Psychological principles for marketing

20 Psychological principles for marketers to know.

During my time at Kent State University, I was wildly interested in psychology. Although I was studying business, I spent many hours reading material on psychological studies and experiments at the library of KSU.

Psychology is the study of human behavior. Although I had an equal interest in both marketing and psychology, it took me many years later to really appreciate how interwoven the two fields are especially within the digital landscape.

Marketing aims to influence human behavior to achieve certain business goals. As people continue to spend more and more time interacting with digital ecosystems, we at Adept Creative strive to further integrate both psychology and marketing to improve our ability to influence user behavior with UI, messaging, retargeting, etc.

Here are a few of the most important psychological experiments about human behavior and the psychology of marketing.

Kahneman’s framing experiment

Cognitive psychology has provided major insight into the brain’s ability to use basic troops (or cognitive biases) to process information and make quick decisions. Through a series of experiments in the 1970s and 1980s, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, his research partner, were credited with discovering many of these subconscious cognitive biases.

The framing effect is one of the cognitive biases they found. Framing effects are a way for people to respond differently to the same problem based on how they are presented.

One key experiment involved dividing participants into two groups and asking them to choose from two treatment options for 600 people with the deadly disease.

Participants in group 1 were told that if they treated the comma, “200 people” would be saved. With treatment b, there was a “1/3 chance of saving all 600 lives and a 2/3 chance of saving none.”

Which treatment would you choose if presented with the choice? The majority of participants chose the first treatment in this study.

Participants in group 2 were informed that 400 people would die if they received treatment a. Treatment b had a “33% chance that no one will be killed and a 2/3 chance that 600 people would die.”

Group two received the same scenario but had their results reversed. The majority of participants in group 2 chose treatment B.


Everything is connected

Important importance of a/b testing

Kahneman, Knetsch, Thaler’s loss-aversion experiment.

A similar cognitive bias to the framing effect is loss aversion. According to loss aversion, people feel the negative consequences of losing more strongly than they feel the positive effects from a similar game.

We tend to dwell on negative experiences and overestimate the impact of losses, as they have less impact than we anticipated. Loss aversion is therefore more a property of a forecast than an experience.

You would likely be happy if you had one million dollars tomorrow. If you were to lose $5,000 tomorrow, however, your happiness level would be much lower.

Even for low-value goods, loss aversion is a factor. In the 1990s study, Daniel Kahneman and colleagues randomly assigned participants to either a seller’s or buyer’s group. The buyers received nothing and the sellers received a mug.

The researchers discovered that the sellers needed significantly more money to trade the mugs (around $7 closed) and then the buyers were willing to pay for them (which was about $3 closed).


Loss in offers is the goal.

Talk about the potential loss that your customer would experience if they didn’t buy, instead of what they would gain by purchasing. Psychologically, we often give twice the psychological gain as we lose.


Do you want to save $200 per month?

Don’t Lose $200 Every Month on Why Period Buy X.

Negative or loss headings

These same principles apply to headlines for landing pages and blog posts. Split testing is a good idea to determine which headlines are most effective for your audience.


Trials are free

Free trials are so successful because of loss aversion. After a 30-day trial, you feel like you are losing by giving up premium features and the entire service.


Lazy registration

Your customers should be allowed to enter their data before they sign up. This will allow them to use the app and save time. They must also register an account.


Reagan’s experiment in reciprocity

Reciprocity is the notion that if you give me something, you are obligated to give it back. It’s an essential part of human nature. Richard Leakey, a paleontologist, noted this as it is the core of what it means for a person to be human. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist, identified reciprocity among his six key principles for influence.

With his 1971 experiment, the “open art appreciation experiment”, Cornell University professor Dennis Reagan demonstrated how powerful the reciprocity principle was. This experiment involved subjects rating paintings together with a research assistant who was acting as a student.

They would then go from painting to rating the subjects, and halfway through the assistant would leave the room. He would return to the room a short time later. He would bring a soft drink to half the subjects and leave empty-handed for the other half.

The assistant would then ask the subjects if they would like to purchase a raffle ticket for them at the end. As you can probably guess, subjects who received soda were more likely to buy raffle tickets than those who didn’t.

A team of researchers discovered that waiters could increase their tips by introducing a little bit of reciprocity. Tips rose 3% when diners received an after-dinner mint. If the server stopped while delivering the mint to customers, tips went up 20%.

Another fun example is when a BYU sociolog Philip Kunz sent Christmas cards to 600 random strangers. In response, he received 200 Christmas cards.

Marketing Application

Friedman and Frazier’s compliance test.

People like to keep their word. You will be more likely than others to keep your promises, as you can see from the previous experiment.

Cognitive dissonance is a common explanation for these phenomena. When you commit, whether to an organization, a person, a clause, or a movement, it becomes part of your self-image. You will not be able to change your commitment if you are asked. This would be contrary to your self-image and create a dissonant mental state.

Jonathan l Friedman, Scott c Frazier and others were the first to show a technique later known as the foot-in-the-door technique.

Researchers conducted outreach experiments with housewives in California via telephone. They reached out to them and asked them questions about common household products. Three days later, they called again to ask if they could send two men to their home to inspect their house and take inventory of all cleaning products.

Friedman and Frazier discovered that women were twice as likely as the control group to accept a larger request.


Nurturing a leader is similar to nurturing a relationship.

Trial without risk

Study of Zajonc’s Mere Exposure

Bad publicity is better than no publicity. That’s a popular saying that I’ve heard. The truth is that people talking about your brand, regardless of their opinions, is better than having no one talk.

Many psychological studies have shown that people will feel more positive about something if they are exposed to a name, product, person, song, or brand.

Robert Zajonc demonstrated the power and potential of exposure in his 1968 experiment, where he divided subjects into two groups and presented them with a series of meaningless Chinese characters. Then he explained to the subjects that some symbols represented positive adjectives and others were negative.

Individuals would continue to rate symbols they’ve seen previously more positively than symbols they haven’t seen.


The Asch Conformity Experiment

Humans are social creatures. Their safety and number is the evolutionary explanation. It is referred to by psychologists as conformity. This has been proven time and again in many cultures around the globe.

Solomon Asch’s 1951 experiment shows that group pressure can overcome even the most obvious facts. He asked college students to participate in perceptual tasks with actors, which he did.

Participants were given a card with one line and then another card with three lines labeled A, B, and C. Then they were asked to identify which of the three lines was longer than the first.

All actors were instructed to give the incorrect answer. Asch discovered that many of the participants followed the majority’s instructions in many cases. The power of the majority’s influence decreased only when an actor gave the correct answer.


Cognitive dissonance

People are extremely resistant to change. They do all they can to stay consistent with their current self-image, beliefs, and actions.

The phrase “cognitive dissonance” was introduced by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957 after he studied a cult whose belief system had been discredited on Doomsday. However, the members of the cult did not give up and continued to behave and think as if Doomsday had passed.

Festinger said that the theory of cognitive dissonance, which means holding contradictory concepts or beliefs at the same time, can explain why people do things that are inconsistent with what they say.


The distinction between deontological and utilitarian judgment

The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud coined the phrase “Superego” as a moral decision-making method. The Superego is located between the Id and the Ego and consists of very strict rules that should be followed regardless of consequences.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Ethical Development

Kohlberg’s stages of ethical development, which were outlined in 1958, are based on research that he first began in the 1930s. He studied the moral development of boys and how they apply concepts of right and wrong to their own actions, thoughts, and feelings.


The Pygmalion Effect

People are influenced by social expectations more than you might realize, especially when they are in the presence of others.

The Pygmalion effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is demonstrated when individuals’ expectations about other people influence their behavior toward them and how that affects that person’s future performance. The term was coined by Robert Rosenthal in 1964 after he conducted an experiment where teachers were led to believe that certain children had high intelligence.

These children did better on their tests than the control group, whose teachers did not have such expectations of them.


The self-serving bias and selective perception

People tend to attribute positive events in their lives to themselves and negative events in their lives to external factors. This is called

The endowment effect

Duke University’s research revealed the endowment effect. According to the study, students who bought one Duke basketball ticket valued them at $2,400. The $170 price for those who did not win tickets was the same as for those who won them.


Customers attach a greater value to things they already own. Encourage feedback or ask for participation on social media.

The decoy effect

Customers will change their preferences between two options when they are presented with a third option that is less appealing. This is known as the decoy effect.

Professor Dan Ariely demonstrated this effect at MIT. He asked students to select a subscription option for an economy magazine. These three options were presented

Web subscriptions starting at $59

Print subscription – $125

Subscriptions for web and print: $125

The results showed that 16 students selected the web subscription and zero chose the print subscription. 84 students chose both the web and print subscriptions. Total revenue equaled $11,444.

The results of the prince subscription were as follows: The web subscription was chosen by 68 students, while 32 students selected the print and web subscriptions. Total revenue $8,000.

A 30% increase in sales was seen with the decoy effect model.

The decoy effect can be used when you create a pricing strategy for products or compare different options. The addition of an alternative that is less valuable will make them more attractive.


What customers want from your product

In a study, industrial buyers were given brief descriptions of products. They had to choose the best one. Researchers found that descriptions with references to usability, aesthetics and durability resulted in more choices.

People value what they get from products rather than the price paid. In other words, it’s not how much you charge for your product, but what the customer actually gets.


Studying how users interact with products can help to understand what drives them to buy.

The serial position effect

People tend to remember information at the beginning and end of a list better than those in the middle. The first one or two items are remembered 35% better than the third.

This effect was proved in a study at the Western Illinois University. A list of 30 words was read to participants in different orders. Then they were asked if the word appeared in the list and how many times it did so. The results showed that when recalling items in descending order, people remembered 26% more than when recalling them randomly.


When making a list of benefits or when writing a content marketing strategy, consider what you say in the beginning and end. This is where people will remember your product more often.

Ben Franklin effect

People tend to like others who do them favors, even if they have never met them before. In a study at the University of California, researchers found that people who received a small gift from a person in a picture remembered their physical features better.

People tend to value the opinions of those who helped them. In other words, if you receive something from someone or help them, they will be more likely to take your opinion into account when making decisions.


Do not neglect requests for feedback on social media or direct requests to customers. You can also ask your company’s partners for recommendations, ratings and reviews.

Contrast effect

Customers tend to compare everything with something else that they are familiar with. A study at MIT showed that people ordered an ice cream cone the cheapest if it was displayed together with a medium-priced ice cream cone. When a high-priced menu item was displayed, people chose a cheaper one.

This is because people compare prices with other options. The cheapest menu item would seem more valuable if it was associated with a more expensive option. Application For this reason, companies should present users or customers with their best products/services or those that are most expensive.


Marketing has benefited greatly by the understanding of psychological and sociological principles. 

There are several understandings of consumer behavior that you can use to your advantage to improve marketing goals.

One such principle is identifying how different people’s brains work at different parts in the buying process or lead funnel as it’s sometimes called. Understanding this will help with choosing which approach to take when trying to get someone from point A-B on their customer journey.

This article provides some psychological principles marketers and business owners should know if they want more insight into how their customers think so they can increase conversions and reduce cost per acquisition (CPA).If there are any areas where we can be of assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out! Adept Creative.

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