<img src="//bat.bing.com/action/0?ti=4069002&amp;Ver=2" height="0" width="0" style="display:none; visibility: hidden;">

6 Psychological Principles You Should Definitely Be Using in Your Marketing

Back in high school, psychology was my favorite class. I loved learning about what goes on inside the brain. Cognitive bias, or the tendency to think or act a certain way outside our rational way of thinking, is one of the concepts I found most fascinating. And guess what? As grown-up marketers, understanding a few of these behavioral psychology concepts can be highly beneficial for all of us. 

One of the most important tools of marketing is to understand the audience we are trying to reach and persuade. These cognitive concepts allow us to better understand whom we’re talking to and predict how they will act. Keeping them at the forefront of your mind during creation of your marketing strategy will make for a much smoother, more effective message. Thank you, psych professor! 

Let’s go back to the classroom – here are six psychological principles to keep in your back pocket.


1. Reciprocity

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini shares a case study on reciprocity in which a waiter’s tips increased by 3% when diners are given a mint, and 14% when they’re given two mints. When the waiter left just one mint with the bill, but came back to give diners a second mint, the tips increased by 23%. 

So what does this teach us? The power of an unexpected gift. When customers are made to feel special, the likelihood that they’ll respond more favorably increases dramatically.

How to use it in your marketing: Offer gifts or benefits to your customers that benefit their lives outside their relationship with your business or the use of your product. Keep it authentic, and make the customer feel special and unique. Even if it’s a generic offer across the board, make it feel more personal by offering it to him or her individually. You can use Smart Content in HubSpot to tailor emails and landing pages to specific personas or demographics, and any personalization you can include makes it that much more valuable.

2. Conformity and Social Influence

Would you answer a question incorrectly if you knew you were wrong, just because everyone else around you gave that answer? A large percentage of people tend to do so, as detailed in a study by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. In the study, a group of actors participated in a verbal quiz with unknowing students. The actors all answered the questions incorrectly, and lo and behold, the majority of students did as well, even though the correct answer was obvious.


How to use it in your marketing: Provide social proof that others like your product, service, or company as a whole. Include Facebook likes or Twitter shares on offers (but only if the numbers are large enough to really provide value – otherwise, you might be hurting your cause). Positive testimonials or endorsements from key influencers are also advantageous.

3. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

“That’s so strange, I just heard about that the other day!” Ever said those words? You have experienced the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or the frequency illusion. This is the incident where you are exposed to a certain piece of information, product, or idea, then seemingly start noticing it EVERYWHERE. Why? Our brains are prejudiced towards patterns. When we notice a pattern, and particularly when it’s something we’ve learned about recently, our brain denotes that piece of information or specific product as important.

How to use it in your marketing: Once someone has noticed your product or brand, keep up the visibility! Nurture them with personalized emails and retargeting ads based on their behavior. Utilizing sponsored posts on various forms of social media also helps the target buyer see you “everywhere.”

4. The Mere Exposure Effect

Researcher Robert Zajonc confirmed this theory when he showed Chinese characters to non-Chinese-speaking participants in a 1968 study. He showed each character 1 to 25 times and asked participants to guess the meaning of the characters. Although the participants had no idea what the actual translations were, they assigned more positive meanings to the characters they saw more often – simply because they had been exposed to them more.

How to use it in your marketing: Tying this effect in with the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, keep your brand/product/service as visible as possible. When you’re making the customer aware of the benefits of what you’re selling, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself (within reason). Using a few powerful words repetitively can help drill in your message and reinforce positivity towards your product.

5. The Framing Effect

The words we use to describe a scenario have a large impact on how it’s received. The most classic example of this was the experiment done by researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. They asked two different groups which treatment they would choose for people in their care with a hypothetical deadly disease:

  • Option A saves 200 people’s lives
  • Option B has a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 people and a 2/3 possibility of saving no one

72% of participants chose option A.

They offered the same scenario to another group of participants, but worded differently:

  • If option C is taken, then 400 people die
  • If option D is taken, then there is a 1/3 chance that no people will die and a 2/3 probability that all 600 will die

However, in this group, 78% of participants chose option D. The way the researchers framed the question changed the participants’ answers, even though the outcomes were the same by the numbers.

How to use it in your marketing: Frame your content in a positive light. Focus on the benefits the consumer will receive from your product or service. When pricing your offering, try partitioned pricing if possible (for example, “the camera is $390 and shipping is $10,” rather than “the camera is $400”). A Harvard Business School paper validates this innate preference of partitioned pricing versus all-inclusive pricing.

6. Bias Blind Spot

After reading the majority of this article, you know the basics of some common cognitive biases (if you didn’t already before). You’ve probably recognized these effects in past experiences you’ve had as a consumer or simply in everyday life. So now you’re immune to these sneaky marketing tactics, right?

Wrong. Thanks to our bias blind spot, we all underestimate our own cognitive biases. We recognize cognitive biases in others much more easily than in ourselves, and we tend to think that we don’t fall prey to them. In a 2015 study, physicians who received gifts from pharmaceutical companies claimed that the gifts didn’t affect their decision about what medicine to prescribe. However, most physicians agreed that other physicians were unconsciously biased by the gifts. 

How to use it in your marketing: Use this blind spot to your advantage! You’re on the marketing side of things. Even if your audience “claims” they aren’t swayed by these techniques… they most likely are.

Happy marketing!

Talk with our team and learn how you can streamline your inbound marketing.

Matt Walde
Post by Matt Walde
June 14, 2016

Subscribe to the Stayin' Aligned Learning Center

Stay on top of the latest resources to help your sales and marketing teams achieve (and maintain) alignment.

Useful Ideas

Actionable Strategies

Exclusive Resources