5 Marketing Psychology Principles To Help You Sell Smarter

As humans, we’re biased to certain ways of thinking. And we don’t even realize it.

Imagine you had to think about every possible outcome before making a decision. You’d waste so much time trying to make the simplest choice!

Enter: cognitive biases. They’re instinctual. And they help speed things up.

Your marketing strategy is based on predicting decision-making. So, we need to stop planning for how customers should behave. And start planning for how they actually do. 

Consumer psychology doesn’t have to be complicated. Especially when we’re all consumers too. Here’s how to understand marketing psychology to sell smarter.

How does marketing psychology affect consumer behavior?

The human brain is powerful. But it has limits. A cognitive bias is yours trying to simplify the information it’s been given.

People factor in things like intuition, emotion, social norms, and a load of other stuff into each decision. If you want faster conversions, you need to tap into neuromarketing.

Source: GIPHY

Customer-centric marketing puts your users first. And there are ways to combine these tactics with psychology to predict consumer behavior.

For example, the decoy effect. This explores our perception of pricing:

  • Say you’ve got 2 products
  • The 2nd will seem expensive
  • But now add a pricier 3rd option
  • The 2nd now seems pretty reasonable, right?


Source: Sketchplanations

There are 4 important psychological factors that affect purchasing decisions:

  1. Motivation – you buy a burger because you’re hungry.
  2. Perception – your friend buys a salad because they think burgers are unhealthy.
  3. Learning – you learn about your new iPhone, so you decide to buy a Macbook.
  4. Attitude/beliefs – you think Apple is great but your friend thinks Samsung is way better.

You need to understand these. And your potential customers. You can only do that with market research. Use it to show them how your product fits into their lives.

Great marketing makes it feel like the right decision for them. You can’t just say it is anymore.

Make it a simple choice. Base your digital marketing campaigns on these 6 psychological principles:

  1. Color psychology
  2. Scarcity and loss aversion
  3. Emotion
  4. Social proof
  5. Reciprocity

1. Colors make us feel different things

Your customer experience starts with your brand colors. Sounds silly, huh? But it’s true.

Colors are powerful parts of marketing psychology. Because they relate to human behavior in different ways. They can impact emotions. And emotions can influence consumer behavior. So, you’ve got to choose yours carefully.

So, what do I mean? Well, red gives us a sense of urgency. While green makes us think of nature.

Colors play a big part in the clothes we choose to wear. If you’re in eCommerce, your choices will affect consumer decisions more than most.

Source: NA-KD

You’ll probably know some of these. But here’s the color psychology behind:

  1. Blue – trust, confidence, stability.
  2. Red – energy, passion, power.
  3. Green – nature, balance, growth.
  4. Yellow – joy, energy, attention.
  5. Orange – warmth, excitement, enthusiasm.
  6. Pink – sensitivity, care, emotion.
  7. Purple – royalty, power, luxury.
  8. White – purity, peace, innocence.
  9. Black – elegance, mystery, boldness.

Source: Cojo

Think of some of the famous logos that come to mind when you see these colors. And now think about how weird they’d be if they were different:

Source: Adweek

They just don’t feel right. Do they?

Everyone’s favorite color

Let’s take a single color. Blue. It reminds us of the ocean and sea. It can make you feel calm and confident. 

That’s why it’s used for meditation app Calm:

LinkedIn is a social media platform for professionals. So blue makes it feel like a secure, trustworthy place:

But blue is most people’s favorite color across all ages, ethnicities, and genders for another reason.

Red and green are most affected by color-vision deficiency. Meaning a number of people struggle to distinguish them. But almost no one has a blue deficiency. No wonder it’s so popular!

It’s not just your logo either. Your chosen color palette will flow through all your content marketing too. Any graphics or templates should tie in together. 

So, make sure it’s a color you’re happy seeing a lot!

2. The FOMO is real (scarcity and loss aversion)

Ever get a feeling of anxiety when you don’t go on a trip with your friends? Or are late to the party for a discount sale? That, my friend, is called FOMO. Or “fear of missing out”.

It’s a powerful psychological motivator too. FOMO can be triggered by stimuli like:

  1. Scarcity of something
  2. Grabbing an opportunity
  3. Belonging to a community
  4. A feeling of urgency

Ever shopped online? Who hasn’t! You’ll see scarcity and loss aversion tactics on pretty much every site you visit. It’s one of the most common marketing psychology tactics.

This one from Groupon has a few, can you spot them all?

Source: Groupon

  1. There’s the discount and percentage you’d be saving
  2. The red wording as an alert
  3. A countdown timer for the sale ending
  4. The “selling fast” reminder

It really makes you feel like you need those glow-in-the-dark pebbles right?

Travel sites use these tactics all the time too:

Source: Booking.com

Dang, that’s a good deal! You almost got me this time FOMO…

How to use FOMO in your customer journey

So, what about your marketing strategy? Well, there are tons of ways you can use FOMO in your customer journey:

  • Add customer reviews
  • Limited time offers/editions
  • Show when stock is low
  • Notify when others make purchases
  • Offer limited free shipping deals
  • Show the discount next to original price
  • Send time-sensitive emails
  • Display best-sellers
  • Include exclusive offers

Here’s one of those little pop-ups that show what people are buying from the site you’re on:

Source: Eco Pet Parcel

If it’s good enough for Anne…

These triggers are meant to spur you into action. And boy do they work. So, have a think of which you could add to your marketing strategy. Try starting with one and track its success.

3. Create emotion through storytelling

Stories are how we connect with each other. What started round a campfire now happens in the digital space too. Social media is where we share a lot of our stories. And that’s where you’ll post most of your content.

Great content tells a story. And the best stories make us feel. And when we feel something strongly, we want to share the feeling with others. That’s marketing psychology 101.

Our brains are literally built for stories. And 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like one. We also process images 60x faster than words. So, you should aim to “show, not tell” with your marketing content.

Source: Visme

This “feeling” you want covers a wide range of emotions. And it doesn’t have to be positive. It could be:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Entertainment
  • Shock
  • Surprise
  • Inspiration
  • Motivation

Nonprofit videos from war-stricken countries aren’t designed to make you feel good. They’re made to shock and sadden you into donating.

Here are 3 content marketing videos that are prime examples of storytelling:

  1. Budweiser
  2. John Lewis Insurance
  3. The Reykjavik Marathon

Budweiser – Someone Waits for You at Home

Budweiser’s #FriendsAreWaiting ad taps into shock and sadness to discourage drinking and driving. Told from a unique point of view, you almost think the worst has happened:


It’s not plugging their product. It’s showing how to enjoy a night of beers with your buddies responsibly. And the short story highlights the impact the wrong decision can have on those who love you most.

John Lewis Insurance – Tiny Dancer

Insurance. We all need it. But it’s a pretty boring subject, right? Well, not if you can make it heart-warming and relatable:

We were all kids once. And all parents have been on the receiving end of their antics. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. And one that can make such a dull topic special.

The Reykjavik Marathon – You Better Run

The Reykjavik Marathon hoped to increase sign-ups with this clever ad. Why do people run? To get in shape? To avoid explosions? Or maybe from a zombie apocalypse?

Running can be boring. But this promo is anything but. It’s clever and funny. It’s got movie-style entertainment and the feel-good factor. What’s not to like?

4. We love to follow the crowd (social proof)

Why do we assume the long line to get into a bar is worth joining? Or ask for a friend’s opinion before buying something? 

This is a phenomenon known as social proof. A term coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini who wrote the best-selling ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’.

There’s safety in numbers. A herd mentality. And we use it to validate our choices. If you’re unsure of what to do in a situation, you look at what the people around you are doing. 

Social proof is a powerful part of marketing psychology. But don’t try and trick people into buying a not-so-great product by hiding it. Trustpilot found that 62% of consumers say they won’t support brands that censor reviews.

If you hear about a product for the first time from a friend, you’re more likely to trust it. This is also a form of word of mouth marketing. But 79% of shoppers trust online reviews from strangers just as much as people they know.

Source: Oberlo

According to Buffer, there are 6 types of social proof:

  1. Expert: an expert in your industry recommends a brand.
  2. Celebrity: a celebrity endorses products.
  3. User: customers recommend and review products based on experiences.
  4. The wisdom of the crowd: a large group of people endorses a brand.
  5. The wisdom of your friends: people see their friends using and enjoying a product.
  6. Certification: a stamp of approval by an authoritative figure in the industry.

How to use social proof in digital marketing

We’re all connected on social media. And social proof is happening constantly. So, we need to use it to guide potential customers. To give them evidence that other people are using and enjoying our products and services.

Here are some ways you can use social proof in your marketing strategy:

  • Expert social media takeovers
  • Reach out to micro-influencers
  • Recruit brand ambassadors
  • Ask for and display reviews and testimonials
  • Highlight user-generated content
  • Share customer shout-outs
  • Use social proof in your copy
  • Get verified on Twitter/Instagram etc.

Here’s an example of copywriting using this tactic:

Source: Twitter

As humans, we don’t take most things at face value. We spend time researching and looking for evidence to back them up. So, make sure your marketing has done the hard work in advance.

5. Give before you get (reciprocity)

Sociologist Phillip Kunz thought of an interesting experiment in the 70s. He wondered what would happen if he sent Christmas cards to total strangers. 

Well, something did. Out of the 600 he sent out, he got over 200 in return.

Robert Cialdini (mentioned above) spent his whole career studying the science of influence. He explained that the result of Kunz’s experiment was down to a rule that all human cultures drill into their kids. The rule of reciprocity.

We’re taught to repay kindness and good deeds with our own. It’s why you feel the need to immediately say something nice back when someone compliments you.

Source: GIPHY

This is one of many social rules that we live by. We don’t think about them. But they’ve got a lot of power in our daily lives. These are things like:

  • Forming a line in a store
  • Saying “bless you” when someone sneezes
  • Holding the door open for the person behind you
  • Making eye contact when speaking to someone

Reciprocity in marketing

But how does this apply to marketing psychology in the digital age?

Well, you wouldn’t ask people for a testimonial before they’d tried your service. So, most businesses offer some bonus incentive to do so.

For any sales strategy, what you’re offering will usually be free. If you want new customers to part with their money or details, you need to give them something first.

Spotify uses this tactic with their free 1-month Premium trial:

Source: Spotify

Content marketing is another widely-used example. Because you’re giving away educational resources for free. Hoping people will convert in return. 

But back to your strategy. Why not try:

  • Complimentary products with a purchase
  • How-to guides
  • Sample newsletter editions
  • Try before you buy options
  • Video tutorials
  • Virtual try-on services
  • Free trials or consultations

It works for social media engagement too. To get, you’ve got to give. But you’ve got to be a genuine contributor if you want real results.


Consumers are irrational. We think about intuition, how we’re feeling, and all sorts of other things when making a decision.

You’re not a mind reader. But you are a consumer too. So, you can learn to read some of the instinctive ways people (and you) think. Then base your marketing strategy on them.

We covered implementing these 5 marketing psychology principles:

  1. Color psychology
  2. FOMO
  3. Emotion through storytelling
  4. Social proof
  5. Giving before you get

The human mind is complex. But these tactics aren’t. So give them a shot.

Have you tried any of these marketing psychology tactics before? Which do you come across most as a consumer? Let us know in the comments!

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