Across TV, radio, print, web, and mobile, marketers invest advertising dollars, creative energy and time into targeted messages meant to trigger an emotional response among consumers. For their efforts, marketers hope they may improve the general sentiment towards their brand, convince new audiences to buy their product and encourage existing customers to complete repeat purchases. Their success, of course, is contingent on their ability to influence customer behaviors which makes doing marketing an exercise in consumer psychology.
How to use psychology to your advantage.
In an article for Fast Company, Robert Rosenthal notes, “The vast majority of marketers aren’t psychologists. But many successful marketers regularly employ psychology in appealing to consumers. Smart, skillful, honest marketers use psychology legally, ethically and respectfully to attract and engage consumers, and compel them to buy.”
According to Rosenthal, there are five ways marketers can do this.
- Run emotion ideas. Studies suggest that marketing messages perform better when they emphasize the outcome consumers can achieve with a particular product or service versus a dry list of its components and features.
- Highlight your flaws. To build consumer trust, address your product’s shortcomings rather than hide them.
- Reposition your competition. Reframe how consumers perceive the competition. Without having to bash them, you can reinforce the idea that your product fills a different, higher value need in your customer’s life, making your offering the obvious choice.
- Promote exclusivity. Cater to your customer’s ego by making them feel special if they were to purchase your product.
- Introduce fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Emphasize the consequences of inaction. Loss aversion is a powerful psychological principle that can motivate people to purchase your product if doing so somehow helps them avoid any negative outcomes.
The emotional aspects of the job demonstrate there is obvious crossover between psychology and marketing. The trick is in getting potential customers to think differently about your company or offer. In some cases, that means crafting the right brand narrative. Other times, it is strategically getting people in a compliant state by having them make small commitments before you share your intended proposal.
When small commitments turn into big wins.
In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini, a psychology and marketing professor at Arizona State University, listed one of his six principles of persuasion as “Commitment and Consistency.” Some of us know it as the “ Foot-in-door technique.” The science suggests that when people make certain choices, they use past decisions to determine future actions. Also, the research insists that when people make commitments they are more likely to follow-through with those tasks.
Marketers apply this to their trade by asking prospects to agree to small asks first. Then they use past customer compliance to influence decision-making later. Examples of small requests customers are likely to commit to include signing up for your email newsletter, following you on social media, attending a webinar, or downloading your ebook. After you have made several successful attempts at getting people to say “yes” to your requests, you increase your odds that they will respond positively to bigger commitments such as purchasing your products or services.
For the Unbounce blog, growth hacking expert Sean Ellis explains how Obama’s presidential campaign used commitment and consistency to redesign its online donation form and generate millions of additional contributions. Ellis writes, “By breaking the donation process up into sequential steps, the campaign increased donation conversions by 5 percent, collecting millions of incremental dollars…. The first step in the process was to get the user to select the amount of money they wanted to donate. This first step got them to commit early on in the process, even with several screens left to go in order to actually complete the donation. People like to see themselves as consistent and rational -- getting started with the donation amount committed them to finishing what they had started.”
Marketers everywhere, like psychologists, employ the scientific method to generate results too. Quant-based marketers, for instance, constantly seek out new ways to approach customers, develop hypotheses to test, then try to validate those predictions with data, and optimize their approach based on their findings.
A case for remaining skeptical.
So, while marketers do use tried-and-true methods for getting customers to respond to advertisements and other marketing messages, many develop and perform their own experiments to see how audiences will react. Sometimes, the findings from those studies even contradict what psychologists would otherwise anticipate. That is partly because consumers are irrational and in different settings they react differently to the same stimuli.
When the team at Performable kept hearing conflicting responses for the best color to use for a call-to-action button, they decided to test their own theory. Though, typically, consumers view the color green as congruent with the idea “go” and red as a signal for “stop,” the team at Performable were unsure that this applied to landing pages. Joshua Porter says, “My hunch was that even if one color performed better than the other, the difference would be small. I could imagine that one color might be more appealing or grab the user’s attention better than another, but that the overall conversion numbers would be overwhelmed by the overall message of the page.” To everyone’s surprise though, the red button generated 21 percent more conversions than the green button. Of course, Porter shares a cautionary note, “As always, we cannot generalize these results to all situations. The most we can say is that they hold for the conditions in which they occurred: in this page design, on this site, with the audience that viewed it…. Therefore, do not go out and blindly switch your green buttons to red without testing first. You should test colors on your page and with your audience to see what happens. You might find something interesting in your data that we don’t have in ours.”
The fun part about marketing is the opportunity to discover new ways to trigger favorable emotional responses from consumers. To build a successful marketing campaign, marketers ought to start with best practices, testing how well proven theories apply to their unique circumstance. But, overtime, the best performing marketing campaigns evolve after consistent testing and optimization. While psychology may insist a specific outcome will happen with general inputs, most marketing scenarios have their own distinct attributes and consumers at different times of day and stages of their life may have completely novel reactions to brand advertisements. Ultimately, it is up to you and your marketing team to unravel the perfect formula for success for your business and your business only.