Why Psychology Needs to Be Part of Your Digital Marketing Strategy, and How to Do It

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 6 minutes

For decades psychology has played a major role in fine-tuning the ways marketers connect consumers to brands and their products. From the Madison Avenue firms of the 1950s to the latest digital startups in the Silicon Valley, savvy marketing strategists always have and continue to rely on an advanced understanding of human behavior within the context of marketing to help their clients hit specific growth goals.

But the use of marketing psychology has been dramatically dumbed down for a number of reasons. Staffing is the first problem. Most of today’s digital marketing agencies employ people who lack the graduate-level educational experience necessary for running a marketing campaign grounded in the understanding of consumer behavior. Instead, they hire people who follow “best practices” when it comes to audience targeting tactics in the Inbound methodology, which isn’t enough to get the best results. Then there is a misappropriation of the needs hierarchy; more value is placed on running technology platforms than the digital marketing strategy itself. For example, the ability to integrate conflicting software to help improve marketing automation is often prioritized above deeper groundwork tasks. While buttoning up your technical chops is of great importance, the tools will be a waste of time if the foundation in knowing your consumer market isn’t already firmly in place to dictate how these tools should be used to achieve set goals–a step all too many marketing agencies completely miss.

If you are a CEO or an executive manager searching for the best digital marketing agencies in Los Angeles to New York City, make sure their approach is grounded in understanding your customers. You should also ensure that leadership members have the education, experience, and background to execute advanced market research with a strong running logic-based foundation from which marketing psychology is deeply rooted.

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What Marketing Psychology Means for a Digital World

Marketing psychology is not the practice of looking at leads coming into a CRM, segmenting them, and pitching content at leads. Instead, it is having a well of knowledge regarding the manner in which the market reflects its participant’s emotional, collective state. Marketing psychology’s nature teaches that any trend may be more emblematic of market sentiment over fundamental losses or gains. And this needs to be reflected in the digital marketing strategy.

Consumer market perception directly impacts trends and pricing, and marketing psychology unearths the overall feeling within consumer cohorts that impels them to make a purchasing decision. This is why upward trends are deeply associated with sensations of optimism, hope, and positive expectations while in contrast bearish, downward trends invoke the semblance of pessimism, fear, and anxiety.

Marketing psychology matters because it is an advanced understanding of consumer behavior that ultimately drives how technology and digital marketing strategy come together to understand buyers and deliver the right content resulting in a conversion. But before this happens, it drives direction and logic–something that is almost non-existent in most digital marketing agencies today.

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Marketing Psychology, Priming and Semantic Search

Have you ever taken a test or played a game where someone says a word, and you say the first thing that comes to mind? For example, someone might say “ocean”, and the other person says “waves”. Then the person says “blue”, and the person says “sea”. The person has a semantic association between the first word, their response to it, followed by the next word and response that relate to the same associated grouping. In the world of marketing psychology, this is known as priming–the latent memory effect in which the display to a stimulus influences a distinctive response to a previous stimulus.

Priming and semantic search considerations go hand-in-hand. When it comes to top-of-funnel traffic generation in a custom Growth Stack put together by a digital marketing agency, the chance of qualifying leads and increasing goes up significantly. For example, a paid media strategist will have a more focused understanding of what keywords and phrases to use that will garner more valuable clicks, and SEO strategists will know which keywords used in the right context will rank web pages and blogs for audiences likely to convert, as opposed to ranking for big keywords with zero conversion strategy.

Priming can be performed through a variety of ways in a digital marketing campaign. Strategists with a strong background in marketing psychology can use subtle priming techniques in content to help website visitors retain key information about your brand and its products with the ultimate goal to influence their buying behavior.

‘Psychology Today’ conducted an experiment across multiple companies with products relevant to a downed trend and found that by priming audiences with phraseology that provided resolutions to common fear-based associations consumers held about those products,  webpage engagement, and sales conversions increased. Priming can also extend into the impact of color in marketing psychology for any industry. The same study found that website visitors primed on money as a topic converted better when the same shade of green found on currency, and other shades of green, were used in the site’s aesthetic design.

Priming is not the same as creating buyer personas–a tactic commonly associated with inbound marketing, and one that is being used more often for SEO and paid media strategies. But it can maximize the buyer persona’s effectiveness by capturing the attention of the right buyer groups and inspiring them to convert into customers using advanced marketing psychology principles in the logic.

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The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in Digital Marketing

If you studied marketing psychology in your university business classes, you likely encountered the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. In marketing psychology, this is a phenomenon in which consumers happen upon some obscure piece of information, typically an unfamiliar name, phrase, or word. Then soon afterward they encounter the same subject repeatedly.

There is a science behind why this motivates people to buy products and support brands, and there are various digital marketing strategies that can be used to use the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon playbook as a way to generate sales.

The human brain has a predisposed prejudice to patterns. While the brain is an advanced machine for pattern recognition, it does not value occurrences associated with uninspiring events. The brain absorbs thousands of names, words and ideas in a single day, so it is uninspiring that we encounter these multiple times. But when we hear an unfamiliar phrase or word, and take note of it, only to see it again, the brain’s reward center is stimulated and a new pattern begins taking shape thus creating a heightened sense of value.

For example, when CBS promoted its hit TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’, they used character Sheldon Cooper’s catchphrase “Bazinga” (he says it every time he one-ups someone) in various adverts. The word’s literal definition is a genus of rhizostome jellyfish located off Australia’s central-eastern coast–a word unfamiliar to most people in the world. But as the word appeared more frequently and caught the attention of TV viewers, CBS was able to achieve one of their goals–increase the number of viewers necessary to strike up new and bigger advertising deals.

While TV viewers failed to notice the thousands of pieces of information repeated in dull predictable patterns, they took note of the bazinga campaign and its shows because the marketing conformed to an interesting, irregular pattern (selective attention) that stimulated the brain’s pleasure zone. This is also known as the recency effect–a cognitive bias that exaggerates the importance of recent stimuli.

So how can this digital marketing strategy be used? Once you have an advanced understanding of your buyers and have successfully ranked specific content for semantic search, priming techniques and other marketing psychology tactics can determine the unfamiliar word or phrase to put the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon to use. Here are some strategies to try:

Organic Search – If the phrase or word is unique enough, it will be easy to earn a speedy organic ranking for the term on page one of Google. Just make sure the context is laid heavily into the content so your page will rank for the right searchers, and ensure the phrase is in your page title and meta description.

Paid Media – Retargeting ads can be set to appear based on various web pages you’ve visited. Just be sure to set the cadence so the pattern will be irregular enough to be memorable.

Geo-Fencing – If you sell your product in a retail store, you can set up a geofence to send specific ads or content to buyer’s phones when they enter the store. The content can tell them what aisle your product is on while offering an incentive. The “coincidence” will spike their brain’s pleasure zone, and offering a discount will only enhance conversion rates by doubling the pleasure sequence’s effectiveness.

Social Media Marketing – once you have determined where your buyers spend time online, create a lookalike audience using social media profiles, and engage groups where your customers talk about your brand and products. Use a conversation strategy, engage the group, and share content featuring the unfamiliar phrase while guiding audience members to the desired location. This could be your website, social media page, or to a conversion-optimized landing page.

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