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From logic to psycho-logic: what is marketing psychology, and how can it increase your sales?

by Maaike Geys, Aug 16

You’ve probably heard of marketing psychology before. But what does it mean? Marketing psychology fills the void between, you can guess, marketing and psychology. This is a very interesting field of marketing that is gaining more and more attention. Totally deserved, because psychology has a huge impact on the way we buy, and therefore, how we should talk to and deal with prospects and customers.

Is your customer logical, or irrational? 

Companies often think that everyone acts like a homo economicus – meaning, we all make well thought-out decisions about what we buy, and we make decisions, based on the right financial incentives. But is this true? 

We usually make choices that are influenced by cognitive biases. Where many companies put a lot of focus on ratio, on logic, on making sense, they forget a crucial factor: people often act irrational. By trying to create rational or logicalvalue (for example: making something faster, cheaper, better, more useful), we completely ignore psychological value. The context or story around a product can impact its success in ways that a price change never could. 

I’ll explain this to you with a well-known example from Alchemy (Rory Sutherland): how did Red Bull become such a successful brand?

Let’s list some facts about Red Bull: 

  • Their products are relatively expensive 

  • Their products have a very specific taste (research shows that most people dislike the sweet, sugary taste)

  • Red Bull sponsors extreme sports of all kinds 

The question that comes to mind: how did they manage to successfully sell Red Bull all over the world? Where is the logic? Well, instead of treating (potential) clients as homo economicus, Red Bull leverages cognitive bias and plays the psychological value card. 

Sutherland explains: everything about the product, from the price point to the taste, triggers a placebo effect in our minds, categorizing the product as medicinal. It’s expensive, so it must contain medicinal ingredients. The taste is sickly sweet, which makes it… medicinal. The way they constantly associate their brand with extreme sports, triggers another bias. We drink the product, so we get the same image: cool, daring. You see how cognitive biases can trick our minds? And how Red Bull manages to leverage them into selling us their product? Very clever. 

Leveraging marketing psychology to increase sales

Of course, Red Bull isn’t the only brand leveraging psychology to market smarter. Many brands play with cognitive biases in their online marketing. Some other well-used biases include:  

Anchoring (Tversky & Kahneman)

Anchoring is the cognitive bias that influences our buying behaviour because we tend to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered when making decisions. Anchoring is something we all (subconsciously) do, and it is very difficult bias to ‘turn off’. 

Just because of that reason, it’s a good one for marketers to tap into. We will rarely compare intrinsic value when offers or goods are on sale, but rather, we’ll compare different offers against another. 

Cognitive Dissonance (Festinger) 

Cognitive dissonance occurs when you feel (mental) discomfort because you hold two conflicting beliefs, values or attitudes. Because we don’t like to feel any mental discomfort, we’ll try to relieve this feeling, by ignoring conflicting information, or explaining things ‘away’. 

Clever marketing examples focus on how the product could relieve any dissonance.  

Urgency Scarcity (Cialdini)

This cognitive bias tries to instill a sense of urgency. How does that work? Psychologically, when there are fewer opportunities, we feel a threat to our freedom. So, to counteract this feeling, we might be pushed to make a buying decision faster. 

How can you add this to your marketing mix? Add urgency into your ads, by for example, giving a deadline, or showing a limited number of products that remain available. 

Loss Aversion (Tversky & Kahneman) 

Loss aversion is a cognitive bias that can be successfully leveraged when implemented in your marketing mix. As humans, we have a fear of missing out or losing something. It has a bigger impact on our subconscious than when we win something. As a result, we will go to great lengths to avoid losing something or missing out.

This article was inspired by some of our favourite marketing psychology books: Buy-ology – truth and lies about why we buy (Martin Lindstrom), Invisible Influence - The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior (Jonah Berger) and my personal favourite: Alchemy - The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life (Rory Sutherland). 

Which marketing psychology books left an impact on you and the way you market your product(s) or service? Let us know!

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