Psychology in Marketing

The science of behaviour plays a major role in shaping consumer decisions, preferences, and responses to marketing. Psychology is the canvas upon which we paint our strategies. By having a better understanding of how decisions are made in the brain we can begin to better tailor our approaches, so that they resonate with the cognitive and emotional processes driving consumer choices.

Understanding Consumer Behaviour

Cognitive Biases

Inherent quirks in human thinking, cognitive biases can be leveraged to improve the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. This isn’t the same as tricking customers, it’s simply a more effective way to ensure your messaging resonates.

  • An anchoring bias is our tendency to use initial information as the foundation for further judgements. This means that the first price a customer sees for a product or service that they like, even if they don’t make that purchase, will continue to impact their views of further offers.
    • Always display the crossed-out price of a discounted item.
  • The IKEA Effect is infamous. It’s the tendency for people to be more positive towards products they have partially created or assembled.
    • Encourage personalisation or customisation options for products.
    • Create interactive content, such as social media quizzes or virtual try-outs of products.
    • Crowdsource ideas or conduct votes on new features or products (you don’t even really have to listen to their answers, either).
  • Recency bias refers to our habit of giving more importance to recent events or information.
    • Utilise time-based opportunities, such as ‘newly launched’ or ‘recently added’.
    • Ensure product and service descriptions are openly up-to-date with the latest features.
    • Align marketing messaging with seasons, trends, and cultural events to enhance relevance.

Social Proof

Social proof is the psychological phenomenon where people rely on the actions and opinions of others to make decisions. The underlying principle is that people tend to follow the actions of a crowd, as shown by the Asch conformity experiment. Especially when making an uncertain decision, social proof can be the difference between a sale and a fail.

  • Testimonials and reviews from satisfied customers provide real-life examples of success stories.
    • Whether these are positive Tweets, case study PDFs, or an scroller of Trustpilot reviews, seeing how many other people use and benefit from your product or service builds trust and credibility.
  • Influencer marketing has been all the rage recently, in particular partnering with niche influencers to reach a more targeted audience.
    • When influencers, a human face with a deeper connection to their audience than a brand typically achieves, endorse a product or service, social proof means their viewers are more likely to view it positively.
  • Interaction numbers and community size all create a sense of social community or urgency.
    • Subscriber/follower/view counters, live counters showing how many people have ordered today, or some kind of membership system to broadcast how many dedicated customers you have all act as social proof.

Psychological Tactics in Marketing

How Emotions Drive Consumer Decisions

Feelings play a massive role in consumer behaviour, influencing what, when, from who, and even why someone makes a purchase.

The brain’s limbic system is responsible for emotions, as well as plays a central role in decision making. This means the area of the brain involved in making choices is the same area of the brain that ‘contains’ our feelings. Emotions guide decisions just as much as conscious thoughts.

This emotional foundation to how we often make decisions means that consumers typically have a stronger connection to familiar brands. Being a top of mind provider, or making efforts to evoke positive emotions, encourages repeat business. If Disney offers something, chances are that product or service will quickly become a top seller in that niche. This is because most of us have emotionally positive childhood memories associated with Disney.

Equally as important as feelings such as joy, nostalgia, and excitement are negative emotions. Fear, frustration, or sadness can influence decisions – charity advertisements are infamously dour, featuring shots of dying animals or melting ice caps in order to create a negative feeling (which can then be relieved through donating). Emotionally charged marketing materials of any type are much more likely to get us making decisions.

Scarcity, Urgency, and FOMO

The fear of loss, and of missing out, is one of the strongest cognitive quirks that we can use to our advantage as marketers. The source of many rushed decisions, FOMO is based on the psychological need for social belonging. Consumers fear missing out on experiences or products that others are buying, because we like being included. Similar to this is the psychological concept of loss aversion, in which losing something is perceived as worse than gaining something.

‘Limited time offer’, ‘once it’s gone it’s gone’, and ‘200 bought in the last hour’ are all effective methods of creating a sense of urgency. Likewise, encouraging customers to share stories or images of your product will create an urge in potential buyers to get involved, because they’ll be fearful of missing out.

Final Thoughts

Moreso today than ever before, customers aren’t just purchasing products or services. We’re buying into experiences; from a friendly or funny social media presence to emotive web copy, marketing campaigns have always used some level of psychological science to get conversions.

Marketing doesn’t need to appeal to just the rational mind — it needs to capture the emotional core of the audience. A gut punch, chuckle, or play on the heartstrings is just as effective at fostering brand loyalty.

Matt Beswick

Co-founder of Aira and Blush. Marketing / tech geek. Husband. Dad of two. Enjoyer of bourbon, cookery, computer games, and things that go fast.