36 Psychological tactics in marketing: How marketing psychology works?

August 27, 2020

Using psychological tactics in marketing

That companies are using psychological tactics in marketing to win over the audience and boost sales is nothing new. In fact, the use of marketing psychology became even more important in recent years. The globalisation and digitalisation have stiffened competition and the market is more saturated than ever. Hence, companies need to find an effective way to promote their products or services. In other words, having a few psychological marketing tricks up your sleeve makes the difference between thriving and surviving.

Although the term psychological tactics in marketing might sound scammy to some, it’s far from the truth. Marketers only found a way to turn the human brain configuration to their advantage. Leveraging the findings of psychological studies and researches is in no way unethical or immoral.

Curious about the power of marketing psychology ourselves, we embarked on a mission to discover the most effective psychological tactics in marketing. Thanks to more than thirty marketers who offered their insights, we were able to write this comprehensive article. 

Quickly jump to any tip:

 1. Loss aversion marketing

 2. Highlighted CTA as a marketing tool

 3. The power of FOMO

 4. Relative vs absolute terms

 5. On the same side of the table

 6. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

 7. Tangible offers with visuals

 8. Rhymes are memorable

 9. Everybody loves getting things for free

 10. Names open doors

 11. The Rule of 3 rules

 12. Price anchoring is king

 13. Creating a sense of urgency

 14. Negative superlatives are more effective

 15. Picture yourself 

 16. Playing with emotions

 17. Color marketing is for real

 18. What’s that smell?

 19. Clustering related functionalities or incentives

 20. Storytelling never gets old

 21. Illogical reasoning works like magic

 22. Discounted prices always work

 23. ELMR framework – what is it?

 24. Playful quizzes to spark up engagement

 25. The foot-in-the-door tactic is the perfect bait

 26. Offering unique value proposition

 27. Maintaining high standards to stand out

 28. The halo effect is a double-edged sword

 29. One-two punch to grab attention

 30. Social competition as a trigger

 31. Offline engagement to avoid the online noise

 32. Keeping up with the Joneses 

 33. The theory of three hawkers

 34. Eye movement and marketing 

 35. Playing with open cards

 36. Giving less choice brings more cash

Loss aversion marketing

If you’ve ever wondered, why on Earth, do companies offer free-trials then you have Nobel-winning psychologist and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues, to thank. Their research back in 1990 showed that groups of people are more likely to take action when they have something to LOSE rather than to GAIN.

This is called Loss Aversion and therefore once companies such as Netflix offer you their premium service, for free, you become hooked! And as the days draw near towards the end of the trial, you become anxious to leave the platform. And finally, the deadline drives you to finally take out your credit card and become an active member.

Of course, loss aversion is more effective when the product that consumers are using, on a trial basis, actually provides them value. But this much is certain, that a big part of Netflix’s growth can be attributed to the Loss Aversion strategy.

Chris Brenchley, Co-Founder and CEO of Surehand

Incorporate emotive language into the content, to imply that the potential customer already owns the service. Emphasize the losses that the potential customer would incur if they do not take your offer. Offer your potential customers a free trial of your service.

Muhammad Ali Sangi, Digital Marketing Strategist at PureVPN

As the CEO of The Bottom Line Group, I lead a select group of consultants in reviewing current contracts and service statements to help clients save money. In our sales pitches, we always emphasize how a potential client will never learn how to achieve tax liability reductions and increase near-term cash flows when they don’t hire us. It’s because of the principle of loss aversion that makes them realize that our services are indeed needed, especially in this period when a global recession is putting companies’ finances down to the drain.

Michael Hammelburger, CEO at Expense Reduction Group

This may seem counterintuitive because we are always taught to paint a positive picture to our customers. However, psychologists have found that people will generally go to great lengths to avoid pain rather than pursuing pleasure. By highlighting some of the possible negative effects of not getting our product, you actually evoke a greater emotional response in your customers and this will increase your chance of a conversion.

Albert Lee, Founder of Home Living Lab 

Highlighted Call-to-Action as a psychological marketing tool

The most effective yet simplest psychological marketing tip is working with CTAs.

A highlighted and bright CTA (Call-to-Action) button always work, so make sure to integrate highlighted CTAs on your website. Also, de-highlight other buttons like Add-to-Wishlist so that the main CTA stands out. Highlighting them, specifically with orange colour, increased my

click-through rate by almost double. People tend to be attracted to orange colour of CTAs more than any other.

Rameez Ghayas Usmani, Digital Marketing Executive at PureVPN 

Pure vpn landing page screenshot

The power of FOMO

I am a marketing consultant who works specifically with early-stage startups; supporting them in their positioning and go-to-market planning. The one physiological trick I’ve found best for driving early signs ups; is creating a sense of FOMO

The first step is to find your ‘lowest hanging fruit’; a subsect of your audience who will embrace being early adopters. Then by using highly targeted media and well-placed content; use ‘invite

only’ and ‘member-get-member’ tactics to draw them in. People love a sense of belonging and ownership; so inviting them to the party and asking for their input is a sure way to get a strong groundswell early on.

Laura Bell, Founder & Marketing Specialist at The Point Consultancy

Relative vs absolute terms

An important principle of psychology which is highly relevant to marketing is the concept of relative vs absolute terms. People tend to think of gains and losses in relative terms, that is as a percentage or other comparison to another figure.

For marketing, this all comes down to framing. People are more likely to view a deal as favorable if it is expressed in relative terms (25% off, 50% off and so on) rather than absolute terms ($25 off). So as part of your sales and marketing, it is best to express savings and other gains for the consumer as a percentage rather than the amount.

Furthermore, this also means that people will respond better to 50% off a smaller figure for example, rather than 30% off a larger figure, even if the dollar value is the same.

William Taylor, Senior Career Advisor at VelvetJobs

Marketing framing example

On the same side of the table

One of the psychological tactics in marketing I use is actually an in-person tactic: when meeting with a prospect, I’ll often sit on the same side of the table or perpendicular from them rather than across. This plays to the psychology “we’re on the same side” and allows people to put their guard down a little easier. From there, I gather more information on their real versus perceived needs.

Tanya Moush, Founder of Moushi & Co. moushi.co

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

We’ve bolstered our marketing efforts by employing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. In a nutshell, it explains why cognitive bias occurs when a product that a target market has just noticed online or heard through word-of-mouth marketing suddenly crops up constantly. 

A more consistent presence in different channels makes our brand more trusted. For instance, we’ve invested in multi-channel marketing to get the word out about our website and the bodyboard products that we carry. We then take advantage of social proof through customer reviews and features on our newsletters. Our customers’ testimonials are essential in our brand’s great storytelling approach to leverage confirmation bias.

Finn Cardiff, Founder of Beachgoer

Tangible offers with visuals

Try to make your landing pages more tangible for the target audience. Make sure they can relate to what you are offering. This requires you to customize the product video, content, color scheme, and overall presentation based entirely on your customer’s needs. When you are offering digital products, you need to execute tangibility as much as you can. Therefore, your customers can visualize what it feels like to actually use the product. This is an amazing technique to align your marketing goals.

Sameed Ajax, Content Strategist at PureVPN

Rhymes are memorable

The extraordinary power of rhyme is deeply rooted in our culture. Rhymes are well listened to and easily assimilated, and repetition of a statement makes people think it is more likely true. A good example of effective rhymes is the classic Jaguar Type-E advert, which shows a car drawing and the words Grace…Space…Pace. Rhymes add credibility and are easily absorbed and remember, but you should avoid clichés.

Agnieszka Cejrowska, Content Manager at Profesjonalne Pozycjonowanie

Jaguar Type-E advert

Everybody loves getting things for free

Using the word Free in Ad copy, offline or website has proven quite effective in marketing. Free could be a trial, service, add-on, consultancy, quotation, or items. It’s a human mindset and tendency to get attracted to the word ‘free

In my experience, I have used the word free quotation in many ad copies and landing pages and it performed better than the copies where the ‘free’ word was not written.

Harshil Bhatnagar, Founder of Staiir Social Media Marketing 

It isn’t uncommon for emotions to trump logic when it comes to consumer choices. We advised one of our business customers to leverage irrational consumer behaviour by offering free shipping on select products for an online retailer. The kicker is, they didn’t want to mess with profit margins, so they actually increased the cost of qualifying items to offset the promo. The total purchase expense was the same, yet they were able to increase sales for targeted products by 22% during the month the promo ran. The items not listed for free shipping showed no changes in consumer trends.

Kimberly Smith, Marketing Manager at Clarify Capital

Names open doors

I wouldn’t call it a psychological marketing trick, but sometimes I use mentions when writing cold letters/emails.

For example, my goal is to do interviews with well-known industry representatives. To get my proposal accepted by new people, I’m mentioning in the very first letter the name of another person who has already agreed to participate in the interview. As my practice shows, this approach is fruitful – my new interlocutor is more likely to be agreed to participate too.

Tatiana Gavrilina, Content Marketing Writer at DDI Development

The Rule of 3 rules

In marketing, I use the Rule of 3 all the time. Three is known as the most persuasive number in communication. It is easy to remember, and it’s the smallest number to recognize a pattern in a set. Here are a few examples of how I utilize the rule:

– Breaking down any process into three steps

– Presenting three value propositions on a web page

– Creating a three-point agenda for a webinar/presentation

Do you want to keep people’s attention and be remembered? The Rule of 3 is your best ally.

Karolina Gawron, Head of Marketing at Surfer 

Price anchoring is king

I am CEO at a product development company for SaaS startups. We help founders with pricing strategies. And psychological tactics in marketing are in wide use in pricing plans. One of the best is price anchoring.

The price of something is a relative concept of something. And just relativity is a manipulative factor to use price anchoring.

To use this approach, place the most expensive package in a prominent place. There is no guarantee that people will buy it. But the main thing is to give the impression that other options are more accessible.

Then, at the cross-selling or upselling stage, you can repeat this trick in order to move from a more expensive to a more “reasonable” price package.

For example, Mailchimp use such an approach.

Maksym Babych, CEO at SpdLoad

Price anchoring example

Creating a sense of urgency

During the present pandemic lockdown, commercial transport systems or logistics are operating in a highly irregular fashion. Our promotional campaigns are highlighting this irregularity of logistics. We’re repeatedly telling our audience to pick up things when they’re still in stock. Due to irregular shipments, the next availability of anything is uncertain that runs out of stock now. 

This statutory warning has created an extreme sense of urgency for our audience and customers. Eventually, they are rushing to get our online discount coupons to buy their requirements before stocks last.

Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and Digital Marketing Specialist at DontPayFull 

When consumers see that there is either a countdown timer within an email, or a number of units left/sold on a particular product page, it really helps to create a sense of urgency, psychologically, for the particular product/service that you’re promoting. These types of tactics are not only great psychological tactics in marketing but also a great way to quantify and qualify the demand for that specific product/service for your own knowledge as well.

Carley A. Hanna, Digital Marketing & SEO Lead at Supplement Warehouse

Negative superlatives are more effective

I’ve written a fair amount of blogs, and the best-written blogs don’t always attract many click-throughs. Because the headline isn’t compelling.

So I started researching why some blogs are a click magnet. I realized by implementing a few psychological tricks in the headline of my blog. I can attract more clicks. My favorite is using superlatives words like best, biggest, and greatest. It can be effective in headlines. But it turns out that negative superlatives (like worst) can be even more powerful. We noticed negative superlatives attract more clicks.

Abdulaziz Ali, Content Strategist and Content Writer at Digital Growth Boost

Picture yourself

Use words like imagine or picture yourself at the start of your copy, especially for e-mail marketing and Facebook ads. This works especially for clothing brands because it triggers the imagination of the viewer. For instance, if you sell t-shirts, you can write something like Imagine wearing this cool t-shirt for your next adventure people will imagine themselves wearing it, which increases the chances of impulse buying. 

Ronald D’souza, Digital Marketing Manager at FJackets

Playing with emotions

One effective way is to run emotional ideas. Studies have shown emotional and psychological appeals resonate more with consumers than feature and function appeals. You can also get the emotion of the people by your advertising copy. Demonstrate for them to see how it works or incorporate trendy ideas on copy for posting online. Use memes, trendy statements, and relevant persons to get the attention of the potential buyers.

Tal Shelef, Realtor and Co-Founder of Condo Wizard 

Man on the moon ad

© John Lewis | Man on the Moon, 2015

Color marketing is for real

The colour psychology in terms of convincing is one of marketing’s most fascinating and divisive facets.

Many people say it’s significant, and some really doubt its control over humans. Nevertheless, since color is an integral part of the way we perceive the planet, we agree that it is crucial, especially for optimizing conversion!

Colour plays a significant role in our subconscious decision-making and many individuals and companies appear to be universal in colour:

* Yellow is for Internet “window-shoppers”

* Red creates an emotion of urgency

* Blue promotes trust

* Orange works best for call-to-actions

* Pink is for the ladies

* Black is seen as expensive or for luxury

* Purple calms people down

* Red, orange, black, and light blue are for the impulse buyers

* Dark blue and teal are for the sensible shoppers

* Pink, rose, and very light blue are for “normal” buyers, the guys and gals in between impulse and budget

* Males like bright & ecstatic tints

* Women like soft & soothing shades

Dr. Vikram Tarugu, CEO at Detox of South Florida

Color marketing

While we typically advise against psychological marketing tricks (customers tend to see right through them and they don’t engender customer loyalty), we have found that the color theme of your site matters a great deal as a psychological tool. For instance, using blue and green in color themes tend to engender more trustworthiness than more loud colors like reds, yellows and oranges. Dwell time tends to be higher and based on polls, customers tend to trust brands who have a color scheme that reflects this same vein.

Nate Nead, CEO at SEO.co

What’s that smell?

In a controlled test, we pumped the smell of chocolate into a supermarket in the UK. We measured sales of chocolate in the weeks before and after the initiative. When the aroma was present, sales of chocolate increased by 29%. As part of the project, we also interviewed more than 100 shoppers as they left the store. Not a single person recalled smelling chocolate. As a result of this sensory-based marketing initiative, further aroma dispensing activities took place in Australia and India. Both with the same results.

Phillip Adcock, Managing Director at Adcock Solutions

Clustering related functionalities or incentives

You have learned of this psychological marketing tactic if you have ever researched or attempted to improve productivity in the field. Clustering is the process of arranging identical pieces of knowledge so that you can best recall it.

Once the hippocampus enters your long-term memory to recall something, it searches for the related cases. It’s meant to be that it’s a more convenient place to store anything. You wouldn’t place the wrenches together on different shelves so that you can locate the same model when you’re looking at them all.

One research experimented with textual clustering. The investigators provided a random collection of fifteen words to participants and challenged them to recall them. We then offered them a separate set of 15 words but divided them into related topics. In the second study, the results revealed a significant improvement in awareness.

The most successful approach to do this is to bring together related functionality or incentives on your landing pages and things relevant details in the same parts of your posts. Bulleted lists may be a simple route.

Lesley Reynolds, Co-Founder of Harley Street Skin Clinic

Storytelling never gets old

Knowing that everybody enjoys a good story, we like to mix our marketing materials up with interesting and entertaining anecdotes. Storytelling elements are weaved seamlessly into our blogs and web pages, encouraging prospective customers to imagine the benefits of using our services. It’s known that the great majority of customers have a preference for story-based

advertisements; with the blend of eye-catching visuals and creative wording having the greatest psychological impact. The sense of emotional connection means that branded stories live long in the memory.

Ryan Pitylak, CMO & Founder of ZenBusiness

Illogical reasoning works like magic

One simple psychological marketing trick is the use of illogical reasoning. This focuses not on what people say but on how they say it. People have been proven to follow suggestions so long as there is a reason for them, even if it doesn’t make sense. We have blind spots when someone uses “because” since it allows us to justify things even when they don’t make complete sense. That’s why it’s important to know which words are powerful when it comes to driving behaviour. One word in your marketing efforts can change how people react to your messages.

Nathan Robinson, Founder of Neighborhood Square

Discounted prices always work

Strike-through pricing was one of the tricks I most commonly used when I was leading marketing in the travel industry. On comparison shopping sites, our price would be consistent with other providers – but it would be shown with a strike-through. This indicated to users that, if they clicked on our listing, a better price could be had. Not only did this serve to get more clicks to our site, it also drove enrollments into our loyalty program as membership was required to get the reduced price.

Brent Bouldin, Co-Founder of New Media Advisors 

How you show the price makes a big difference in marketing. If you offer a sale, put the old price in a big, bold font, then cross it out. Put the new price in a smaller font. This makes the new price seem even smaller. 

Similarly, studies show that if you don’t put a comma in the price, prices seem smaller – so $2000 looks less than $2,000. This comes in handy for multi-currency or multilingual websites, as other cultures often use a full stop instead of a comma to separate thousands. No need for either, just remove it completely!

Martin Woods, SEO Director at Indigoextra

ELMR framework – what is it?

Effective marketing psychology strategies are often built upon some variation of the ELMR framework:

– Emotion: Messaging and imagery that connect with an audience

– Logic: Educating a prospect on the details of a product or service helps to make a customer more confident in their decision.

– Motivation: Reducing friction will make it easier to create a sense of need and motivate people to action.

– Reward: Creating a sense of approval and validation of one’s decision.

Using this sequence helps marketers understand and optimize each step of the buyer journey, ultimately leading to more effective marketing campaigns.

Rod Austin, Head of Marketing at 4Degrees.ai

Playful quizzes to spark up engagement

People love to take quizzes. Yet few companies and marketing teams are unable to devise a reliable and valid one. Why? They tend to talk at the (potential) customer rather than share a conversation.

As a psychologist, I develop a quiz for the individual to fail and realize they need the company’s product or service. A healthcare quiz in the practice’s brochure or on its website homepage keeps the reader engaged.

For example, an easy to understand analogy is the Dental Health Quiz:

  1. Do your teeth bleed when you brush?
  2. Are you embarrassed to smile?
  3. Are your teeth sensitive to hot and cold?

….etc.

Scoring: If you answered “Yes” to more than half of these questions, then you need to make an appointment with Dr. Jones.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa

The foot-in-the-door tactic is the perfect bait

One psychological marketing trick that I commonly use is what’s called the foot-in-the-door technique. This technique first involves asking for a small commitment up front with the aim of getting the consumer to agree to a larger commitment later. You can see this most commonly with free-trials. The word free is an emotional trigger for many consumers and can be difficult to pass up. It’s also a great way to get consumers to make that small micro-commitment upfront, which will likely lead to them purchasing the entire product later.

Tonya Davis, Marketing Manager at ThoughtLab

Offering unique value proposition

As a psychologist who started a branding/marketing consulting business, I use consumer psychology research to inform our client work. We know when a consumer is faced with multiple options that are all very similar and one option that is markedly different from the rest, human nature is to gravitate toward the one that is different; it is actually more beneficial to promote what makes you unique rather than touting your quality. 

So when we work with commoditized service providers (e.g. real estate agents, mortgage loan officers, insurance agents, etc.), we create a Unique Value Proposition for each client that is truly different from each of their competitors. This increases the likelihood of them being hired by their prospective clients.

Dr. Frank Bevacqua, Owner of Time To Thrive

Maintaining high standards to stand out

Telling prospects why they can’t buy from you is an incredible psychological tactic in marketing. Because they’re used to desperate marketing, when you set the standard high for who qualifies for your offer and who doesn’t, your sales often soar. 

For example, on your landing page, if you’re a consultant, mention that you don’t work with startups, businesses doing less than $10 million, and companies without solid product-market-fit. This begs the question and answer “Why are they so strict on their standards?” It must be because they’re really good and can be strict.

Brian Robben, CEO & Founder of Robben Media

The halo effect is a double-edged sword

There is a psychological phenomenon called the Halo Effect that describes a person’s cognitive bias to prefer a certain company simply because they enjoyed a product or service of theirs in the past. This bias can be used to a company’s advantage in marketing by following up after sales to make sure customers were satisfied and extending additional offers. Happy customers will be highly likely to buy again.

While this kind of brand affinity is great, it does come with the higher risk of negative consequences if a customer has a bad experience because their reaction will be more extreme than towards a company they haven’t built a relationship with.

Jesse Silkoff, Founder of MyRoofingPal 

One-two punch to grab attention

Attention spans have been dwindling over the years due to the internet, texting and 15-second TikTok videos, among other things. I call it a one-two punch. No one has time for (or wants) a third these days.

  1. Get their attention with VISUALS
  2. Tell them what you want them to do (CTA)

Then you can elaborate but keep in mind that the further down in your message, the more people you are losing.

Sara Miranda, Founder & CMO at The Good Camp

Social competition as a trigger

At the end of each blog post, I have a call to action that says Don’t Let the Other Guys Out Dress You. This simple CTA works because it leverages two powerful psychological principles: social competition and FOMO. By implying that other guys are already dressing well, my readers feel like they’re behind their peers, and they needed to sign up for my email and read my advice in order to keep up.

Dave Bowden, Founder of Irreverent Gent

Offline engagement to avoid the online noise

A neuroscience study found physical advertisements appear more real to the brain than digital content, resulting in deeper emotional processing and higher brand recall.

This is why leveraging direct mail or gifts within workflows can be a game-changing tactic. Engaging in the offline with tactile advertisements creates this pattern interrupt and has been able to book us more meetings.

Prospects, leads, and customers are tired of seeing the same templated, automated email…they receive hundreds of others (on a daily basis) that look exactly the same.

Offline engagement creates authentic connections that our brains naturally perceived as more meaningful.

Richie Pusateri, Marketing Associate at Postal

Keeping up with the Joneses

Of all the motivations that drive human beings, none is as common as wanting what someone else has. There is actually something called the Jones Effect, coined from a 1913 comic strip – “keeping up with the Joneses.” In the strip, the McGinnis family strove to keep up with what their next-door neighbors the Joneses had. In marketing, this impulse can be used to sell almost anything. If the target audiences’ ostensible neighbors the Joneses have a new car, we need a newer, better one. If they just put in a new backyard deck, we need a bigger, better one.

Michael Nemeroff, Founder and Former CEO of RushOrderTees 

The theory of three hawkers

Our best tried, and successful tip for marketing based on psychology will be, ‘Theory of 3 Hawkers!’ It is based on local folklore that there are three types of hawkers:

  1. Who exaggerates on their product to lure customers
  2. Who markets how their products are to maintain clarity 
  3. Who understates their product to appear humble and noble

Providing an innovative digital and automated management consultancy service to small and medium enterprises, we follow the (2) one. In B2B, clients are wise enough to assume the real value of services they are demanding, so we find it effective to market with clarity, honesty, and transparency.

Jash Wadhwa, Content Writer at Value Growth Audit

What eye movement and marketing have in common?

Location, Location, Location! Focus on the upper right area of your ad space. Research studies have traced human eye movement and found that upon first glance, our eyes are drawn to the upper right corner of screens or advertisements. For example, whenever I create social media content, I try to place the key takeaway in the upper right corner of a post. It’s a simple, useful way to tell your audience what you want to tell them.

Dakota Kalbacher, Owner of Kota Marketing

Playing with open cards

In college, running a booth at the local farmers market got me interested in finance and payment processing. The produce was cheap so margins were slim but volume made up for it. The problem was credit card fees eating all the profit. One day I made a sign that said, “Keep Your Money Local! Pay With Cash So I Can Spend It Here Instead Of Paying Credit Card Fees. Thank You!”. It worked! People appreciated the honesty and local angle. Credit card processing solutions are better now but appealing to what matters to customers is still a winning strategy.

Chris Waltenbaugh, Payment Processing Expert at Payment Depot  

Honesty in ad example

Giving less choice brings more cash

You might think giving consumers lots of choices is a way to increase your chance of getting them to buy your product or service but in fact, less is more. There is a psychological phenomenon of over choice which occurs when many equivalent choices are available making a decision overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice. Choosing between too many options can cause decision fatigue where more choices make us less likely to buy, and to be less satisfied with our eventual decision.

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO Mavens & Moguls

Conclusion

There’s a whole science behind marketing psychology; it’s not about playing cheap mind tricks. The consumer’s brain has evolved to recognise when marketers try to trick them, so be careful. Don’t exaggerate with the use of  psychological tactics in marketing or they can easily backfire. Play it smart!

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