Conversion optimization is a matter of persuasion. And persuasion is, first of all, a matter of psychology. As you may know, nobody is better than Robert Cialdini in teaching us about persuasion and psychology as a way to understand how customer's mind works.
Not surprisingly, marketers regularly base promotional techniques on Cialdini's principles of social influence to increase the desirability of their products among customers. The choice of what tactics to use, however, is primarily determined by their business goals, while ‘who’ their customers are - from a psychological point of view - is often pushed into the background.
Reciprocity, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. These six principles rely on different psychological motives:
- The desire to give something back when we've received something (Reciprocity).
- The need to behave consistently with our previous choices (Commitment and Consistency).
- The tendency to perform actions that reflect other people's actions (Social Proof).
- The tendency to like someone or something that seems similar to us (Liking).
- The tendency to follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable figures (Authority).
- The desire to have more of those things we can have less of (Scarcity).
Each of these principles is related to our inner needs, which make us different one another. As a result, their effectiveness can be stronger or weaker depending on who is the target audience - always from a psychological perspective.
Here are three good examples.
People look at what others do to determine their own behavior, especially when they are uncertain or doubtful. Conforming to others, in fact, helps us to feel part of a social group and avoid social faux pas. This kind of "peer power", however, works only with certain types of people.
The ideal customer personality
Social proof is typically more persuasive to people who have a high need for approval and a desire to conform, but it can't work with those who seek uniqueness. Having a high need for uniqueness, in fact, undermines the influence of majority (Imhoff & Erb, 2009). As a result, recommendation techniques such as "people like you bought this" may bother uniqueness-seeking customers while attracting conformity-seekers at the same time.
People perceive products as more attractive and valuable when their availability is rather limited. So, when they believe that something is in short supply, they want it more. Because valuable things are often scarce, people tend to conclude that scarce things are valuable and more desirable. That is why customers are so attracted by products promoted as being "scarce" (versus abundant), in time or quantity (Cialdini, 1993).
Promotions such as the 'limit one per customer' sales and the 'limited editions' are designed to harness the persuasive power of the scarcity effect. However, as they rely on specific psychological mechanisms, the effectiveness of scarcity changes according to "whom" they are addressed.
The ideal customer personality
Scarcity effect by its nature conveys a feeling of urgency and the belief that you will be missing out on something if you fail to act quickly. A personality trait called "need for closure" refers to one's desire for gaining a definitive answer to a question, thus avoiding uncertainty.
People who are high on this trait feel the urge to come to a quick decision, and scientific research demonstrates that scarcity affects them more compared to people who tend to avoid closure and are more comfortable with ambiguity (Jung & Kellaris 2004). As a result, customers with higher need for closure would be more prone to buy something if they know that it is the very last one or that a special deal will soon expire.
People feel the need to give back to others the form of behaviors, favors or gifts that they have received in the first place. In other words, they want to treat others the same way they have treated them before and, more importantly, be the last to give.
Running a blog that offers highly actionable and useful insights for free; a waiter or waitress that gives you a gift - such as a fortune cookie, or a mint - when bringing your bill; offering a gift incentive upfront rather than at the end of a sale.
All these common-used tactics apply the principle of reciprocity to make your readers more willing to buy something from you or provide you with a conversion and to be more generous tippers. As we all know, however, the feeling of being indebted to others, the sense of gratitude and the desire to repay a kindness, are not equally present in each of us.
The ideal customer personality
Studies have found that such "prosocial" tendencies are strongly rooted in personality and, especially, in individual differences in agreeableness.
Agreeable people are typically more grateful, thankful, and trustful. They are also more likely to attribute their positive outcomes to the intentional behavior of others, while distrustful people tend to be suspicious, skeptical, and address others' kindness to personal or selfish gain. So, agreeable customers are perfect for reciprocity-based engagement techniques.
If you think that customers decisions are just based on past behaviors, you are wrong. They mainly depend on who they are. That is why it is imperative to put effort into knowing the human side of your customers and choose how to communicate with them on a personal level.
In a world where hyper-personalization is an essential factor for success in every business, blending empathy in your marketing strategy becomes the key to meet the challenge. Add technology to the equation, and that is the key to make it scalable.
Cialdini, R. (1993). The psychology of influence. New York: William Morrow & Co.
Imhoff, Roland, Hans-Peter Erb. 2009. What motivates nonconformity? Uniqueness seeking blocks majority influence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35(3) 309–320.
Jung, J. M., & Kellaris, J. J. (2004). Cross‐national differences in proneness to scarcity effects: The moderating roles of familiarity, uncertainty avoidance, and need for cognitive closure. Psychology & Marketing, 21(9), 739-753.
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