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The Harte Hanks Blog

Psychological Principles in Marketing

Effective marketing is rooted in an understanding of why people make the buying decisions they do.

We can’t read people’s minds, but we can use psychological principles to better understand the science of human behaviour along the buying journey. And we can help steer customers towards making decisions that are right for them.

An understanding of fundamental psychological theory can improve customer relations and bring practical benefits, such as better conversion of website visitors. The six basic principles of influence proposed by Professor Robert Cialdini are particularly relevant to marketers.

  1. Reciprocity
    The notion of giving something and receiving something in return resonates powerfully in marketing. This can be seen in the classic ‘free gift’ promotions often used to boost sales. But it also operates in social media relationships, for instance if you retweet or like someone’s content or comments, they are more likely to do the same for you.
  2. Consistency/Commitment
    Making an early, small request increases the likelihood of someone responding favourably to a later, bigger request: the ‘foot in the door’ principle. This is often adopted in fundraising, where people are asked for a small donation then asked to continue making it on a monthly basis. In commercial marketing, this behavioural pattern can be mirrored by asking someone to do something small – like signing up for a newsletter – before encouraging them to make a purchase.
  3. Scarcity
    Experiments in the 1960s showed that children are more likely to choose forbidden candy. It is human nature to desire something that is scarce or not allowed. This can be harnessed by marketers through seasonal sales and ‘limited time only’ offers.
  4. Liking/Friendship
    Research by Frenzen and Davis in 1990 found that product sales are more dependent on the skill of salespeople than the quality of the item for sale. The old adage that people sell to people might be hackneyed, but it still rings true. Relationship building plays an important role in securing long-term business, and day-to-day tactics such as personalised email content can go a long way towards achieving this.
  5. Social Proof
    It’s well known that people in general tend to conform to the majority view. That’s why reputation management is so important in marketing – particularly in the social age where product reviews and opinions are so readily available. Finding ways to build trust is essential, and encouraging satisfied customers to give you positive recommendations is an important first step.
  6. Authority
    The infamous ‘electric shock’ experiments conducted by Milgram in the 60s and 70s show how an authoritative presence can influence people’s behaviour. This principle is echoed in the efficacy of thought leadership activity. Establishing a brand as an expert, or authority, in its field, can help boost the performance of wider sales and marketing activity.

Human Touch

In an age where marketing automation is becoming increasingly mainstream, it’s important to remember these basic behavioural principles. An understanding of human science can underpin behavior-changing communications that resonate with audiences at multiple levels. It all plays a part in delivering creative communications that make commercial impact.

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