Sales Psychology: Skyrocket Sales Today Using These 6 Heuristics and Cognitive Biases

  

Psychology of Marketing Heuristics

Imagine if you could make one simple adjustment to your business and see an instant boost in sales.
 
Or even better:
 
What if there were 6 of these simple tweaks— based on timeless sales psychology principles...
 
… and each of them could generate more leads, more customers— and ultimately— more sales.
 
You might be thinking, “that sounds awesome but…”
 
“...How difficult is it to apply the psychology of sales to my online business?”
 
Well, If you had a ton of real-world examples and a big how-to-use idea list, it would be a piece of cake.
 
And that’s exactly what I’m going to give you.  
 
Carve out a few minutes and tackle one of these sales strategies today.
 

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Note: Several of the principles I talk about below are from an amazing book called Thinking Fast and Slow.  Definitely worth checking out for any marketer or business owner.

This is a huge post, so here's a table of contents so you can jump down to whatever's relevant to you.

Each one come's with it's own set of real-world examples, AND a quick-start guide for how you can apply it to your business right away.

 

What are Heuristics?

Mental shortcuts that help us find good, but not always perfect, answers to challenging questions.

And when heuristics fail us, they lead us into cognitive biases.

 

What are Cognitive Biases?

Wikipedia says it well, “Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.”

It’s like taking a shortcut that ends up at the wrong destination.   

You wanted to go to the beach, and the sign said “Shortcut: Sand this way →” but you ended up in the desert instead.  

But not all cognitive biases are based off of bad mental shortcuts.  Some are based off of irrational thinking and reasoning in general, a tendency we all have, but often don’t recognize.

Why should businesses know about using Heuristics and Cognitive Biases?

 

Having an understanding of why and how people make different choices and judgements is a master-marketers’ tool.

 

We can persuade people to take the actions we need them to, by knowing the biases, errors, patterns and mental shortcuts they use.

 

And we need this because, even though your message is true, and what you have to offer your customers will make their lives better— they have to believe it.

And it’s your job to help them believe it.

Quick side note: use this only for good. That’s the difference between persuading someone to do what’s good for them, and manipulating someone to do something that’s not.

This quote sums it up nicely:

Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.”
— David Ogilvy

Before we take a deep-dive, here’s a quick overview of how this post works:

  1. We’re going to give a brief definition of what each heuristic or cognitive bias is.

  2. Give you a real-world example or two.

  3. Give you a few ideas on how to put them to use in your business.

 

We’ll start off on one that’s a bit more general because it is the foundation principle of some of the latter ones.

Using The Priming Effect:

Wikipedia says:

“Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus.”

Which means exposure to an idea can stimulate and “prime” us to think about a related idea.

These subtle suggestions can be used to sway, alter or influence people’s thoughts, moods and behavior. This actually works in reverse too— behaviors can influence mood and thoughts.

This technique works best for swaying those who are on the fence.

And to put it more simply: you are planting “idea-seeds” in people’s minds, that later, will help sprout similar types of ideas and actions you want them to think about or take.

Priming Examples:

This is crazy…

John Bargh’s study often called the “Florida Effect” gave college students words linked to old age such as Florida, bald, gray, wrinkle and asked them to form sentences with them.

After doing so, the students were asked to walk down the hall for the next stage.  This group (unknowingly) walked significantly more slowly down the hall than other groups given different words.

Hold up!  Just making college kids think about a handful of words made them actually feel and ACT more old!  Is this some kind of super power, mind-magic?!

No. [Well that was blunt]

You aren’t going to force someone to go completely against their will.  But like I mentioned earlier, it is a great, yet subtle technique to nudge those who may be on the fence.

Let’s look at 2 more examples (one from Tim Ferriss) and then a few different ways you might implement this strategy in your business or work.

Here’s a simple, and seemingly subtle example of Jason Zook using the priming technique with his audience.  

Jason Zook Priming Example

He’s named his email subscribers “The Action Army”, and if he continues to use that message and label consistently, his customers will begin to identify with it if they don’t already.  It starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Now he’s got a large following of people who all consider themselves action-takers.  

Can you figure out any advantages to that when it comes time for selling and calls-to-action? Do-ers and Clickers and Buyers, oh my!

I even use this on my own coaching page by stating both how much money I lost when I tried to figure it out my first [failed] business without any mentorship.  And again with how much money I spent on coaches and mentors to help my second business crush it.

Here’s our last example on Priming:

Tim Ferriss Priming
Tim Ferriss twitter priming

 

You have to be careful with the way Tim Ferriss went about this on twitter, as it can easily backfire.  However, he pulled it off really well here and was likely able to decrease his bad responses significantly— simply by priming people to not make them.

Sometimes it works better to frame this in the positive, “Thx for genuine answers only.”

How to use Priming in Your Marketing:

  • Positively label your students or customers.  Tell your customers/tribe they’re the type of people who do X (X= what you want them to be, do or think like), and they will be more likely to buy into that, and then live it out.

  • Use an Image of yourself, or arrows etc. pointing toward your opt-in (Neville Medhora does this on his homepage http://kopywritingkourse.com/).  This primes people to focus where you want them to.

  • Boost your own confidence with things like James Clear's article featuring the 2 minute power pose.  You can prime yourself by putting your body in certain states or focusing your thoughts on targeted outcomes. Alternatively, you could ask your audience to get into a position, frame of mind, or location that evokes the kind of emotion your sales message requires.  Here’s a cool study backing this up, where researchers used pencils and smiling to make subjects find things more humorous.

 

Now we’re going to get into one of my favorites. It’s extremely effective AND simple.  And that’s why I love it.

Read on...

Anchoring (Effect) and Adjustment:

 

This is our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we’re given.  And then to use that information to make subsequent decisions.

This works especially well in the context of product pricing, known as price anchoring.  So we’ll focus on that.

When we see or are given random numbers before making decisions they have an affect on our choice.  We’re more likely to be swayed, held to, or pulled towards that number in our decision.  It creates an “anchor” that holds us to it.

It can be used as a great tool to help prime and pre-persuade customers before they make a decision.   Typically, the goal is to help customers see what a great bargain they are getting, or to spend more..

Anchoring Effect Example:

 

Check out this real menu from a restaurant in New York, and tell me if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

Menu Using Anchoring Effect

This burger costs 20x more than their average burger!

Like the example above… You’ll also see this strategy at some restaurants, where they have an extremely high-priced item, that’s main purpose is to make everything else seem like a deal (also it’s a marketing piece).  Sometimes these items go for over $1,000!   

But once we compare the $250 burger in the menu above to that $17 one, we suddenly feel so much better about our decision— “at least we aren’t spending that much!”.  

And yet we can buy an incredibly delicious burger at In-N-Out for under $3 (Except for you poor non US West-Coasters).  

Although there’s a lot more going on in a restaurant's’ strategy in selling burgers for 5-10x the price of Fast-food places, this is one of those powerful techniques that allows higher prices to feel “normal”.

Here’s another way of doing price anchoring, without having to use an additional product to make your others seem like a great value...

Using Price anchoring

 

Mr. Set-it-And-Forget-it Ron Popeil uses this psychology principle to an extreme, by focusing you first on the $1,000 price tag, and eventually ending on dramatically smaller monthly payments.  Here’s a 35 second Youtube clip of him going hardcore at this.

Seems silly, and cheesy, but you know why they do it… it works.

Remember, you can modify these, within the general guidelines to make it fit your product, business or personality.  You don’t have to be as hardcore as Ron.

How to Use Price Anchoring in Your Marketing:

  • Sprinkle in testimonials that show customers’ results in real numbers— especially those where they have earned or saved far more from using the product or service than they paid for them.

  • Show your higher priced options FIRST. Mention your all-day in-person fee.  Show your customized option pricing.  Show what a (or your) done-for-you solution costs if you’re selling DIY info-products.  The higher-priced anchors don’t need to be your products or services, they can be from anyone who charges significantly more than your solution.

  • Build a calculator onto your website to show the amount they could earn, hours they could save etc. from using your product, before your price is displayed.

  • In webinars you could ask people to write down, or type in how much they would like to earn, or how much money they think they’ve wasted doing things incorrectly etc.. If these numbers are significantly larger than the price of your product or service— BOOM, you’ve anchored them on those high figures. Now, when you reveal your pricing, it feels like a deal, with real value.

The Cognitive Ease Effect:

Our brains are lazy.  Or, at least, they like to conserve fuel and energy.  

And the simplicity at which our brain can process information, influences how positively we feel about something.

That means that our customers’ brains don’t want to think too hard if they don’t have to. So don’t make them!  

When the brain has to use it’s slow, difficult-thinking mode it’s more likely to also be suspicious, less comfortable and vigilant.  None of those things sound very awesome for making someone trust you, and want to buy from you.

Neville is the copywriting King of this. He helps people take "krappy kopy", filled with jargon, “cleverness”, and corporate-speak… and simplify it, as if you were chatting with a friend over a coffee...  

..And then your friend buys your thing, because you’re a boss at selling, and speaking her language.

Cognitive Ease Examples:

 

Neville has a great video that breaks this down in his Kopywriting Kourse. (Yes, I’ve taken it, and will probably go through it 2x more this year. P.S. no $20s were slipped to me for this— it’s really just amazing)

Neville Medhora cognitive ease heuristic

Here’s a sneak peek of boring-Neville from an alternate universe

I think he summed it up well when saying that:

“Talking casual almost always outperforms professional speak.”

Avoid corporate-speak!

For examples of bad corporate speak you can read the lofty, jargon-filled mission statements that most companies have.

And this upcoming example was taken straight from Neville’s post about Direct Mail Marketing, and it sums it up in one nice picture, with examples of good (Geico’s) and Bad (their competitors taglines).

Geico Cognitive Ease Heuristic

 

This matters, because you may only have a few seconds to capture attention, and help get your message, and benefits across.  

If people have to work hard to “get it”, they’ll just open up Instagram and zone-out, because it’s easier than deciphering what the advertiser should have clarified in the first place.
 

How to Use Cognitive Ease in Your Marketing:

  • Know your audience, and write below their flesch-score, especially when selling.

  • Increase legibility. Remove distractions. Use small sentences and paragraphs. Make your writing clear, and easy to read. E.g. text BIG enough, crisp, bold enough, bullet-points when needed etc.. This goes for audio and video as well. Make things easy to consume.

  • Talk about things that your users already believe, or agree with.  Familiarity feels true and trustworthy. (Related to a cognitive bias that we discuss later in this post)

  • Use repetition.  Similar to above, familiarity is hard to distinguish from truth.

  • Stop the corporate-speak. Just. Stop. (Tip: record your message from a phone or transcription app and it will come out much more natural sounding and authentic. Also, read it out loud— you’ll feel when it’s authentic or fake.)

  • Make your message memorable.  Rhyming is one technique that makes people judge aphorisms as more insightful. Analogies are another great technique to help get a message across without straining the brain.

  • Put people in a good mood.  Bad mood = guard up, vigilance up.  So don’t mentally exhaust your customers, or they may leave, or put off buying decisions for “another time”, aka they’re gone.

 

Confirmation Bias:

A quick google search defines it as: The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories [that leads to statistical errors].

 

It’s essentially the tendency to jump to conclusions that match what we already believe to be true.  Often times, we unknowingly seek out information that affirms our beliefs, while ignoring or discounting the things that disagree with them.

 

If you catch yourself saying “see, I knew it!”.. You might want to slow down, and ask different questions, so you don’t fall into this trap.

 

But what are some examples of how we can use this in a positive way to get more customers, and make their experiences better?

 

Confirmation Bias Examples:

This website Pro Remodeler had a few interesting examples, but I wanted to dig into one of them more specifically, because I think it’s easy to apply both online and offline.

This is such a cool example... Especially in the application of businesses with high complaints, high refunds, or  industries where there are notorious problems that people have come to simply expect.  Like in the construction industry where there can be stigmas such as messes left every day, showing up late, and going over budget or time estimates.

 

Confirmation Bias example

 

This roofing company started giving away a simple PDF that taught people how to have success with a contractor, what things to look for and avoid when hiring, and a code of ethics and competency to expect.

Now, potential customers would use this information to filter their choices when considering a roofing contractor.  

And who do you think did everything right on the list, and none of the “avoid this” stuff?  That’s right, the company who told you what to look for!

If you can point out the things that a high-caliber company in your industry does— especially the ones you specialize in doing exceptionally well— then your customers will focus on those things when you perform them.  And they’ll put more weight on them when it comes to how they mentally rate you, because you got them to focus on those performance indicators.  

You’ll be confirming the things you planted in their mind earlier.  This is great in helping you stand out from the competition who may not specialize in your area of expertise.  

Be the first the teach and train both your prospective and actual customers.

How did it work for this company?  Other than changing their marketing to teach about the things they already did, they changed nothing.

Yet, It increased trust with their customers, it also improved how their internal staff was treating customers.  Here’s a very important stat: it decreased complaints with the Better Business Bureau by 88%.  

Can you imagine what this does for referrals, add-on sales, and on conversions for people searching for roofing company reviews online?

Talk and teach about the things you do, so customers expect those things, and rate you highly when you execute on them.
 

Here’s another example from Uncle Nev:

 

Neville’s post on How to Hire a Copywriter is beautiful example of this.

 

He’s helping his audience, potential customers, and at the same time, he’s training people on how to think about his very own services.  How to value them, and decide what’s right for them, and how to filter out those not interested in paying for quality.

So when Neville performs the things that he’s taught people to believe, their beliefs are now confirmed, and they’re happier with the results.  

And if they go to a crappy copywriter, and don’t see the good things they learned to expect from Neville’s teaching, they’ll quickly flee— and who do you think they’ll run to? Yep, right into Neville’s warm, awesome-kopy embrace.
 

How to Use Confirmation Bias in Your Marketing:

 

  • Point out something that’s at least somewhat remarkable about your business. Something you want your customers to pay more attention to, before you do that thing.

  • Teach your audience about what a good [insert: what you do] does. E.g. How to hire a great personal trainer if you were a personal trainer or gym with trainers. You can also include the things to avoid.

  • Use this in your follow-up sequence after a customer buys, to help decrease refunds and complaints.  Remind them of why they bought, and also use some logic here. (We typically buy on emotion and justify with logic)

  • SmartInsights.com has 3 simple tips for using this cognitive hack: Implement customer loyalty programs, recognize and reward them for any action they take towards checkout, and encourage sharing post-sale or conversion.

  • Ask questions that lean towards getting people to affirm what you want them to think about. Instead of: Is becoming famous unhealthy? Which gets them to think of ways it is… ask: Is becoming famous good?  Or ask: List 3 ways becoming famous could help you.

  • Ask Customers to write a review.  Research shows getting a customer to write a review increases your their view on that product’s value by up to 37% [Econsultancy]. Not to forget, getting a positive review also helps you gain new customers too. (Remember, the roofing business decreased BBB complaints by 88%(!) when incorporating the tactic of priming with confirmation bias)

  • Show progress bars to your customers. Some email optin softwares do this well by showing a 50% complete bar after the first action is taken towards signing up for someone’s email list.  This shows commitment, progress, and investment to the user.  This ties into the example we gave above, saying to praise and recognize any progress people have made towards the action you want them to take.

progress bar confirmation bias

 

The Halo Effect:

 

This is why we perceive attractive people as more popular, successful, and smarter.  It’s one of the reasons why first impressions are so important.  

If we tend to initially like something about someone, then we’re much more likely to blanket that feeling, and like everything about them… even if we haven’t experienced all of those new positive attributes we’ve told ourselves they have.  

For example, if you view someone as smart, you’re more likely to also see them as trustworthy, financially savvy, witty, nice etc.

The same goes for disliking, so again, be mindful of your first impression.

Examples of The Halo Effect:

 

Ramit Sethi is a personal-finance expert (amongst many other awesome things).  I’ve seen him use this same image several times over.

 

Do you know why? ….

The Halo Effect, Ramit Sethi

...Because Warren-Freaking-Buffett!  

How much credibility-boost do you think you get from being in a hugely successful business magazine, right next to today's most successful investor in the world?!

Ok, so we have several different principles at play here.

Ramit is next to an authority-figure in finance, and that lends credibility to him.  Also, Just being on the list of personal-finance experts in a magazine like Forbes is very powerful.  

And then we can look at things like his attire, stance and general suave-ness (you’re welcome Ramit), and make a small mental leap that he knows what he’s talking about...  

...Which leads us to make bigger mental leaps into believing he also knows what he’s talking about in things like: building a business, sales, marketing, psychology, fitness, careers and more (hint: he does).

Each of these areas are lent credibility by the halo-effect.

When we see his success as a personal-finance expert, it’s more believable that he’s in expert in other fields as well.

Now you’re wondering how you can slap a halo on your head, right?

Let’s take a look.

How to Use The Halo Effect in Your Marketing:

 

  • Connect your product with something or someone else that’s attractive to your audience. Celebrity endorsements (also an authority-effect), beautiful things, people & design.  Be considerate of your audience and industry when thinking about whom or what to use, because fancy doesn’t automatically mean it works and is best.

  • Put a huge focus on your best skill or product or benefit, first. Front and center.  Then let the Halo Effect go to work and it will help your other products, talents or services rise in credibility with it.

  • This works in the opposite way too: The Horns Effect… make sure the first thing people experience when coming in contact with you, your website, or product, isn’t negative.  If someone’s first experience on your website is a broken link that doesn’t allow them to opt-in or download what they came for, it leads them down a trail of thinking the rest of your stuff is likely to suck too.

  • Show pictures of yourself with famous people or experts in your industry (if your audience knows and respects these authorities). May sound cheesy, but it works.

  • Interview experts in your industry.  Jamie Masters of eventualmillionaire.com has nailed this! She interviews millionaires on her podcast.  Jamie not only learns invaluable insights she applies to her own business, but the success of her interviewees rubs off on her image too. Other examples of people benefitting from the Halo Effect are big news anchors, Oprah, Tim Ferriss.

  • Break-down, test and distill tactics of other successful businesses, leaders and experts using unique techniques that apply to your industry. And then blog about them!  Bryan Harris of videofruit.com is thee master at this.  Because he’s talking about people his audience view as an expert, he’s gets some automatic credibility [He's since earned his own street cred].  Similar to the interviewing process, but no connections to the authority figures are needed.  I even used a simplified version of this in my online business ideas post by researching and linking to very specific posts and topics from authority figures in my niche.  

Loss Aversion Effect for Marketing:

 

People will work harder to avoid losses than to achieve gains.  

That’s because we place a higher value on the pain we receive from losing something, than we do from the pleasure of gaining something similar.

Some research shows losses can be as much as twice as powerful as gains.

Simply meaning: many people would work harder to keep from losing $100 they already have, than they would to gain $100-$200.  

Wait until you see this in action, the results are just *WOAH*.

woah emoji

Loss Aversion Effect Example:

Consequence Pricing. Get ready.

Here’s one of the coolest ways I’ve seen this used for both increasing sales, AND for increasing your customers’ success:

Bryan Harris (yep, he’s back, because he’s always innovating) did an absolutely fascinating experiment where he gave away a mini-course for free as part of his pre-launch strategy for his course 10ksubs.com.  

But there was a caveat! [Twist!]

You had to chose a consequence of $10, $50 or $100 that you’d be charged if you did not complete the course. If you completed it in the required time, it was free.

What happened?

People worked their butts off and completed the dang thing!  The completion rate was over 70%-90% depending on the tier they chose (higher consequence = higher completion rate).  

Loss Aversion example

What makes this so special?  

When he gave away a similar course during a previous product launch, the completion rate was only 12%. 12-friggin-percent!   

So buy using consequence pricing, he increased student success rate by over 600%.

Here’s the kicker: People who completed the free mini-course were 6x more likely to buy his premium product that costs over $1,000, than those who didn’t.  And 15x more likely to buy than those who didn’t take the free course at all.

Let’s repeat that:  People who completed the free mini-course were 6x (600%!) more likely to buy his premium product that costs over $1,000!

 

“How can I get these results?!”

How to Use Loss Aversion in Your Marketing:

  • Do what Bryan did. Increasing user success will result in more testimonials, referrals, and lifetime value of your customers.  They’ll rave about you, and buy anything else you have to sell.  (ProTip: Use this on yourself if you need to accomplish something tough— I did it for this very blog post. So meta.)

  • If you’re a software company, give customers a full version trial, and then ask them to upgrade to a full account or they’ll lose some of their favorite features or complete access when the trial is over.  

  • Service example: Offer to do 3 free email copywriting tear-downs before customers send out their emails, where you’ll fix them for them.  Once you improve their conversions, and they get used to seeing more sales, and better customer responses, it’ll be easy to convert them to paying for the service.  They’ll be hooked on the results, and won’t want to lose them. (ProTip: this is a great way to get your foot in the door for add-on services with existing clients)

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