Psychology Principles Every Marketer Should Know

For every stage of engagement

Leila Nazari
Sep 4 · 7 min read
People cross a crosswalk in a busy Times Square.
People cross a crosswalk in a busy Times Square.
Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

When you think about using psychology in marketing, likely one of the following ideas pops into your head:

  1. Sex sells — Trust me, I see it every day on Instagram.
  2. Deception — I saw how the opioid crisis went down.
  3. Repetition — I still can’t get that one song from The Chainsmokers out of my head.

As the examples above demonstrate, marketing is not innately good or bad; it’s how you use your influence that makes the difference.

To me, marketing isn’t about selling more at all costs, but about establishing trust and delivering value. With that mindset, using psychology best practices to win over customers doesn’t have to make you feel dirty. Let’s dive into five principles on human behavior to explore strategies to make your marketing efforts more impactful.

1. Cognitive Fluency

Which of the following statements are easier to understand?

a) A general approach to multi-modal document quality assessment.

b) What makes a piece of writing better than another one? Here are several factors to consider when judging the quality of the written word.

Most of us can agree that the second statement is easier to comprehend. That’s what cognitive fluency means, the extent to which something is simple to understand. Studies show that “manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process can alter the judgment of the truth of the statement along with the evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author.”

It might sound counter-intuitive, but sounding smart by using big words hurts your credibility. To increase the trustworthiness of your content or your pitch, avoid wordiness. Instead, focus on sounding human. You still want to appear you know what you’re talking about, but you don’t want to mask it behind jargon.

To make what you say easier to “mentally process,” lead “what’s in it for your reader,” instead of the nitty and gritty details of “how it works.” That part will come but is often better suited for a demonstration than just a laundry list of features and benefits.

In Chip Heath’s best-selling book, Made to Stick, he argues that sticky ideas are simple, stating the importance of “finding the core of any idea.”

Amazon’s leaked email template earlier this year further supports this point, where the headline template states, “enter a short headline summarizing why this email is important.” The rest of the template promotes short sentences. Rhythm phrases. And finally, a build-up to a conclusion that surprises and delights.

Marketing stage it’s most useful in: All.

2. Anchoring & the Exposure Effect

Like a ship’s anchor keeps a boat at bay, anchoring the mind follows a similar idea. It’s a form of human bias where we place more value on an initial piece of information. As a result, that piece of information weighs more heavily as we make subsequent decisions. In short, the deviation of the mind isn’t far from the starting point. A related psychology principle to anchoring is the mere-exposure effect, which states that we prefer things we are more frequently exposed to.

Together, these two principles are one reason why there’s a “first to market advantage.” In addition to being further ahead in technological development, first-movers benefit from name recognition. They also have the opportunity to lay down the groundwork of what people should pay attention to.

For example, look at Hubspot’s marketing automation platform. They were the first to fully embraced the philosophy of “inbound marketing” and created hype around it. No marketing platform has been able to push them out of their leadership position in that domain.

Anchoring and exposure effect are also why coming late in the sales process — say after a company has already evaluated another vendor — makes it much harder to win. Often, that’s not because the other solution is better, but because someone already has a positive bias towards the provider they have had more exposure to.

A few best practices to use anchoring and the exposure effect in your marketing efforts include:

  1. Leveraging advancements in data & analytics to identify and target the best-fit prospects who are showing early-stage buying signals.
  2. Run display and retargeting ads to your best-fit prospects, so you remain top of mind.
  3. Develop content on how your company views the future market-landscape, and how you fit into it.
  4. Don’t be afraid to take control of the conversation by sharing a competitive matrix that highlights your benefits over the competition or status quo.

Marketing stage it’s most useful in: Awareness.

3. The Anti-Inference Bias

The anti-inference bias states that “people are reluctant to impose liability on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone, even when this evidence is more reliable than direct evidence.” Said another way, people are more likely to believe what they see than what is suggested. Said another way, it’s more important to show than tell.

In a literal sense, that can be achieved through free trials of your software, free quality content, or interactive demos where people can see for themselves how things work. Another opportunity to make things real is to “demonstrate ROI.” Instead of suggesting that the average customer sees x return, why not create an interactive calculator model?

The less literal way to take this principle to the heart is to make sure you explain how you arrived at the “how.” For example, let’s say your tagline is, “The next revolution of banking has arrived.” To give weight to the words, explain precisely what direction you think banking is headed, and how your solution is the best fit. Connecting the dots for people will leave little room for them to infer something or find holes in your logic, casting doubt.

Marketing stage it’s most useful in: Engagement.

4. Social Proof

Social proof is a psychology concept initially coined by Robert Cialdini, the author of the best-selling book, Influence. Social proof essentially states that we conform to taking similar actions to others where we believe those individuals have more knowledge than we do.

If you’re walking down a street trying to find a café to eat at, you will likely select the one that has more people at it, assuming the people dining there know more than you do about the food quality.

The same goes for purchasing products. When two smartwatches have the same star rating, do you opt for the one with 5 reviews, or 250? It’s more convincing when others say how excellent your product/service is. Technology companies should leverage social validity markers whenever they can.

One opportunity is to highlight the expert’s vouching for your brand. This can come from credible news sources, talks, expert reviews, or analyst reports. An equally powerful form of social proof is your users. Highlight customer logos, net promoter score (NPS), or results from a customer survey to show prospects that their fellow peers have vouched for you.

Credibility can also come from highlighting community awards and sharing major business milestones, such as overall processing volume, revenue, or the number of customers.

Social proof won’t carry all the weight for you but it can nudge someone to reach out to entertain a conversation or provide peace of mind that they are making the right choice.

Marketing stage it’s most useful in: Decision.

5. Endowment Effect

The endowment effect is a bias we have towards something we’ve acquired. The principle states that we place more value on the owned object, sometimes more than its market worth. An example of this often cited in the research is how we give preferential treatment to stocks that we’ve already purchased.

The good news is, the endowment effect makes your solution “sticker” once you’ve won the business. It’s going to be a bit harder for a competitor to convince them to make a switch. That’s also partly why it’s much easier to upsell existing clients than gain new ones.

However, in today’s day and age of fierce competition and rapid innovation, it’s best not to get complacent. Your customers are the number one source of new business and your biggest advocates.

To continue to foster the positive bias in your company’s favor, make your customers feel special and bring them into the decision-making process by encouraging feedback.

One sure-fire way to win over their hearts and minds is to have an official customer advisory board where your customers are wined and dined and have an outlet to express what they would like to see on the product roadmap.

Marketing stage it’s most useful in: Customer advocacy.

I like to apply the adage, “Treat people how you want to be treated” to brands. If you do your job well, a brand can represent a lot more than a collection of products or services. It can stand for something, a vision for what is possible. That’s precisely why Apple and Nike have stood the test of time as some of the most “beloved consumer brands.”

To join the greats, here are a few final thoughts on making your brand more human:

  • Highlight your strengths while admitting shortcomings.
  • Show empathy by sharing that you understand your prospect’s challenges.
  • Play devil’s advocate by addressing objections upfront.
  • Make people feel significant by celebrating wins.
  • Surprise and delight people with thoughtful gifts that relate to your brand.
  • Use curiosity to spark interest by finding unique angles to share your vision.

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Leila Nazari

Written by

Marketing advisor to B2B startups. Exploring new & unconventional ideas on tech, marketing, and culture | www.leilanazari.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

Leila Nazari

Written by

Marketing advisor to B2B startups. Exploring new & unconventional ideas on tech, marketing, and culture | www.leilanazari.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

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