Five Core Concepts of Marketing Psychology


In this installment of the Viral Octopus knowledge series, we are going to talk about what psychology can tell us about influencing people. Understanding how people make choices can help us nudge people towards making decisions we want them to make. Five core concepts of marketing psychology provide useful insight into subconscious processes that influence choice. Read on to learn how you can use social proof, reciprocity, scarcity, anchoring, and priming for marketing.   

Use Social Proof 

Humans are social animals. We learn and form behaviors by observing adults at an early age. The concept of “monkey see, monkey do” remains relevant when we are older. Going along with the crowd can be a useful shortcut. What works for others may quite likely work for us, and if we just copy the choices of others, we can focus on thinking about other things. We often mimic the behaviors of others without realizing it. Social proof can work at a level below our conscious attention. There are lots of common and easy ways to harness the power of social proof. Presenting reviews or going more in-depth with case studies documenting results for satisfied clients are obvious forms of social proof. Just including smiling faces in graphic content is another form that is less direct. Organizations that provide certifications, like the Better Business Bureau or TRUSTe provide social proof by reassuring potential customers that it is safe to do business with you.   

Invoke Reciprocity

Continuing with the “social animal” theme, let’s consider the principle of reciprocity. When you do something for someone else, they are likely to feel obligated to do something for you in return. Someone is more likely to give you a gift if you have given one to them. If you invite someone to your wedding, when they get married they will be more likely to invite you. This instinctive behavior builds cooperation into the operating system of individuals, creating a strong social base for working together.  You can use the instinct of reciprocity to get your customers to take action. Giving away something for free not only allows a customer to experience your business, it has the potential to create a bond of obligation. The impact of a simple gesture can be immense. In a study entitled “Sweetening the Till,” David Strohmetz found that wait staff received tips that were 14% higher when they brought a small free piece of candy with the bill.   

Raise The Fear Of Scarcity

Lack of needed resources can be a visceral, life-or-death threat. Even when we do not need something to survive, we have an instinctive response to scarcity. It is human nature to want what we cannot have. And when a human gets hold of something rare, they are likely to flaunt their possession of that which is scarce. Normally, when prices go up, the quantity demanded goes down. But so-called “Giffen goods” have an obverse price/demand relationship. For certain luxury items, as price goes up, demand goes up. The perception of unattainability makes the item more desirable. This is the psychology of scarcity at its most irrational. You can see scarcity invoked all around, in common phrases like “limited time offer” and “while supplies last”. Nightclubs will set up a velvet rope and restrict access even when they are not full to project an aura of exclusivity.   

Use Priming Psychology To Plant Suggestions

Priming is a form of preparation. When we use priming, we present a concept to prepare someone to be receptive to a message or viewpoint. We may use a word, an image, a sentence, or a longer presentation. A restaurant that has a surplus of Italian wine to sell could prime customers to focus on that part of the wine list by playing Italian music. Imagine you have a computer store and you can upsell extra RAM or hard drive memory with a new computer, but you get the most profit from upselling additional RAM. If you train your salespeople to ask customers if they were satisfied with the RAM performance of their previous computer, they will be more likely to choose your more profitable upsell because you have primed them to consider the importance of RAM. A very common form of priming is the “foot-in-the-door” tactic. To prime your potential customer to say “yes” to your main request, you can first ask them a series of questions you are confident they will answer with a “yes”. “Would you like a free e-book”? (And some reciprocity!) “Yes!” This primes them to respond to your other questions, including “would you like to buy now?” with a “yes”.  

Drop An Anchor In Your Customer’s Brain

Anchoring is related to priming, and people sometimes get the two confused. What is the difference between anchoring and priming? In priming, a first stimulus affects the processing of a second stimulus. For instance, in the example above, hearing Italian music before reading a wing list makes people react more positively to wines from Italy. The process of anchoring is a bit different. Anchoring describes our tendency to seize on the first piece of information we obtain and give it great weight, basing our overall perception on a first impression. So whereas in priming, the first stimulus colors our perception of a second stimulus, in anchoring specific information received first is given great weight in processing all subsequent information. Anchoring is often used in pricing. If we begin our pitch with a relatively high-priced option and then talk about the product for a while before introducing several lower-priced options, we may succeed in anchoring the high price as reasonable, so that the low price seems too good to pass up. That’s a fairly widely known technique that is pretty intuitive. Want to know a trick? You can anchor a number that is not related to your price in your customer’s brain and potentially influence their perception of your actual price. For instance, imagine your product is priced at $85. If your landing page for a particular campaign says “75 reasons to get this widget”, do you think you would sell more or less than if your landing page says “99 problems this widget can fix”?

The Next Step? Action!

These five core concepts in marketing psychology can really make a difference, but these ideas only help if you apply them! How can you use social proof, invoke reciprocity, raise the fear of scarcity, use priming to implant suggestions and drop an anchor in your customer’s brain? Make a plan, decide how to measure results, execute and analyze. Want to discuss your results? Join the Viral Octopus Collective. Need help? Pick a gig service or hire an expert. VO can cover all your marketing needs from bite-sized tactical services to a comprehensive strategy.

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