Part of being a great marketer is being able to understand why people think and act the way that they do. Just finding out what works by trial, error and blind luck can eventually work. But a much better strategy is to discover the underlying psychological principles that govern human behavior and then use them in your marketing efforts. Once you understand what makes your customers tick, you’ll be able to consistently deploy effective messages, generating more leads and conversions for your business.
The field of psychology, therefore, should be a marketer’s first port of call. It’s here that you will find insights into the basic ways in which people operate. In fact, seemingly unrelated psychological studies can reveal a lot about human thought patterns that are useful to businesses. Everything from triggers to communication habits can be used to your advantage. Here are some of the tricks from psychology that help get your brand lodged in your customers’ heads.
Principle #1: People Really Hate Losing What They’ve Gained
One of the most interesting discoveries to come out of psychology over the last few years is that people have extreme loss aversion. Once they’ve got something, they prefer to hold on to it, even if they can trade it for something else.
The discovery was made by behavioral psychology, Daniel Kahneman. He conducted an experiment in which he gave participants either a mug, some chocolate or nothing. If a participant was given an object, either the mug or the chocolate, then they were allowed to trade that item with somebody else. If they were given nothing, they were then allowed to choose what they would like: either a mug or chocolate.
Here’s the interesting part. Even though the participants had been given objects at random, 89 percent of the people who were given mugs decided not to trade their mugs for anything else. But of the people who were given nothing, only around 50 percent freely chose mugs.
Kahneman coined a term describing this observation: people don’t like to lose something once they’ve got it.
So what has all this got to do with marketers? Well, marketers could put this to use in “freemium” products. For instance, if your company offers a free trial, you could try unlocking certain features for a limited time. During this period, potential customers will use those features and hopefully like them. Then later, when those features are taken away again, they’ll feel a loss and may be more inclined to make a purchase.
You have to be careful with loss aversion, though. For some customers taking away free stuff will make them feel angry.
Principle #2: Remember That People Can’t Remember All That Much
Most people have a limited amount of space in their short term memory. According to a wealth of research from the psychology literature, customers are only able to recall about seven pieces of information about a topic, plus or minus two or so.
To deal with this profound lack of storage capacity, most people resort to a method called clustering. This entails grouping different items into different categories which help make them easier to remember. For instance, you might construct a shopping list that breaks down the stuff you have to buy into “food for the freezer,” “food for the cupboard” and “food for the fridge.”
It turns out that marketers can use clustering to their advantage too – it all has to do with the way you collate information. For instance, when creating content for your site, it’s a good idea to keep in related to various themes. Instead of spamming random content in a random order, put it into a bullet point list that’s easier to scan and digest.
Principle #3: It’s The Gist Of What You Say That Matters
If you’ve ever sat through a lecture or a podcast about a new topic, it’s unlikely that you remember all of the intricate details, facts, and figures mentioned by the host. But that isn’t to say that you don’t remember anything at all. In fact, you undoubtedly got the gist of the talk, even if you don’t remember the exact details.
According to a study by Poppenk et al., people are much more likely to remember the general ideas behind what a person said rather than the specific details. For instance, you’re much more likely to remember details like “get somebody else to edit your work” after a business training session than you are “use Google cloud services to enable a third party reviewer to edit your work, five working days before it is due.” They called this the “verbatim effect:” the idea that what people actually say gets rejigged in our minds so that only the essential elements of the communication remain.
In a world of short attention spans, marketers have to ensure that their customers are getting the gist of what they’re saying. This means paying particular attention to things like titles and bullet point content. Research done by Chartbeat suggests that customers spend as little as 15 seconds on your site. In that time, you’ve got to communicate with them your core ideas so that they understand your product and they are impressed by your service. By all means include more information, but short, sharp pieces of information should clearly form the headlines throughout your site.
Principle #4: People Love Promotions
A lynchpin of effective loyalty marketing is the promotion. Many people, it would seem, just can’t resist a good deal. Think about the last time you saw your favorite clothing discounted or your favorite electronics gadget with money off. You were drawn in, right?
Psychologists have investigated this phenomenon and have concluded that it has a lot to do with the concept of “anchoring.” It turns out that people mostly base their decisions to buy something on the very first snippet of information that they receive. Say for instance that the new phone you want to buy is usually priced at $250. If there’s a sale, that could drop to $150. If you see the phone for sale at the lower prices, you’re far more likely to want to buy it, especially if the shop has cleverly displayed the former, higher price alongside it.
The higher price is the anchor that draws you in, the lower price is the trigger that makes you want to buy. The difference between them is all of the free value you’re getting. You’re going to tell your friend that you saved $100 on your new phone.
Principle #5: People React To Scarcity
Have you ever been to an online retailer that lists how many items of a product it has left in stock? Probably. But why do you think they do it? After all, it’s not easy to have a system that displays in real time how many items of a particular product you have remaining in your inventory.
The key concept here is “scarcity.” Back in 1975, Adewole and Lee conducted a study to see whether scarcity altered people’s perceptions. The got participants in a room and gave them either one of two jars containing cookies. One jar was almost full, containing more than 10 cookies. The other way nearly empty, containing only two.
Despite the fact that the cookies were identical, participants rated their experience of the cookies from the jar containing only two, twice as highly as they did the jar containing ten. It was a fascinating discovery because it showed that people actually prefer stuff when they know it’s scarce.
This is one of the reasons why airlines emphasize the fact that there are only two seats left for a certain flight or why concerts make a big deal of the fact that they’ve had a sellout crowd. People like scarcity because it shows that a particular product or service is popular, and they want to share in the value, just like everybody else.
Always emphasize the fact that you used to have loads of products in stock, but thanks to high demand, they’ve almost all sold out. Don’t just limit your stock.
Principle #6: Once They’ve Seen It Once, They’ll See It Anywhere
Suppose for a moment that your brother went out and bought a really boring car, the Audi A1 perhaps. Before he bought that car, you never noticed them on the road before. There was just nothing about them that was inspiring or interesting – you practically didn’t know that they existed. But since he’s got one you’re now seeing them every time you go out. It turns out that they were there all along, right under your nose.
Psychologists have got a term for this, it’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It comes out of two psychological phenomenons: confirmation bias and selective attention. People experiencing it get the impression that a particular thing has become omnipresent overnight.
That’s not what’s happening, of course, but marketers can nonetheless use it to their advantage. For instance, once a person visits your website, you want to keep drip-feeding them your brand. Send them emails, text message alerts and remarketing ads based on your brand.