behavioral psychology for marketers

Exceptionally great marketing motivates people. The world’s best marketers are experts in tools and techniques, but they’re also well-versed in behavioral psychology. They understand what makes people act, and how to integrate it in campaigns, email marketing, content, and even graphic design.

“Consumer psychology is all about getting into that unconscious territory where people are being directed to make purchases for reasons they are not clear about” states consumer psychology expert Michael Fishman. At its best, marketing doesn’t always rely on logical persuasion. Sometimes marketers can win at pure emotional appeal that doesn’t make sense to their customers.

Wait. Is That Even ETHICAL?

Behavioral psychology can be unethical in marketing. The possibility is there. If your marketing deceives people into behaving in regrettable ways, it’s absolutely unethical. Fear and positioning are powerful tactics. However, if you’re simply using psychology to strengthen emotional connections with consumers who already want or need your products, there’s no harm done.

Even more importantly, as a marketer you shouldn’t be in the business of trying to make everyone happy. Unless your brand is a McDonald’s, Coca Cola, or Nike, your marketing will perform best if it’s highly targeted to your specific buyer personas’ behavioral triggers. In this blog, you’ll learn a little bit about some of the most common behavioral psychology principles that can significantly improve your marketing results:

1. Gestalt Principle

Humans look for patterns. At the most biological level, it’s how we’ve evolved (or how we’re hard-wired). Giving people the opportunity to identify simple patterns motivates them to keep looking.

The lesson: In design, copy, and other forms of marketing, don’t be too complicated. Strive for simplicity, and give your prospects a chance to find patterns and symmetry.

The Gestalt Principle is both enormously complex and important, especially if you’re in the business of web design or user experience. For an in-depth overview, we recommend Smashing Mag’s coverage of Gestalt for web workers.

2. Action Paralysis

People have a tendency to second guess their own behavior, especially if they’re unsure of impact. If you’re trying to trigger someone into action, affirm the fact it will make a difference.

Stating “make a purchase today” instead of “making a purchase today can lead to immediate improvements in your health” can lead to almost 50 percent lower conversions, according to psychology research performed at ASU.

The lesson: Reduce the margin for your prospects to question their decisions by giving rationale for conversion or purchase.

3. Positioning Your Brand

Ultimately, you define your brand. Taking an aggresive and highly strategic approach to defining yourselves before your customers (or competitors) can do the same is just good marketing.

The lesson: If you’re interested in the art of positioning, which is closely tied to branding, we recommend the classic marketing book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

4. Label Your Customers

We all want to be part of something. It’s the same behavioral psychology principle behind high school cliques. While your B2B prospects might not like to be called jocks or goth kids, they want to be part of something.

Are your buyer personas successful accounting professionals? Do they maintain a rebellious streak? In the politics realm, voter motivation studies have found that using labels openly can lead to 15 percent better results.

The lesson: We never really leave high school, do we? Define your buyer personas freely.

5. Admit Shortcomings

Did you know that companies who make mistakes aren’t always bound for bad fiscal years? Social psychologist Fiona Lee has discovered that organizations who openly admit fault and frame their errors in the context of “we could have done better” actually have higher stock prices.

The lesson: Brushing problems under the rug won’t win you any clients. Be clear about what you’ve done wrong, and consumers will be drawn to your honesty.

6. Reciprocity

Equal exchange. It feels good, doesn’t it? Reciprocity is essentially the behavioral psychology principle behind most of inbound marketing. Consumers are provided value, in the form of free education and content resources, in exchange for permission to engage.

The lesson: If your brand is trying to take more from your prospects than you’re giving in return, your results won’t be stellar.

7. Commitments

No one likes disappointing other people! Even the busiest and most distracted members of society are more likely to follow-through if they’ve already committed to something.

The lesson: Strive for conversions the first time a prospect visits your website with amazing eBooks, webinars, and white papers. The stronger the commitment, the less likely your prospect is to ultimately bail.

8. Authority

Do you know why achieving thought leadership is so critical for brands that engage in inbound marketing? It’s because people obey authority. We’re hard-wired to follow rules, in fact.

The lesson: Be really, really aggressive about establishing your organization’s expertise within a well-defined vertical.

9. Make Enemies

It’s no secret that humans have the capacity for making enemies. This behavioral psychology principle is unfortunately behind some of the greatest atrocities in history, according to social psychologist Henry Tajifel.

This doesn’t mean you should start sliming your competitors or segments of the population your buyer personas might take issue with. Instead be clear about what your organization stands for; whether that’s social corporate responsibility, software, or professional services.

The lesson: You should never set out to offend anyone. However, pleasing everyone is neither possible or optimal.

10. Social Proof

No one wants to be taken for a ride. Social proof is especially crucial for smaller brands, who may need to work a little harder to establish credibility and expertise in the age of the internet.

The lesson: Anyone can claim expertise. Sharp marketers prove it by sharing customer statistics, case studies, and other verifiable facts.

11. Negativity Bias

Negativity is closely tied to fear, which is massively motivating. Occasionally (and I’m serious that this should really be occasional) framing facts and statistics in a really negative way can be highly motivating.

The lesson: Think like classic newspapers, and occasionally highlight the worst-case scenarios to spur some prospect action.

12. Reward

Who doesn’t love rewards or recognitions? While millennials may be referred to as the trophy generation, the truth is that individuals of all ages adore receiving kickbacks and positive feedback.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that reward is a massively motivating factor for human behavior. Not all people are motivated in the same ways. Some customer groups may strive for professional success and others may act to save money. Knowing what your customers need and offering it as a carrot is always a win, though.

The lesson: If you’ve been putting off featuring your customers on your blog, or initiating a client rewards program, don’t delay.

13. Recency Illusion

Have you ever learned a new word, and then began noticing it everywhere? This phenomenon, known as the recency illusion, is an uncanny experience we’ve all had at least once or twice.

With the latest technological possibilities for marketing retargeting, the sharpest marketers are using a cross-platform approach to getting their products in front of prospects.

The lesson: Brilliant lead nurturing campaigns and personalization, can induce just the right “uncanny” feeling in your prospects.

14. Fear Introduction

Everyone – and I mean everyone – is motivated by fear. None of us want to lose social status or comfort. This principle is why fear in marketing can be super effective.

Should your prospects be more worried about their data security, or their health? What statistics, facts, and figures are they unaware of? Broadcast these as a powerful motivator.

The lesson: While no one wants to be too scared, broadcasting facts and figures your buyer personas need to know can educate and provoke action.

15. Emotions over Features

Remember Volkswagen’s famous print ad from decades ago, that declared facetiously their car was a “lemon”? It was eye-catching and emotional, and ultimately more effective than if the car manufacturer had decided to just start listing off the vehicle’s features. Most consumers are ultimately emotional, even though logic plays a major role in purchases.

The lesson: Every organization, even the most serious B2B brands, can benefit from appropriate use of emotional appeal.

[Photo Credit: hey paul studios/flickr/cc]

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