7 Psychology Theories That Help You Sell


blaues gehirnApologies for the technical terms that I am about to bombard you with. To make up for that, I am going to be using pictures and layman explanations to show you how awesome these theories are.

Psychology, like it or not, is a big part of our lives. We can fall victim to our own irrational behavior without even knowing that we did. Marketers have used these theories to convince us not only to buy but to think that our purchase decision was right.

As a marketer, you should have knowingly (or not) used these theories a couple of times. I just thought having names to go with them would help you become more aware of their presence, so as to use them better.

1. The Framing Effect

A cup half empty is often interpreted differently from a cup half full. Want to promote yourself as a healthier choice? Remember to say 75% lean and not 25% fat. Framing/Phrasing of words can make a whole lot of difference, be sure to do it right.

gold picture frame

2. The Halo Effect

My sister had a good opinion of iphone before its launch because of her prior experience with ipod. A great product can have a halo effect on other products of the same brand. That’s why we see brand extensions around. If you already have a successful product, you can leverage its success by extending the line or venturing into related product categories.


3. Cognitive Dissonance

Studies have shown that people tend to amplify the good qualities of their purchases and the bad qualities of alternatives they didn’t end up choosing. We feel cognitive dissonance when we think that our purchase might not be the best there is. We try to reduce this discomfort by convincing ourselves that our decisions are right, even when they are not.

As marketers, our job is to give them a hand to reduce this dissonance. That’s why we have sales people telling us that the dress looks good on us at the fitting rooms. Besides having an awesome product, warranties, exchange and refund policies, and positive testimonies and reviews can help ease the mind of consumers before and after purchase. A great pre and post purchase experience and marketing messages targeted at this group of people would help a great deal as well.

What’s more important, which many marketers neglect is the after purchase period. This is the time when consumers are most likely to suffer from dissonance and if they, on their own failed to reduce it, the chances of a repeat purchase would be low.

Closeup portrait of happy young female carrying shopping bags

4. Approach-avoidance conflict

Want something that you shouldn’t want? That’s approach-avoidance for you. Fast food while on a diet can be tempting but you know that would mean more weight on the hips. You have been eyeing on that expensive coat for weeks but you know you have to save up for that car. Dilemma, dilemma. Marketing messages are meant to help consumers make the decision that would bring in more sales. That’s by either playing the conflict up or down.

Playing it down:
Tell them that your fast food is not that sinful after all.


Playing it up:
It is the vegetarian’s nightmare, yum.


5. Attribution Theory

Did something wrong? Blame someone else. Subtly and reasonably, of course. I was at Starbucks that day, and one of their coffee machines was out of order, making their service slower. In their note to customers, they apologized and said that the company that supplied the machine was unable to fix it. They were most probably telling the truth and it was very wise of them to add those extra details in (they could have just said the machine was out of order). Giving customers someone other than yourself to blame makes them more understanding towards you.

Closeup of human hands pointing towards business man

6. Elaboration Likelihood Model

Some purchase decisions are obviously more difficult than the others. I don’t really care much about what brand of tissue I use. I also don’t need much thought for my next laptop, which will always be a macbook. But I always take time to consider some other purchases, such as cameras, perfumes and books.

A decision doesn’t have to be expensive to be difficult. I once had a teacher who could spend an hour in a supermarket choosing shampoo. I also had relatives who took only 5 mins to decide on a new car. But these are exceptions, marketers have to look at a product and tell if it’s high or low involvement for most customers.

How elaborate is your customers’ decision process for your kind of product? If it’s minor, take the peripheral route. That is, don’t focus too much on the specifications and attributes of your product. No one is going to care much about them. Use emotional, sex, fear and other appeals to get their attention. Packaging is very important for products that don’t need a lot of time to decide on.

If your product requires high involvement from your customers (those that might cause more regret – expensive, potentially harmful etc.), make sure you let them know why your product is worth their every cent. In this case, you have to take the central route – specifications, attributes and USPs are important to persuade customers to buy your product.

Here’s Apple’s response to Microsoft’s laptop hunters campaign:

You can still take the central route without the need for a boring list of specifications.

7. Foot in The Door/Door in The Face

Foot in the door

Foot in the door basically means small favors that lead to big ones. Door to door salesmen and street surveyors are very good with this one. They first get your attention, ask you several questions before going in for the kill. Once we’ve said yes, we know it would be hard to say no when the next (bigger) request hits us. Many small yes-es would ultimately lead to the big yes, the one that actually matter.

Door in the face

Ever met a boy scout who asked you for a $10 donation that you politely rejected? And then he went on to say, “if you do not wish to donate, how about buying some brownies?” That’s what Robert Cialdini encountered before he came up with the book, “6 principles of influence.”

We are human after all. After rejecting someone asking for a big favor, the best we can do for our conscience is to help with his/her small favors. Salespeople often show us the most expensive range of products before telling us that there are cheaper alternatives.

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