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​The Psychology of Marketing

2 months ago

Do you know what goes on inside the head of your customers? What convinces them to buy your product or sign up to your services? And how can your branding, labelling and marketing material maximise the power of persuasion?

Understanding how and why humans make choices is at the heart of many of Karen Fewell’s most successful projects. A speaker, columnist and founder of the marketing agency, Digital Blonde, Karen has established a reputation for applying new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience to marketing campaigns for a range of brands. We asked her to lift the lid on the buyer’s brain and help us understand the psychology of marketing.

What goes through a customer’s mind when choosing a product or service?

You might be surprised to learn that 95% of human decisions are actually made unconsciously and on an emotional level. There are approximately 11 million sensory neurons firing around the human brain but only 40 of these actually travel through conscious pathways. So not a lot actually goes through your customer’s conscious mind when they’re considering a purchase. Although we might think we’re rational beings we’re actually very emotionally driven. This is where emotional marketing is key.

How is emotional marketing a useful tool for businesses?

We’re all very sales savvy now. We know when we’re being sold to and often a hard sell is off-putting. People need to be emotionally bought into things to be able to rationalise a purchase. As emotion trumps reason in the decision-making process, a number of simple considerations in your marketing material can prove extremely effective. Using emotional imagery or words on labels, for example, engages consumers on a primal level and leads to higher interest and greater likelihood of purchase or customer loyalty. A study carried out by Avery revealed that people were 14% more likely than average to look at an item featuring an emoji and 18% more likely to look at a label first if it featured a face. An emotive image like a heart made people spend 13% more time looking at the item.

What approaches work the best in marketing?

That would be different for everyone in terms of the messages you have and who you’re trying to reach. It’s very easy to get it wrong if you make assumptions about your customers, so it’s well worth investing the time to understand why people might buy from you and what is driving them emotionally to make those decisions.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, persuasion is very much based on emotion and his Six Principles of Persuasion serve as very good approaches to effective emotional marketing. Once you understand your customer base you can tailor these six principles to your own marketing.

1. Reciprocating.

If you do something for someone they are more likely to do something for you. We feel obligated to give back. The typical example of this is when you get your bill after a meal and there’s a chocolate or a mint on the plate. Research has shown that customers leave a larger tip when there are more mints.

Being helpful or providing useful tips, articles, stats or free gifts all help towards a customer wanting to reciprocate with an order or contract.

2. Liking.

The phenomenon of ‘commonality’ means that we tend to buy from people who are like us. We say ‘yes’ to people we like and we tend to like people who are more like ourselves. That’s why it’s important as a small business to sell your story and be open and likeable.

When we were on holiday in the summer, we were looking for a restaurant in Saint Tropez. Everywhere had people inside who did not look like us. They all looked a lot richer and there we were traipsing around with two teenagers. But then we found a restaurant with people that looked like us and that’s where we happily ate. This is a good demonstration of how the ‘liking’ principle works.

Things that make people like something can be:

      • Having attractive marketing material
      • Behaving like a friend, not a brand
      • Applying compliments and chatting with people on social channels
      • Fight for the same causes as your customers
      • Really think about your photos. Are they relevant to your customer demographics? If you’re looking to attract millennials, include that age bracket in the imagery you use in your marketing.

3. Commitment and Consistency.

When making any decision we feel the ‘pressure’ to behave in accordance with our prior commitments. This is where loyalty campaigns come in. For example, I often book my hotels through IHG, I get points which makes it more likely that I’ll continue staying with them. Ask people to make small commitments, public ones are even better, and reward them for doing so.

4. Authority.

We say ‘yes’ to people who are experts because we know they know what they are talking about. This is all about showing in your marketing material that your company is either the authority or working with authority. The Apple Genius Bar is a great example of a company using the authority principle to reassure and attract customers.

5. Social Proof.

We are more likely to say ‘yes’ if we see others around us doing the same. Celebrities, influencers and experts recommending a company or product is proven to draw customers. Past or present users giving recommendations or good reviews bring reassurance that the brand must be good. Approval from friends and people you know or the thumbs-up from larger groups of people (something known as ‘crowd wisdom’) also contribute towards creating a convinced new customer. For example, when you see an event on Facebook and lots of your friends are going to it, you’re more likely to want to go along too.


6. Scarcity.

People want more of the things they can have less of. We are more likely to want things when there is scarcity. A limited number of products or availability or a limited time frame in which things are available can cause people to rush to buy.

The science that backs this up is the cookie jars experiment. Identical cookies were put into two jars with one jar being given more than the other. People wanted a cookie from the jar with fewer cookies because they assumed that other people were taking from that jar and therefore those cookies must be better. Similarly, if it’s really hard to book a table at a restaurant it is considered to be a sought-after place and more people want to book.

Are there any pitfalls to be avoided when using these tools?

It is worth saying that as you understand more about psychology and you apply it to marketing, you must be ethical. There are many approaches that you will have available to you that would enable you to manipulate and that isn’t what this is about. This is about nudging people to make decisions that are in line with their views. Ask yourself: would I be happy with somebody showing this to my mum or brother? It is crucial to apply the principles of persuasion and emotional marketing responsibly.

How can small businesses practically apply the power of persuasion?

I would highly recommend reading the study and report that Avery produced: “A Definitive Guide to the Power of a Label”. A label may be small, but it can be very powerful. There are so many ways you can incorporate the principles mentioned above as well as those written in the report - and they can be extended to business cards, social media, websites and printed material too.

It really is worth putting some thought into the inner workings of your customers’ minds. Understanding their psychology can go a long way to boosting healthy customer engagement.


Read Avery's A Definitive Guide to the Power of a Label for Food and Drink Businesses.

Read Avery's A Definitive Guide to the Power of a Label for Handmade Businesses.