Digital marketing

The psychology of marketing: Getting to know how your customers think.


Perception is everything. More than ever, algorithms are put in place to understand what consumers want and what they are likely to want in the future. Understanding how your customers think, and what they think of you, is invaluable when marketing a product or service. Here, we discuss the psychology of marketing and show how, by implementing simple principles, you can better entice your consumers and make your brand stand out.

Priming your consumers
Priming occurs when exposure to one stimulus affects how you respond to another.

For example, if a consumer sees a new phone that’s advertised on the quality of its camera, the first thing they’ll do when trying it instore is test the camera.

In 2002, Mandel & Johnson conducted a study that prompted participants to select one of two products in a category after priming them on various features.

According to Psychology Today, “they found that visitors who had been primed on money (the website’s background was green with pennies on it) looked at price information longer than those who had been primed on safety. Similarly, consumers who had been primed on comfort looked at comfort information longer than those primed on money.”

By focussing your consumers’ attention to a favourable, specific aspect of a service or product, you can actually influence what they spend most time looking at. Think about what elements of your product or service you want potential consumers to notice the most, and prime them for it. Do you have a competitive price? What is your unique selling point? Consider your best bits and steer consumer attention towards them.

‘The Frequency Illusion’ in marketing
The frequency illusion (or Baader-Meinhof effect) is a trick our brains play on us when we become more aware of something.

For example, a consumer might see a friend wearing a snazzy, new jacket from a brand they don’t recognise. Then, they notice it everywhere – on family, colleagues, passers-by – and think it’s a new trend. This is the illusion. The brand was always there; they just weren’t aware of it.

Familiarity breeds trust in brands and it’s said that you have to hit people with your message three times before they take note. Ensure that you nurture your customers with remarketing emails, and include social share buttons on your site. Get consumers to notice your brand initially and they’ll continue to notice it.

Scratch consumers’ backs and they’ll scratch yours
Reciprocity is an age-old technique for survival by keeping people ‘on your side’. We may be less concerned with simply staying alive in this day and age, but it still holds true (even in marketing).

For example, a consumer might be looking for a new pair of suede shoes with a budget of £40. Then, they notice a clothing website offering a free can of suede protector with orders over £50. They may not have wanted to spend that much, but the offer of something free and useful sways them into a new pair of suedes.

While this might seem slightly reductive, it really holds merit. Dr Robert Cialdini found that when restaurants bring the bill to their diners without a mint, they will tip according to their perceptions of the service given. With one mint, the tip escalates by 3.3%, and 20% with two mints.

Have a think about what you could give away to your consumers that is going to be both relevant and of perceived value, whether it’s a free product or a free downloadable PDF with actionable takeaways. To increase engagement, shares and followers, create engaging social media content to advertise these offers. The more you give; the more you’ll get.

Condensing information for consumers
Clustering is a method we use to group several pieces of information together in order to remember it more efficiently, albeit less thoroughly. Similarly, the verbatim effect, refers to our ability to remember the ‘gist’ of information more than the specifics of it.

Countless psychological studies have demonstrated that our attention is a limited resource. Miller (1956) showed that the average person can remember seven pieces of information at once (give or take two). Write compelling copy with catchy headlines to grab attention and sum up the content of the article, making use of priming techniques to ensure attention is directed where you want it as quickly as possible.

The verbatim effect is especially prevalent to your website as users are likely to form an opinion of your site after only 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds), which places more emphasis on functionality, design and layout. This means you should grab their attention with strong images and catchy headlines rather than overwhelming them with information.

Need help mastering your marketing and understanding how your customers think? Drop us a line and we’ll help you become more memorable to your audience!


Written by Mark Jenkins
Search specialist and analytical thinker Mark looks after our paid search and SEO services.