What do your customers have in common with lab rats?
Your customers are definitely smarter, but you can still make them react to the same psychological stimuli as rats. Pull the lever and see the effect.
While we all have different personalities, our minds work in surprisingly similar ways. Everyone has some predictability to them.
Understanding how the brain responds to different content can make your digital marketing more effective.
What is neuromarketing?
Neuromarketing is a fancy word you get by blending neuroscience and marketing. Neuroscience is the branch of psychology that studies how the brain works.
The idea is that decades of research on the workings of the human brain can help marketers do their job better. If you can get inside your customers’ heads, you can tweak your message to sell more.
There are plenty of books and research done on neuromarketing. My favorite is “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini.
Neuromarketing is a powerful way to grow your digital sales. Here are the 10 neuromarketing hacks I recommend.
1) Appeal to your audience’s emotions
We try so hard to be rational. Logical is the new black. But as hard as we try to avoid it, we still make emotional decisions.
That’s just who we are.
If you can touch the emotional side of your audience, your message will have a bigger impact.
Most industries are saturated, and chances are your audience is considering other products too. The best way to drive sales is through feelings, not logic.
I love this quote from “Oversubscribed” by Daniel Priestley:
People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.
The brands we love are the ones that get an emotional response from us. I will never stop recommending Braun shavers because they make me look forward to waking up every morning.
How do you appeal to your audience’s emotions?
Start by understanding which emotions have the biggest impact:
According to research from OkDork and Buzzsumo, your content will have the most impact if you try to elicit these emotions in your audience:
Trigger these four emotions in your marketing copy, and your customers will be more likely to do what you ask. Use images and stories to make a stronger emotional impact.
2) Use faces in your content to elicit emotion
Imagine yourself in a foreign country, where nobody speaks your language. What they are saying doesn’t make sense to you. Your only way of communicating would be with facial expressions and body language.
Facial expressions are the universal language. You can understand them no matter where you go.
Before babies can speak, they rely on their parents’ faces to make sense of the world.
Your brain easily picks up emotions from people’s faces, which makes them so effective in marketing.
Top marketers like Neil Patel and Tim Ferriss always use images of people’s faces in their content.
Notice how Tim Ferriss’s photo makes you feel that he knows what he’s talking about. It’s probably a smart idea to go ahead and sign up for the course.
Think about how you can use faces in your content to make people feel certain emotions.
3) Use colours to elicit emotion
Using the right colours is another way to make your audience feel the way you want them to.
In our heads, each colour has certain associations. Use them in your content to strengthen your message.
Here are some examples of the meanings of color in the western world:
Identify the way you would like to make your audience feel, then use the relevant colours in your content.
4) Relieve pain instead of giving pleasure
Human behaviour is driven by the need to avoid pain and the desire to gain pleasure. Even when we do something that seems painful, such as working out, we do it because we associate fitness with pleasure.
Marketers are taught to talk about the benefits of a product. We promise that our service will improve the customer’s life, and hope they feel the same.
Science says that it’s not always the best way to go.
Describing the benefits triggers the pleasure-seeking part of the brain. However, the brain’s pain avoidance response is three times stronger.
You will often get better results by explaining how your product can eliminate pain from your customer’s life.
To use this neuromarketing hack, you first need to understand what your audience associates with pleasure and pain. What is more likely to influence them?
Would your time-management software free up their time (pleasure)? Or would it make sure they never miss a deadline again (pain relief)?
5) Capitalize on the law of reciprocity
Think of the last time someone has done something nice for you, without asking for anything in return.
How did that make you feel?
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you probably felt gratitude and a hint of indebtedness. You most likely wanted to return the favour in some way.
That’s how reciprocity works.
When you offer something first, people will feel a sense of indebtedness. This will make them more likely to comply with your later requests.
A study back in 2002 explored how people tipped in restaurants under three different scenarios:
- They received a small piece of candy with their check
- They received several candies
- They received no candy at all
The researchers found that “the gift of candy increased the average tip from 15 percent to just under 18 percent.” The increase in tipping was the same regardless of the quantity of candy.
15% is not a massive increase, but it proves that people feel indebted when you do something nice for them without asking for anything back.
There are three factors that will make this principle more effective:
- Offer something first – allow them to feel indebted to you
- Offer something exclusive – allow them to feel special
- Personalize the offer – make sure they know you made it just for them
Give your audience something as small as a free e-book or a free online course. If it’s genuinely helpful, they will feel a real sense of indebtedness towards you. This will make them more receptive to your subsequent requests.
Here are more ways you can make people feel indebted:
- Insightful blog articles
- Free ebooks, webinars, podcasts, infographics
- Guest blogs for your clients’ websites
- Free tools or resources
- Free trials
Netflix offers a no-commitment free trial. Few people cancel the service after enjoying the movies for 30 days.
Another example I like is the campaign by the shoe brand Converse. In 2011 Converse Inc. opened a free music recording studio for emerging musicians.
They knew that many artists struggle to make a living, and did them a favour by letting them create music in a professional studio. Guess which shoe brand these artists will be wearing in the future?
(Want to learn more? Check out this Commerce Sciences post about Exploiting the power of reciprocity.)
6) Use scarcity as leverage
We are always drawn to things that are exclusive and hard to come by.
The harder something is to get, the more we want it. This is one of the staples of neuromarketing.
People link availability to quality. We assume that things that are difficult to get are usually better than those available to everyone.
The new iPhone must be great if everyone’s lining up to get it at launch day, right?
A classic psychological study from 1975 by Worchel, Lee and Adewole examined the effect of scarcity on people.
It was a simple study involving cookies.
The researchers put 10 cookies in one jar and two of the same cookies in another jar. The cookies from the two-cookie jar received higher ratings—even though the cookies were exactly the same!
How can you apply the scarcity principle in marketing?
The cookie experiment shows that we value more the things that are less available to us.
Hotel booking websites like Booking.com use this tactic brilliantly. They show how many rooms there are left in a particular hotel so that customers hurry and make the booking.
They even took it a step further by showing how many people are viewing the same hotel at the same time.
Make your product available only during a short time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Amazon does it well with their daily deals.
This one is my favourite.
You are oversubscribed when there are more buyers than your capacity to sell. Your audience must act quick, or offer the highest price.
Indicate that you have limited capacity and more potential clients than you can serve. Back it up with numbers.
This principle works well with pre-orders or bidding auctions. You can add an extra touch of urgency by making the number of interested customers publicly available. For example, 200 attendees in a Facebook event that only has 100 seats.
The Glastonbury music festival does this well by opening the pre-registration a year in advance. They then announce the date the tickets go on sale and mention that there are only 135,000 tickets for millions of potential attendees.
When the ticket sales open, all 135,000 tickets sell out in just 25 minutes for an incredible €250 per ticket. Scarcity does wonders, even though the artist lineup is not available in advance.
Read Daniel Priestley’s book Oversubscribed to learn more about making your business oversubscribed.
7) Use Social Proof
Have you ever gone to a restaurant because it had great reviews and a long reservation list? Of course. If everyone loves the place, it must be great.
We trust things that are popular or recommended by people we trust.
When your customers are uncertain about whether to buy from you, they look for someone to help them make a decision. They especially want to hear from people similar to themselves.
Testimonials from happy customers show your audience that people who are similar to them are happy about your product. They are then more likely to become customers too.
Twitter used social proof brilliantly in its early days. Every now and a page with a whale would load, saying that Twitter is over capacity and you should try again. Instead of being outraged, people thought that Twitter must be the next big thing because so many others are using it too.
TechCrunch identified 5 types of social proof you can use:
Expert social proof
Since childhood, we are taught to trust experts such as doctors and teachers. Their opinion carries a lot of weight.
Klout measures your topical expertise online. They invited 217 experts with high scores in design and luxury to test-drive the new Audi A8. These experts produced 3500 tweets, reaching over 3 million people in just a few weeks.
Product reviews on sites like CNET are written both by its users, and a team of in-house experts. You get the best of both worlds when trying to choose the next gadget.
Celebrity social proof
Supercell paid $9 million to have Liam Neeson star in the Clash of Clans commercial. It has been watched over 200 million times and brought tens of millions in revenue.
Starbucks doesn’t need endorsements, but celebs are seen with their coffee all the time.
If stars go to Starbucks, it must be cool.
Influencer social proof
Why is influencer marketing the fastest growing customer acquisition method?
Because people are tired of paid ads.
When a top photography blogger recommends a new Canon camera, you are much more likely to trust them over a full-page magazine ad Canon paid a small fortune for.
User social proof
Over 145 million people use Yelp to read user reviews every month. A study done by Harvard Business School shows that a 1-star increase in Yelp rating leads to 5-9% growth in sales for a business.
Negative reviews also have an effect. The first negative user review on eBay slows down the seller’s weekly growth rate from 5% to -8%.
Don’t be scared of negative reviews. Brands that only have perfect 5-star reviews might not look authentic. A Forbes article mentions that a few polite, but negative reviews make the brand seem more honest than one without any complaints.
A study done by BrightLocal found that 84% of customers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Crowd social proof
Crowd social proof was first used in marketing when a sign saying “Over 1 Million Served” was hanged at the first McDonald’s. A million people can’t possibly be wrong?
We trust the best seller lists and top search results, because they were pre-selected by many people before us.
The first organic Google search result gets 33% of all traffic. The second? 17%. People trust that the most popular option will better fit their needs.
Telling people how many happy customers you have is a simple way to make them trust you more.
Peer social proof
We take our friends’ recommendations more seriously than any other type of advertising.
An experiment by Dr. Cialdini found that people were much more likely to participate in a door-to-door donation campaign if the donor list included their friends and neighbors.
Tell people that their friends or colleagues have tried or liked your product.
Encourage user referrals by offering an incentive for recommending your service to others.
8) Make people commit to small things first
We are forced to make hundreds of decisions every day. Because it drains our mental resources, we prefer to make a single decision and then stick to it for all subsequent related choices.
We use mental shortcuts or rules that simplify decision-making. These rules focus on one aspect of a problem and ignore others. Often this means sticking to a past commitment.
In addition to being a mental shortcut, we also tend to view consistency as an attractive social trait. Consistent people are perceived as more rational and trustworthy. We want to be seen that way by others, forcing us to stay consistent.
There are several ways to trigger these mental shortcuts through neuromarketing:
Make small requests first
Dr. Cialdini mentions that people judge others, and themselves, by their actions:
His behavior tells him about himself; it is a primary source of information about his beliefs and values and attitudes.
The Foot-in-the-door technique is an old and tested way of getting from a small “yes” to a bigger “yes”.
Make your customers commit to something small first. They will then be more likely to comply with the bigger requests you make simply to stay consistent.
SingleGrain marketing agency does it by offering you a free SEO guide. You feel like a smart marketer by filling out the form and downloading the guide.
In the future, when SingleGrain sends you emails to sell their services because “it’s the smart thing to do”, you will feel the need to stay consistent and sign up.
Make them commit publicly
We break private commitments all the time.
But when your whole office heard you say it, you will feel enormous social pressure to stick to your words.
This effect is called normative social influence. It makes us follow through with public commitments because we want to be liked and accepted.
Get customers to show public support for your brand. In addition to boosting your brand image, it will make them much more likely to keep buying from you in the future.
Starbucks ran a campaign called the “Red Cup Contest,” where they asked customers to draw designs on their red Starbucks holiday cups and submit photos of them on Instagram with the hashtag #RedCupArt.
Over 170,000 people showed support for Starbucks, and you can bet they will keep coming back.
9) Be likeable
For decades marketers abused the “sex sells” concept. Why? Because people buy from people they like.
This applies to everyone from our friends to attractive strangers. It’s one of the reasons why friend recommendations and celebrity endorsements work. It’s also why attractive salespeople usually sell more.
Dr. Cialdini identifies 5 key factors behind the liking principle:
We like people who are similar to us.
Savvy car salesmen often try to make themselves sound more similar to their shoppers. If they notice a Manchester United screensaver on your phone, you can count on it that they’re a lifelong fan too.
The world is more social than ever. Brands no longer want to be cold and distant. They want to be our friends.
Make your customers feel that you understand their problems. Start being more relatable, and they will see you as a someone similar to them.
Expansys does it well be relating to tech geeks who care about having the latest gadget. The website copy and design elements are all about “being the first”. This makes the customers feel that the store owners are just like them.
There’s more you can do besides hiring attractive salespeople.
Well-designed, functional e-commerce stores like hard graft draw customers in. You enjoy clicking the buttons and exploring the products.
We love to be praised. People paying us compliments become more likeable.
Brands like Daniel Wellington use this by encouraging their customers to post a photo of their watch with a #danielwellington hashtag. Every day DW shares the best photo on their instagram channel to 2.7mil followers.
This chance at instant fame is a great sales tool, helping DW reach over $250 million in revenue each year.
We like people who are working towards the same goals. We respect them for having the same ideals.
Show your customers that your end goals meet theirs. Support what they believe in and help them along the way.
We all try to protect the environment by reducing pollution and energy consumption. Tesla gets lots of love for doing the same with electric cars.
Associate and condition
Everybody has a hero. The person who represents our ideal. They stand for something bigger than themselves.
Your brand should be that hero. Associate your company with a big idea that people can get behind. A strong value that people can relate to.
Apple became known as a brand for geeks and rebels. The noncomformists who wouldn’t settle for the boring and uninventive.
My dream car is an Aston Martin. Besides striking looks, it was immortalized by James Bond movies. He made it into a synonym for “masculine” and “sexy”.
10) Build authority
We trust people who look like experts. This is especially true in areas we don’t know much about.
Research shows, that content automatically becomes more trustworthy if it includes words like “research shows”.
Dr. Cialdini identifies three factors that can make you seem more authoritative:
When you don’t have experience in a field, you listen to someone who does.
We are taught to listen to teachers and doctors, instantly linking their title to experience.
In business, this principle also applies to job titles and social media followers. You are likely to instantly regard me as a marketing expert because my title says “Marketing Consultant”, and I have thousands of Twitter followers.
Apple used this principle when naming their customer support agents Geniuses. While they might not be actual geniuses in a traditional sense, the title makes you more likely to trust them with your expensive new Macbook.
In 1980, a Las-Vegas casino was completely destroyed when a sore loser planted a 450kg bomb inside. He dressed up as a maintenance man and the casino guards never questioned him moving a huge object inside the building.
Research shows that people form the first impression about others in a fraction of a second. Online studies also found that website visitors also take a very short time to make up their mind about a website.
How can you “dress up” your brand to evoke instant trust? By making it look professional and relevant to the industry you represent.
Rolex is the embodiment of this rule. Their pages look polished and upscale, just like their target customer demographic.
In addition to using human faces to elicit emotion, an “About” page makes you seem more trustworthy in the eyes of customers.
Talk about your CEO or the amazing team behind the brand. Give links to the social media channels of your employees to build instant rapport with your clients.
Neil Patel has mastered this skill by dressing up his websites with his own personal branding. Neil’s accomplishments and openness, in turn, give his websites more credibility.
A Ferrari parked outside a house indirectly tells you that whoever lives there is successful at what they do.
Follower counts, likes, shares, testimonials and case studies are just some of the ways your customers can evaluate you on.
Give people indicators of how well your company is doing. Leave hints that your product is liked and trusted by others. But beware of the backlash if your product actually fails to deliver.
Neuromarketing helps you better understand how your customers think.
The principles above can be very powerful in boosting your digital marketing, but it’s just a tip of the iceberg. There is plenty of research being done to better understand the human mind.
By following the latest neuromarketing practices, you can build a stronger relationship with your customers and grow your sales.
What other psychological tricks can you think of to help your marketing?