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Marketing Psychology 101: 7 Principles to Know and Grow Your Audience

Psychology gives us an understanding of human behaviour, emotions and thought processes that can help us identify our internal patterns, emotional reactions and internal desires. Interestingly, marketing strategies aim to tap into these very same human drivers.

Imagine how much more effective your marketing campaign could be with an understanding of your ideal customers’ mind, why they make the choices they do and what possible preconceived emotional patterns play out. 

Contrary to what people may think, understanding psychology doesn’t make you a mind reader, rather, you become more aware of the common patterns behind human behaviour and what these patterns can lead to.

Certain patterns can trigger emotions in people, which can cause a domino effect of behavioural responses. Fear of missing out, for example, can motivate someone to make a purchase very quickly. 

Gerald Zaltman, a professor at Harvard Business School, predicts that 95% of our purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious mind and that decisions are more often triggered by emotions than pure logic. 

Understanding that humans are emotionally driven gives us the ability to match our business’ promotional content to the deep emotional needs of our customers for deeper engagement levels and faster responses.

While marketers and content creators don’t require a degree in psychology to be great at their job, there’s value in studying the human mind to understand emotional needs and subconscious decision making. 

Knowing what makes your audience tick can help you tell a more engaging and evoking story, using language your audience is more likely to resonate, trust and respond to.

What is marketing psychology? 

Psychology and marketing have a lot in common. Both attempt to understand why people think, act and make decisions and find patterns and generalise behaviour. Marketers and psychologists also both love researching people to understand their desires and motives.

With marketing psychology, you’re conducting research to determine:

  • Your target market
  • Where they gather
  • What they are interested in
  • What they are afraid of
  • What they love
  • What they value
  • What their buying habits are
  • Their biggest regrets
  • Their future goals

Marketing psychology deliberately brings the scientific awareness of human mindset, emotions and behavioural patterns to online marketing communications to influence the reach and response customers have to products, services and brand endorsed information. 

When it comes to emotional needs, humans are hardwired for connection. That is why engaging, inspiring and relatable content is so valuable: it allows you to create an instant connection with your reader and fulfil that essential need.

Marketing psychology has become a growing and recognised field of study under the branch of industrial-organisational psychology. 

Using the principles in this article, you can start applying psychological marketing in your content strategy to help you create effective promotional content for your business and make better decisions around your content strategies, content subjects and content wording. As well as written content these tools can be applied to images and social media content to assist in  choosing the right type of images and information you display as well as visible branding and colour themes to open doors to more engagement and bigger emotional responses in your target audience. 

7 psychology principles that influence consumer behaviour 

People may seem to behave unpredictably from a distance, however, marketing psychology takes a closer look to identify the patterns within buying choices and how to leverage them. 

We all have cognitive and psychological biases we rely on to make decisions, remember things, evaluate our choices and judge what’s going to work. These act like mental shortcuts that help us do things quickly and with less thought, using well-defined and repetitive paths.

Here are seven principles you can use to leverage existing mental shortcuts. The right technique for you will depend on the individual context and content of your business, audience and offering.

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is about giving back and maintaining an even status quo. If a brand or business does something for you, you feel naturally inclined to do something for them in return. You will need to make sure that what you offer has genuine value through being helpful or entertaining. 

Many business owners don’t understand this key principle; if you want something from your customers then you need to give, give and give some more. 

While there’s really no limit to what you offer, some things to consider are:

  • Giveaways
  • Free content
  • Downloadables
  • Webinars
  • Free consultations
  • Samples

Offering engaging, helpful and rewarding content is a marketing psychology strategy you can use to attract, delight, and convert consumers. It’s also an opportunity for your target audience to get to know your business and your services better.

The more valuable your content, the more your prospects will feel “indebted” to your brand and obliged to return the favour.

2. Social proof

Social proof is the theory that people will adopt the beliefs and actions of people they admire, trust or aspire to be. This explains why tapping into consumer sourced content like client testimonials and customer stories works, not just to prove that a business is legitimate, but also to motivate the reader to take action and be like these successful people.

Humans are social beings, we follow where other people go and tend to want what other people have.

As well as client testimonials you can look to use expert testimonials, recommendations and reviews to enhance social proof and create a desire to join in. Having a large following on social media can give a great sense of social proof too since seeing other people buying or experiencing something makes us, in turn, want to buy or experience it as well.

This can include the bandwagon effect which can result in people making purchases they don’t even desire in order to be like everyone else and feel included. Other ways you can help tap into social proof is through collaboration with experts, influencer marketing and encouraging user-generated content.

3. Loss aversion theory

People don’t like to feel loss. The feeling of losing something you already have is more powerful than the joy of gaining something new, which is why a common emotional reaction is to protect what you have at all costs.

A common marketing strategy that encompasses loss aversion is free trials, where you give users full benefits with no obligation to buy. At the end of the free period they may feel a sense of loss that their user privileges will be taken away which can motivate them to commit to staying with the brand (which is now trusted and known). 

Another popular marketing strategy is the endowment effect, which is the idea that people assign a bigger value to things they already own. In marketing, this works by giving people a sense of brand ownership through coupons, free trials and sample products. They then ‘own’ experience with the brand they want to hold onto and perceive as valuable.

In the context of content marketing you might find a bigger emotional driver if you describe what your readers will lose if they don’t take action, rather than what they will gain if they do.

4. Scarcity

Value is increased on items that are perceived as rare. As well as actual products this can also translate in seat numbers, available sessions, limited seasons and time-bound promotions.

For content marketing, this can relate to member-only content offerings, where members are given special access to resources and information. Tapping into scarcity is about instilling in your consumers a sense of urgency and exclusivity. So giving them VIP access or exclusive content that isn’t widely available online triggers FOMO (the fear of missing out) so they take action to sign on.

While it seems similar to the loss aversion theory, it’s different because you are highlighting a limited supply of something users are yet to obtain. The idea being if they don’t act quickly, they will miss out while a handful of chosen individuals will be rewarded. There is also the perception that rare items will retain (and even increase) their value over time.

5. Confirmation bias

We are magnetically drawn to a sense of right and wrong which is decided by our internal values and pre-existing beliefs about the world. Our brain subconsciously looks for and favours information that already aligns with our previous understanding of how things are supposed to be. At the same time, we tend to reject information that contradicts our presets.

Because everyone has different views it makes sense to spend your energy attracting the people who are naturally biased towards your views, since they will be more accepting and responsive.

To achieve this, be completely transparent about your company values and make sure your company views are consistent and obvious in your online content and social media choices.

This involves understanding your audience well and knowing what they stand for as well as practising social listening to know when you (or other companies) get it wrong and cross the line.

You can see the effect of confirmation bias when an audience reacts positively to your polarising content, it means you’ve validated their pre-existing beliefs. 

6. Information gap theory

On the opposite end of the scale to confirmation bias is information gap theory. We feel rewarded when we bridge the gap between what we know and what we don’t know, so while yes, curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back.

This feeling of reward drives people to locate missing information and satisfy their curiosity, especially on a subject they care about. 

It can be helpful for your content marketing to tap into your audience’s curiosity, just be careful to avoid clickbait.

Some proven examples of using information gap theory effectively in your content include product descriptions that provide new or detailed information, newsletters that provide facts or answer burning questions, creative headlines that pique people’s interest as well as how-to articles and drip marketing. Even useful links that allow a reader to expand on an idea you touch on will be seen in your favour.

7. Mere exposure theory

The more people encounter something, the more likely they are to establish trust and recognition and respond positively. Because repetition can also be annoying and off-putting, it’s best to execute this principle as a long-term strategy and stick to relevant messages. There’s a fine line between frequency and oversaturation, you don’t want to alienate your audience by being too pushy.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon also known as the Frequency Illusion is like the confirmation bias in that we ignore anything unknown. Once a thing becomes known, however, we start to see it everywhere. Our subconscious mind is switched on to find and register the new brand we once saw.

This is why it’s important to maintain your brand presence on social media to keep your brand in line with consumer expectations. Consistency is key to creating engaging and effective content. A consistent publishing schedule along with a few strategically placed social ads will give people exposure to your brand when and where they expect it. 

As long as you are consistent this works as a useful marketing tool with your logos, colour schemes, images and writing style.  

Bringing psychology understanding into your content marketing strategy can help deliver a message that will resonate strongly with your readers, align with their needs and assist in making a choice to take up your products or services. There is room in this knowledge to be manipulative which is a side of marketing no one wants to see. Make sure you use these tools ethically and honestly to attract genuine customers by making connections and meeting their needs. Hollow promises and fake marketing will eventually come undone and will significantly damage your brand image. Trust is the most important aspect of any marketing campaign and once you lose it, it’s almost impossible to regain.

At the end of the day, marketing psychology is a means to connect with an audience, not manipulate them. 

If you need help adjusting your content marketing strategy to meet your audience’s needs or if you want more information on how marketing psychology can be applied to your business, get in touch with Story League’s content delivery specialists today.

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