You have a product to sell. Now you need to find someone who needs that product.

But what if that person doesn’t know he or she needs it, or whether they should buy that product from you. That’s where you need to influence the decision-making process.

Marketing is all about getting inside your customer’s head and positioning your product favorably. Savvy marketers apply psychological principles to move a potential customer to a course of action – purchasing that product from you.

Consumer Buying Spree

By understanding how your audience thinks, feels and responds to certain types of messages, you can tailor your marketing campaigns to achieve greater results. Let’s take a look at some of the forces at work.


Studies show emotional appeals produce stronger reactions from consumers than when you rattle off a list of product features, no matter how great they are.

For example, having a customer comfortably wear a properly fitted backpack is more effective than ticking off the materials used, the number of pockets, and showing how the belts and straps work.

Victor Schwab became a successful ad man in the 1950s by tapping into how psychological drivers influence consumer behavior.

In his book, Mail Order Strategy, Schwab noted some motivations that might drive people:

  • Something they want to gain — better health, more money
  • Something they want to save — time, money
  • Something they want to reduce — stress, pain
  • Something they want to be — popular, desirable
  • Something they want to do — improve themselves, express personality, gain admiration, win affection.

Though Schwab used printed advertising copy to reach his audience, these influences are still at work today.

Marketers are using different tools than Schwab had available such as TV, radio, social media and other forms of engagement, but though methods of reaching people have changed, people have not.

In the 1980s, psychology professor Robert Cialdini wrote Influence: The Power of Persuasion, a book in which he discussed the things that guide people in making decisions, such as:

  • Following through on a commitment
  • Obeying authority such as an expert’s endorsement
  • Following what others are doing, such as friends family or celebrities
  • Perceiving something as more valuable because it appears scarce

These insights by Schwab and Cialdini greatly influenced what we see and hear in messaging today.


So marketers are constantly turning to psychological studies to better understand people or a specific audience. The next step is to make a connection. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways the messaging can be tailored.

  • Create credibility: Consumers today, bombarded by promises online, on TV and on radio, are wary of things that sound too good to be true. So when your marketing message addresses a product’s flaws, people are apt to believe you are not hiding anything. You are perceived as being trustworthy.
  • Be likable: When people on social media see you or your product in a positive light, others are apt to jump in and interact with you, and then the positivity keeps flowing. People prefer to deal with someone they like.
  • Become an authority: Share your knowledge in your field of expertise. Through your website you can provide instructional videos or write content that shows you are a thought leader in a specific area. In turn, you will be viewed as a reliable and trusted authority. It also creates more avenues and reasons for people to interact with you.
  • Create scarcity: If the audience thinks something is available “for a limited time,” they might fear missing out. This can be a powerful motivator and force a change in a consumer’s behavior. But be careful not to overuse this tactic or you risk creating distrust.
  • Appear exclusive: Everyone likes to feel “special” at times, and thus they want to feel like they belong to something that not everyone can be a part of. For example, driving a certain type of luxury car can give the owner the feeling of being a member of a select group.

Theories to consider in your messaging

Psychological studies reveal more and more about how, when and where we absorb and process information and then react to it.

Here are a few well-known psychological theories you can use to your advantage in your marketing messages:

  • Foot-in-the-door: Ask someone for a small commitment first and they’ll be more likely to agree to a greater commitment later. So if a customer is consistently opening your emails or viewing your social media – a small commitment – there is a greater likelihood of agreeing to share a link with others or invite friends.
  • Framing effect: The audience reacts differently to whether a situation will result in a gain or in a loss. When one choice clearly presents a loss, the other option appears much more positive. Always try to frame your product so the customer sees a clear gain.
  • Loss aversion: People think they will feel the negative effects of loss more strongly than the positive effects of an equal gain. Determine what a customer’s reservations are and then put them at ease. Risk-free offers and money-back guarantees are common ways to alleviate anxiety over possible loss.
  • Social influence: When people don’t know how to react, they copy others. So in your messaging, give examples of how people experienced the benefits of using or owning your product and how the target audience can become just like them.

You can be sure marketers will continue to pay close attention to psychology and then craft messaging that plays off these principles and many more.