How to Influence Customer Behavior Using Psychology

Marketing is ultimately the science of persuasion. We use ads to convince people to choose us over our competitors or to buy now rather than later. We study analytics to see how convincing we actually are.

A basic understanding of some common psychological principles can really improve your messaging and increase the likelihood that a person will “convert,” or take the action you want them to take.

Just remember that no truth is absolutely universal in either psychology or marketing. There will always be people and situations that don’t fit the norm, so be sure to test your results!

1. Reciprocity + The Ben Franklin Effect

When someone does something nice for us, we want to do something nice for them in return. That’s reciprocity.

The Ben Franklin Effect states that we tend to like someone more after we’ve done them a favor.

Because marketers are so driven by data and numbers, it can be easy to forget that we’re ultimately optimizing things for people, not a computer.

Giving customers a little gift can help you build more solid relationships and provide an opportunity to ask for something in return.

The fact that you did something nice first will make them more likely to do whatever you’ve asked them to do — and they’ll even like you better after they’ve done it!

Use Them Today

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to send customers the perfect gift. A few good ideas would be:

  • A free ebook packed with useful information
  • A handwritten note in your packaging
  • Branded apparel (bonus points for implied word-of-mouth endorsements!)

Don’t be afraid to ask for something in return! Ask customers to:

  • Complete a survey that will help you optimize your website
  • Share content that will improve your engagement and authority on social media
  • Give you their email address on a landing page for your free ebook. This will give you access to them in the future when you have something to share or sell.
  • Write a review or testimonial

2. The Consistency Principle + The Foot-in-the-Door Technique

We like our thoughts, speech and actions to be consistent. When we say we’re going to do something, whether verbally or in writing, we feel obligated to follow through on the commitment to maintain consistency between the three.

The Foot-in-the-Door Technique assumes that when we agree to a small request, it increases the likelihood that we’ll agree to a second, larger request.

So if you can get your foot in the door by making a small request that’s easy to say yes to (using reciprocity, perhaps?), people will have a more difficult time saying no to your second request, just as long as it’s in line with the first one you made.

Use Them Today

Create a campaign where people can sign up for a newsletter, ebook or podcast that will help them accomplish a goal (for example, improving their marketing).

Once they sign up, you can target them with offers for other products, tools or services that are in line with that goal.

They’ll be more likely to follow through on the second (paid) offer because it’s in line with their initial commitment to that goal.

Bonus: As we age, we tend to value consistency even more highly. This is what we mean when we say grandma is “set in her ways.”

So if you’re targeting an older demographic, you can praise a decision they’ve already made and connect the value of that past action or purchase with the value of the new one you want them to make to leverage that need for consistency.

3. Authority

We have a natural tendency to obey authority figures. When we view a person as an authority, we believe that their opinions and suggestions are credible, which makes us more likely to trust and act on them.

Use It Today

Start writing blog posts, ebooks and whitepapers or recording videos that showcase your expertise. The more helpful they are to people, the better. Prominently display author info to increase that sense of authority.

4. Social Proof, Conformity and The “Me Too” Effect 

If a person or group we identify with takes a certain action or adopts a certain belief, we’re more likely to do the same. We also take behavioral cues from others when we’re in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations

It’s like dancing at a wedding. No one wants to be the first out on the floor, but once we see others out there we’re more likely to join in ourselves.

Non-profits take advantage of this psychological principle when they have a famous entertainer endorse their organization or initiative.

Use It Today

Reach out to customers or clients for testimonials and display them at key points on your website where people may be looking to see what other people have done and how it played out for them.

If you’re a newer business, you can also reach out to key influencers in your industry to see if they would review or endorse your product or service.

#Marketing a product doesn’t require a degree in #psychology, but it could help! Click To Tweet

5. Liking

We prefer to say yes to people we know and like. We’re also more likely to favor people who are physically attractive, similar to ourselves or who give us compliments.

Use It Today

Explore your target audience’s existing preferences. Research how they talk about the problems they’re facing and how your product or service has solved those problems. Create some new messaging using the same exact language to make it easier for your target audience to identify with and like you.

You can also consider updating the “about us” page on your website to communicate how your company was founded based on a similar frustrating experience the founder had, or highlight other ways in which you and your customers are similar.

6. Scarcity

We’re more likely to want something when we’re aware that we can’t have it. So when we see that there’s only a small amount of something left, we’re more likely to try and attain it.

Scarcity has everything to do with the basic principle of supply and demand. The more rare an opportunity or item is, the more value it has.

This is why airlines and entertainment venues highlight the fact there are “ONLY # SEATS LEFT!”

This principle works best when it’s clear that there used to be a lot of something, but there are only a few left because it’s so popular.

Use It Today

Planning an event in the near future? Increase ticket sales by sending an email that reminds unregistered guests that the opportunity is almost gone and why they should RSVP now.

Making a limited time offer? Use some space on your landing page to tell people what benefits they’ll miss out on if they don’t take advantage now. Put it near the CTA form for an even better effect.

7. Recency Illusion + The Mere Exposure Theory

When we encounter or become aware of something for the first time, we begin to see that something everywhere.

A common recency illusion is buying a new car and noticing more of that make and model or color on the road than usual.

The Mere Exposure Theory says that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we like it — even if we didn’t initially have a preference for it.

Use Them Today

Increase exposure to your brand or a certain product through a retargeting campaign on Google AdRoll. When someone visits your site but doesn’t convert, your ads will start to appear on the websites and social media platforms they use.

This can change their perception of you (perhaps that you’ve become more popular because they’re seeing you everywhere), which may just lure them back to make a purchase!

8. Clustering

Our short-term memory has a limited amount of space. Most of us can only recall about 7 things at a time (plus or minus two in certain situations).

But the brain is a magnificent organizer. In order to cope with large amounts of information, it will cluster similar pieces of information together.

For example, you may have a tendency to remember your grocery list based on the department each item is in. When you’re in that department you’re better able to remember all the things you need because your mind has clustered the information that way.

Use It Today

Improve the navigation of your website by clustering similar kinds of information together. Make sure that it flows intuitively and that people know what to do on each page and every following page.

When writing articles, use bold subtitles, bullet points and numbered lists to make the information easier for people to scan. The easier your information is to digest, the more likely people will be to recall it (and you) in the future.

9. The Verbatim Effect + The Primacy and Recency Effects

Have you ever sat through a presentation, even taken notes, only to walk away with a vague idea of what the presentation was about?

That’s the verbatim effect, which states that we’re more likely to remember the gist of what a person said better than the actual words or details of what he said.

The primacy effect states that we’re more likely to remember the information at the beginning of a presentation better than what comes later.

Yet primacy is trumped by the recency effect, which states that we’re ultimately most likely to remember the most recent information presented to us.

Use Them Today

When writing articles, pack the most important information into your article headlines, introductions and conclusions. People will be more likely to remember the main point you wanted to get across, even if they don’t remember the details. This will also ensure that people who are just skimming your content walk away with the gist of your most important message.

10. The Endowment Effect

The Endowment Effect states that the value of the things we own tends to be higher than their actual worth simply because we own them.

For example, you may want to sell your old sofa on Craigslist for $500, but people will realistically only pay about $50.

Use It Today

Find a way to increase people’s sense of ownership in your brand or product. Encourage feedback and suggestions. Then actually use it. Get more involved on social media. Run a contest that will use the winner’s submission in an exciting or valuable way.

11. Loss Aversion

The pain of a loss is almost twice as strong as the reward we feel from a gain. If we feel that the loss is equal to or greater than the reward, we’re less likely to act.

This is why salespeople want us to hold, use or try on a product. It’s also why online sites offer free returns.

They know that once we feel like we own the product, we instantly form an attachment to it and, like the endowment effect says, we’ll value it more (and therefore be more likely to buy it).

Use It Today

When creating a landing page or making an offer, don’t ask for too much too soon. You want to mitigate people’s sense of risk and fear of loss. Reciprocity is one way to overcome this. Risk-free trials and money-back guarantees also work well.

Survey existing customers to find out what hurdles they had to overcome to finally choose you. Use that exact language on landing pages, in strategically placed testimonials and in other messages to alleviate the fears of potential customers during the decision making process.

12. The Decoy Effect

We’re more likely to change our preference for two purchase options when a third less attractive option is introduced.

Let’s say an appliance store is having trouble moving a certain model refrigerator. It costs $2,500 and comes with a few special features. The $2,000 model is selling better but has no special features.

When they introduce a third model that costs $6,500 and is loaded with features, they see an increase in sales of the $2,500 model.

I like to call this the Goldilocks rule because the asymmetrically dominated product (the high-end, $6,500 fridge), makes the previously most expensive option appear “just right” to consumers. They’re not buying that ridiculously expensive option, but it’s not the crappy no-features-at-all option either.

Use It Today

Update your pricing strategy to include your normal offers, but throw in one asymmetrically dominated option (one that seems out of whack with the other two options) to make the one you really want to sell more of seem the most attractive.

The decoy effect can even be used when comparing a list of features without pricing.

13. Social Support

When we feel supported by others we feel less stress. Even the most stressful situations become more tolerable when we know that our friends support us or we have someone who will listen to us.

Use It Today

With so many companies to do business with these days, people aren’t going to choose one that makes completing a purchase or getting support difficult.

Perform usability testing on your ecommerce site and simplify the steps a person must go through to complete a purchase.

Evaluate your customer support team by reviewing phone calls to see if there’s a pattern between dissatisfied customers that you can improve.

Make sure your contact info is prominently displayed on your website and that your customer support is consistently available and helpful.

Psychology Can Make You a Better Marketer

Marketing a product doesn’t require a degree in psychology, but understanding how people operate and why they make certain decisions can help you make your products, services and offers more appealing.

Are you using any of these psychological principles in your marketing already? Are there any that you’re interested in trying? Let us know in the comments! And if you need any tips along the way, be sure to contact Optimum7.