6 Psychological Phenomena Website Marketers Need to Know

Published July 14, 2016 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Markus Pirker
5 Psychological Phenomena Website Marketers Need to Know

Marketing and psychology have always gone hand-in-hand since the Mad Men days of the 1950s when advertising executives first began to study and utilize human psychological phenomena to their advantage.

Some may call it manipulation, others call it marketing—who’s to say what it should be called when it works. When you understand how the mind works, you can target a campaign more effectively.

Here are just a few of the psychological phenomena used by political strategists and marketers to sell a product, person, or brand.

Social Proof

This one can be described as the “everyone else is doing it” effect.  When humans see a group that they trust or admire doing something, using something, supporting something, or listening to something they are more apt to do it, too.  Unlike peer pressure (which has a nasty ring to it) social proof is more organic and bottom up.

Testimonial Page of Groove

Websites are using social proof with the help of testimonials. Groove’s Landing Page is teasing a big area for customer stories.

You see that other soccer moms are driving Honda mini vans, so you think they must be a solid can worthy of carting kids to soccer games.  That’s social proof.  On the negative side, it’s also how we got skinny jeans for men, so…

Frequency Illusion

This is a cool one.  Science-y types will call it the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  This is when someone mentions something to you, or you read it in a book, and suddenly everywhere you go you see it.  Some people, let’s call them “superstitious people” will often see this as a sign of synchronicity and believe that there is a reason for this.

Google Remarketing Services

For marketing executives, it is a matter of getting information out there through multiple channels at the same time. Google is perfecting the phenomenon of frequency illusion with it’s ad retargeting feature.

Mere Exposure

This is a fancy way of saying brand loyalty to a content or information provider.  There are many gossip sites out there.  There is only one DLISTED.  There is no reason to read gossip anywhere else.

Understanding that an audience has a preferred provider of content helps advertisers market to a particular audience in a way that will tap into that brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty

Apple is another.  There are Apple fanatics that refuse to see that Samsung is the better phone because Samsung’s not Apple.  If you are an Apple fanatic, we meant that there are Samsung lunatics who don’t understand how great Apple is.  That’s what we meant. Ahem.

Paradox of Choice

Everyone loves a choice until they don’t.  Studies have found that customers get stressed over too many choices.

Customers want to have a choice between a caramel macchiato and a café mocha, but if you give them a choice between a caramel macchiato, café mocha, vanilla chai or  a smores double shot café mocha with options to use soy or whole milk, the anxiety increases and they may leave (or cause a huge traffic jam in line).

Basecamps Pricing Page

I wanted to include the upper image of Basecamp’s pricing page here as a proof that limiting choices are good for your business. They only had 3 plans with one clearly advertised as being “Best Value”.

While I checked out their live site I realized, that they managed to simplify their pricing page even more. Look at the new Basecamp pricing:

Basecamps pricing page

Only one price. Only one choice. No paralysis.

Decoy Theory

This is a cool phenomenon that is used by restaurants and clothing stores where they will put out products that are in two distinct price ranges and levels of quality, with a third, very expensive option that is used as a decoy to ensure that the middle priced item is purchased.

The decoy price

It will seem like a bargain getting the venti mocha when the tall is basically a Dixie cup and the grande is only slightly less expensive than the venti.

Apple was perfecting the decoy strategy when releasing their very high-priced Apple Watch for more than $10.000. This model was acting as a decoy price in order to maximize the sales of the standard Apple Watch.

Decoy Pricing from the Apple Watch

Compared to the $12,000 Apple watch and the “cheap” Apple Watch sports edition suddenly $699 for the standard model seems totally reasonable.

It’s a useful trick that can be used to create an illusion of a bargain.

Ego depletion

This really is a scary one. When making decisions it seems that our willpower needed acts like an exhaustible resource. To make this clear: the more decisions you take the less willpower is left to really think about your upcoming choices.

Your willpower is finite.

Ego depletion explained

Ego depletion is the reason why Marc Zuckerberg wears the same T-shirt every day:

“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1bn people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.”
Mark Zuckerberg wastes no willpower on choosing beetween the green or the black T-shirt

The dark side of this phenomenon is, that you could push people to stick with your (pricy) defaults by exhausting their willpower with complex choices upfront.

How you can use ego depletion in your products:

If there are certain optinons you want your users to choose, you place them towards the end of your customization/sign-up process and default to your desired response. If you sufficiently fatigue your users before they have to make these defaulted decisions, they’ll be much more likely to stick with the default.
Hacking Human Nature for Good – Ariely, Hreha, Berman

Wrap up

Not that you should share this post, but everyone else is doing it so why not? 😉

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