Human Behaviour Theories All Marketers Need to Know

Insights | 04/03/2021 | Written by Danielle Smith

Originally posted on Figaro.

How well do you know your customers? That’s the purpose of marketing, right? Understand your customers, their wants, their needs, and then deliver the best possible product or service to them. But how do we better understand them? What psychological theories should be on our radar to enable us to be the best marketers we can be? 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more of a “I-think-these-are-really-interesting-and-you-might-too” kind of deal. They have certainly helped shape how I think about marketing strategy and how I approach my understanding of customers. 

To quote someone more well-versed in this than me…

Just to kick us off, I want to share the following quote which I think sums up the importance of why human behaviour is key to successful marketing.

To be good marketers, of course we need to know the ins and outs, the technicalities of our processes, our tools, our channels, etc. But, just as important, is how well we really know what makes our customers tick. 

The Fogg Behaviour Model

BJ Fogg first came to my attention through the Dax Shepard podcast Armchair Expert; he’s a social scientist and a professor at Stanford University. He came up with the following behaviour model:

Behaviour = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

Essentially, if you want to provoke a certain action in someone, you need them to have a motivation to do so, the ability to do so, and a prompt causing them to act. If the desired behaviour does not occur, one of these three elements must be missing. 

Now, as marketers, I think it’s clear what our prompt could be: a well placed social ad, a newsletter dropped into someone’s inbox at the right time, a brilliantly written piece of content — the list goes on. 

But here’s the interesting bit: it’s much easier to change someone’s ability to do something than it is their motivation. This is all about making the user journey easier — reducing the steps from prompt to action, for example. 

While a great marketing campaign could, over time, change someone’s motivation, the much easier job is to find the audience whose motivations already align with your brand’s, and make it easier for them to act. 

Psychological Egoism

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

To put it simply, people love themselves. If your brand can show genuine interest in your customers, clearly showing that you are there for them, to help meet their needs, to truly understand them, you’re far more likely to get them onside. 

By showing interest in them, they are more likely to show interest in you than if you simply stood on a hilltop shouting “look at our products” — or the social media ad equivalent of that. This could be as simple as using inclusive “we” language in your messaging, rather than “you” and “us” — put the customer first. 

The Anchoring Effect

Also known as “the importance of a good first impression”. The anchoring effect looks at the tendency of people to hook on to the first thing they hear about a topic, even when inaccurate, or when new information is shown to them. 

So, what does that mean for your brand? Make sure your first interaction with your customer is a good one. Reviews are important in this, too, as your customer’s first impression of you may have nothing to do with your efforts in reaching them, but in their efforts to seek out other people’s opinion of you. 

Priming — getting a foot in the door with your potential customers

The idea here is that people are more likely to agree to one action if they have already agreed to a previous, smaller action. For example, if you ask potential customers to follow you on social media, or to sign up to a mailing list, this effectively opens the door to them being more likely to sign up for your next event or buy the next product you advertise to them. 

By getting customers onboard, in small ways, encouraging them to say “yes” to small asks, the big asks come more easily. 

The Ben Franklin Effect

Somewhat related to the behaviour above, the Ben Franklin effect essentially says that someone is more likely to do you a favour if they’ve already done you one in the past. In fact, they are more likely to do this than if you had done them a favour first. 

Forget reciprocity — by getting your customers to do one task, they are more likely to do another one in the future. 

Ben Franklin

The Decoy Effect

This one may be a little more obvious, or you may have at least come across this more overtly in your everyday lives. Here’s an example of a pricing plan for a well-known publication: 

  • Online subscription: £59
  • Print subscription: £125
  • Online and print subscription: £125

Which do you choose? 

This one may be a little more obvious, or you may have at least come across this more overtly in your everyday lives. Here’s an example of a pricing plan for a well-known publication: 

  • Online subscription: £59
  • Print subscription: £125
  • Online and print subscription: £125

The Paradox of Choice

Now, don’t let the above “extra choice” fool you into thinking more choice is a good thing! You’ll have likely heard of “analysis paralysis” — the inaction that occurs from too much choice. 

People are not good at making decisions. In fact, if you give a customer too many options, they are more likely to go to a competitor with fewer options to make their decision easier, than to spend time deliberating over yours. By reducing the number of options available to your customers, it actually makes the user journey smoother. Remember, ability, or ease, is a key factor in provoking an action or behaviour. 

Now, don’t let the above “extra choice” fool you into thinking more choice is a good thing! You’ll have likely heard of “analysis paralysis” — the inaction that occurs from too much choice. People are not good at making decisions. In fact, if you give a customer too many options, they are more likely to go to a competitor with fewer options to make their decision easier, than to spend time deliberating over yours. By reducing the number of options available to your customers, it actually makes the user journey smoother. Remember, ability, or ease, is a key factor in provoking an action or behaviour. 

Let’s say you have a series of coffee-making products; filters, coffee beans, cafetieres, etc. A new customer may be overwhelmed by choice. But what if you had a starter kit? An all-encompassing, easy choice, for your first-time buyer. How likely do you think they’ll be to come back to you, the helpful brand, again in future? I’d guess pretty high. 

With great power…

Understanding these nuances of human behaviour is important for us to better serve our customers. However, we have to also recognise that this comes with responsibility. The idea of using these theories to “hack” customer behaviour misses the point. To become better marketers, we need to add value to our customers’ lives. We can do this by better understanding them and their needs, by reaching them at the right time, with the right messaging, and by making the path to action as simple and easy as possible. 

So, just as we started, I’ll ask again: how well do you know your customers?

But let’s also consider the following questions:

  • What first impressions are you making?
  • Are you making their user journey as easy as possible?
  • Are you showing enough interest in them?
  • What about choice? Are you giving too many or too few options?
  • And, perhaps most importantly, are you having a positive impact on their lives?

If you want to find out more about Curated’s customer first approach, or to reach out to Danielle directly, you can get in touch here.

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