repetition creates familiarity and familiarity is good.
Mere Exposure Theory posits that the more people see something, the more they will like it.
I can personally attest to this. When wide-legged pants become popular in the late 1990’s I swore up and down that I’d never wear them. Of course, we all know that I eventually did.
And I was happy about it. But why did I wear them and why was I happy?
Apparently, the simple act of repeated exposure automatically triggers an increased positive association in our brains. ChangingMinds.org reports:
The more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more we will tend to like it….Things grow on us and we acquire tastes for things over time and repeated exposure.
Familiarity increases our positive reactions.
In 1976 Dr. Robert Zajonc conducted an experiment supporting this theory. Zajonc shared Chinese characters with subjects who did not speak Chinese. Though none of the characters had any meaning for the subjects to begin with, the subjects developed more positive reactions to the characters that they saw most frequently.
That’s it. He didn’t give the subjects ice cream when they saw those characters or remind them of how much they loved their great Aunt Meemaw. He just exposed the subjects to those characters most frequently.
The Propinquity Effect is a fancy name for a very simple, very similar phenomenon. The Propinquity Effect, simply put, states that people are most likely to become friends with the people they see most frequently.
Both mere exposure and propinquity can easily inform how you conduct your marketing.
Keep your brand in front of your consumers. Regular advertisements and email communication breed familiarity and, as a result, positive associations.
You can take advantage of the Propinquity Effect by enlisting a spokesperson or character to represent your brand. Then strategically place advertisements or content with your new spokesperson in places (online and off) frequented by your potential customers.
But, remember… oversaturation can have a negative effect. Make your brand familiar- but not the houseguest who doesn’t know when to leave.
7. Scarcity: Act Now, They’re Going Fast!
How many times have you been compelled to buy because “There are only X left!”? Or, maybe you didn’t plan to buy a puppy that day. But, it was sooo cute and there were two other couples interested!
Scarcity is a strong motivator.
This psychology principle goes back to the simple formula of supply and demand: The more rare the opportunity, content, or product is, the more valuable it is.
In fact, the perception of scarcity is enough to drive demand. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Behavior by Drs. Lee, Worchel and Adewole proves that an item doesn’t need to be genuinely scarce to reap the benefits.
Adewole, Worchel and Lee conducted an experiment offering female undergraduates cookies. The researchers presented the cookies (all of which were, in reality, the same) as being in either short or abundant supply. After having eaten the cookies, the subjects were asked to rate them.
The results were very telling. The cookies that were presented as scarce were rated more highly by the subjects than the exact same cookies that were said to be available in a more abundant supply. Furthermore, the cookies that were said to be scarce due to high demand were rated even more highly than the cookies that were said to be scarce due to an accident.
The perception of scarcity is clearly just as compelling as actual scarcity. But, the reason for scarcity appears to be important as well. Perhaps this is one reason why purportedly scarce products sometimes cause people to start fights. Remember the battles over the Furby, Nintendo Wii, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and many other such products?
There are a number of ways to use the principle of scarcity to your advantage. Consider offering “limited editions” – the very definition of a scarce product. Maximize the impact by specifying the limited number of items available or by showing how few are remaining.
You can also create time-contingent scarcity by offering an early-bird sale available for a limited time or placing a countdown timer on your product page to motivate sales.
Since we’ve learned how useful repetition can be in affecting behavior, let’s revisit those 7 elements of marketing psychology just one more time:
1- Use emotional appeals over rational, logic-based ones.
2- Conformity is powerful. Create a social group to speak in favor of your product that others will want to join.
3- Giving your potential customers a small gift encourages the possibility that they’ll respond with a purchase.
4- Start with small, easy asks to increase the chance that consumers with say yes to bigger asks later.
5- Ask the right questions to motivate sales by framing your product or service with a positive context.
6- People like people and things that they see often enough to become familiar with. Keep your brand in front of consumers’ eyes.
7- If it’s rare, people want it. Create the impression of scarcity to drive sales.
Follow these 7 scientifically-backed techniques and you’ll see your marketing efforts thrive.
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