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11 ways you can use psychology in your marketing

Psychology research that will help you subtly convince your leads

Ever wanted to get into the minds of your customers and figure out how they think? Ever wanted to know the best methods to convince someone to do something?

As the study of the human mind and behavior, psychology has answers to what you're looking for. Psychology is applicable to a wide range of fields, from daily life to counseling to human resources. But what you're probably more concerned about is the intersection of psychology and marketing

1. Relate to your customer

Goldstein, Cialdini, and Griskevicius (2008) conducted a study on Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels. In particular, they tried to determine what kind of message would get hotel guests to reuse their towels. They used three variations, paraphrased below:

  • Standard message: 'help save the environment'
  • 75% of hotel guests in this hotel reuse their towels
  • 75% of hotel guests in this room reuse their towels

Messages that related to the participant - other guests reuses towels - increased participants reusing them by 10-15%.

How does this apply to marketing?

This phenomenon where people tend to view others who are similar to them more favorably is called in-group favoritism.

All in all, the best way to motivate your customers to do something is to say that customers in their situation have done so. Try to find common ground and draw similarities among your customers as well as between your company and your customers.

2. Start small

This is commonly known as the foot-in-the-door technique.

Freedman and Fraser (1966) knocked on doors asking if residents could do something small, such as sign a petition or put a sticker on their windows. For their control group, they skipped some houses and didn't speak to them at all.

Sometime later, Freedman and Fraser went to the exact same houses with a larger request, such as putting a large sign on their lawn, which was either related to the same issue as the previous request or related to a different issue.

They found that people whom they had already approached were much more willing to agree to their large request, nearly 3 times more willing if the request pertained to a different issue and more than 4 times more willing if the request pertained to the same issue!

How does this apply to marketing?

Starting small and then gradually scaling up your requests is one way to convince your customers to do something. We see examples of this everywhere. First, a non-profit organization simply asks for your email address. Next, they keep you updated regarding their events and progress. Before you know it, they're asking you to donate.

The opposite of the foot-in-the-door technique is the door-in-the-face technique, where instead of starting small, you start big. You make a large request from the get-go, maybe something ridiculous that the customer unsurprisingly turns down. Then, you make a smaller request. In this case, the customer is more likely to agree to your smaller request since it's much less ridiculous than the large request you started off with.

3. Use random reward schedules

You know those stamp cards that some restaurants and coffee shops give you that allow you to get a free drink on the 10th time you come? Actually, although those cards can be effective, they're not the most effective way of incentivizing customers to come back. Instead of having a fixed ratio reinforcement schedule, where customers get rewarded every 10th time they come, you should have variable reinforcement, where customers get rewarded randomly.

This draws on a concept called operant conditioning in psychology, where we learn to associate our behaviors with events, for example, associating going back to a restaurant with getting a free drink. Operant conditioning commonly involves rewarding a behavior to get more of that behavior.

Skinner showed this by rewarding a mouse with food in two different ways:

  • rewarding every 5th time it pressed a bar (fixed ratio scheduled)
  • rewarding randomly (variable reinforcement).

He found that the second option was more long-lasting and required less reinforcement (less food)!

How does this apply to marketing?

Although humans and animals are very different, we are also very similar. Imagine if a restaurant didn't tell us when they're going to give us a free drink. We'd probably be going back as much as we could to maximize our chances of getting that free drink! Cereal brands and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory take advantage of variable reinforcement by putting golden tickets in some of their cereal boxes or candy bars, spurring us to want to buy more for a shot to win!

4. Frame your sales pitches in an appealing way

Consider two different situations below.

The original price of the outdoor jacket is $125; $23 for the tripod. There are two different ways to pitch this:

  • £113.50 for the outdoor jacket; $23 for the tripod
  • $125 for the jacket; 50% OFF. $11.50 for the tripod

Which one would you be more willing to buy if you had to drive 20 minutes to the store?

This adapted example is based on Kahneman and Tversky's (1984) study. They found that 68% of respondents were willing to buy the tripod whereas only 29% were willing to buy the jacket. You might've realized that in both cases, consumers are saving the same amount: $11.50!

The point is that consumers think about gains and losses in relative terms, not absolute terms. In other words, they think in percentages, not dollars. A discount of $11.50 for the tripod is a larger percentage than a discount of $11.50 for the jacket.

When coming up with your sales pitches and marketing messages, be sure to take this into account! Think of more appealing ways of framing your messages - even if your messages are describing the same thing!

5. Appeal to your customers' senses

Sight

Sight comes first because it's probably the most important and effective sense for us. Brady, Konkle, Alvarez, and Oliva (2008) conducted an experiment where they flashed images of objects to participants. The images below are examples of ones that they flashed.

After flashing a certain number of images, the researchers then presented 2 similar images to participants. One image was an actual image that was flashed but the other was one that looked similar to the actual image that was flashed. They then asked participants, of the two images below, which was the one that you actually saw?

They found that participants were shockingly accurate at identifying the images that were actually flashed and were not fooled by images that were incredibly similar. In other words, they remembered the visual details of the images that were flashed and could distinguish subtle differences between the images that were flashed and the images that looked similar but were not actually flashed. In fact, for 2,500 images that were flashed, the accuracy was around a whopping 90%!

exemplar memory test results

Participants' responses were also very accurate when considering the number of items that appeared between the actual item and its match.

memory study

How does this apply to marketing?

What does this mean for your marketing? USE VISUALS! A lot of them! Make all of your marketing material (ads, brochures, flyers, websites, emails, blog posts, social media, etc.) visually appealing and colorful. Don't just overwhelm your audience with tons of text! Include images, videos, and other multimedia to spice things up whenever possible.

Sound

Commercial ads are great at creating jingles and sound content to get you remember the brand.

Take for instance comparison site Go Compare - their ads were featuring an irritating opera singer was the most complained about ad in 2012, yet we all find ourselves remembering the song 'Go compare':

Another example:

1-877-KARS-4-KIDS

K-A-R-S Kars4Kids

1-877-KARS-4-KIDS

Donate your car today.

I bet you sang those jingles in your head just now. How can we still remember it now?

All thanks to great marketing!

On top of that, the famous experiment with Pavlov's dogs highlighted the phenomenon of classical conditioning. Pavlov rang a bell, served his dog with meat, measured the amount of salivation, and repeated this. After several trials, he found that even if he rang a bell and didn't serve his dog with meat, his dog would still salivate. His dog had created a learned association between the bell ringing and being served meat.

We, as humans, can be classically conditioned too. If you, as a marketer, can create a jingle that gets stuck in everyone's heads for very long and creates a learned association between the jingle and your brand, then you're golden. Think about the McDonald's jingle!

6. Capture your audience's attention

Castel, Vendetti, and Holyoak (2012) surveyed employees in a building. Although the average time that the employees had worked in the building was 4.5 years, only 1 in 4 people knew where the nearest fire extinguisher was. Not devoting attention to these sorts of things could be very dangerous!

How does this apply to marketing?

Make sure to capture and direct your audience's attention. If you're writing a blog and want your audience to pay attention to an important call to action, image, video, or link, be sure to call your audience's attention to that, maybe by mentioning it explicitly in your writing or by making it stand out on the screen.

Also, don't clutter your webpages! I think we've all been victim to webpages with lots of ads and content, which can be incredibly overwhelming and make it difficult to find what exactly to focus on. In these scenarios, if I'm reading an article, for example, I find myself scrolling past and ignoring anything other than the text. But sometimes, I find out that there was an image or table I missed that was actually relevant to the article. You don't want this to happen with the amazing content you've created! Especially in this age of information overload, which has resulted in short attention spans. Strive to engage your audience and capture their undivided attention. Appealing to the senses works here as well!

7. Use eye contact

How should you use eye contact in marketing without creeping out your customers?

If you're pitching to a customer or investor, be sure to make eye contact with them. Try to incorporate eye contact into your ads and marketing material. Ever wonder why the Trix bunny and the Cap'n Crunch captain are looking down? To make eye contact with the kids who want the cereal!

cap'n crunch trix

8. Throw your customers an anchor

Customers that many not be knowledgeable in your field or product price range may scamble for a reference point or anchor to go off of, and if this is provided in the question, you immediately seize it and base/pivot your thinking off of that.

In psychology, this phenomenon, "activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task," is called priming, which is one way to explain anchoring. The effort of adjustment also explains the small adjustments around the anchor.

But how is this related to marketing? As shocking as this is in terms of the ethics of deciding on a criminal sentence, you can still use this in an ethical way to maximize your revenues. Let's pretend that you're on the phone with a potential customer. Let's also say that this customer might not be very knowledgeable of a suitable price range for your product. Maybe he/she doesn't know much about the pricing of competing products or the prospective value of your product. With an email, your customer would have time to do some research and think through the pricing more, but when he/she is on the phone in the hot seat, time is constrained, and he/she needs to think and respond quickly on the spot.

This would be an ideal situation for you to use anchoring. What's the best thing for you to do here? Maybe start off by suggesting a relatively high price (but not absurdly high) that sets an anchor for your customer to base off of. With little prior knowledge, he/she would use this as his/her single data point. Further thinking and discussion will likely be clustered around this reference point.

This overlaps with the door-in-the-face technique mentioned above, where you start high and then potentially negotiate a bit lower later on.

A word of caution: Be very careful in gauging whether or not your customer is knowledgeable about the field. You don't want to risk angering a knowledgeable customer by assuming he/she wasn't knowledgeable and offering a price that he/she knows is too high compared to competing products. Some knowledgeable customers might take it well, but others might not. Ultimately, starting with a relatively high price is merely a suggestion. Anchoring is backed up with empirical evidence, and you can feel free to keep it in mind and use your judgment to decide how best to adapt and apply it to your specific situations.

9. Put your audience to work

If you want someone to remember something longer, Craik and Tulving (1975) showed that you need to get them to work and put in more effort. In other words, the depth of processing is key.

Craik and Tulving showed subjects a list of words and asked them to do a task for each word. Then, they asked subjects to recall as many words as they could.

Press button 'a' if the word is in caps 'b' if not (15%), press button 'a' if word rhymes with train, 'b' if not (47%) and press button 'a' if word makes sense in "he saw a ____ in the street" (81%).

As you can see, the more work the subjects had to put into their thinking (the greater their depth of processing), the more words they remembered.

So how can you put your audience to work, but not in a dreadful way? Think about the content in your Facebook or Twitter feed that piques your interest the most. Is it the ads that are mixed into the photos of puppies on your feed? Or is it the BuzzFeed quizzes such as "Which Disney Princess Are You?"

Probably the latter! That said, think about how to incorporate similar quizzes and activities into your marketing campaigns. If you work for a laptop company, maybe you could create a quiz, "Which Laptop Are You?" In fact, if you're at any company that sells a range of products, you can create a quiz that determines "Which _____ Are You?" to help customers with their buying decisions.

Another way to apply this psychology study is to ask your audience rhetorical questions. Why are rhetorical questions so effective in ads, presentations, and more? Because they get your audience actively thinking rather than passively observing. It increases the depth of processing.

Dale's Cone of Experience summarizes this idea nicely in a visual.

dales cone of experience

The moral of the story is that making something more engaging and hands-on is more effective in getting someone to remember it. Remember: Dale's cone of experience, Strive to effectively engage your audience.

10. Invite your friends

In terms of marketing, why do you think so many marketing campaigns are founded on "Invite your friends"? The truth is that your friends have a lot of influence on you. Think about all those times you tried something new just because your friends did it and encouraged you to do it too!

Harness the power of social groups in your marketing, and you can drive the next trend.

11. Ask your customers to pay in advance

Think back to your favorite band 5 years ago. What is the maximum amount you'd pay to see them now?

Now think about your current favorite band. What is the maximum amount you'd pay to see them in 5 years?

What you're realizing now is that you probably answered a higher amount for the second question than the first, even though it doesn't really make sense rationally. Well, you're in the same boat as the subjects in a study conducted by Quoidbach, Gilbert, and Wilson (2013).

The mean for the first question was $80 and for the second question $129.

They concluded that “participants substantially overpaid for a future opportunity to indulge a current preference.”

You could potentially take advantage of this by asking your customers to pay in advance for what they want before they have time to change their preferences!

Now, time to put the theory to practice and apply psychology to YOUR marketing!

By Expert commentator

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