Back to top
BigWheel Psychological Advertising header image
25 Feb

How do we Make Choices? Psychological Phenomenon for the Marketing World

Created by: 
Emilee Delaisse

There's no two ways about it: The advertising and marketing world is viewed through a skeptical lens by consumers. Not only are people tired of being bombarded by ads, they're also weary of the techniques advertisers use to persuade them to buy certain products. Simply put, with no sugar added, the purpose of marketing and advertising is to influence behavior and people are hyper aware of that. However, for companies, there can be huge benefits to understanding the psychology behind how people make decisions.

The choices we make are heavily influenced by many factors including genetics, hormones, past experiences, our current environment, and even human evolution. So how do advertisers and marketers persuade us to buy certain products and services? There are some psychological phenomenons that are instinctive in every human. Here are six of those phenomenons:

1. Paradox of Choice

Have you ever cycled through cable or Netflix searching for something to watch? You come across a few things that sound interesting, but still continue to search. By the time you've made a decision, an hour has gone by and you're left wondering if you even want to watch TV. Although people like the idea of being able to choose from multiple options, when it comes down to it, we become less satisfied with our choice when we have more to choose from. Why? We become paralyzed and anxious that we're making  the wrong choice. We're left with a nagging feeling that our choice could have been better.

What does this mean for your business? Keep it simple. Sometimes offering several products or services isn't ideal for your business. Make certain decisions for the customer by simplifying their choices.

Additionally, growing brand loyalty is always advised. People don’t like making choices between multiple brands, so giving them a trusted brand can help ease their decision.

2. Priming

Have you ever played the game where one person says a word, and the other immediately responds with the first thing that comes to mind? That is kind of how priming works. Using subtle priming techniques, brands can create websites that help their consumer remember key pieces of information and possibly influence buying behavior.

A study revealed that changing the background of a homepage on a site dictated what users spent more time looking at. Participants were told to choose between two options (Lexus and Toyota) and those who had been primed with a green background with pennies on it spent longer looking at the prices of the two cars. Those who had been primed with safety looked longer at the safety of each car.

It is important to carefully think about what you want to show on your homepage as it could affect what people look at on your website. Clearly define what makes your company different or why people should purchase from you and it will help lead to more conversions.

3. Reciprocity

Have you ever been in the awkward situation of getting a gift in less value than given? Specifically in western culture, we feel the need to give back to those who give to us. Reciprocity has been at the core of persuasion techniques for a long time and for good reason. This technique doesn’t require gobs of money -- just something that gives value to your customer. It could be anything from a branded hat to your expertise on a difficult subject matter, to a handwritten thank-you note.

4. Scarcity

Over this past holiday break I was with my grandma at Sam's. I had gone back to the clothing section while she perused the store. We originally had gone there to fix my tires so we weren’t planning on buying anything. However, as you probably know, leaving Sam's or Costco without buying anything is practically impossible. Anyway, as I was looking at jackets, my grandma met me with her cart and not one but TWO blankets. I laughed and said, “Don’t you have enough blankets at home already?” She replied, “I liked the way they looked and there were a lot of people picking them up. I thought they might run out so I picked up two. I might put them back but I have them just in case.” My grandma had fallen victim to a scarcity. As we walked around the store, three people came up to us and asked us where we got our fluffy blankets. Of course, this just enhanced how much my grandma wanted those blankets.

Scarcity can have  an enormous impact on what people buy and when they buy it. You've probably noticed on sites like Amazon, some products will say “only 3 left” or “low stock." This might prompt you to buy the product before they run out. Scarcity should be used specifically when a product is low in stock because of high demand. People are more likely to buy a product because of demand rather than just because there only a few left.

If you're aware of it, you will find scarcity used by many brands. Whether brands provide an exclusive membership available to the first 100 people or simply put “low stock” on their website, scarcity works. And yes, my grandmother and I did end up leaving Sam’s with two fluffy blankets.

5. Loss Aversion

Humans have an aversion to loss inextricably woven into their innate behaviors. Ever wonder why companies offer free trials and samples? They're not just letting you try the product, but rather, they're relying on this loss aversion. Once you have that Netflix membership, it is just too hard to give up knowing that you would lose access to hundreds of movies and shows. People don't like losing what they have -– which is why this marketer trick is one of the most effective in the book.

Loss aversion also tells companies that they should frame their discounts as “savings” rather than “gains." Generally, people will be more receptive to the word “savings” as it implies avoiding loss.

6. Rosy Remembering

People tend to remember the past in a positive light even more than it actually was. The phenomenon is called “rosy remembering." Marketers and advertisers play on this sense of nostalgia all the time because it's a powerful way to associate brands with positive emotions. Whether it be an old commercial or packaging style companies can use many different techniques to evoke “rosy remembering”. Recently, Geico has been airing some of their old ads. Not only will they have no production fees, but they are playing on ever-so-powerful nostalgia.