Tapping human psychology: a marketer’s superpower or hocus-pocus?

Can we use studies into various aspects of human psychology to create more persuasive sales copy or would we be just as well off cooking up a witches concoction in a cauldron over an open fire?

It’s easy to be sniffy about things that we don’t understand and that don’t really seem to make sense. However, with so many different independent studies into psychological effects on persuasion, ignoring such studies could mean marketers are missing a trick.

Nothing can compete with real experience and testing things on real buyers, but psychological studies may give useful pointers on how to create sales pages that maximize their persuasiveness.

If you are open to looking further into this field, I think there are a couple of key things to keep in mind.

First, this isn’t going to offer you any kind of magic bullet. Crap copy isn’t going be rescued by sacrificing a chicken and indulging in mind games.

Second, any gains you make are likely to be minimal. That said, a handful of minimal gains can add up.

Small gains good, big gains better

I recall some years ago, though details are a little hazy, reading about a study that looked at ways to get people to follow through on future commitments. They found something like that when they asked participants where they would be when they completed the task they had committed too, these participants were more likely to follow through at the future date.

For some reason, I had webinars on my mind at the time and I wondered about how that could be used to try and decrease no-shows. Even if it could be leveraged in some way, the uptick in attendees would probably only be a few percentage points.

Later that same day, Matt Rizvi at Strategic Profits sent out an email with a link to a five minute video recorded with a webinar veteran. Frustratingly the page is no longer online and I can’t recall the marketer’s name, but I do recall he was sharing tips on how to 5x your webinar sales.

That was a moment of clarity. A few hours earlier I’d been wondering about theoretically increasing webinar attendees by a couple of percent and here was some fella sharing how to increase sales by five times.

One of the lessons learned that day. While theorizing about possible applications of persuasive psychology can be fascinating, there often may be more obvious solutions that will yield much greater returns.

In case you care, I vaguely recall two things he shared.

First on the sign-up page for the webinar, he also offered an option for someone to opt-in to get the information without attending. These users would receive the same information, but delivered in an email sequence.

Second, for non-appearances, he suggested you could offer them a replay, but you might be better off to invite them to opt-in for the email sequence.

Those are tactics. Psychological principles aren’t.

Psychological effects aren’t tactics

Don’t imagine that you can read about a psychological effect and that you can then apply that as a tactic.

They’re surely very different things.

The best analogy I can come up with is that applying principles of human psychology to sales is a bit like applying grammar to speech.

You can spend your life talking not proper and people will still understand most of what you say. Occasionally they’ll misunderstand and rarely draw a complete blank, but mostly they’ll get it.

Trust me as an authority on this at least, as despite living in inland Spain for 15 years, my Spanish is catastrophic. There are talking dogs on TikTok who speak Spanish more fluently than me, but by and large I can make myself understood.

To try and sum the thought up, you can’t communicate using grammar.

The words are where the power is, but when the rules of grammar are applied correctly, they enhance the words and make for more powerful communication.

Simply put, you get better results applying grammar correctly.

I think, similarly, you can’t try to sell just by applying principles of human psychology (I’ve no idea how you might possibly try to do that). You need the pitch, the sales copy.

This can, and often will, be created without any conscious consideration of the psychology of persuasion.

However, respecting broadly accepted psychological principles when creating and presenting sales copy may make for a more powerful pitch.

Superpower or hocus-pocus?

Ultimately I don’t believe trying to tap into psychological principles is either a super power or hocus-pocus.

To be honest, I think the study of human psychology and its relevance to persuasion is far too well established to attempt even a spurious argument against it.

There’s a huge body of research freely available now and while there may be some poorly conducted studies, in a similar way as I speculate about Colin Whieldon’s study that found serif fonts are easier to read, any doubter is going to face an uphill struggle to present the psychology of persuasion as nonsensical woo-woo.

Despite that, no-one should expect earth shattering increases in sales as a result of attempting to apply psychological principles.

Incremental gains are most likely at best, but lots of ikkle numbers can add up to larger numbers.

Finally, if you’ve not previously considered learning about the psychology of persuasion, Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is a great way to dip into the subject. With its short chapters, it’s really easy to read when you’ve got a few minutes spare. Search for it on Amazon or Google and you’ll likely fall into a rabbit hole of related suggestions if the subject proves to be of interest.