The brain. It is the control center for every process in your body, and with so much to do every day (like keeping you alive), it has to rely on shortcuts—for remembering, problem-solving, and—what we’re talking about today—decision making.
So in terms of consumers making purchasing decisions, being aware of these shortcuts can help you to understand, predict, and leverage their behaviors in your favor. No, you’re not looking to maliciously manipulate your prospects and customers. But yes, there are ways to influence their actions—actions they will be glad they took.
In this article, you’ll learn seven psychological principles you can leverage in your marketing and influence the buying decisions of your prospects.
Table of contents
What is marketing psychology?
Marketing psychology is the practice of aligning your content, communication, and strategies with the many predictable, often subconscious, human behavioral patterns that have been identified through experimentation and research. These common behaviors originate from heuristics—a fancy word for shortcuts the brain takes for tasks it carries out thousands of times a day, like comprehending information, making decisions, and solving problems.
There are several ways to use marketing psychology, including:
Regardless, the idea is not to change the way your audience thinks. These patterns are hard-wired in our brains! It’s to change your content and approaches to align with the way they think.
How to use marketing psychology responsibly
I’m not trying to sugarcoat things. These “shortcuts” are also referred to as cognitive biases, thinking traps, or cognitive distortions. Which leads me to a crucial point: the idea behind marketing psychology is not to exploit, manipulate, or deceive. So if you want to use consumer psychology to win over more customers, remember these points:
- DO make sure that their decision to choose you is truly the best one for them. Winning over customers that aren’t a good fit for your business is a lose-lose.
- DON’T use these tactics to make promises you can’t keep or to represent more capabilities than you have.
- DO align your business goals with the goals of your prospective buyers to make it a win-win. And use data to measure the effectiveness of your marketing psychology strategies.
- DON’T forget that you’re a human and consumer too. Beware of other businesses practicing manipulative marketing psychology.
7 marketing psychology strategies & examples to influence purchasing decisions
For each of these seven tactics, I’ll explain what each one is, offer some simple examples, and then provide specific ways you can apply them in your marketing strategies—whether for your website, product pages, landing pages, and more.
1. The commitment & consistency bias
This phenomenon has a few manifestations that can work to your advantage in marketing.
Create a lead nurture funnel
Once we heed a small request, we are more likely to comply with similar ones that follow. This is the concept behind the marketing funnel! At the top of the funnel are small requests for your audience, which gradually get bigger as the prospect moves downward to the bottom.
For example, you ask readers to read your content, then you ask them to give their email in exchange for a free guide, then you ask them to attend an event or webinar, and then you invite them to a free trial or consult.
Since your audience is subconsciously inclined to keep their behaviors consistent, they are more likely to continue pursuing and engaging with the content and offers from the business they first started with. Plus, compared to their first action (reading a blog post), a free trial is a big jump, but compared to the previous action (attending a webinar), it’s not as drastic.
Have progress markers for tasks
Another form of the commitment bias is the sunk cost fallacy—the need to follow through with something once we’ve invested time and/or money into it. For example, Yelp lets you draft reviews without creating an account. When you begin writing, Yelp uses fun cues like “Don’t leave us hanging – what else you got?” to encourage you to complete the review.
Then, once you finish the review, they ask you to create an account—without which you can’t post your review.
Now you don’t have to create an account and post the review, but more likely than not, you’ve put in the effort to write it, so you want to make the time you spent worth it. You’re not going to abandon the process now, are you?
Break your content up into digestible tidbits
You can also leverage the commitment and consistency bias to increase engagement with your content—particularly long-form content over 5,000 words. Instead of just asking your audience to commit to reading an article that they don’t yet know is worth their time, present it in bite-snack-meal form.
- Bite: Small piece of information without details.
- Snack: Combination of bites. Audience wants more information but not detail.
- Meal: Large piece of information, filled with details and thorough explanations.
Take, for instance, Elite Content Marketer’s extensive review of Grammarly. Instead of asking readers to commit to reading the whole piece, it start with the bite and the snack upfront. The bite is the overall verdict. The snack is a visual of the pros and cons of the product. And then the meal is the detailed review.
If the reader has engaged with the smaller, more digestible pieces of information at the beginning, they will be more likely to perform the larger request: to read the full piece. Should they choose not to read it, they can at least get the key takeaways at the top and obtain value from the content.
Speak to your audience’s self-perception
I highly doubt this was done intentionally, but the call to action button below is a great example of the C&C bias in copywriting. If someone is on this website, it’s because they care about their pet. According to this pop-up, not signing up is inconsistent with this self-perception.
2. The anchoring bias
The anchoring bias is the tendency of an individual to use the first piece of information presented to them as a benchmark (or anchor) for making a subsequent decision. As you can imagine, this tactic is particularly useful for pricing.
Here are some types and examples of anchoring:
Not only does the buyer see this as a bargain, but also, a higher starting price tends to send the message that the item is of higher value. Notice how I said “tends.” Every business has a unique audience with unique perceptions on price. Make sure you understand how pricing changes affect the perceived quality of your products in the eyes of your customers.
Show the amount saved
Many SaaS and subscription companies offer a cheaper annual plan over their monthly subscriptions, as with Zoom in the example below. Another way to display this would be to show the monthly rate for the month-to-month plan, and then the reduced monthly rate for the yearly plan. However, if the difference is not all that significant, it may be more worth your while to show the total savings from the year.
3. The paradox of choice
Let’s say you’re at the supermarket and you want to buy some tea. As you approach the aisle, the rainbow of packaging looks great. But as you start browsing, you start feeling not-so-great. There’s black tea. Green tea. White. Red. Regular tea, decaf, or herbal. Fruit tea. Zingers. Loose leaf. Probiotic. Sleep-enhancing. Memory boosting. And that’s just for one brand. Overwhelmed, you abort the mission altogether.
That’s the paradox of choice!
The paradox of choice says that as the number of options to choose from increases, the more stressed we feel about making a decision and the more likely we are to not make one at all. We also are more likely to have doubts about whether the decision we made was the right one. Here are some ways to remove analysis paralysis for your audience.
Keep varieties and options to a minimum
In an experiment by Sheena Iyengar, when a supermarket made six types of jam available for tasing, it attracted 40% of shoppers, 30% of whom bought jam. But when this was repeated with 24 types of jam, it attracted 60% of shoppers and resulted in only 3% of purchases. If you want to increase your conversion rates, consider decreasing the options available to your audience. Perhaps offer a sale on a select number of products, or reduce your five pricing packages down to three.
Limit the number of items in your main navigation menu
While a big part of marketing is to go against the norm so you can stand out, there are still many areas where this could work against you. For example, you might see that a competitor has just five items in their website’s navigation bar. So maybe you think to have 10 in yours so prospects can see that you have more to offer. The truth is, websites should only have 3-6 items in their navigation bar.
Too many options to choose from, and the visitor becomes confused on what to do or where to go. By narrowing down those menu options (and even the other click options on the home page), you spare them from these unnecessary decisions so they have the mental energy to make the more important ones as they get deeper into your site.
This site could benefit from consolidating the menu in its website header with drop-downs.
Have only one CTA per landing page
You’ve heard this a thousand times, but it’s worth repeating. You should have one unique landing page for each product or offering, with one clear call to action per landing page. Multiple options will distract your prospects from the desired action you want them to take, can make for a less cohesive user experience, and can lead to a loss of conversions. And when you’re running paid ads, you can’t afford to waste your ad spend.
Remove navigation, social buttons, and footers too
So maybe you’ve removed the email signup button from the page where you want users to buy now. But are there other options to click on the page that are less prominent? Is there a link-heavy footer on the bottom? What about social media icons that link to your profiles or allow the visitor to share? In a case study by VWO, they were able to increase conversion rate by 100%, simply by eliminating the navigation menu.
4. Social proof
Coined by the author Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, social proof says that we tend to follow others in new situations where “appropriate” behavior is unknown to us. It’s our way of ensuring we feel safe, liked, and/or accepted.
What does that mean in marketing? Testimonials. Reviews. And more. Here are a few ways you can use social proof to influence buyer behavior.
Have an organized testimonials page
Create a dedicated testimonial page so prospective clients can see others just like them, benefiting from your solution. For example, below is the testimonial page on the LOCALiQ website. Notice that you can filter by industry or service provided—which is ideal.
Adorn your website with testimonials…
Don’t just reserve these for your testimonials page. Include them in your landing pages and homepage, too—ideally with headshots to add more credibility.
…and your ads
Testimonials and reviews make for compelling ad copy as well. In the ad below, the copy is the creative for the ad.
You can use our testimonial advertising examples for inspiration and ideas.
Highlight endorsements from popular brands
You may also want to include the logos, or in the example below, faces, of any big names or brands that use your product (with their permission, of course).
Another similar option would be to list major media outlets that have featured your product. Seeing these familiar faces and names endorsing your business helps potential customers to feel confident and secure that you deliver results.
Include stamps of approval
If you have partnerships, awards, or other trust signals that speak to your credibility, add those too!
Use the numbers to get more subscribers
You don’t always need a prominent name to build trust and get signups for your offers. There’s also the “wisdom of the crowd” approach, where you can boast that a large group of people is using your products or resources.
5. The reciprocity effect
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it certainly feels right… am I right? Reciprocity is our human tendency to respond to a gesture with one of similar nature, which of course goes for positive behaviors too.
Here’s what positive reciprocity looks like in marketing.
Offer exceptional customer service
Yes, it’s important to proactively ask for reviews, but if you focus on providing an awesome experience for your customers, you can bet that you’ll organically collect them. Even though it’s “your job” to serve them and their job to pay you, the extra effort you make to meet their needs inspires the extra effort they’ll make to write you a review—or even through a little something extra in their cart or to their order.
Provide free (valuable) information and education
This is content marketing and SEO in a nutshell. No, your readers aren’t going to reciprocate by providing free education back to you, but let’s say they’re deciding between your company and a competitor, and you both have great reviews. Which company do you think they’ll feel more inclined to choose? The one that has been generously providing resources all along…or the one with only social proof?
LOCALiQ’s Marketing Lab is a free learning hub for local business owners and marketers.
And let’s not forget that Google reciprocates quality content which higher rankings.
Offer free tools and trials
In the B2B SaaS industry, a great example of reciprocity would be offering a free trial of your software or a free tool. WordStream, of course, has their Free Google Ads Performance Grader, which performs over 40 hours of audit work for you in a matter of minutes. Again, if it comes down to deciding between one agency and another, the buyer may be more inclined to reciprocate your free and valuable offerings with their business.
Related: 26 Brilliant Ways to Use Psychology in Your Copywriting
6. The mere exposure effect
Social psychologist Robert Zajonc performed several experiments in the 1960s and found that “mere repeated exposure of an individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it.”
In other words, familiarity leads to preference, even on the subconscious level.<
Display ads are often dismissed as an ineffective ad type because their click-through rates are so low, but that’s not their point. Display ads give your business exposure. Mere exposure!
The more exposure to your business, the more familiar your audience becomes with it, and the more familiar it becomes with it, the more they will trust, engage with, and prefer it over competitors. Combine this with the commitment and consistency effect you’ve got yourself some loyal customers.
This is why brand awareness is so important. Indeed, display ads can improve click-through and conversion rates on all your other ads and campaigns. Hence the view-through conversion metric.
Use retargeting ads to increase CTR
But click-through rates aren’t low for all display ads. In fact, retargeting ads can have click-through rates 2-3 times higher than regular display ads. Just watch your ad frequency so you
But watch your frequency because if your ad keeps aggressively following a prospect on the internet, you can quickly become that annoying brand that doesn’t care about privacy. An appropriate delay between exposures gives them time to settle in so the repetitions are more effective.
Send the same message across all channels
You can also repeat your messaging and unique value proposition (USP) across your brand assets, including your website, blog posts, newsletters, ads, and other touchpoints. As a prospect becomes more and more familiar with your USP, the more appealing it becomes. And this is why including an array of channels and mediums in your content marketing strategy is so important.
Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo recently mentioned how their blog, receiving close to 400k monthly visitors (as per their own tool), facilitates the mere exposure effect.
Promote your content
The mere exposure effect also makes a strong case for promoting your content on social media (and encouraging others to promote it too), especially your guides and blog posts. You can share the same content more than once—just make sure you allow enough time in between postings.
Have a brand style
While brand awareness measures how many people know about your brand, brand recognition measures how quickly a person can associate a piece of content they see or hear with your brand.
To build brand recognition, you should have an appealing, eye-catching logo as well as a brand style guide. Choose just a few colors and fonts to use consistently in your content so people can build automatic associations between that look and feel and your business.
7. The Pygmalion effect
The Pygmalion effect, also known as the Rosenthal effect, says that if you, or others, believe something to be true of yourself, it will eventually become so. So if a teacher holds his or her students to high standards with the belief that they are capable of meeting them, the students are highly likely to perform better. Similarly, setting high standards for your employees with enthusiasm can have the same effect.
Unify your team and improve the customer experience
This is why identifying the core values for your brand—and keeping those top-of-mind with your team—is so important. This gives individuals a clear set of expectations and qualities to strive for and incorporate into everything they do. The more positive feedback they receive, the more and more they will truly exemplify those values. This not only makes for a unified team, but also makes for a consistent and extraordinary customer experience.
Indeed, expectations can shape reality.
Create a positive feedback loop with your customers
You can also apply this tactic directly to your audience. By conveying that a higher level of performance is attainable, a better version of themselves is on the horizon, or that they can become the best in their field, you encourage them to act in a way that aligns with those beliefs.
These actions might start out by downloading your content or following you on social media. The more confidence they have that they can achieve their goal with your help, and that they’re already on the way to doing it, the more likely they are to be a customer. Even better, as they achieve their goals over time, they can become loyal customers.
Hold your team to high standards and show your customers that they are capable of achieving their goals, and success will flow from there.
Psychology and marketing: use them together!
At the end of the day, psychology and marketing go hand-in-hand naturally, but there are ways to use psychology intentionally to improve your marketing results. Just remember, focus on building great products and earning the trust of your audience through responsible marketing strategies. It’s a combination proven to work better in the long term.
To recap, here are the marketing psychology strategies to influence buyer decisions:
- Create a funnel
- Indicate progress
- Break your content up into digestible tidbits
- Speak to your audience’s self-perception
- Indicate mark-downs
- Show the amount saved
- Keep varieties and options to a minimum
- Limit the number of items in your main navigation menu
- Have only one CTA per landing page
- Remove navigation, social buttons, and footers too
- Have an organized testimonials page
- Adorn your website with testimonials…
- …and your ads
- Highlight endorsements from popular brands
- Include stamps of approval
- Use the numbers to get more subscribers
- Offer exceptional customer service
- Provide free (valuable) information and education
- Offer free tools and trials
- Run display ads for brand awareness
- Use retargeting ads to increase CTR
- Send the same message across all channels
- Have a brand style
- Promote your content
- Unify your team and improve the customer experience
- Create a positive feedback loop with your customers