Perhaps more than ever before, as businesses compete for customers in a global marketplace, simply having the best product, service or idea is no longer enough to succeed. Marketing is crucial, but the focus is often on the creative aspect of the approach such as the compelling story that is woven around the campaign.
However, while the creativity associated with the right side of the brain is the foundation for great marketing, it is the left side of the brain– our analytical side, that elevates a great marketing approach into an exceptional one.
By analyzing human behavior, we understand how an audience may respond to various marketing messages and other incentives, helping to steer them to the course of action desired. By combining the creative stimulus from the left side of the brain with this analytical approach stemming from the right side, you can create a powerful marketing approach.
No matter what kind of business you work with, whatever the sector, whatever the customer demographic, mastering the concepts of marketing psychology can transform both marketing performance and brand image.
However, understanding the idea and putting it into practice are two different things. In this example, you can follow a real-world application of marketing psychology, seeing not just how it is done, but why it works.
The Theory Behind Marketing Psychology
Your first step to mastering marketing psychology is to be clear about what it is and what it can do for your business. A technical definition of marketing psychology would be the study of those external influences that can make a positive change in a consumer’s attitude to a product or service.
Those external influences can be many things: the color, shape and style of packaging, the font and words used to describe it, all these and more can have an effect.
Effective marketing psychology takes elements from neuroscience and cognitive sciences to understand how feelings and perception shape buying habits.
Neuroscience and cognitive science are branches of behavioral science, and it is the behavioral sciences that represent the key to improving your marketing success. The basic tenant of this approach to marketing relies on the fact that some find uncomfortable to accept:
We don’t always act rationally.
In fact, our brains naturally develop shortcuts in the decision-making process to avoid an overload of information. These shortcuts are known as heuristics. A great example of a heuristic in action is shopping for milk. Think about your grocery shopping, do you instinctively reach for the same brand of milk every time? That’s a little shortcut in your mind, you go to that one because you know it, to avoid having to make a choice.
This is also a good way to see why heuristics don’t always get you the best outcome. In our milk scenario, if another brand is on sale, or a new brand with better quality appears, you’ll still keep buying that same old brand.
These kinds of errors in judgment are known as a cognitive bias– and you need to understand what they are, as they can have a significant effect on the choice to buy your product and the way your brand is perceived.
By gaining an understanding of cognitive bias, you can craft marketing strategies that take advantage of them to boost your marketing performance. To help you with this, here is an example of how heuristics and cognitive bias can be incorporated into your marketing approach.
The Sales Funnel – How the Buying Process Works
By exploring how the online buying process works, it is easier to identify areas where marketing psychology can be deployed to improve your strategy. To keep things clear, this example follows a basic e-commerce store’s sales process.
Fundamentally, the sales funnel follows these steps:
- Discover and visit the website – Getting their attention
- Explore the product range on offer – Gaining their interest
- Consider the offer – Considering their options
- Make the purchase – Making a decision and putting it into action
Now, each stage has more complex choices within, but that is the basic workflow of a simple sales process.
Getting the Customer’s Attention
In those first few seconds, the goal is to build trust, so the visitor stays on your site and looks at the products or services on offer. One of the ways in which people decide whether something is right is to look for reassurance from others. If lots of other people approve of something, it can have a big impact on their opinion.
You can take advantage of this, for instance by having positive reviews in a prominent position so they are one of the first things a visitor sees. A review banner with kind words and 4/5 stars on each product can also work for you. The more a visitor sees others approving of your site, the more they will instinctively trust it and want to be a part of it.
In marketing psychology, this is known as social proof. It is built on a heuristic ‘shortcut’ where the brain accepts that others may know more about something, and therefore it’s in your interest to follow them. In other words, it is a cognitive bias that pushes an individual to act and think like those around them are acting and thinking.
Gaining Their Interest
With your site seen as trustworthy, the next stage for your marketing strategy is to gain the visitor’s interest in what you have to offer. Here, you can deploy a cognitive bias known as hyperbolic discounting to persuade the visitor to look further.
Hyperbolic discounting works on the premise that the brain values something now over something later on, even if waiting for offers more. A good way to leverage this is through a promise of immediacy, that is, next day delivery or even same-day pickup if possible.
This encourages the visitor to look at your offers in more detail at a subconscious level. Bold announcements of such immediacy should be placed very visibly on the landing page for the site or offer.
That is not the only way to gain and retain interest. Our third cognitive bias that can be incorporated into any marketing strategy is the scarcity effect. The less of something there is, the more we want it. Entire industries are based on this one cognitive bias, whether limited edition sneakers, unique clothing or even something as diverse as movie replicas and cars.
Whether it’s one of five hundred Ferraris or one of one hundred lightsabers, the effect is the same, and you can take advantage of it too. Limited time offers, whether that is a price reduction, limited by numbers, or other options suitable for your service, creating scarcity is key. These kinds of offers should be the first products a visitor to your site sees.
The final cognitive bias you can use to garner interest is known as the reciprocity tendency. This refers to the need to treat others how you are treated yourself. In other words, if someone does something nice for you, your first instinct is to do something nice in return.
In marketing, you can apply this by providing value to your visitors without charge. This could be useful information or instruction or another suitable giveaway. If a visitor receives value for free, thanks to the reciprocity tendency, they will be more likely to buy something in return.
Considering Their Options
Having built trust, gained interest through offering something with immediacy and scarcity, then providing value to encourage purchases, your visitor is then ready to view your products and consider their options.
Here, your goal is to maximize your return from each customer, and that usually means persuading them to spend as much as possible. The key to achieving this is a cognitive bias known as the framing effect. This describes the way in which we respond to a choice depending on its presentation.
For instance, you don’t see a range of products called the ‘cheapest’. Instead, you can label it as ‘high value’ or something similar. No one really wants to buy the cheapest product, but everyone loves to get a good deal. That is framing. It also works for the other end of the market too, where the most expensive items are referred to as ‘luxury’, ‘deluxe’ and other descriptors (but not ‘expensive’).
Think about the labeling of all products, but especially any categories on your store lists. Framing can have a significant effect on any visitor’s willingness to consider a product.
Making a Decision
Having persuaded the visitor to stick with the site, earned their trust, and presented optimal offers, now your marketing strategy must encourage the visitor’s decision about a purchase. To do this, your strategy should nudge the visitor in the direction you want. Each nudge should be small, but the cumulative effect will add up and create results. There are several ways to create these nudges.
Doubt Avoidance Tendency
The first way you can shape the decision-making process is through the doubt avoidance tendency.
This cognitive bias describes the behavior when a visitor is unsure of the choice they are making, the brain will actively try to remove the doubt by making a quick, poorly informed decision.sales
The key to removing doubt, and a barrier to the decision, is simple messaging. A 9/10 score from a review, a reliability guarantee, something that gives an instant positive for the product that the brain can latch on to. Make it prominent, and one of the first things the customer encounters on the product page.
The Affect Heuristic
Making purchasing decisions is an emotional process. By generating positive emotion, you reduce the barrier to the decision to purchase. This is known as the affect heuristic, and it describes the act of basing choice upon emotion rather than information.
In terms of marketing, providing added value is an excellent way of leveraging the affect heuristic. This could be free delivery, a free gift or similar. Presenting this correctly matters too. Always make sure you display the free delivery offer prominently. For any free gifts, always show the MSRP with a strikethrough. This gives a specific value to the free gift, which enhances the effect.
We previously talked about scarcity and its value in encouraging sales. This can be again utilized in the final decision-making process, where it can be combined with loss aversion. This is the idea that people prefer avoiding loss more than acquiring gains. In simple terms, most people think it’s better to not lose $10 than it is to find $10.
In the sales process, this is key, and implementing a stock level indicator is a great way to bring it to the fore. If your site clearly tells a customer there are only 7 or 8 of something left in stock, then loss aversion kicks in, and they are much more likely to buy before the product is gone, possibly forever. Another approach to this is to have a counter that shows how many have been sold instead. If a customer sees 25, 30 or more items sold in the last day or seven days, they are left fearing that it will sell out and again, loss aversion nudges them to make the purchase.
The Contrast Effect
The final cognitive bias that you can use to nudge the visitor into a purchase decision is the contrast effect. Here, the brain tends to alter our perception of something when it is presented in comparison to something else.
This works incredibly well for expensive items. A product at $799 is not an everyday purchase for most people, and your potential customer will want to think about it for longer than you would like. But if you present that price as $799 marked down from $999, then suddenly the focus is on the $200 saving, and the $799 becomes less important in the decision.
The Call to Action
The culmination of all the effort and planning so far, the point at which the choice to purchase has been made, and your visitor is heading to the checkout. The rule here is simplicity. Keep the process moving through an easy to use checkout, but there is one extra step that you should include.
Data is everything online, and your customer database is the heart of your business. It makes sense then, that you want to add this new customer to that database, and then keep in touch with them for further marketing.
The best checkout systems do this right at the end after the customer has entered all their shipping details, payment details, and so on. That is the most effective point to ask them to register with your site. The reason is the sunk cost fallacy. The basic premise here is, ‘you’ve come this far, no turning back now’.
If you ask for registration at the start, you are giving an excuse to not make the purchase, the visitor can decide it’s too time-consuming, or they don’t want to register at another site, and so on. By waiting until they have already added all the details, and are one click from the purchase, they have already spent the time. They have already provided the information; the objections have already been overcome.
Marketing is essential for your business growth, but not all marketing is created equally. By examining how people respond to certain impulses, you can tailor your marketing approach to encourage specific behavior, improving strategy performance, and ultimately increasing ROI.
Setting up a website to incorporate these ideas is not difficult, they can be part of a new design or added to an existing site and be just as effective. With results from data analytics showing just how effective marketing psychology can be, the question is not will you be taking steps to leverage the concept, but will you do it before your competition.
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