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How to Use Behavioral Psychology to Drive Marketing Success

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Understanding customer behavior is at the core of marketing. That’s why psychology can provide marketers with a way to leverage human behavior and emotions to create effective digital marketing strategies. They can also change behavior, or allow the organization to ensure that a desired behavior continues. This can help drive engagement, cultivate a brand identity, and encourage brand loyalty.

By using psychology you’re looking beyond the ‘how’ and the ‘what’, you’re getting to the bottom of the ‘why’ to attract, influence, and engage with consumers.

But it’s not just about using tactics. The key is to understand the problems or issues your customers face so you can provide solutions and be front of mind when it comes to them facing that particular challenge.

In this blog, we explore some key psychological principles you can use, show how to use psychology effectively in your marketing, and provide some great examples where it is used.

How Can Marketers Use Psychology Effectively?

Behavioral psychology helps marketers understand why people do the things they do. By looking at behavior, you can help influence consumers to engage or purchase, and improve your marketing campaigns.

To put yourself in the customer’s shoes and implement tactics to use the power of persuasion you need to understand psychological principles or theories. These can then be used to personalize content, streamline the customer journey or optimize the user experience.

Let’s look at 11 key psychological principles.

1. Social proofing

Social proofing refers to people’s tendency to conform to the actions and opinions of others, especially when they are unsure about the appropriate behavior or decision to make. It is a common aspect of being human to look to one another for acceptance and validation. In marketing, social proofing is sometimes used when demonstrating that a product, service, or brand is popular and widely accepted by others to make it appealing.

Social proofing helps people validate that they’re in good company. One of the best ways to make the most of this tactic is to focus on social media or include social elements on your website or blog, such as follow buttons or social sharing.

Another simple example is testimonials. These have a dual purpose – they showcase customers that want to be highlighted as advocates and they enable consumers to get insights from other people’s experiences. Testimonials are also a great marker of trust which can help boost conversion rate optimization.

You can also reverse social proofing. One example is a campaign by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the U.K. which focused on persuading people to do their taxes on time.

While it was typical to send letters threatening interest charges, late fees or legal action to correct taxpayers’ behavior, they decided on a different approach by including content in letters that appealed to people’s sense of civic duty.

‘We collect taxes to make sure that money is available to fund the public services that benefit you and other UK citizens,’ it read. ‘Even if one person fails to pay their taxes it reduces the services and resources that are provided.’ 

These small changes delivered big results with HMRC collecting £5.6 billion more overdue revenue than the previous year according to a HBR article.

“75% of consumers ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read online reviews when browsing for local businesses”BrightLocal survey

2. Choice architecture

People’s brains are digitally distracted with today’s information overload. The idea of choice architecture is about breaking things down into simple terms and giving a limited number of choices.

The optimum number of choices is three. For example, on a website, you would present three different products above the fold (the top of a web page you can see without scrolling).

So if a website visitor is thinking of buying a laptop you might place other products below the fold, or further down the page, but the three headline choices are at the top.

This allows you to keep things clear and simple so people can easily understand what the features and benefits of those products are.

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3) Anchoring

Anchoring is essentially when you put the most expensive item first on a website or web panel.

For example, if you’re selling cameras at different prices, you should list the most expensive first. So if the cameras cost $200, $500, and $800, the first product should be $800, then $500, and finally $200.

This is especially valuable for moving the mid-priced product. Some shoppers would think that the $800 camera is too expensive and that the $200 must be inferior as it is one fourth the price of the most expensive model. This leaves the shopper with the notion that the $500 product is probably their best option. This is called the Centre-stage Effect.

This is a great marketing tactic to show customers how much they could save on a purchase. Subscription-based businesses, like phone companies, benefit from this when showing their plans to customers.

You can also use this tactic to show savings on a deal or offer, particularly for a limited time, such as during the Black Friday season.

4) Scarcity

Scarcity feeds into the idea that consumers place a higher value on items that appear to be scarce, or difficult to acquire. This creates a sense of urgency where people believe they need to act quickly to get that product or service.

Sectors that do this well are airlines, and accommodation sites like Booking.com. By using messaging like “only three left at this price” they are telling consumers that these are scarce, prompting them to take action.

Scarcity example – Naked Wines

Naked Wines find independent vineyards and buy their wine directly from them. This makes them stand out as you’ll never get any of these wines in a supermarket – tapping into the scarcity principle.

The website has a forum where customers can ask questions about things like soil, the growing process, and get regular updates. The brand’s communication channels also feature pictures of the vineyards and winemakers so customers feel part of the process and buy into the ethos.

People can be seen interacting on the forums saying, “I don’t think the yield is gonna be good this year” and others responding with “Well, I’ve already ordered mine and I’m gonna stick by it because I feel part of it.”

This is amazing. It also means that supermarkets are not getting a big levy as the profits are going straight to the winemaker and people are buying into a company that cares about what they do and what they sell.

5) Loss aversion

Loss aversion is focused on customers who are so motivated to avoid loss, they are willing not to make gains. Behavioral psychology says that people would rather not lose $10 than win $10.

Amazon is an example of a brand that uses this tactic well by doing lightning sales or 24-hour sales. This creates a sense of urgency for e-commerce selling. It feeds into the principle of scarcity which helps to boost the conversion rate.

6) Partial ownership

Partial ownership stems from psychological research on ownership and attachment. It is the concept of feeling partial ownership in a product or a service due to being invested in this product or service. When people feel like they’ve delved into something, they feel part of it and it becomes harder for them to reverse out of it. It means that brands can develop an emotional connection with their audience, through two main ways:

Getting customers to experience how it feels to have ownership of the product through trials, free returns, or even through test drives.

Getting customers to feel ownership through inclusion. This can happen by making the customer a part of the product through product creation or naming competitions, UGC, inclusion in promotion and communication, and the ability to own exclusive or limited-edition versions of the product.

This creates a more immersive experience by bringing a customer deeper into the product or service.

A simple but effective example is a free trial. Spotify and Amazon (Prime) do this well and it has also become popular with software companies like Ahrefs.

This principle works by getting people attached to something so they feel part of it. This makes it harder for them to reverse out of it.

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7) Framing

Framing is based on the emotion of selling when a brand creates an emotional hook in the moment.

Cognitive bias is where people make decisions based on how information is presented. This can be split into positive or negative framing.

Positive framing is when a customer can gain or benefit from something or avoid a loss. For example, you focus on providing a solution to your customers’ pain points in a positive way (e.g. “Our financial advisor service can help you invest for retirement”).

Negative framing is when a customer does not gain anything or experiences a loss. This feeds into fear of missing out, or FOMO (e.g. don’t waste time).

This image is a good example of framing and feeding into positive or negative emotions.

What you’re doing is framing the message or offering it in an emotional way that provides a solution to a problem.

8) Borrowed Equity

Borrowed equity is the practice of leveraging the equity or reputation of an existing desired brand, entity, institution, or individual to enhance the perceived value and appeal of your own brand’s reputation. It relies on the idea that positive associations and credibility can be borrowed from an entity to the marketer’s brand, hoping to boost its attractiveness and marketability.

Borrowed Equity is a more integrated form of celebrity endorsement that surpasses just people to include everything that has desirable equity. If you align your brand with things your customers care about, like nature or sustainability – as Patagonia does – then you are borrowing their equity to enhance the perception of your brand.

If done right, borrowed equity allows your brand to gain trust and credibility, potentially allowing you access to markets and opportunities that might have been out-of-bounds.  It also allows your brand to align itself with the interests and values of its audience.

But there is a risk of over-reliance on the borrowed equity to the point where your brand loses its identity. There is also a risk of brand damage if the borrowed equity becomes involved in a scandal, which will lead to confusion and mistrust.

9) Technology Acceptance Model (TAM)

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) helps marketers understand how users come to accept and use technology. TAM suggests that perceived usefulness and ease of use determine an individual’s intention to use a system, which, in turn, influences their actual usage and adoption behavior.

For example, when introducing a new product, like a mobile app, use your marketing materials to emphasize its benefits and ease of use. Demonstrate how the app solves a specific problem (perceived usefulness) and show how simple it is to navigate (perceived ease of use). Tutorials, user testimonials, and free trials can help lower the barrier to adoption.

This screenshot from Starbucks shows how you can use an app effectively.

By focusing on these aspects, you can increase the likelihood that consumers will not only download your app but also become regular users, thereby driving long-term engagement and customer loyalty.

10) Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB)

The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) is used to predict and understand how individuals’ attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control influence their intentions and behaviors.

This theory can be highly effective in crafting marketing strategies and campaigns that change consumer behavior.

For example, let’s say you’re promoting a new health supplement. One of your marketing campaigns can focus on:

Attitude: Highlighting the positive health benefits and success stories from current users to create a favorable attitude towards the supplement.

Subjective Norms: Using endorsements from respected health experts and influencers to shape social norms around the supplement’s use.

Perceived Behavioral Control: Providing easy-to-follow usage instructions and tips for integrating the supplement into daily routines to boost consumers’ confidence in their ability to use the product effectively.

By addressing these components, marketers can more effectively influence consumers’ intentions to try and continue using the health supplement.

11) Learning and Conditioning

Classic and operant conditioning are two common concepts in behavioral psychology that can be used to shape consumer behavior and induce learning. The assumption is that learning occurs through associations or repetitive behavior that has positive or negative consequences.

You might have heard of Classic Conditioning by way of Pavlov’s famous dog experiment, but applying the same concepts to humans involves a different approach.

Classic Conditioning involves creating associations between a stimulus and a response. It is a learning process in which the neutral stimulus (bell sound) becomes associated with a stimulus that naturally evokes a response (like food, which makes a dog salivate). Marketers can use this to surround their brands with desired feelings that are triggered by a neutral stimulus.

For example, in hot countries, Coca-Cola displays billboards that showcase a frosty and cold-looking bottle or can of Coke. By repeatedly pairing the image of a cold Coke (the conditioned stimulus) with the state of thirst or need for refreshment (the unconditioned stimulus, which naturally evokes the desire or urge to drink – the unconditioned response).

You can apply this methodology to your checkout page or to your landing pages to elicit desired feelings from your visitors.

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Operant Conditioning: This involves using consequences to modify behavior. Desired behaviors are strengthened by reinforcement, while undesired behaviors are weakened by punishment or the removal of reinforcement. The ultimate aim is to increase the likelihood of target behaviors occurring in the future.

For example, loyalty programs use operant conditioning principles by delivering reinforcement (the reinforcer) in the form of points or rewards (positive reinforcement) contingent upon the desired behavior of making a purchase (the target behavior).

The accumulation of points, which can be redeemed for discounts or free products, acts as a positive reinforcer, increasing the likelihood that customers will repeat their purchasing behavior in the future. If a customer, on the other hand, does not make a purchase or doesn’t manage to do it within the right time frame, they do not receive any points or rewards (absence of reinforcement).

Conclusion: Psychology and marketing checklist

Using psychology in marketing can be incredibly powerful for influencing consumer behavior and driving sales. Here are some simple ways to integrate psychological principles into your marketing activities and campaigns.

Know your audience – Create detailed personas that include the pain points and motivations of your customers.

Create relevant and engaging content – Keep the needs of your customers in mind when you create every piece of content. Use storytelling that engages and excites and use framing that emphasizes benefits over features.

Be clever with color and visuals – Certain colors can elicit emotions so be clever with the ones you pick and use imagery that reflects your brand and humanizes it by using people.

Use personalization – Leverage any data you have to create personalized content and a customer experience that speaks to your target audience and reflects their interaction with your brand (e.g. past purchases).

Foster a community – Engage with your customers and prospects across digital channels. This will help create a community, drive brand loyalty, and even create brand advocates.

Leverage economics – Look at offering tiered pricing or bundles to push customers towards certain products. Promote discounts and sales with limited time offers to drive leads and leverage the anchoring effect by presenting a high-priced option first to demonstrate value.

Test and iterate – Conduct A/B testing on content and the customer journey to see what resonates. You should also consider a testing group on WhatsApp where you can get quick responses to see if you’re on the right track and understand what your audience cares about that you can help solve.

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