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Behind all great marketing, there is one thing…
When you understand your customer, you can understand how to create a great product for them and the best way to present it to them.
If your sales aren’t as high as you’d like them to be, it means you need to spend some time learning about how your customer thinks.
That’s where psychology comes in.
While psychology and marketing are two very different fields, that doesn’t mean that learning psychology can’t help you.
In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things a marketer can study.
In this post, I’m going to show you eight different psychological principles and the ways they can affect your sales.
To take it even further, I’m going to show you how you can apply each principle to your business.
Ready? Let’s start.
1. People are lazy, this law proves it…
By far, the most common disconnect between marketers and their audience/customers is how much they care about products.
Marketers put a ton of work into crafting great content, landing pages, and products.
It’s pretty common to think your audience is going to be excited when they see them.
But then, when your audience actually does, they gloss over your content and use your products begrudgingly.
Okay, maybe not all of them, but enough so that you notice.
That’s where the law of least effort comes in.
The law states that people almost always choose the path of least resistance, the easiest option to do something.
When you create a great piece of content, say a complete guide to using a pillow, you approach it from the mindset of people who want to know everything there is to know about pillows.
However, most will simply want to know what the easiest way to start using a pillow is.
It might be a silly example, but can you see how that applies to your products and content?
If your product seems difficult, your conversion rate will suffer: Difficulty is relative, so a complex product won’t scare away all potential customers…just many.
And obviously, that’s a problem.
Although I’m going to focus on your products, this also applies to your content. If it seems like it’s going to be hard to find the information a reader is looking for, they’re going to try one of the thousand other options out there.
Now back to your product, what might a potential customer think is difficult?
It looks like it might be difficult to get the product shipped
The reviews are varied, so it seems like the product is hit and miss
They can’t find what they’re looking for easily in your product results (a big issue for large e-commerce stores)
Your payment or signup options look complex (tons of fields, no easy option like PayPal)
As you can see, when I say a product or shopping experience is “difficult,” it can refer to a wide range of things that make a customer hesitant to buy.
Applying the law of least effort to make more sales: This is one of the easier principles to apply to your business. Well, at least in theory.
All you need to do is make the buying experience as simple as possible.
The tough part is identifying where your potential customers (and maybe current customers) are having difficulties.
It’s going to differ wildly based on your particular business, but the solutions are usually pretty simple.
Difficulty example #1: Customers can’t find the product they’re looking for easily.
Solution: Improve filtering options or remove unpopular products.
Difficulty example #2: Customers are abandoning the checkout page at the payment options.
Solution: Integrate more options such as PayPal and Stripe.
Difficulty example #3: Customers think the product might be difficult to use.
Solution: Add an explainer video to the sales page that shows how simple it is to use the product.
Again, the solution is pretty obvious once you’ve identified the sticking point.
So how do you find it?
There are a few main ways you can do this…
Option #1 – User tracking tools: This is how you get concrete data to base user experience decisions on.
There are a few different tools you can use here.
The first type is analytics tools. For example:
These tell you how users are going through your website and checkout process. You can see whether they’re dropping off at one particular stage and then examine those parts for difficulties.
The second type is heatmap software such as CrazyEgg.
This shows you how users interact with your pages. If they’re not clicking something they should, it’s an indication that it’s not visible enough to them, and now you can fix it.
Option #2 – Live observation: The ideal situation is to observe people on your website browsing, buying, and then using your products.
Unfortunately, this is difficult to do.
If you can, offer some sort of incentive to a few email subscribers to allow you to watch them use your website.
Give them a goal (e.g., to buy a black pair of boots), and then simply watch what they do to accomplish that goal.
You can have them record their session using tools such as CamStudio or Techsmith Snaggit (a Chrome extension).
The next best option is to do it yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer, and go through your entire buying process.
Many marketers don’t do this, and they don’t realize that the process has become more difficult as they’ve made changes over time.
Finally, don’t forget about your current customers either. If they are finding your products difficult to use, you will get extra refunds and lower customer retention.
Get in touch with them once they buy, and make sure that they not only receive your product but actually use it.
Find out if they’re having any difficulties.
2. People are overwhelmed easily: Don’t cause analysis paralysis
Have you ever had to make a difficult decision in a high pressure scenario?
The options keep bouncing back in forth inside your head, but you never seem to get closer to an answer.
Shopping might not be a high pressure scenario, but buying any expensive product is an important decision. People tend to put a lot of thought into the purchase before making it.
Now think back to a tough decision you’ve made recently, where you may have gotten a bit overwhelmed.
If you had an option to not make the decision in that scenario and move on with your life, wouldn’t you have taken it?
Maybe not always, but most of the time, yes.
And that’s what happens to your potential customer. They can opt out of a tough buying decision in half a second by clicking the close button on their browser.
As you may know, that’s exactly what happens when people get overwhelmed. It’s called “analysis paralysis,” describing a scenario in which someone gets so overwhelmed they can’t make a decision.
Do not let your potential customers get overwhelmed.
The famous jam study: Professor Sheena Iyengar wanted to see how variety affected decision making…with jam.
She went to a grocery store multiple times and set up a station offering samples of jam.
Many companies do this. They give out small samples of their products, which then increases sales of their products.
But Iyengar set this up as an experiment. She offered samples of 24 different flavors of jam to some shoppers, and she offered only six to others.
Which scenario do you think led to more sales?
Turns out offering the smaller set of jams was much more effective:
With 24 jams available, more shoppers tried a sample, but only 3% bought at least one jam.
With 6 jams available, fewer shoppers tried a sample, but 30% bought at least one jam.
The extra samplers were nowhere close to making up for that 10 fold difference in conversion rate.
The takeaway: More choices usually aren’t better. Limit choices to the most popular options.
How to keep your potential customers from getting overwhelmed: The main way to apply this principle to your business is on your sales pages. I am talking about specifically those that have multiple things a customer could buy.
To apply it, reduce the number of choices.
For most businesses, offering anywhere from 3-5 choices is usually optimal, but you can test what number would work best for you.
An example of this is the Crazy Egg sales page. There are four plans that a customer could choose from, and they are laid out really simply for ease of comparison:
3. Sometimes, being innovative can kill your conversions
At one point or another, every marketer wants to innovate.
Innovation is a good thing! It’s the process of improving upon what we already know.
But it can also be dangerous, mainly because of the law of past experience.
What this law basically says is that when people see something for the first time, they interact with it based on their previous experiences.
For example, if they get a new book, they’re going to try to read it from left to right. However, it could be a book that is read from right to left. Past experiences shape expectations.
At first, you might not see how this connects to your sales, but I promise you it does.
How innovation can hurt your business: Let’s go over a quick experiment that illustrates this principle clearly.
The business originally innovated and created a small “add to cart” button for their products.
But that wasn’t performing as well as hoped, so they created two new variations.
The first variation was a button that had the actual text “add to cart.” This is what you see on most other e-commerce sites, including Amazon:
Variation 2 was another innovative design, different from what most sites have. It led to a 15% increase in clicks. Pretty impressive!
But variation 1 was the important one. The basic button with the text “add to cart” led to a 49% increase in clicks.
From a design perspective, the original cart icon was an improvement. It’s clever and original.
And while it may seem obvious to you and me, it’s not always to customers because they base their actions on past experience.
The customers of this business expected to see the “add to cart” button. When they did, they knew exactly what it would do. With the other types of buttons, they didn’t.
Stick to the basics first: Innovation can be great, but you need to do it in the right way.
Instead of trying to improve every aspect of the traditional sales page and sales funnel right away, do it in incremental steps through split testing.
Start by modeling your sales pages after the best in the business (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.).
Then, start trying to improve elements one by one. Run a split test to see if your innovation actually improves the customer experience.
4. Nobody’s perfect, show your customers your flaws
Think about the most capable people you know, the ones you would trust with almost anything.
Chances are they’re not perfect, but they work extremely hard on the things they can control.
Now think about the people you trust the least. They’re probably the ones who always blame their failures on other things, complaining about bad luck.
Well, it turns out that a similar thing applies to how your customers see your business.
This was first uncovered by social psychologist Fiona Lee.
She wanted to study how the way a business presents itself would affect the favorability of the business.
To do so, she created two reports. All subjects involved in the experiment received one of the reports to read.
The reports were focused on explaining why the company performed poorly over the previous year. However, they were written in drastically different ways:
Report #1 – Focused on strategic decisions. It analyzed why the decisions were made and where the business came up short (their flaws/weaknesses).
Report #2 – Focused on external events (e.g., the economy is bad).
The results were crystal clear. The business in report #1 was viewed much more favorably than the business described in report #2.
When you admit to your faults and are transparent about your decision making, customers can feel that you’re in control.
However, if you’re blaming external factors, it sounds like you don’t have a lot of control over whether or not you’ll succeed.
Furthermore, Lee also studied hundreds of real reports of this nature. She found that the companies who had reports like the first one also had high stock prices the next year.
The tough part is tying this into your business. If you have shareholders, the takeaway is obvious. But if you’re just trying to increase sales, it’s a bit more difficult.
Transparency needs to be strategic: Customers don’t need to know about every mistake your business has ever made.
It would be silly to fill your landing page with a huge list of mistakes made while creating the product. Customers care about the product at that stage and not much more.
But admitting your big mistakes to customers when you make them can be very effective.
Everyone makes mistakes, and when you’re a large business, small mistakes can get blown out of proportion.
Instead of ignoring complaints or blaming them on something else (like a supplier for not delivering on time), take full responsibility.
If a supplier doesn’t deliver on time and you end up not shipping products on time, you’ve messed up, not just your supplier.
If you want your customers to have confidence in you in the future, explain that you didn’t keep a large enough reserve of products and accepted too many orders.
Then, explain how you will remedy it so that it won’t happen again. It’d also be a nice touch to offer a discount to those affected by the mistake.
This principle won’t result in an instant sales boost, but it is how you keep sales growing over the long term.
5. No one likes losing, and it makes us do crazy things…
Just about all people, successful or not successful, hate losing.
It could be just a game, but it extends far beyond that.
People hate failing on tests, not being able to complete projects, and losing things they previously earned.
In all these situations, something people believe they deserve is taken from them.
Imagine if someone tried to take away your car, phone, or even your coffee maker. You’d be upset, maybe even angry.
It turns out that most people will go to extraordinary lengths to prevent feeling this way. So much so that they do it without even realizing it.
It’s called loss aversion.
Let’s look at a study that illustrates the principle beautifully…
At the beginning of it, all subjects were given $50.
Then, they were asked to choose from two options:
either keep $30
or have a 50/50 chance of keeping the $50 or losing the entire $50
It makes sense that the majority decided to keep the $30.
However, in a followup study, they tweaked the phrasing of the first option. Now, they gave the option of “losing $20.”
It still meant the same thing (they’d end up with the same amount of $30), but now, subjects were reminded that they had to give some money back.
Essentially, it was the exact same experiment, but the results were different.
In the first experiment, only 43% of subjects took the gamble, but in the second, 61% took the gamble.
People were more willing to gamble to avoid losing a portion of the money for sure.
Give your customers a chance to lose your product: In order to apply this principle to increase your sales, you need potential customers to feel like they already own your product.
Then, you need to take it away unless they purchase it. In most cases, this will cause a significant increase in sales.
There are three main ways you can use this.
First, add videos of someone using your product. Add voiceovers or text that clearly state that the person in the video owns the product.
When we watch others, we subconsciously picture ourselves in their situation.
Secondly, you can offer free trials liberally. Many online businesses have recognized the power of this.
For example, Buffer offers a no obligation 30-day free trial:
After someone uses a product for that long, they’ll feel like it’s theirs and will become invested in it.
At the end of the trial, users will be much more likely to pay for it because they’ll feel they are otherwise losing it.
Finally, pay special attention to the language you choose.
When you put products on sale, don’t say “get 20$ off.” Instead, say something like “buy now or lose the opportunity to save $20.”
6. The big red button always wins
We’ve looked at a few principles that have basically demonstrated that people are lazy and usually look for the easiest option.
But there’s one more principle that shows us how to take it into account.
It’s called Fitts’ law.
While you don’t need to know it for it to be useful, the law is actually a model that can be used to determine the amount of time it takes to perform an action.
But this post isn’t about physics or mathematics, so don’t worry about understanding the formula.
The only variables you need to pay attention to are the “T”, “D,” and “W.”
The “T” describes the overall time of the movement. As we’ve seen throughout this post, easier is better. The smaller the “T” value is, the more likely a visitor is to do the action (like click the “add to cart” button”).
The “D” describes the distance to the target. So if the mouse pointer is at the bottom left of the screen and a button is at the top right, the distance is large. The larger the distance, the more it takes to do the action, and the less likely a person will perform it.
Finally, the “W” is the width or size of the target. This should make sense to you. A big button is much easier to click than a tiny button. I would also modify this to include the clarity of the button (a high contrast button is easier to click than one that fades into the background).
A small “T” (time) on important actions is good for conversions
A small “D” (distance) is good for conversions
A large “W” (width/size) is good for conversions
When “D” is small and “W” is large, “T” will be small, so focus on those two factors.
Applying Fitts’ law to your sales: To apply the law, you want to make it as easy as possible to click buttons that lead to conversions (e.g., download buttons, opt-in buttons, add to cart buttons).
To do that, you want a small “D” and a large “W.”
When someone loads a page, their cursor usually hovers around the middle of the page. Therefore, you want your important buttons to be near the middle to minimize the distance of their travel on the page.
Secondly, you want your button to be large enough so that it’s obvious that it’s an important thing to click. Choosing a contrasting color is also a good idea.
Look at the button on this Google Chrome download page:
It’s large enough to stand out, and it’s right in the center of the page.
Most visitors would click the button before they realize they’ve done it, which is exactly what Google wants.
7. Decisions are difficult, sometimes we just want reassurance
When you know exactly what you want, a decision is easy.
But when a decision is a bit tougher, and they often are when it comes to buying a product, you might not be sure if you really want or need it.
That’s when you look to others for an opinion.
It could be an expert on the product; it could be a close friend; or it could even be a stranger. You’re looking for social support and help with your decision.
Social proof relieves anxiety: Social proof is a concept used by businesses to sell more. It consists of making it clear that other customers (ideally well known ones) use and like your product.
There are many ways to use social proof effectively. You can test and try different combinations of them to see what works best for your business.
To start with, if you have a large customer base, you can simply highlight the number of customers you have, like Basecamp does:
Or like Content Marketing Institute highlights the number of social followers they have:
Alternatively, you can post reviews and testimonials of happy customers on your sales pages.
These carry a lot more weight when a potential customer knows from whom they are coming. Try to get some recognizable names in your niche when possible.
Finally, you can also create in-depth case studies that showcase your product in action.
These are best used when you have a complex product or service that leaves your customers unsure of whether it’s a good fit for them.
One final thing to consider is that social proof doesn’t always increase conversion rates (although it usually does). You should test each type in multiple ways to determine the optimal use of social proof for your business.
8. There are two sides to every customer, know when and how to speak to both
Have you ever read about a successful conversion optimization experiment, tried to apply the results, and failed miserably?
It happens all the time because no two businesses are exactly the same.
They differ in many ways, which is why what works for some businesses won’t work for others.
There’s one aspect of potential customers in particular that produces drastically different buying behaviors.
And it can be explained by the dual process theory.
From my understanding, this hasn’t been proven yet, but it is by far the leading theory of how our brains make different decisions.
It states that there are two main forms of processing in our brains:
deliberate thinking (conscious)
automatic thinking (unconscious)
While you probably have a good idea of what each system is, let’s define things a little better.
Deliberate thinking is slow, takes a lot of mental effort, and usually ends with a logical decision.
But the unconscious is different. Automatic thinking happens without effort and is pretty much going on all the time.
Researcher Daniel Kahneman also says that this unconscious system falls on the emotional side of decision making. Ever get that “gut feeling” about something? It’s not exactly logical, but it influences your decisions.
Note that system 1 refers to automatic thinking in the above picture, and system 2 refers to deliberate thinking.
Optimizing your business for dual systems: Your first step is to identify which system your target audience predominantly uses.
If you’re selling super simple products, like combs or spoons, choosing a product is not going to be a tough decision requiring much conscious thought.
Therefore, the vast majority of your customers will primarily be using their automatic processing system.
Alternatively, if you’re selling complex products like computers or cars, almost every decision will be based on the deliberate system.
Finally, there are customer types that are in-between. It may be a no-brainer decision for some of your customers, but others will make a decision based on a lot of consideration. Here, you need to optimize for both systems.
Optimizing for automatic thinkers: This type of thinking goes side by side with simplicity. It harmonizes with the other principles we’ve looked at such as the law of past experiences.
There are a few ways to appeal to this automatic, instinctual type of thinking:
Use pictures! They make us feel emotions
Keep messages simple
Focus on main benefits, not technical details
Keep user experience as simple as possible. Make “buy” buttons and opt-in forms large and clear
Optimizing for deliberate thinkers: To optimize for deliberate thinkers, you need to include full details about the product.
A logical decision is built around answering the question of whether or not the product is worth the money.
Here is a good example: Nathan Barry makes the contents of his courses very clear on his sales pages.
Then, he goes into detail about why each part of that package is valuable and why it adds to the overall value of the course.
Overall, you want to be able to load your sales pages and ask yourself:
If I were a potential buyer, would I have all the information I’d need to comfortably make a decision?
Learning more about psychology is a great way to improve your marketing and sales results.
I’ve shown you 8 principles today that you can use to increase your sales, but there are many more.
Start by trying to apply 1-2 of these principles to your business, and slowly add more.
If you have any questions about how to apply any of them, I’m happy to try to help. Leave a comment with as much detail as possible so that I can provide some useful direction.