The heart of marketing is psychology. It’s understanding who your audience is – how they think, what they want and need, and what motivates them.
The messaging will change based on who you’re targeting, but the core psychology won’t. We’re all human, after all, and there’s a baseline to what makes us tick.
We’re going to look at how psychology applies to digital marketing, and how it can help you drive conversions more effectively.
Digital Marketing Psychology: 6 Tips to Drive Conversions
If you’re like me, you’re a marketer, not a psychologist. That’s what we do, though. Every time you write ad copy, email messaging, or even a blog post, you’re using psychology, even if you don’t realize it.
Let’s take a look at some of the psychological principles you can use in your digital marketing.
1. Loss Aversion
Also known as “fear of missing out”, or FOMO, loss aversion is exactly what it sounds like: the human tendency to try to avoid losing something. That something doesn’t need to be a tangible item (though it can be); this applies to intangibles, such as an opportunity, as well.
This is arguably the most common marketing psychology trick. You see this all the time with things like limited time offers.
This sort of tactic works on our psyche in two ways. First of all, we tend to assume that because a promotion is only available for a limited time, it must be a great deal – and therefore we want it.
Secondly, the time limit itself is a strong motivator, especially if you have an active countdown on your landing page.
Nobody wants to miss out on a great deal, and that sense of urgency can easily be the deciding factor between making a purchase now or holding off and possibly not buying at all.
2. Social Proof
If a company tells you its product is great, you take it with a grain of salt. After all, of course they think their product rocks.
If other people tell you that product is great, you’re more likely to believe them. Particularly if you know those people are experts on that subject.
You’ve probably got testimonials from customers on your website. (If not, go ask some of your best customers to give you one.) They’re an example of common social proof in digital marketing.
Influencer marketing is a more active form of social proof. The idea is that these people have an established reputation and credibility, and their fans value their opinion highly, so they make incredibly impactful brand ambassadors.
Certifications, awards, and other affirmations count as social proof too. These things all help inspire trust.
3. The Anchoring Effect
The anchoring effect is something called cognitive bias, and it refers to our tendency to give more weight on the initial piece of information we receive.
Again, you see this all the time, you just might not realize it. When you’re at a store and you see a higher price crossed out on an item, with a reduced price beneath it, that’s the store leveraging anchoring.
You see a higher price first, which gets anchored in your mind as the true value of the item. That makes the reduced price seem even more attractive, even if the higher price is fake.
You can do a lot with anchoring simply by choosing the order in which you present information. For example, if you’ve got a pricing page that displays your various plans, logically you might want to display them lowest to highest.
Experiment with reversing that – show them the highest-priced plan first. That way, their perceived value of your product is higher, and the cheaper options seem like better deals.
4. Operant Conditioning
Many restaurants and cafes have a stamp card – every 10th coffee (or whatever) is free. You’ve probably got a few of these in your wallet.
They aren’t a primary motivator to go to that café, generally – you just collect them stamp when you go there anyway.
When you’ve got a full stamp card, you might make the trip specifically to grab that free coffee, but otherwise, the stamp card isn’t the main thing that clinches your decision to go.
Now imagine that instead, you might get that free coffee randomly. Every time you go in, you’ve got a chance of getting a free drink.
That’s a much stronger motivator. Of course, it’s also a somewhat unrealistic example. In real life, you see this in promotions like “every box of this cereal has a chance to win you a car!” In reality, that chance is infinitesimal.
But maybe, just maybe, this cereal box has the winning ticket inside.
This whole concept uses operant conditioning, which describes how our brains learn to associate behaviors with events. For example, you’d associate that café with a chance at a free drink – you’d probably be back there all the time. I know I would.
We all love to gamble, and that can be leveraged across all kinds of industries (just look at how immensely successful microtransactions and lootboxes have become in video games).
You can apply this in digital B2B marketing with a little creativity. For example, if you’re a SaaS company, you might give people a chance that when they purchase or renew a license, they get an additional month for free (or whatever makes sense with your business model).
You could apply that only to licenses above a certain threshold, like a full annual commitment as opposed to month-to-month renewals.
The chance doesn’t need to be large – it just needs to exist. You’ll more than likely have more people opting for the bigger license, giving you more revenue than you’re losing by giving away a free month here and there.
The idea is to play on people’s love of chance games, giving them an incentive to take the action you desire, and to condition their minds to link those things together.
When you hear a statement, you’ll have it in mind when you hear the follow-up statement. You make associations that might not be explicitly stated.
Here’s an example: “Have a break, have a KitKat.”
It’s a tagline that works on multiple levels. You break KitKats into pieces when you eat them, so there’s some simple wordplay involved.
But it also associates the idea of having a break and relaxing with the act of eating a KitKat.
Another great example of this is Apple’s Think Different campaign, specifically the posters from 1997-1998. These were extremely simple and powerful print ads that featured a historic “creative genius” figure, with the Apple logo and “think different” in one corner.
Their campaign featured a wide range of figures with a common thread – they were all visionaries.
Their goal? By using images of visionaries as the primary element of the ads (the first thing people notice), they were priming people to think of Apple as visionaries as well. The “Think Different” slogan put them on the same creative footing as recognized geniuses.
They included images of people such as Alfred Hitchcock, Jimi Hendrix, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and many more.
It was extremely successful, and arguably saved Apple from bankruptcy at the time. Today, Apple is indisputably one of the visionaries of the tech industry, but when they launched this campaign, they weren’t yet in that position.
Priming is a very simple idea that you can use in any number of ways, particularly in the realm of social media advertising.
A relatively recent addition to marketing psychology, gamification is the process of using game mechanics in a non-game context to reward people for taking actions or completing tasks.
Here’s an example: social networks. People thrive on their posts being liked, commented on, shared, upvoted and followed. Although there’s not necessarily any real benefit to your post getting 1,000 likes, people place huge amounts of value in these scores.
You also see this a lot with fitness apps, giving you badges or achievements when you go for a run or make your step goal for the day.
At its core, it comes down to positive reinforcement. You’re giving your users a sense of accomplishment – and a jolt of dopamine – when they do things you want them to do.
This can be implemented in all kinds of ways, depending on your business. It doesn’t necessarily have to be within your product itself, either.
If your offering is a service rather than a product, you can still use gamification mechanics. One idea might be to give your website visitors a goal to strive towards. Let them earn a consultation by reading a blog post, downloading a case study, and signing up for your newsletter.
You’ve probably already been using some of these psychological strategies in your digital marketing, possibly even without noticing.
Once you’re aware of some of the ways you can use human nature to improve your marketing, it becomes a powerful tool. You can make use of these tactics across all kinds of channels, from email lead generation to blogging and website design, and anywhere else you reach your audience.