The Psychology of Marketing: 10 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

The Psychology of Marketing: 10 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

Marketing psychology is very practical, calculating, and often ruthless. Let's find out what principles successful salespeople rely on.

A key part of being a great salesperson is understanding how (and why) people think and act the way they do. It's much harder to create quality content marketing, for example, if you don't know why it would appeal to your audience.



Before jumping into the world of marketing, it's really helpful to understand how people operate...which is essentially what the entire field of psychology tries to explain. Understanding a few key principles of psychology can take your marketing from good to amazing, all so your audience can relate to it (and most likely make a purchase, too).


To help you attract, convince, and convert more people with your marketing, you should know the following principles of psychology.

The Psychology of Marketing: 10 Important Principles You Should Use

1) Correlation

Have you ever played that game where one person says a word and the other immediately responds with the first thing that comes to mind?

This is more or less how correlation works. You are exposed to one stimulus and this affects how you respond to another stimulus. Take for example the word "yellow". Are you more likely to associate it with the word "heaven" or the word "banana"? Since people make a semantic association between fruit and its color, you're more likely to choose "banana yellow" over "sky yellow."




What does this have to do with marketing? It has to do with many things. By using subtle correlation techniques, you could help your website visitors remember key information about your brand, and perhaps even influence their buying behavior. 

It has already been tested in the past. In a study by Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson, researchers manipulated the bottom of a website to see if it would influence consumers' product choices. Participants were asked to choose between two products in a category (such as a Toyota or a Lexus). According to Psychology Today, “they found that visitors who had been exposed to the image of money (the website background was green with coins) looked at the price information longer than those who had been affected by security. Also, consumers who were attracted to convenience looked at convenience information longer than those who were attracted to money.”

So if you're looking to use correlation in your marketing, think about the little details. They could make a difference by setting a higher price for your product and lowering your page's bounce rate.

2) Reciprocity

Introduced in Dr. Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the concept of "reciprocity" is simple: if someone does something for you, it's only natural that you want to do something for them.

If you have ever received a chocolate with a restaurant bill, you have been a victim of reciprocity. According to Cialdini, when waiters bring customers a receipt without chocolate, diners leave a tip based on their perception of the service provided. With a chocolate, the tip goes up by 3,3%. Two chocolate bars? The tip even increases by 20%.




In your marketing, there are many ways to take advantage of reciprocity. It is not necessary to bathe in money to give something away; It can be anything from a branded sweatshirt to an exclusive e-book, a free desktop background, or your expertise on a difficult topic. Even something as simple as a handwritten note can go a long way toward establishing reciprocity. Just make sure you give the free thing away before asking for anything in return.

3) Social proof

Most marketers already know this concept, but it was too important to leave off this list. If you're not familiar with this concept, social proof is the theory that people are more likely to adopt the beliefs or actions of a group of people they like or trust. In other words, it's the "me too" effect. Think of this like a high school embarrassment dance: Few people want to be first on the dance floor, but once there are only a few people, everyone else wants to join in. (Keep in mind that this desire to fit in doesn't fade as you get older and less shy about your dance steps.)

An easy way to make the most of social proof is on your blog. If you haven't already, use the share buttons that show the number of followers your accounts have or the number of times a piece of content has been shared. If these numbers are in the foreground and there are already some people sharing your post, people who find your post later are much more likely to share it.




4) bait effect

This effect is often seen in formats/prices: when two options are available, a third is intentionally included to entice you to choose the more expensive option.

In Dan Airley's famous speech, "Are we in control of our decisions?", an ad from The Economist describing their latest subscription packages is featured. This is what they offered:

  • Online Subscription: $59
  • Press Subscription: $125
  • Online and print subscription: $125

crazy, right? You can get the print-only subscription and the online and print subscription for the same price. Why should they offer it?

Airley thought so too. He got in touch with the guys at The Economist, but never got a straight answer from them.

So he decided to conduct his own study with 100 MIT students. He gave them the price packages described above and asked which one they wanted to buy. When all three options were present, the students chose the combined subscription: it was the best deal, right? But when he eliminated the "useless" option (the $125 paper pass), students went for the cheaper option.

It turned out that the middle option wasn't all that useless: It gave students a framework for how "good" the combined deal was, and made them pay more for that deal.

So if you're looking to increase conversions on a landing page with two options, you might want to add a third. It could help increase the conversion rate of the option you ultimately want people to buy.

5) Scarcity

Have you ever gone to buy plane tickets and seen a message that said "At this price there are only 3 seats left"? Yes, this technique is called scarcity (another Cialdini concept). This psychological principle goes back to the simple formula of supply and demand: the rarer the opportunity, content, or product, the more valuable it is.

In 1975, Worchel, Lee, and Adewole conducted a study to see how scarcity affected people's perceptions. At the start of the study, they asked people to rate the chocolate chip cookies. According to an article by Lanya Olmstead describing the experiment, “Researchers put 10 cookies in one jar and two cookies in another jar. The cookies in the empty jar received double the rating of the 10 cookie jar, even though the cookies were exactly the same.”

But if you want to use this principle correctly, you must pay attention to how you speak. If you approach the concept of scarcity as if there is a ton of a product or service, but due to popular demand there are few left, people will be very receptive. On the other hand, if you approach the concept of scarcity from the point of view of the fact that there are only a few products in total, the principle will not be as effective.

6) Anchor

Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to resist a purchase at your favorite clothing store?

Often this has to do with anchoring: people base their decisions on the first information they receive. So if my favorite store usually sells jeans for €50, but I find them reduced to €35, I'll be delighted. I'll probably buy them. "I just got a crazy deal on these jeans," I'll think. But if my friend usually buys jeans for €20, she won't be that impressed.

For marketers, anchoring is especially important if you're making a sale. You will need to clearly state the starting price of the product (this is to "set" the anchor) and then display the selling price right next to it. You could also explain how much discount your customers will receive from the sale.

Anchoring: A marketing psychology technique whereby a reference price is established and then a discount is applied.

7) The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

Have you ever heard of a product and then start seeing it everywhere you look? You can thank the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It happens after you discover something for the first time, and then you start noticing it showing up in everyday life. Suddenly, every time you watch TV, you see commercials for the product. And when you go to the supermarket, you walk down the aisle and you see it. And all your friends have that product.

It's weird, right? That's why you suddenly see this new thing everywhere.

This phenomenon (also called "frequency illusion") is caused by two processes. The first, selective attention, is activated when one is struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after which you subconsciously keep an eye on it, and as a result you come across it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, assures you that each observation is further evidence of your impression that the thing has become ubiquitous.

For marketers, this phenomenon is precisely why tracking is so incredibly important. Once someone starts noticing her brand (ie, clicking through to her website), she'll want to help them start seeing it "everywhere." Send them targeted emails and retargeting ads based on their behavior, and you could increase your chances of conversion.

8) Synthesis effect

According to a study by Poppenk, Joanisse, Danckerte, and Köhler, people are more likely to remember the core of what someone said, not the specific details. So when you attend a video class on how to create a blog for your business, you're more likely to remember details like "Have someone else proofread your work," not "Send a Google Doc three business days in advance to a colleague so he can proofread your work." Don't forget to use track editing so you know what you've been missing."

It's called the "synthesis effect." And it can have a huge impact on how the audience interprets your content.

For starters, people are spending less and less time reading online. According to research, more than half of your visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on your site. So if people don't read your content and remember specific details, what's a marketer to do?

I recommend that you spend even more time than you already do on perfecting your titles. Not only should they be suitable for search and sharing, but they should also accurately describe the content of your articles. That way, when people search for more information on a certain topic, they'll think of that helpful article they read a while back and Google the topic to find it. If you've done the right job, it should show up in the search results.

9) Grouping

People have a limited amount of space in their short-term memory. In fact, most people can only remember seven pieces of information (give or take two) at a time.

To deal with this situation, most people tend to group similar information together. For example, if you have a shopping list of random items, most people tend to mentally group items into certain categories (dairy, grains, meat, etc.) to better remember what exactly is on the list.

So when creating content, keep grouping in mind. How can you design and organize your content to increase memory retention? One way to do this is to group similar topics together, either in numbered lists or with headings of different sizes. In addition to being much easier to read, your writing will be much easier to remember and recall on the go, especially if you're creating long lists of content.

10) Loss Aversion

Loss aversion means exactly what it sounds like: once someone has something, they just don't like losing it.

When Daniel Kahneman studied this concept, the participants were given: a cup, some chocolate, or nothing. Then, they were asked to make a choice, they were given two options: if they were given an item, they could exchange their items, and if they were given nothing, they could choose one of the two items. The result? About half of the participants who started with no items chose the mug, but 86% of those given mugs to start with kept that item.

Moral of the story? People do not like to lose what they have already gained.

While this could open some dark doors for some types of marketers, loss aversion could have a significant factor in freemium products and higher product adoption. For example, you could unlock a feature for the free version of your product for a certain period of time. After that time, that feature may be removed unless you upgrade to become a paying customer. While you need to be careful how you tap into this psychological urge, loss aversion is a very important concept that all marketers should be aware of.

The Psychology of Marketing - Conclusions

We hope that this brief guide on Marketing Psychology can help you improve the communication of your company/business.

For other psychology concepts, visit the corresponding section:

psychological health

What other studies and concepts of marketing psychology do you know? Share your favorites in the comments.

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