Digital Marketing Psychology Tips & Techniques


Have you ever taken a moment to ruminate on how you arrive at the decisions you make? Now we promise we’re not wearing foil hats as we write this – but people, particularly marketers, are using psychological tactics to influence your decisions on an everyday basis.

For this week’s episode of The Digital Marketing Podcast, our hosts Daniel and Ciaran talk through a few of these Marketing psychological tactics in detail. In this article, we’ve ventured a little bit further down the rabbit hole to discover some more examples of these techniques and how to use them.

Do you ever get the uneasy feeling that whatever you’re trying to buy is running out?

Emphasising scarcity is a time-honoured psychological marketing tactic, used by travelling salesman in bygone centuries, your favourite flight comparison website today, and countless marketers in-between.

Though some of us may not quite believe in it, that little message saying “Only 3 tickets left” encourages us to buy. Why? Because (a) we don’t want to miss out on something we need; and perhaps more importantly, (b) our brains attribute more value to something when it’s scarce. If the ground were made of gold, would we value it any differently?

In digital sales, an impression of scarcity can be created using a tactic known as yield management – which basically means releasing stock strategically, according to the level of demand.

Yield management is currently having a topical moment in the live music industry, with many gig promoters releasing tickets in batches at an increasing price. This hits the customer with the psychological impact of perceived scarcity repeatedly, until they buy a ticket. They may well be aware that tickets for the event aren’t particularly scarce overall – but they can see that the cheapest tickets are running out fast.

Scarcity-based marketing tactics tap into the consumers’ tacit understanding of the supply-and-demand economics that underlies our society. The morally dubious aspect here is that scarcity-based marketing takes our common supply-and-demand instincts, and uses them to manipulate the customer’s decision.

What we suggest is that you use scarcity tactics when they are truly applicable. So, when you have a hot product that’s flying off the shelves or an offer that’s about to expire, by all means sing it from the rooftops. Scarcity can come in waves if you orchestrate it right. We worked with one beauty retailer who were selling a very popular electric hair waving tong. One of the most successful emails they sent this summer was an email to say the tongs were back in stock. The message really resonated with their customers. Within 24 hours the tongs were out of stock again, but the like for like monthly sales value had increased 300%. A likely email they will send again when they get more product in stock? You bet.

Many of the techniques discussed in this article could cross a line if used without restraint – but so long as we’re careful, they can help us achieve big marketing wins, ethically. Hold on to your moral compasses, folks…!

Once you’ve started something, it’s hard to leave it unfinished.

This premise is widely used by brands to increase the chance of their leads completing complex conversions.

Let’s say you want to claim a free content item. You navigate to the download page and click a button marked “Start Download” – but instead of initiating the download, this bounces you down the page to a sign-up form. The idea is that because you’ve already stated your intent and initiated the process, you’re likelier to go through with providing your details.

You’re basically playing Ishmael to the advertiser’s Moby Dick – and no amount of sign-up form fields will prevent you from proverbially harpooning that download.

We saw this technique at play in our recent article on effective landing pages. LinkedIn encourage users to sign-up with a simple registration page that looks like this:

Only then does the user get funnelled to a page which quite literally gets them to upload much more information. Because they’ve already started the process, there’s an increased chance the user will go through with everything LinkedIn asks of them.
Confirmation bias

People just love to read things they agree with. It’s fatuous, really, but we actively consume content that tallies with our worldview.

This isn’t just a supposition – it’s a theory that’s supported by a great significant body of academic study. One recent study found that people will spend an average of 36% more time reading essays they agree with than essays they don’t.

Against the context of single customer views and big data, this represents an opportunity for marketers to establish common ground with their customers, and thereby to make their content more appealing.

For example, we can see that Group A of our email list are Guardian readers, and we might therefore hypothesise that most of them don’t like Donald Trump all that much. If we can make this surmise – and better still, if we can back it up with data – we have a strong starting point from which to build accord with our audience. Just bash Trump.

That may have been a bit of an over-simplification, but it illustrates our point. If you can find out something your audience overwhelmingly agrees with, you can confirm that opinion in your content to boost engagement and enhance perception of your brand at a stroke.

We hope it goes without saying that there should be a limit to your pragmatism in deciding which opinions to reinforce. Your brand may be communicating to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people, and the opinions it espouses will have an effect on what those people think and do. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all.

Social Proof
Monkey see, monkey do. We’re far likelier to do something when we can see people or organisations we know are doing it too. It gives us the social proof we require to seal our own decision to act.

Social proof is everywhere in digital marketing – in B2B client testimonials, in Facebook group sign-ups, in freelance portfolios, and so on.

One particularly interesting example of social proof in action is Twitter hashtags. They tell us something is worth tweeting about, purely on the basis that lots of other people are tweeting about it too. And so, we tweet!

On the flip side of this positive and participatory face of social proof is FOMO – the Feeling Of Missing Out. This instantly recognisable facet of the human psyche ties in with the scarcity approach we discussed previously.

Imagine you’re at a shop, choosing between two pairs of trainers. They look very similar, but one pair costs £55 reduced from an RRP of £80, while the other is going for full price at £60. Which pair do you buy?

Most of us would plump for the reduced pair, naturally. This isn’t because we know for a fact these are the better trainers; it’s because that RRP of £80 has anchored our idea of how much the first pair of trainers is worth at a higher level. Even though they are now the cheaper pair, our idea of their value is defined by the RRP.

Marketers can use this tactic to influence our buying decisions. Without anchoring, who would ever buy those drastically reduced debut issues of 100-part magazine series which are advertised so iconically on daytime TV? For most of us, this is what leaves us with the feeling we’ve bagged ourselves a bargain.

Decoy Effect
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. The seller offers you a choice of three products each priced differently – but really, she’s only trying to sell you one of the three.

This situation can be engineered in a few different ways. For example, if I offer you three versions of the same product – a small version for £5, a medium for £12, and a large for £14 but twice size –you are likely to buy the large version. Why? Because the £12 medium version anchors the price and makes you think “for just £2 more I could get the large”. The large version isn’t necessarily worth £14 – but pricing the medium version at £12 makes it seem like a great deal. That’s the decoy effect.

This tactic has been in-play since time immemorial. You can see it used today in lots of situations –particularly on software sellers’ websites.

We humans are prodigiously programmable. It’s been proven that if we read one thing, it will affect the way we respond to the next, and this presents both opportunities and potential banana skins for marketers.

Think of some well-known brand taglines. Now, consider how the vocabulary paired with the brand name in each one might prime people to respond in a certain way. Here are a few examples, in-case you’re drawing a blank:

  • Enjoy Coca-Cola/Always Coca-Cola
  • Staples – That Was Easy
  • Apple – Think Different
  • Kit-Kat – Hake a Break. Have a Kit-Kat
  • Heineken – refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach

We can see here that Coca-Cola are priming customers to enjoy their drinks, and always to choose them. Staples are evoking utility and convenience, Apple are appealing to individualism, Nestlé just might be telling you you’d like to break off a finger of Kit-Kat on your lunch break, and Heineken is setting itself up as more refreshing than other beers.

When you come to understand priming as a real and potent force, these taglines start to look a lot more strategic than they may have at face value.

As you might have gathered, there’s a darker side to priming – and who better to take us there than Derren Brown? Here he is using priming to convince Simon Pegg  what he wants for his birthday:

If you don’t fancy watching the clip, we can sum it up as follows: as Brown leads into asking Pegg what he’d like for his birthday, he goes into a spiel using lots of words and sounds associated with bicycles and BMXs – “…a really nice car like a BM; or an Xbox; something like that”, “…what to saddle for…” , “…rather than re-cycle the same too-tired bottle of wine…”, “they beam excitement”.

Pegg duly identifies his dream present as a BMX.

Though Derren Brown’s approach is a little on the Orwellian side for our taste, it does serve as an excellent reminder of how language can affect people’s decisions, perhaps even without them realising it.

We suggest you take away that thought and use it in your approach to writing about your brand. We’re not saying you should use language to manipulate your customers any which way – rather, you should use language associated with your brand’s strategic position to strengthen the customer’s idea of what your brand is. Use priming to express your selling points and inspire positivity.

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