What you get out of this
Marketing Psychology: Influence Buyer Behavior
When supermarket owner Sylvan Goldman invented the first shopping cart in 1937, customers didn't want to use them.
Thinking they looked effeminate, men preferred to stick to handbaskets. And women, tired of pushing baby carriages, didn't like how the carts resembled strollers.
So Goldman did a few things:
- He ran ads that showed people using shopping carts. In one, a tired woman carried a loaded handbasket alongside text that read, “No more of this at your standard stores.”
- He hired men and women to push shopping carts around his supermarket.
- He placed an employee at the front of the store to greet shoppers and offer each of them a cart when they entered. If customers declined, the employee would point out the hired models as a form of peer pressure.
Within a decade, shopping carts became a supermarket staple. In fact, new grocery stores were built with wider aisles to accommodate them.
But it’s hard to imagine shopping carts taking off on their own without Goldman’s intervention.
The tactics he used to normalize the shopping cart demonstrate the power of marketing psychology.
What is marketing psychology?
Marketing psychology describes all the cognitive biases that influence how people behave toward brands and products. You’re probably already familiar with some, like scarcity and social proof.
Using these psychological principles, we know that we can grab people’s attention by telling them our products are rare or limited edition. And that seeing other people buy something can convince even more to do the same.
Applied to your marketing campaigns, these insights can skyrocket your results.
But scarcity and social proof aren’t the only biases that affect buying behavior. There are dozens more—way too many for the average marketer to remember. So we’ve focused on 12 of the highest leverage ones, the research-backed principles that are relatively easy to act on so you can make a tangible difference in your marketing campaigns.
In this playbook, we’ll explain how you can apply each of these psychological principles to your business and also give examples of how real companies use them to their advantage.
To make better sense of how each might fit into your marketing strategy, we’ve categorized them based on different points of the customer journey. Of course, many of these cognitive biases can be applied to multiple stages.
Perception and presentation
How we perceive products affects how much we value them and in turn, whether we decide to buy them. Use these cognitive biases to enhance customers’ first impressions of your brand and product.
1. Space-to-product ratio: Give your product displays lots of space
Ever notice how minimalist Apple stores are? They carry less inventory than other major retailers and carefully space out their products on display for a light, airy feel—a design choice that actually contributes to our perceptions of Apple as a luxury brand.
This is because of the space-to-product ratio effect. Whenever we check out a new store, spacing subconsciously shapes our first impressions.
In fact, we tend to like and value products more when they’re spaced further apart. Close together, the same products somehow appear less prestigious or attractive.
Note: New brands benefit from this effect more than established brands that are already considered high-value. So if Apple decided to revamp its store design to display products closely together, it probably wouldn’t drastically change perceptions of its brand. For new companies, though, space-to-product ratio may make a bigger difference.
How to apply this to your company
If you run a brick-and-mortar shop, give your products on display some breathing room. Instead of setting items close together, space them apart. This might mean investing in larger display tables and shelves so that you can increase the space between products, or removing some items from display.
While the original study behind this effect was done on physical retail stores, you can aim for a high space-to-product ratio in your site design as well.
A few tips:
- Make use of negative space in your product images.
- Don’t crowd your product pages with a lot of items or content.
- Choose a minimalist aesthetic with fewer visual elements.
Many luxury brands take advantage of the the space-to-product ratio effect in their physical store locations, including Hermès and Tiffany and Co.
Off-brand fashion retailers often take the opposite approach, with product-filled racks and shelves. Consider the luxury department store chain Nordstrom and its off-price counterpart Nordstrom Rack. Whether intentional or not, their different product display styles correspond with their price points.
You can also see the space-to-product ratio effect used online. For example, take a look at the difference between Everlane and Shein, two online fashion retailers.
Everlane’s site feels a lot less cluttered than Shein’s, which subconsciously makes shoppers perceive it as more luxurious.
2. Mere exposure effect: Get in front of your target audience
Imagine this: You’re in the market for a new vacuum cleaner.
When you ask around for recommendations, one friend mentions Dyson, a brand you’ve heard of and also seen commercials for in the past. The name comes up again when you do your own research online, and then you start getting retargeting ads for Dyson.
Finally, when you make it to the store to buy a vacuum cleaner, you see ones from Dyson as well as other brands that you haven’t heard of. Which do you buy?
Thanks to the mere exposure effect, you’d probably buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
According to this effect, we prefer products that we know and recognize. Why? We find comfort in familiarity—buying something from a brand we’ve heard of feels less risky than taking a chance on one we’ve never seen before. This happens even when we can’t remember how or where we’ve come across a product before.
How to apply this to your company
On a macro level, you can leverage the mere exposure effect through a variety of marketing strategies:
- Retargeting campaigns. Since retargeting involves showing ads to people who’ve visited your website or social media profiles, it’s all about increasing your brand’s visibility.
- Content marketing. People naturally find your content through search engines, social media, online communities, and other forms of distribution.
- Brand marketing and public relations. Think guest posts, podcast appearances, press releases, and the like—strategies that increase your company’s brand awareness.
On a smaller scale, you can take advantage of the mere exposure effect by using consistent visuals and messaging in your marketing campaigns. Doing so makes it easier for consumers to recognize your brand, even when its name isn’t mentioned anywhere.
Katelyn Bourgoin, founder of the Why We Buy newsletter, promotes her newsletter every week with two reminders on Twitter: the first the day before the newsletter is sent; and the second three hours before.
As a result, her 65,000+ followers are regularly reminded of the newsletter. Katelyn credits this tactic and the mere exposure effect for helping quickly grow her newsletter subscribers by more than 4,000 subscribers over nine weeks.
We also use the mere exposure effect with our Growth Newsletter. Instead of writing unique subject lines for each issue, as many other newsletters do, we stick to a standard numerical format.
Our logic: A predictable subject line reinforces our name and newsletter. This way, in a crowded inbox, loyal readers will prioritize reading our content over messages from names they don’t easily recognize.
3. Framing: Present product information more effectively
You’ve probably been asked before whether the glass is half empty or half full. No matter your answer, this question is a good example of how something can be presented—or “framed”—in two different yet simultaneously accurate ways.
In marketing psychology, the framing effect happens when you present information about a product to make it more attractive to customers. Consider the difference between these two descriptions for an imaginary cleaning product:
- “Kills 98% of germs and bacteria”
- “Only 2% of germs and bacteria survive”
They make the same point, but one version is more appealing than the other. Can you guess which one?
The winner is the first description. Why? It highlights a positive attribute (the percentage of germs killed), which feels a lot more reassuring of the product’s effectiveness than the second description about germs surviving.
We see framing all the time because it’s a matter of how companies present information about their brand and product. The key is using it to make your messaging more persuasive and as a result, maximize conversions.
How to apply this to your company
There’s a lot more to framing than simply highlighting your product’s positive attributes. In fact, there are times when negative framing can be more effective. Here’s the difference between these two types of framing:
- Positive framing: Focuses on emphasizing the benefits of buying a product. This strategy works best for practical products that promote progress or growth in some way.
- Negative framing: Focuses on emphasizing the losses suffered from not buying a product. This strategy works best for encouraging consumers to buy something to prevent a problem from happening.
Positive framing tends to inspire hope and optimism while negative framing reminds people of their fears and pain points. For instance, if you were selling motion sickness pills, here’s how you could apply the two types of framing to your copy:
- Get instant relief with our motion sickness pills (positive)
- Avoid vomiting and nausea with our motion sickness pills (negative)
The best type of framing to use ultimately depends on your product as well as what customers are looking for. So even if your product seems more obviously suited for one kind of framing, it’s still worth running A/B tests. You may be surprised to find which style of messaging stirs more users into action.
For starters, here are a few phrases to try testing:
Two examples from two delivery services: DoorDash and Postmates.
Notice that DoorDash uses positive framing, pointing out, “More convenience and drugstores now on DoorDash. Everything you need delivered in 30 mins or less.” It highlights the benefits of using DoorDash—getting your favorite snacks and other goods delivered in 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, Postmates does the opposite. “Don’t miss out,” its subject line urges recipients. “Let Postmates make your life easier. Avoiding the kitchen has never been easier.” It stresses the pain point of difficulties in the kitchen and points out that Postmates can remove them.
While we don’t have the data to know which email did better, these two examples demonstrate how you can—and should—test different framing strategies for your copy.
4. Noble edge effect: Connect your work to your mission and values
Research shows that 47% of Gen Z consumers expect brands to speak out about important issues because “it’s the right thing to do.”
This trend in consumer behavior illustrates the noble edge effect—our preference for companies that show social responsibility. Because of this effect, we’re more likely to shop from brands that donate to charity or source product materials ethically and sustainably.
The effect doesn’t only apply to Gen Zers, though. Many socially conscious companies have thrived for years, like TOMS and Ben & Jerry’s.
One important caveat: The noble edge effect is built around authenticity.
So if we feel like a brand isn’t actually interested in social good despite claiming to be, we’ll develop a negative impression. Companies need to do more than talk the talk to win over customers with the noble edge effect—they need to show intentionality.
How to apply this to your company
Authenticity is critical for creating the noble edge effect. Otherwise, customers will perceive your company as trying to capitalize on social justice.
Because of this, we’re not advising every company to take advantage of his psychological principle. Only businesses that genuinely support a particular cause and take measurable steps in supporting it should use the noble edge effect.
Here are a few ways to emphasize your brand’s sense of social responsibility.
- Apply for a B Corporation certification for your business. The global nonprofit B Lab gives this designation to for-profit companies that meet certain standards in social sustainability and environmental performance. Consumers who are mindful about where their money goes look for and prioritize shopping at businesses with this certification, which include Ben & Jerry’s, Tillamook, and Warby Parker.
- Incorporate social responsibility into your company’s mission and story. If your company was started with a social cause in mind, this is a given. For some inspiration, take a look at the toilet paper company Who Gives A Crap—it ties its mission to improve sanitation around the world very clearly into its company story on its about page.
- Give customers options for sustainability in shipping. For instance, the secondhand ecommerce shop Thredup offers bundled shipping so that orders ship in fewer boxes and create less packaging waste. Services like EcoCart similarly make it easy for customers to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Show your company’s impact with exact numbers. To show your commitment to a cause, be transparent about your business’s social impact. The fashion brand Everlane does this by publishing an annual impact report that breaks down its socially and environmentally conscious initiatives.
MOD Pizza is a fast casual pizza chain that’s also committed to social impact. Its homepage is a testament to this, placing above the fold its latest giving initiative.
One might think this is all a ploy to get more customers—but MOD’s emphasis on social values is part of a large, consistent brand identity focused on supporting the community. Its about page, for example, states:
“To us, pizza is more than just food. It’s our platform to make a positive social impact in the lives of our people and the communities we serve. MOD exists to contribute to a world that works for and includes everyone.”
To that end, its website includes separate landing pages for fundraising and community giving. MOD also periodically partners with nonprofits, donating a portion of its earnings to support causes like The Trevor Project and Feeding America.
Remember, the noble edge effect works only when it’s sincere. People see through disingenuous marketing, like when companies claim to support a cause without taking any concrete actions for it.
One case in point: CVS.
Given its history of supporting anti-LGBTQ politicians and legislation, consumers called the pharmacy out for swapping its social media avatar with a rainbow-colored version during LGBTQ Pride Month. In this case, changing the avatar felt more gimmicky than sincere.
Even worse to customers is when companies seem more focused on using a movement or cause to their advantage. One of the most famous examples of this is Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner ad, which many perceived as trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement.
The bottom line: Customers are able to perceive whether your business is actually invested in doing social good. Don’t force this kind of narrative in your marketing if it doesn’t actually exist.
We aren’t rational, no matter how logical we think we are. Past experiences cloud our judgment; so do what others say and do. And despite being told not to, we often judge books by their cover.
With marketing psychology, you can guide shoppers toward making certain decisions. Use the psychological principles below to influence how customers reason and make choices.
5. Processing fluency: Use simple, minimalist designs and messaging
Take a look at Apple’s site in 1997 compared to 2022.
It’s a pretty big design shift, but Apple’s not the only company that’s moved to a cleaner look over the years. Many sites have migrated to simpler designs over time, and for good reason.
Simplicity beats complexity—that’s the gist behind processing fluency. According to this psychological principle, we prefer things that are easy to read and understand (“fluent information”). Our ability to interpret something effortlessly helps us act more quickly and confidently.
On the flip side, when we perceive that more work is needed to understand something (“disfluent information”), we become less likely to complete a given task or make a decision. It takes extra brain power. And since we feel like we need to examine something very closely, we’re more likely to second guess our initial judgment. We may even value products less as a result.
How to apply this to your company
Processing fluency has big implications for messaging and web and product design. Simply put, it stresses the importance of making things as frictionless as possible for your audience in activities like:
- Browsing your website
- Reading information about your product
- Signing up for something or checking out
- Contacting customer support
Here are several ways to add simplicity to your design and marketing:
- Show no more than seven links in your site’s navigation menu. Long navigation bars can be overwhelming—especially considering our short-term memory’s maximum capacity to remember seven things at a time. If you need to show more than seven links, consider grouping them and using dropdown menus.
- Keep your writing at an 8th-grade level. This is the reading level of the average American. Go any higher and people may struggle to understand your content. To find out where your content’s readability stands, copy and paste your text into Hemingway Editor.
- Limit website popups in terms of number and frequency. Don’t trigger multiple pop-ups within a visitor’s first five seconds on your site. Instead, spread them out based on the number of pages someone visits or the percentage of the page they scroll. Alternatively, show popups only on specific pages or as visitors are about to leave.
- Reduce the number of fields in your checkout form. Some ideas: Use a single “Full Name” field rather than separate “First” and “Last” names. By default, assume that customers’ shipping address is the same as their billing address. Hide Address Line 2, Company, and Coupon fields behind a link. And use city and state auto-detection based on zip code.
- Encourage users to create an account at end of the checkout process, not at the beginning. Since they’ll have already filled out user info in the earlier steps, creating a unique password won’t feel like a big ask. (Whereas if you nudge users to create an account at the beginning of the checkout flow, it feels like a tedious extra step.)
According to ecommerceDB, the online eyewear retailer FramesDirect.com generated $46.2 million in revenue in 2021. That’s less than a fifth of its competitor Warby Parker’s $249.3 million, despite the fact that FramesDirect.com was founded more than a decade earlier.
While we can’t chalk all of Warby Parker’s success to any one factor, it’s worth noting how much cleaner and easier to read its site is compared to FramesDirect.com’s. See for yourself.
FramesDirect.com’s site has a lot going on—more text, buttons, links, and images than its much sleeker competitor. Here’s a comparison of the headers alone:
With so much more information to process on FramesDirect.com’s site, it’s easy to imagine a visitor feeling overwhelmed. Where to start—the frames on sale or customer favorites? And getting ahead of itself, the homepage even advertises multiple payment options: FSA, HSA, and payment plans through Klarna.
By comparison, Warby Parker’s site is much more digestible. Its content follows an easy-to-read zigzag pattern, with fewer images competing for users’ attention.
6. Decoy effect: Give users a third “decoy” option
Also known as the “attraction effect,” the decoy effect is a phenomenon that happens when people change their decision between two options based on a third option.
A quick example to illustrate this:
Imagine going to Starbucks to get a drink. From smallest to largest, here’s what you might see on the menu for a white chocolate mocha:
- Tall (12 oz): $3.75
- Grande (16 oz): $4.45
- Venti (20 oz): $4.75
Chances are you’ll order the venti over the grande. Why? It offers better value—for just 30 cents more than the grande, you’ll get more white chocolate mocha. And if you do the math, this is true: The price per ounce of your delicious venti drink is $0.23, compared to $0.28 for the grande and $0.31 for the tall.
In this example, Starbucks’ medium-sized drink, the grande, acts as a decoy. It’s “asymmetrically dominated,” which means it’s priced to make one of the other options more appealing—in this case, the slightly more expensive venti.
The decoy rules out the other option (the tall). In Starbucks’ case, unless you specifically want the smallest drink size (perhaps because you’re trying to limit your caffeine intake), the venti is obviously the most attractive option.
How to apply this to your company
The decoy effect is most relevant to pricing strategies, but this also depends on your business model. We’ve seen it work especially well for businesses that offer at least two tiers of pricing, like:
- SaaS products
- Ecommerce subscriptions
- Conferences and events
As you create your pricing strategy, consider these two important questions:
- Which product/service do you want to push more customers toward? In other words, which product/service generates better ROI? Your decoy should be priced closer to this target option.
- What product/service traits do customers find the most value in? Your decoy should offer some, but not all, of the value your target option provides. Depending on your product, this could be a larger size, a higher frequency of delivery, exclusive access to something, etc.
When it comes to designing your pricing page, make the differences between your options obvious. Highlight the price of each option clearly and use a comparison table or bullet points to list each product/service trait.
Some people criticize the decoy effect as a shady and manipulative pricing strategy. But done right, your decoy shouldn’t be seen as a ripoff or scam. Although it makes one option more attractive than the other, your decoy should also be a viable option worth considering.
Earlier, we used Starbucks to demonstrate the decoy effect in action. But it’s not just Starbucks—fast food restaurants, movie theaters, phone companies, and many other businesses use a pricing decoy to push customers toward one particular option.
That includes the magazine The Atlantic, which offers three subscription plans:
The decoy is the premium subscription, which, at $100/year, seems unreasonably priced compared to the other two options that are more than 30% cheaper. But without the premium option, customers might opt for digital-only. Offering the premium option, however, makes the print and digital option appear more valuable—for just an extra $10, you can also get print issues that the digital-only subscription doesn’t offer.
Mailchimp similarly uses the decoy effect in its freemium model.
Its Standard plan offers a variety of helpful features for a total steal—just an additional $6 per month compared to the decoy Essentials plan.
7. Endowment effect: Encourage customers to visualize owning your product
There’s a reason why car dealerships give shoppers a chance to test drive their vehicles. They know it helps to sell more cars. With a test drive, people not only experience how to operate a specific car, they get to envision what it’d be like to own it. And the thrill of imagining oneself as the owner—it can then convince them to buy it.
This is the endowment effect at work.
The endowment effect describes how people are more likely to value something that they perceive to be theirs, regardless of whether or not it actually belongs to them.
How to apply this to your company
A few ways to create the endowment effect in your marketing:
- Reframe freebies. Instead of advertising items and gifts as freebies, frame them as already belonging to users. For example, the diabetes management company Livongo replaced the generic copy “Join Livongo for Diabetes Today” in its email marketing with the phrase “Claim Your Livongo Welcome Kit Today.” This change drove a 120% increase in registration.
- Adjust cart abandonment copy. Even if you don’t have freebies for customers, you can apply the endowment effect in cart abandonment emails. Use language like “Your [product] can’t wait to finally come home!” to push forward the idea that users already own any items they added to their cart.
- Create interactive content. Help users visualize products as theirs by adding an interactive component on your app, website, or social media. For example, IKEA’s Place app lets users see how furniture fits within their home, subconsciously endowing them as owners. You can do something similar by creating custom Snapchat or Instagram filters with your products, e.g., filters for trying on makeup or sunglasses.
The consumer loyalty app Fetch Rewards incentivizes users to scan and upload their receipts by offering points that they can then redeem for gift cards. When users first sign up, they might forget about the app or find it a hassle to dig through their wallets for receipts.
So Fetch emails them about a big reward bonus they can earn by scanning their next receipt. Its subject line doesn’t make it clear that users have to earn the points, though. Instead, by writing, “Don’t let your 3,000 points expire!” Fetch suggests that users already have them.
Notice that Fetch also creates urgency by using words like “expire” and “time is running out.” It’s a powerful combination that motivates users to act—endowing them with a reward that will disappear without any further action.
8. Goal gradient: Show users their progress
Avid runners tend to end races with a sprint finish, getting faster as they approach the finish line. They become more focused, concentrating more effort and attention on the final segment of their run. The chances of them deciding to quit drop.
This is an example of the goal gradient effect, which happens whenever we do a task. We become more invested in completing it when we perceive the end as being close.
We can see this effect happen during the buying and checkout process, too. Whenever it’s unclear how long signing up or checking out for something will take, people are more likely to drop off. But by guiding users to completion, the goal gradient effect can reduce your company’s cart abandonment rate.
How to apply this to your company
The goal gradient is ideal for businesses that have a complicated signup or checkout process, like SaaS companies.
The easiest way to leverage this effect is by displaying some kind of progress indicator alongside your forms—one that shows progress either through a percentage, numbered steps, or a checklist. These provide reassurance and reduce users’ uncertainty about how much more time is required of them.
You can also use encouraging copy before and during the signup/checkout process to let users know how close they are to finishing. Some examples:
- “Signing up will only take three minutes.”
- “You’re halfway done.”
- “Almost there! Just one more question…”
- “Last step: where should we send [product]?”
If you’ve ever filled out an online questionnaire created with Typeform, you’ve probably seen the goal gradient at work. These questionnaires feature a progress bar at the top of the page, which gradually fills with each question you answer.
HelloFresh does something similar with its signup process. Since users need to specify the plan and meals they want, registering for its meal delivery service takes longer than the standard ecommerce checkout. To help move users through this flow, HelloFresh displays a fixed bar showing every step of the process at the top of the checkout page.
This progress indicator keeps users informed about how many more steps there are till they can pick their HelloFresh meals. This way, they won’t get discouraged and exit out.
Marketing psychology doesn’t end at marketing. How users experience and engage with your product affects whether they’ll stick around and become a repeat customer or leave for a competitor. Hook your customers for the long run with these psychological principles below.
9. Labor illusion: Show users your progress
People hate waiting—that’s why a lot of articles about marketing psychology encourage businesses to deliver instant gratification. But that might not always be possible.
The labor illusion is a cognitive bias that makes users more content with waiting because the wait creates the perception of effort.
Thanks to the labor illusion, customers tend to be more comfortable with waiting for your product’s results. They might even appreciate the wait, believing that it signals effort and hard work.
This psychological principle might sound like the goal gradient—but this time, instead of showing users’ progress, think of it as showing your product’s progress.
How to apply this to your company
The labor illusion can be applied no matter how long it takes for your product to deliver results. That’s because:
- For companies selling products that consumers must inevitably wait for in some way, the labor illusion justifies the wait period.
- For companies selling products that deliver instantaneous results, the labor illusion creates a perception of more effort—and as a result, more value.
An easy way to create the illusion is by adding a progress bar. We mentioned progress bars earlier for the goal gradient effect, but in the context of the user’s actions. For the labor illusion, progress bars represent action on your product’s end.
You can also use descriptive copy to explain the delay in results. Here are some examples:
- Dating apps: “Finding potential matches in your area…”
- Booking sites: “Searching for the best deals available…”
- Antivirus scanners: “Scanning X, Y, and Z…”
- Photo/editing software: “Just a moment while we export your file in the highest quality possible.”
In addition to showing a progress wheel, the writing software Grammarly shows users a brief message whenever they want to check their work for plagiarism:
“Please wait. We’re checking your text against billions of web pages. It’ll just take a moment.”
The short justification makes Grammarly’s software feel more trustworthy—after all, every sentence is being carefully checked against billions of others on the web. If results came instantly, users might be skeptical of its accuracy.
10. IKEA effect: Give users a DIY experience
The IKEA effect describes how we place greater value on the things we've made ourselves. We like our creations so much, in fact, that we put them on par with experts' creations—and think others will, too.
The IKEA effect plays out in a lot of businesses, the most obvious being its namesake, IKEA. But there’s also Build-A-Bear Workshop, which charges customers as much as $65 to create a stuffed animal complete with clothing and accessories—way more expensive than the stuffed animals you can find at Walmart and other retailers.
How to apply this to your company
You can apply the IKEA effect throughout your product experience by getting users involved in its setup. But don’t expect that giving them a DIY experience means they’ll automatically love your product. A key point here: Users should be able to succeed in completing a given task.
When a product experience is too difficult, they may feel incompetent and in turn, frustrated with the results. (For example, imagine someone trying a paint and sip event and being disappointed with their final artwork. They’d probably avoid going through the same experience again.)
Here are four tips for making the IKEA effect come to life:
- Give clear instructions. IKEA furniture and LEGO sets come with simple visual instructions—a numbered series of images that customers can easily follow.
- Offer product customization options. Apart from making users spend time and effort on your product, customization gives products a unique personalized touch. Think of how customers get free design rein over their shoes with Nike by You.
- Create templates for users to build off of. Canva’s design templates give a starting point so that even the most uncreative users will be able to create a masterpiece.
- Encourage customers to share their work. CustomInk hosts a regular contest for customers to share their creations, reminding them how custom apparel makes any occasion “more meaningful.” Since the contest rewards winners with credit toward their next purchase, it further reinforces the customers’ work as being valuable.
One of the best examples of the IKEA effect in action is the meal delivery service HelloFresh. With HelloFresh, customers receive ingredients with step-by-step instructions to cook their own meals.
And after spending time and effort in the kitchen, many HelloFresh customers are proud to share their creations on social media. Take a look at the photos tagged with #HelloFreshPics on Instagram—there are more than 261,000 of them.
11. Peak-end rule: Create emotional peaks in your product and end on a high note
Research shows that we remember and judge experiences based on two things: their emotional peaks and how they end.
This is because of a few cognitive biases:
- Memory bias: We remember emotionally intense moments more than less intense ones.
- Recency bias: We remember the end of an event more clearly than its beginning.
- Representativeness heuristic bias: Rather than remembering the entirety of an experience or event, we remember snapshots of it.
Combined, these biases create the peak-end rule. When we think back to certain experiences, we judge them as positive or negative based on any emotionally intense moments as well as how they ended.
How to apply this to your company
The peak-end rule can be applied to any product or service, but it carries special weight for any business selling something that’s not inherently pleasant or enjoyable. Consider how doctors and dentists offer candy after a scheduled visit.
Below are a few ideas for creating emotional peaks in your customer’s experience as well as how to end on a high note:
- Surprise customers with a gift. For brick-and-mortar shops, this could be a free sample of a product or something as simple as a sticker. Online shops can do the same by sending a discount code after checkout.
- End with praise and acknowledgment. The Nike Run Club app offers audio feedback so that once users finish recording a run, they can hear some upbeat words of praise and encouragement from a Nike coach.
- Include a handwritten note. More and more people expect personalized customer experiences—it makes them feel special. For this reason, the secondhand marketplace Poshmark recommends sellers include a personal thank you card or note when shipping orders to their customers.
- Create a delightful unboxing experience. The growing popularity of unboxing videos shows how important receiving and opening a packaged good is to the entire product experience. You can make any physical product’s unboxing enjoyable by using branded packaging with fun messaging.
- Make returns as easy as possible. The Black Tux, an online suit and tuxedo rental company, makes it easy for customers to rent and return formal wear. Each rental comes with instructions for returning the outfit in its original box, plus a prepaid shipping label. All customers need to do is drop the box off at a UPS store.
- Deliver exceptional customer support. Seeking customer support often comes as a result of an issue or frustration—so when support fails to deliver, customers become even more aggravated. To prevent customer frustrations from escalating further, make it easy for them to contact someone from your team, e.g., provide live chat, phone, and email options on your site. Respond quickly. Use a customer data platform (CDP) or customer service software to give more personalized solutions.
The ecommerce pet brand Chewy is known for going above and beyond to surprise its customers. For instance, it sends handwritten notes and holiday cards throughout the year.
Going even further, Chewy also randomly sends hand-painted pet portraits to loyal customers as a gesture of appreciation.
Apart from surprising customers with cards and paintings, Chewy shows compassion to those who have lost their pets. Many report receiving flowers not long after sharing their loss with someone from Chewy’s customer support.
Compare this to shopping at Petsmart or another traditional pet retailer, where you probably wouldn’t get random gifts, handwritten cards, or flowers. Chewy creates memorable emotional peaks for its customers—to the point it feels more like a friend than a brand.
12. Variable rewards: Reward customers unpredictably
In the 1950s, the psychologist B.F. Skinner observed the power of intermittent reinforcement. That is, he noticed lab mice trained to press a lever to get a treat acted differently based on how consistently they were rewarded. A mouse that received a treat every time would eventually tire of pressing the lever—but when a mouse received a treat only occasionally, it continued pressing the lever for longer.
This experiment reveals the power of variable rewards.
Put simply, random surprises are better at keeping our attention than predictable outcomes. This psychological phenomenon explains why people love slot machines—it’s a lot more exciting playing with the possibility of hitting a rare jackpot.
How to apply this to your company
You can create variable rewards for users by hosting random giveaways and promotions.
For some inspiration, here are a few examples:
- Spirit Airlines gives away free miles to a random person on each of its flights with its Lucky Seat promotion.
- A booking site could run a promotion where, for every 100th booking made on its site, one random customer’s booking will be covered for free.
- DTC subscription companies could periodically include a unique bonus gift, e.g., a monthly coffee subscription company adds a gourmet chocolate bar to one month’s orders.
Alternatively, depending on your product, you can inject random rewards into your product experience.
For instance, the fantasy role-playing game RuneScape features random events with rewards that vary in size and value. Other mobile games or apps can do this too by giving free upgrades and bonuses at random.
Yotta is a bank account that rewards users for saving by hosting weekly lotteries. Users receive lottery tickets based on the amount of money in their bank account—the more funds in their account, the more tickets they get.
Since prizes range from 10 cents to $10 million, users’ savings rewards change week over week depending on their luck.
In this way, Yotta is built around delivering variable rewards. Compare this to traditional bank accounts, which have a static interest rate and pay interest at the end of each month. It’s hard to imagine many people, if any, getting excited to check these accounts for their interest gains.
Yotta’s users meanwhile delight in the app’s variable rewards. Just take a look at their reviews on Trustpilot.
While we can’t read every customer’s mind, marketing psychology gives a strong foundation for predicting and influencing their behavior. And the more psychological principles you understand, the more effectively you can apply them to your marketing campaigns and product design.
Remember that these biases can be leveraged at multiple points of the customer journey. Experiment with them to find out how they can be best used for your specific product and target audience.
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