Marketers incorporate psychology concepts consciously and unconsciously into their campaigns to attract consumers and increase sales. The line between the honest and dishonest use of psychology in marketing is a thin one, though. Crossing it isn’t just a question of not being ethical. It can turn against you and affect how your brand is viewed.
Today consumers are more aware than ever of the psychological ploys marketers use, and can respond negatively to them. Consumer watchdogs, product reviewers, and competitors also criticize brands that abuse marketing psychology.
How far can you go without attracting criticism?
How can you convince customers to buy your products or services by using psychology ethically?
Discover some of the best marketing psychology strategies and how to use them.
Popularity = Quality
You must have seen many advertisements using words like:
“Millions of people around the world use it”
“Join millions of people globally”
“It is a world phenomenon”
The way our brain works is specific – we associate popular products with quality. The reason why a product sells in the millions is the quality of the product, our brain tells us. Otherwise people wouldn’t continue buying it.
This strategy is used even for books. Just think of the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Gray. An even more recent example is Game of Thrones. Many people buy these books because they know plenty of other people have bought them already.
Or think of Fifty Shades of Gray the movie. The critics didn’t like it much:
“Leads Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, both of whom spend the majority of the film supposedly desperately longing for each other, have so little chemistry that it gives the sexy goings-on a rather clinical feel,” a reviewer wrote for The A.V. Club.
Still, that didn’t prevent the movie from grossing $571 at the box office.
Now think about Facebook itself and its rise to world power. When Facebook started out, it was in the shadow of Myspace. But the migration began once everyone’s friends and family moved to Facebook. Even those skeptical about Facebook eventually moved and got hooked.
People readily adopt the beliefs or actions of a group of people they relate to – that’s social proof in a nutshell.
For many products and service pages, social buttons provide social proof – when thousands of people share or like a specific product – including some of your friends – you’re more likely to buy it.
But what happens when social sharing counters are fake? There are WordPress or Shopify extensions that provide fake counters. And no regulations in place.
Next time you come across a “popular” product page, look carefully at the counter. Would you bet that it’s genuine?
Now let’s move on to another marketing psychology strategy. The scarcity effect plays with people’s perception. So much so that when researchers asked consumers to rate cookies in jars, they rated the 2-cookie jar higher than the 10-cookie one – even though both contained the same cookie.
“Only 6 items left in stock!”
“Only 2 seats left!”
“Only 2 items at this price!”
That’s the scarcity effect again. When a product is rare, we perceive it as more valuable than it actually is. This is tied in to our way of mistaking popularity for quality – we assume that when the item sells fast, it must be really good.
But what if there are only a few items in stock to begin with?
Or what if there aren’t in fact that few products in stock? What if the seller only claims that to make you buy it?
When it’s applied ethically, the scarcity effect can improve your conversion rates and sales. When people are hesitant to buy something, learning that it’s almost out of stock may give them that little push they need to press the buy button.
When we shop, we often end up having to choose between two products in the same category, two different subscription plans for a service, or two versions of the same product. It can be a tough decision. The choice can create so much resistance in us that we end up not buying anything at all.
But clever marketers factor in our indecision. One of the best-known examples of decoy marketing comes from British newspaper The Economist. Here are the pricing plans they offered for subscription:
- online – $59
- print – $125
- online + print – $125
Notice how they smuggled in a third choice which isn’t in fact a choice at all? Who would opt for a print subscription for $125 when for the same money they can get online + print? The third offer seems so awesome that it may even make you forget the disparity between the first two pricing plans.
Better Models = Better Products
When a product is presented by an attractive model, we’re more likely to buy it. The effect on our subconscious is two-fold. We lend the product the qualities we associate with the model. We then project ourselves as the model and so the product seems a natural extension of who we are, complementing us. Without it the projection we make wouldn’t be quite complete.
The fashion, art, beauty, and health industries are saturated with images of attractive models, and that’s how marketers are managing to boost their sales considerably in these industries.
But there’s something worth keeping in mind. The psychological effect of attractive models in marketing doesn’t work for all products. For example, when we’re talking about SEO and article writing services or technology products – products we don’t usually buy for their attractiveness – this strategy isn’t nearly as effective.
People buy with their eyes. It’s natural to have pretty faces in your ads that people associate with good emotions, positivity, and happiness. But sometimes marketers step over the line.
Even less fortunate examples of hypersexualization sometimes strike like commercials for Liquid-Plumr or Sheba cat food. Eva Longoria almost stripping for her cat. That may not make much sense, but brains like to see such ads.
Colors also influence consumer decisions. When you know what reaction each color can trigger, you can mix them in your web design, social media page, and in your brick and mortar shops to produce the desired effect in your audience. The psychology of colors is a vast area of study in its own right, and shouldn’t be ignored by clever marketers. You shouldn’t leave colors to chance.
- Red creates a sense of urgency, encourages craving, raises the heart rate – it’s great for clearance sales, food products, expensive products like fast cars, or time-limited deals.
- Blue conveys peace, tranquility, and security – it’s a great color for building trust and conveying promises.
- Green suggests health and stimulates harmony in the brain – it’s a color that encourages a state of balance in the mind that promotes decisiveness.
- Purple conveys luxury, wisdom, and respect – it stimulates creativity and problem-solving.
- Yellow increases confidence and evokes joy, happiness, and optimism. It is the only color bright enough to grab attention from a distance.
- Orange is a cheerful color that can create a sense of anxiety that encourages impulsive purchases. It also stimulates appetite.
- Black is associated with power, authority and intelligence, but it becomes daunting when overused.
- White promotes safety and cleanliness and can help create a comfortable atmosphere.
How Symbolism Connects Products to Feelings of Joy, Happiness, and Satisfaction
In the world of marketing, it’s not always the qualities of the product itself that are responsible for its popularity. Think for a moment of McDonald’s Happy Meal for kids. Your kids may not be crazy about burgers or fries. They may not even fall for Ronald McDonald (who anyway has been recently retired because of the clown craze in the U.S.). But when you take them to McDonald’s for the first time and buy them a Happy Meal, they’ll get a toy.
For most kids, that toy is what they will remember. A simple, innocent-looking toy can create in them deep feelings for a brand. Quite likely, they will continue to feel the pull of McDonald’s even if they never develop a passion for fast food. They will return to McDonalds again, and again, and again. It’s not called a “happy meal” for no reason.
When Ads Shape Identities
Think of pain relief drugs, drugs used to treat specific issues, or health supplements. More stronger visual imagery results in more identification with the product. Not only that, but you may actually start to feel more like the people in the ad or commercial.
If consumers are fond of the person advertising a specific product, they will associate easier with the product. There’s a higher chance they will buy it – that’s influencer marketing in action. Influencers don’t even have to be superstars. Many brands see high returns working with social media influencers, bloggers, or YouTube celebrities. Rather than paying a Hollywood actor a six-number figure, they prefer to approach a dozen social celebrities.
But social marketing is not wholly ethical itself. There are many YouTubers who use their kids to promote products. When a small child searches for Elsa Frozen, Spiderman, or Paw Patrol on YouTube, they often end up watching videos promoting toys or candy rather than watching cartoons.
Kids also like to relate to other kids so when they see other kids using, eating or playing with some products they will want it too. Brands know this. They use it to get to their parents’ pockets.
But in the end, every marketer has a choice. There are enough channels and enough tools for marketers in all niches to promote any product or brand ethically. There are also many ways to use psychology to boost your marketing efforts and influence consumer behavior without becoming unscrupulous.