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7 Psychological Marketing Tricks To Boost Sales

Written by Daniel
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One of the hardest parts of being a marketer is guessing how people will behave. How are you supposed to accurately predict the behaviours of two completely different people? One popular technique is to categorise people into ‘buyer personas’ – a method that we’ve highlighted in previous blogs. But even then, this involves categorising people into groups based on various assumptions and generalisations. For obvious reasons, this method isn’t always 100% reliable.

Luckily for us marketers, human brains all work in a similar way. Whilst it’s unlikely to find two people that will be identical in terms of interests and behaviours, the vast majority of people will succumb to the influence of basic psychological tips and tricks. Marketers that take note of this and incorporate psychology into their strategy will be sure to see better results.

Ever told yourself not to buy something but ended up buying it anyway? That’s probably happened as a result of one of these psychological marketing tricks.


The Decoy Effect

Most people see this psychological trick in action on a daily basis. From McDonalds to your local supermarket, pretty much all brands use this pricing strategy, even if they don’t realise they’re using it. By definition, The Decoy Effect is the practice whereby a brand presents consumers with a third, less desirable option – the decoy – to make them believe that they’re getting more value for their money.

A real-life example of this could be when you visit the cinema. Say you want to buy some popcorn; the ‘Small’ option costs £3, ‘Standard’ costs £4.50, but ‘Large’ costs just £5. The majority of people would go for ‘Large’ – at just 50p more than ‘Medium’, who wouldn’t?! But this is simply The Decoy Effect in action. If you were presented with ‘Small’ for £3 and ‘Standard’ for £4.50, then there’s going to be a much more even split.

Take a look at The Economist’s pricing structure for a real-life example of The Decoy Effect done well.


Loss Aversion

Loss Aversion is the theory that people would much rather avoid a loss than gain something. In fact, research suggests that the pain of a loss is almost twice as strong as the reward felt from a gain. Picture it this way; would you be happier to win £100 or avoid losing £100 that you already own?

Brands can put this psychological trick into practice in various creative ways. One of the most straightforward ways to use Loss Aversion is the way that you frame your offers and promotions. Rather than giving your customers a gift voucher that is worth £20, you can give your customers a gift voucher that allows them to save £20 on their next purchase.

Take a look at this study for a real-life example of Loss Aversion in action.


The Illusion Of Scarcity

For some reason, us humans find something far more desirable if it’s only available in limited quantities. Ever wondered why ecommerce sites often put time-incentivised calls-to-action on their website, such as “Only 2 left in stock. Buy now to avoid missing out”? Because they know just how much people hate missing out on something that could have been theirs.

A good example of this in action is when the tickets for Harry Potter And The Cursed Child went online for the second time. I actually fell victim to this myself! (Although sadly I didn’t get my hands on a ticket.) There had been a lot of talk in the media during the run up to the ticket release about how the previous set of tickets had sold out in a matter of hours. As a result of this, I found myself in an hour-long queue along with 80,000+ other Harry Potter fans. By the time the tickets had sold out I still had another 50,000 people ahead of me. It doesn’t get much better than that from a business point of view…

Take a look at Worchel, Lee & Adewole’s cookie experiment from 1975 for another great example of The Illusion Of Scarcity in practice.


The Framing Effect

The Framing Effect is the theory that the words you use and the way you ‘frame’ something has a direct impact on a consumers’ purchasing decisions. Framing your content in a way that makes it seem more positive is sure to influence your consumers in a way that benefits your brand. Ever started off the day with a negative event, and then continued to have an equally dreadful day? That’s because you were seeing things through a more negative ‘frame’.

In a business sense, you can use The Framing Effect to make your products or service seem more desirable. For example, imagine you launch a new product that has been through several stages of testing and customer reviews. Framing it as “7 in 10 people said they loved our product” rather than “3 in 10 people said they wouldn’t use our product again” is guaranteed to have a more positive impact on sales.

Take a look at Tversky & Kahneman’s experiment from back in 1981 for a good example of The Framing Effect.


Social Influence

The theory of Social Influence occurs when a person’s emotions, opinions or behaviours are affected by others. It’s pretty much the same thing as peer pressure but just done on a wider scale.

The video game ‘Fortnite’ is a prime example of effective social influence. This wildly popular online survival game has grown to over 125 million players worldwide in less than a year. The first time I saw an article about this game, I didn’t really take notice. But as I began to see more content in the media about it and noticed that quite a lot of my friends and peers were playing it, I finally caved in. The creators of Fortnite, Epic Games, knew full-well what they were doing; circulating numerous press releases and blog posts that highlighted the addictiveness of the game and how millions of people were playing it. Eventually, as their strategy started to pick up pace, these articles began to pop up organically without the Epic Games PR team even having to do anything.

Take a look at Solomon Asch’s conformity study from 1951 for a perfect example of Social Influence.


The Mere Exposure Theory

The Mere Exposure Theory is a psychological occurrence whereby people develop a preference for something simply because they’re familiar with it. In a marketing sense, people often refer to this as ‘marketing to the subconscious mind’. This theory strongly supports the effectiveness of re-targeting campaigns on social advertising platforms and other paid media channels.

Paid advertising, whether online or offline, is actually one of the best examples of The Mere Exposure Theory in action. Brands investing in advertising campaigns across a wide variety of different marketing channels are more likely to see success than brands using single-channel advertising campaigns. This is simply because, if they push out relevant advertising campaigns across radio, TV, direct mail, social media, billboards, and so on, rather than solely on TV, their audience is going to be exposed to their brand far more frequently, therefore developing a subconscious preference for them.

These other psychological experiments demonstrate just how effective The Mere Exposure Theory can be.


Tugging At Emotions

Last but not least, one of the most effective psychological marketing tricks is to tug at your audience’s emotions. The power of storytelling can play a huge role in this; having some sort of story helps your audience develop an emotional attachment to your brand, even if the story isn’t directly related to your brand. This advertisement from Volvo is a perfect example of great storytelling; it’s had so much success simply because it used the power of emotion to its advantage.

In an advertising sense, you can encourage an emotional response from your audience in a variety of ways. As we mentioned above, storytelling can be one of the most effective ways to do this. But other tricks include simply using emotional language in your content, including imagery that makes people feel like they have a personal connection to your brand, or framing something in a way that encourages an emotional response. One of the most common ways that brands do this is by highlighting the benefits of their product rather than the features. For example, instead of saying “this food product contains vitamin C and low sugar”, you could say “this food product will transform your life forever, encouraging a healthy lifestyle and giving your body the fuel it needs for a positive day at work.

Check out these three real-life examples of emotional marketing at its finest.


Psychology really does play a huge role in marketing. It’s highly likely that you’ll notice one of these psychological tricks being used in a marketing campaign at some point in the next few days.

Whilst these tricks are extremely effective, we’ve only scratched the surface of psychological marketing. Researching different psychological theories and considering out-the-box ways that you can apply them to your marketing campaigns is something that all marketers will benefit from. You may just come up with the next killer campaign for your brand…

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