About the mid-19th century, a new breed of science and medicine was born – psychology and psychiatry. At first, it was considered “mumbo jumbo,” but gradually it came to be accepted as a legitimate field of medicine and research. It focused on human behavior, and what causes people to act and respond to their environments as they do. We now know that every experience we have is imprinted on our subconscious minds and that the thoughts and feelings housed there do control much of our behavior.

What We Continue to Learn

We also know that there are some things about human nature that are universal. And newer neuroscience has added to our knowledge by studying parts of the brains, their functions, and responses, as well as their dysfunctions. And as research continues, we are also discovering that there are even genetic pre-dispositions toward certain mental conditions which can determine behaviors.

The Implications for Marketing and Sales

All of this has resulted in a very complex body of knowledge that is tough to sort out. But, in terms of marketing and sales, merchants began to use psychology to entice shoppers. And it has worked so well, that many of those techniques are still around today. Advertisers use celebrities to endorse their products and services on TV, for example. Somehow, the celebrity status just makes that person an “expert.” And they still use beautiful people as brand ambassadors too – we all want to “relate” to beautiful people. But marketing psychology has become more sophisticated too, as shoppers have become savvier and as more and more products and services are now sold online.

Using Psychology in Online Marketing

Most businesses understand that online marketing is different. They are not using celebrities and beautiful people to tout their stuff. They are trying to prove value for the consumer; they are trying to solve problems for the consumer, and they are often trying to entertain or inspire the consumer so that consumer shares that entertainment or inspiration with others. It’s called brand spread, and it’s powerful.

And because consumers depend on each other for recommendations, marketers know that it is much more powerful to be a “recommended” brand by regular people than by a single celebrity.

This does not mean, however, that old psychological techniques are not used – they are and they can be effective. And there are new ones to add, now that we know more about the brain.

Here are 5 categories of marketing techniques you should be using.

1# The Need to Know and to Be a Bearer of Knowledge

One of the things that social media has spawned is access to information and the ability to spread that information far and wide. People are curious and will seek out information when and where they can. The job of a marketer is to fill in those missing pieces of information about his/her product or service and to demonstrate value to the curious.

  • Create text and visuals that provide the information being sought. If, for example, a company is environmentally responsible and committed to that responsibility, it will be important to inform potential consumers of that information along with the factual information to support that. This is especially important to millennials who now comprise the largest buying group.
  • People also like to appear somewhat “expert” to their friends. When they can share new information with their friends, they look like they are “in the know.” So, if a company that spreading to occur, they will make it very easy for the information to be shared – one-click sharing.
  • To entice consumers to read their content, companies will also need to pique interest at the onset. This comes with intriguing and compelling titles. Natural curiosity that humans have will cause them to read an article or a post that has such a title. Just ask “Upworthy.” They spend as much time on their titles as they do on their content. In fact, they may write as many as 25 titles for each story before making a decision on one of them. Obviously, the content that follows is terrific too, but it is the headlines that incite curiosity. People have a psychological need to know.

2# Appealing to Emotions

Emotions are powerful triggers. In fact, psychological research tells us that when people do become emotional, the parts of their brains that are logical and that relate to rational decision-making become far less active. When marketers can appeal to emotions, then, they have a better shot at getting conversions. In fact, some research says that purchasing decisions are as much as 80% emotional. The rational part comes later, as purchase decisions are then justified.

Statista has completed additional research to get very specific about which emotions appeal the most. Here is what they determined, based upon reads and shares:

Appealing to Emotions

81% of those reads and shares came from posts that evoked awe or a positive emotion. A note here: some posts start out sad or ager-inspiring, but if they have a “happy ending,” they are shared more. Here are some ways in which content can be imbued with emotion.

Laughter and Amusement:

Together, these two emotions make up 32% of the responses in the chart above. We have all shared items that we have found to be funny. And marketers who can use humor well have a great shot of having their content go viral. Here are a few examples:

  • Dollar Shave Club has a video on its homepage that went viral and really put this company “on the map.” It turned a boring product into a great idea (a subscription-based razor delivery product/service) into great value to consumers and did it with a hilarious explainer video.

Appealing to Emotions

  • Geico Insurance, another pretty boring product has an amusing mascot which we have all seen on TV. Well, he has a Facebook page too, with thousands of followers. You would be hard pressed to find any adult who is not familiar with the brand name Geico and the lizard mascot.
  • Newcastle Beer produces humorous tweets that are retweeted consistently. April 15 is “National Beed Day,” of so the company states. Here is its tweet on that holiday – one that was re-tweeted 100,000 times. “It’s National Beer Day. Have an ice-cold Newcastle and pretend you care.”


The emotion of awe covers a lot of territory ranging from feeling inspired to amazed. Lots of companies/marketers bank on these types of feelings to spread their brand, and they have been pretty successful.

  • Toms Shoes has become a major player in charitable work around the globe. It began by donating a pair for each pair bought. Then it expanded into eyewear and other products and is now involved in eye health, clean water, and prenatal care. The company itself is an inspiration to others and certainly to its followers who have become great brand ambassadors.
  • Foundr Magazine tweets beautiful photos with inspirational quotes superimposed on them. Certainly, this is not its only content marketing strategy, but it is significant. Nathan Chan, its founder, grew its Twitter following from 0 – 100,000 in a span of just months.


B2C marketers are not the only ones who can use emotion to spread a brand. Basecamp is a B2B company that provides project management software to companies who need help getting organized. Here is how it portrays empathy with every project manager:

EmpathyNote: content that appeals to emotions always has visuals, and those visuals are combined with great creative text as well. Whether that text is in a script for a video, a great headline, or well-written short chunks of information, everything must mesh together to create that emotional response. There are some great tools marketers now have access to that help them achieve this:

  • Videos can now be created with a smartphone and edited with such tools as Windows Movie Maker or a number of others that are also free and easy to use.
  • Headline generator tools are great for getting creative ideas for post titles. Enter keywords and get a bunch of examples which you can use as start points.
  • Writer’s block is a real thing, especially when trying to creatively appeal to emotions. Sometimes using a professional writing service that has a team of creative writers, such as SmartPaperHelp can ease that struggle when marketers are fresh out of ideas.
  • Creating visuals is no longer a job that has to be contracted out to expensive designers. There are now tools for virtually any type of visual you need – editing photos, or creating infographics, drawings, animation, banners, and more. Most are super easy to use.

3# Color Psychology

Neuroscience has given us a lot of information about color and the emotions it produces. Here is a quick infographic that shows some of what the research has produced:

Color Psychology

Marketers can and do make use of color. Pink, for example, is “romantic and feminine” and “used to market products to women and young girls.” Look at the CTA button for a Prevention Magazine product. And note the appeal to the emotion of joy too. These are happy women getting better bodies.

Color Psychology

Green is often “associated with wealthy,” and blue is often associated with senses of “trust and security.” It is no accident that banks used these colors a lot. Facebook uses a lot of blue too.

Color Psychology

4# The Psychology of Visual and Text Placement

Neuroscience has provided a lot of information about how we track visual and textual images with coordination between eye and brain. This has become important to marketers who want readers/viewers to place their attention on the critical aspects of what is on the page. Here is an example of A/B testing with the site, Baby.com. This heat map testing shows where viewers place their attention – red being that areas of greatest attention.

Version A:

The Psychology of Visual and Text Placement

The baby is just too cute, so there was little eye engagement with the product.

Version B:

The Psychology of Visual and Text Placement

Here the baby is looking at the product and the heat mapping shows that the viewer’s eyes follow.

5# Some Traditional Psychological Appeals That Still Work

There are some tactics that have been around since the first markets were sent up in ancient cities. They can still be used today because it is a part of human nature to have needs and to want value.

  • Establish a Sense of Urgency: When consumers are told that there are “only six left at this price” or that the special sale pricing ends in three days, they respond emotionally. The need for the product becomes more urgent as does the desire to “get a great deal.”
  • Establish Exclusivity: People like to feel they are part of an exclusive group. So, if a marketer offers a free trial only for the next 50 respondents or some type of private information, there is an emotional need to join that “group.”
  • Offer Reciprocity: when readers are offered something that they perceive to be of value in exchange for something that they must give, they will often respond positively. So, a marketer may state, “Get 15% off if you order within the next 12 hours,” (urgency established as well), or “Enter your email address and receive my free e-book,” the reciprocity has been set. People like the idea of cooperation with others.

Final Word

This information is certainly not a comprehensive explanation of all of the psychological elements involved in marketing. But it is a good basic start for marketers, as they review how they are presenting their content for psychological appeal.


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