Every business and brand across the world utilizes some form of marketing to promote its company, products, and services. And the marketers promoting that business are continually looking for effective ways to catch someone’s attention.
At its core, marketing is about communication and people — communicating the right message to the right people. So it may come as no surprise to hear that psychology, the scientific study of people and their behaviors, can have a lot of overlap with marketing.
Marketers are like very specific scientists who determine thought patterns and behaviors but only for people interested in their niche of the world. Whereas psychologists don’t care much if someone’s interested in cybersecurity software platforms or a network of charter schools, they’re interested in behaviors shared across all people.
While we use aspects of psychology without realizing it in our marketing (and can be psychologically affected by the types of marketing we see without realizing it), actively incorporating behavioral knowledge into your marketing strategy can improve your effectiveness. That’s the foundation of marketing psychology.
What is Marketing Psychology?
Marketing psychology combines research about individual and consumer behaviors with marketing strategy. If marketing is what is included in your strategy, psychology is the who of your campaigns.
Marketing psychology contributes to most of the strategic decisions you make about your customers, even if you’re a data-driven company. When you make an educated guess about where your customers are online, what questions they’re looking for answers to, and how your products or services address their needs, you’re using psychology. Marketing psychology can have an impact on almost any campaign or tactic you create, from design to copy to the keywords and colors used on your website. And marketing psychology plays a big role in the success of your inbound marketing efforts.
How Psychology Impacts Your Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is all about providing valuable content to your leads in order to answer their questions, address concerns, and move them closer to making a purchasing decision with your company. Which begs the question, how do you determine what will be valuable to your leads and customers? And how do you avoid creating content that your leads aren’t interested in?
Deciding what content to create starts with knowing who you’re talking to. This is where buyer personas come into play. Buyer personas are semi-realistic representations of your target customers. Your personas should include information about goals, challenges, job titles, attitudes, beliefs, where they find information online, income brackets, and other details relevant to your marketing and sales process.
Some of this data can be found with your users themselves — look at your current customers for similarities in job titles, pain points, reasons for purchasing with your company, and any other useful information that can help you curate the content you create. These data points are typically called demographics and are relatively easy to capture from your current users and customers.
Psychographics, on the other hand, are where you have to make educated guesses about your target market to attribute to your buyer personas. These data points can include information about attitudes, personality type, values, opinions about your industry, and lifestyle. Psychographics deal more with the behaviors and beliefs of your target audience rather than specific and set information. While these data points may seem extraneous or unnecessary, they can help you round out your persona and align your marketing to speak to a persona's beliefs, attitudes, and ways of moving through the world. Dive deeper into psychographics for your personas.
Cognitive biases are defaults in thinking where an individual gives more emphasis to past experience, preconceptions, or social factors when making a judgment or decision. Many cognitive biases happen without someone realizing that their perception is biased. There are dozens of cognitive biases that can have an impact on how your customers and website visitors interpret and respond to your content, but we’ll touch on only a few here.
Confirmation Bias: This is a well-known cognitive bias that occurs when people seek out information that confirms an already-held belief and under-value any information that opposes that belief. We see examples of this often in daily life with stereotypes and political beliefs. For marketers, confirmation biases can impact how you interpret data to determine what’s working and what isn’t. Be careful of re-affirming your own beliefs about what’s effective from a single piece of feedback or data. Instead, look at the whole picture and try to set aside your emotional or previously-held beliefs about a tactic to see your data more clearly.
Availability Cascade: This bias is a self-reinforcing behavior where a shared belief gains popularity and plausibility the more it’s shared in public discourse. The availability cascade bias can have a big impact on your branding. The more that your brand or a specific tagline or message is shared online, the more public influence will increase. This might seem obvious, but there’s an important caveat: as your brand gains visibility online, pay close attention to the response. The availability cascade bias can have a positive or negative effect — if the public is talking about your brand or website in a negative way, that can become a hard bias to break.
Framing Effect: The framing effect is a bias that occurs when someone arrives at different conclusions based on how the same information is presented. For example, using a negative tone can cause the reader to form a negative association, regardless of whether the information itself is negative. This bias can have far-reaching effects on your marketing, from how you convey copy across your website, emails, blog posts, etc., along with how you’re conveying data and decision-making to your stakeholders.
Cognitive biases are particularly relevant if your company is doing innovative or niche work. If you’re telling a different story than others in your industry, you’ll have to be careful of the biases that consumers already hold about similar products or services.
Perception relates to our experience of the world and how we interpret sensory information. Perception includes your five senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell) along with other less obvious senses like time and social perception.
For digital marketers, your lead’s perception of your marketing materials can have a big impact on the success of your efforts. There are a number of factors that influence your perception of something. Perception can be influenced by your emotions and how you process information.
In 1984, a psychologist named Dr. Robert B. Cialdini established “6 Principles of Influence” that impact perception and persuasion:
- Social Proof
Inbound marketing puts many of these principles into effect. When you want your leads to fill out a form in order to collect contact information, you offer valuable content in return (that’s reciprocity). Branding, domain authority, and review marketing contribute to your social proof. Consistency matters both for what customers expect from your brand along with what Google and other search engines think of your website.
The Mere Exposure Effect: Did you know we prefer things we are familiar with? It sounds pretty simple, but the mere exposure effect can have far-reaching impacts. For digital marketers, it means that the big brands that are known or recognized by consumers may have an advantage when it comes to the company a lead chooses. It also means that if you can get in front of your leads more than once, you’ve started the process of exposing your brand to their subconscious decision-making.
Interested in how psychology can impact your digital marketing? Check out our Growth-Driven Design program, where we incorporate psychology, testing, and website best practices to optimize your website.