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30 Psychology-Based Marketing Ideas for Your Store

By Julia Gifford - Reading time: 5 minutes

Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Saying Yes” has gone down in history as marketing classic. It’s outlines the basic psychology of what makes people say “yes”. To car salesmen, door-to-door sales people, telemarketers, and even your friends who are involved in pyramid schemes (aka tupperware parties). Having been written in 1981, Cialdini goes over principles of complying that were relevant in the 80s. To tie those ever-green principles of psychology into the 21st century and give the book true meaning, we’ll turn them into real, actionable marketing ideas for the present-day digital world.

Here are the different principles he addresses throughout the book:

  1. Reciprocation: The old give and take…and take
  2. Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the mind
  3. Social Proof: Truths Are Us
  4. Liking: The Friendly Thief
  5. Authority: Directed Deference
  6. Scarcity: The Rule of the Few

Rather than give you a recap of the book (they’re a dime a dozen, just google it), we’ll go through each, explain the gist of it, and offer some practical, actionable ideas on how to implement them in your online ecommerce store.

1. Reciprocation: The old give and take…and take

The principle: if you give people something, they’ll feel indebted to you. So much so that they’d be willing to give you back something of bigger value than what you gave. By pushing a favour onto them, they will feel indebted and will want to dispel that feeling. Your customer will also be more likely to comply to your demand if they feel like you’re making a sacrifice (“well I really shouldn’t give you this discount, but you’ve been so patient…”).

How to take advantage of the principle: give your audience something. Even it it’s of little value. Then when they feel indebted, ask them for something.

Practical marketing ideas:

  • send them a nice email. The next day, ask them to buy something.
  • Follow up email for those who used a discount code: “I hope you enjoyed your product that you got for 20% off! Since we gave you our profit, how about you post a photo to your social media and use our hashtag?”
  • send Christmas cards/greetings to influencers in your market or people you want to work with. Afterwards they’ll feel indebted and would be more likely to respond to your need later on
  • in a situation where you’ve issued a full refund for an unhappy customer, as them afterwards if they’d be willing to leave a review (testimonial, on a social network, wherever).
  • Ask for something big of your customers/audience/influencers. Like writing a blog post about your product. Wait for them to say “no”. Then ask them to tweet it out (this will probably work better in person).

2. Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the mind

The principle: Here the main idea is that people would rather seem consistent at any price than be seen as wishy washy, inconsistent, fallible, and undependable. After making a commitment, they become more confident in their decision (similar to politicians who are unable to admit they were wrong).

People want to believe that your product will solve all of their problems, and will blindly buy it if you’ve made them trust you.

How to take advantage of this principle: Get your customers to COMMIT to something – more importantly, have it show to the world!

Practical marketing ideas:

  • since people become more confident in the product when they’ve already sunk money into it, push for a social share after they’ve made the purchase “I’m the proud new owner of a xbrand t-shirt!”
  • include testimonials by your products describing how their life has improved since using your product
  • host a giveaway – have your customers comment their favourite part about your brand to enter to win. This will subconsciously favor your brand even more. More importantly, make sure it’s on a public profile, where their comment is visible to others. It will impact others and will also make them take responsibility for that opinion.
    • Bonus: use all of these compliments later on as testimonials for your site, tag commenters in posts with their comment, etc.
  • make a fun survey asking your customers what they like, their aesthetic, lifestyle is. Then offer a fitting product from your catalogue. “As a sporty person, you’d love this water bottle, right?”

3. Social Proof: Truths Are Us

Principle: The more people who see something’s popular, the more they’ll want it. It’s herd instinct. If everyone else is doing it, there must be a reason for it (re: the reason laughing reels are played in sitcoms). It’s a shortcut to figuring out what the best option is, without having to do all the research and legwork, and is a basic human instinct.

How to take advantage of the principle: Make sure to show off as much as possible any social proof you may have, show other people using your product.

Practical marketing ideas:

  • display social media metrics on your website
  • add reviews to your products (better to have faces and names)
  • create an email campaign for your “best-selling” product, with or without a discount.
  • add user images – encourage visual social shares, and display them proudly underneath the product you’re selling
  • use numbers where possible – in email headers, website statistics, Facebook advertising (500 people can’t be wrong…). For example, take a look at this email from SumoMe:

Number-based marketing

4. Liking: The Friendly Thief

Principle: The more likeable you are, the more people will be willing to comply to whatever you ask from them.

Examples used were people like car salesmen, who just happen to be from the same state as you, who compliment you on your good taste of car selection.

How to take advantage of the principle: Compliment your customers. Create a personal tie with them – make yourself seem approachable and human. Create personal connections where possible (oh, your wife is Latvian? My grandmother on my father’s side was Latvian!).

Practical marketing ideas:

  • Send emails for deals just for your most loyal customers
  • share your team photos – make sure they’re high quality and with the right filter, because attractiveness plays a role in likability
  • introduce your team, outline their interests. to prove they’re humans, just like you
    share cute cat photos
  • cultivate likability by getting involved in causes your customers care about (support the local pet shelter? donate to fresh water availability? help girls learn to code?)
    Tell a story that makes you approachable in an email – for example, talking about a recent failure
  • Play the good cop in your support communication (occasionally): “my supervisor wouldn’t want me to do this, but I’ll reship this item. Just promise me one thing? Send us a photo when you get it”
  • publish your wins – people like associating themselves with “winning teams”

5. Authority: Directed Deference

Principle: People can’t say no to a person who has authority over them, and won’t question their authority.

How to take advantage of it: Ensure that there is an authority figure who is coming in contact with your customers.

Practical marketing ideas:

  • have authorities endorse your product (9/10 dentists recommend this toothpaste)
  • Use titles – send out messages from the CEO every once in a while for strategic asks
  • Do research to promote your product (like the DeskTime productivity software’s research on standing tables and effective breaks), turn it into shareable content like blog posts

6. Scarcity: The Rule of the Few

Principle: People will value a product higher when it’s scarcely available

How to take advantage of it: Create an impression of scarcity for your products, increase their price

Practical marketing ideas:

  • Send a “today only” email campaign
  • Put a timer on a discount you’ve given to a visitor on your website
  • Make a webinar with limited available spots
  • Appeal to valued customers by sending an email launching a new, limited product, and give them “first dibs”, because the product won’t last long.

Conclusion

As you can see, the principles aren’t exactly rocket science, and aren’t anything groundbreaking. But what you do with them is what counts.

When Cialdini wrote this book 30 years ago, in the conclusion he stated that there is so much information available around us that people are reverting to the ancient animalistic forms of decision making when they don’t have enough mental capacity – by employing the automatic decision based on a certain trigger.

If this was true 30 year ago, imagine how this phenomenon is magnified in this day and age. We have to deal with even more information, a barrage of content through which we have to sift to decide what we pay attention to or not. This is why fields of UX, CRO are so dominant, because it’s become so simple to identify elements that can trigger a human response.

Can you think of any other practical applications of the psychological principles? Let me know what I’ve missed, I want to hear!

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