6 Neuromarketing Principles For Designing More Persuasive Websites

While most marketers have at least heard of neuromarketing principles, many shy away from these techniques, perhaps because they don’t understand them, don’t trust them or just don’t have the time to learn them. However, neuromarketing principles are actually simple applications of behavioral psychology that allow you to create low-stress, low friction websites that provide […]

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While most marketers have at least heard of neuromarketing principles, many shy away from these techniques, perhaps because they don’t understand them, don’t trust them or just don’t have the time to learn them.

However, neuromarketing principles are actually simple applications of behavioral psychology that allow you to create low-stress, low friction websites that provide a pleasant user experience and result in higher engagement.

Neuromarketing works because of the simple fact that the human brain relies on shortcuts to efficiently process the thousands of decisions it is forced to make on a given day. Scientists have been able to identify many of these shortcuts, which is a boon to marketers looking to persuade consumers to make a purchase decision. 

Below are six proven techniques that you can easily apply to your website to make it more persuasive.

1. Leverage Scarcity to Persuade A Visitor To Buy Now

People want what they can’t have. Likewise, when something is in short supply, prospective buyers inherently feel a sense of urgency to act before availability runs out. This is the scarcity principle, and it works whether it is supply driven (e.g., there is a limited quantity available to sell) or deadline driven (as when there is a time limit set on the availability or the price of an item).

If a buyer feels he can come back to your site at any time to purchase a product or request a certain whitepaper or e-book, he feels no urgency to make a decision now.

But, if you alert him that stock of an item is low or that the sale price is ending, you immediately create a “buy now” urgency that didn’t exist before. Why? Because people have a natural aversion to loss–they’d rather act too hastily, knowing full well that they haven’t given the matter proper consideration, than risk missing out.

Scarcity example - Rue La La

RueLaLa uses both supply driven and deadline driven scarcity to create an urgency to buy.

Online retailer RueLaLa has built an entire business model around scarcity. The site curates fashion-centric boutiques that are “open” for only a few days. Each boutique has its own countdown timer to constantly remind visitors that time is running out.

Then, for an extra powerful one-two punch, the site also indicates in prominent colored type when supply of a specific item is running low. Sites like RueLaLa have grown rapidly in recent years for one simple reason: these retailers know that scarcity sells.

2. Use A Decoy To Steer Visitors Toward A Certain Product

People like to have options. In fact, the human brain is wired to compare things. We have a hard time making a choice when there’s only one option because, as psychology and behavioral economics professor Dr. Dan Ariely explains, “most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.” Enter the decoy.

Also known as the asymmetric dominance effect, the decoy effect uses an alternate (less desirable) choice as a benchmark against which to compare the real product or service you wish to sell.

For example, you may have two home gyms you wish to sell on your site. One has only basic features and sells for $599. It’s a reasonable choice. The other includes features like a built-in heart monitor and additional accessories and sells for $1100 — a big jump for most consumers.

To minimize the shock of that price difference and encourage more consumers to select the $1100 model, you can add a decoy option. In this case, you might add a third model that has features that are largely similar to the $1100 home gym, but sells for $1400.

Regardless of the visitor’s initial preference, the inclusion of the decoy gym will encourage the buyer to more carefully consider the benefits of buying the $1100 model, comparing it to the more expensive decoy and eliminating the lower priced option as a choice.

Example of a decoy

Amazon uses the decoy effect to steer buyers toward the 6-month print & online subscription. You can see how obvious the choice becomes when compared to the other options.

3. Use Anchoring To Help Visitors Justify Their Selection

People have a tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information presented when making decisions. This becomes the “anchor” against which subsequent products will be compared. Sound illogical? It may be, but you can use this anchoring bias to help visitors justify their purchase selection.

The Wikipedia page on Anchoring explains it like this:

“Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor. For example, the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.”

Example of anchoring in advertising

In this example of anchoring from an ad by Saatchi & Saatchi, you can see how Cordaid successfully got people to anchor on the luxurious items they buy for themselves, and use that as the standard against which to set a donation amount.

4. Make Visitors Feel Indebted To You

In 2002, researchers tried an experiment with tipping in restaurants. They wanted to see what would happen when the server supplied a piece of candy along with each check. They tried a series of scenarios where servers put a small piece of chocolate on the check, gave a larger quantity of candy or gave no candy at all. What they learned was that the gift of candy increased the average tip from 15 percent to just under 18 percent.

The trick at work was reciprocity. People are driven to repay debts of all kinds — no matter how small. When one person does something nice for another, that other person feels a desire to return the goodwill.

Marketers can use this impulse to spur site visitors to action. By giving your site visitors something of value, with no expectation of anything in return, you can begin to harness the power of reciprocity.

Offer exclusive information, free samples, or even a free in-home trial — anything that has real value and is obviously and exclusively for the benefit of the recipient. That last point is especially important — nobody wants to feel that they are being manipulated or receiving a gift with “strings attached.”

What can you offer to people to engender a sense of reciprocity? Free advice? A buyers’ guide? Instead of requiring users to fill out a form in order to download a whitepaper or e-book, maybe you could test giving them a portion of the content for free.

You might find that this strategy results in a higher download request rate, due in large part to the power of reciprocity. Be the first to give something of value, and your customers will be more likely to give you something in return.

5. Offer Things You Don’t Expect To Sell

On the surface, it may seem odd to try to sell a product or service on your website that you don’t really expect anyone to buy. Yet, according to a compliance technique called door-in-the face, this strategy will actually help you sell lower priced options.

Here’s how it works: you start with an unreasonably large option, for example a VIP conference pass with back-stage access for $1300. When the site visitor signals their disinterest through leaving the page or hitting a “no thanks” button, he is then presented with another offer at a lower price — maybe a regular ticket at $500.

According to social psychologists, he’s more likely to buy the $500 ticket after first rejecting the pricier option, than if he were simply presented the lower-cost ticket up front.

The second (lower priced) option uses the contrast principle, making it seem like a very reasonable price in comparison to the first option. This principle is used very effectively in fundraising and volunteer services.

6. Throw Out A Lifeline With The Hurt & Rescue Principle

In this method, the marketer allows the prospect to see that they have a problem, and then offers a way to fix it. One excellent way to do this is through online quizzes.

For instance, a fitness site may offer a quiz entitled “Do You Have These Six Risk Factors for Diabetes?” The test can include questions about diet, family history and level of physical activity. If the reader’s answers indicate that she is at a high risk for diabetes, this provides a perfect opening to sell a disease prevention fitness program or e-book.

But don’t think that the hurt and rescue principle works only for websites geared toward a consumer audience. In fact, this technique can be especially effective in the B2B environment.

Use your web copy to point out to visitors how much money they are losing, time they are wasting, or stress they are experiencing, and then offer them a solution. Or, as the folks at the persuasion site ChangingMinds.org put it, “A drowning person will clutch at a straw, so push them in the water, then throw them a rope.”

Hurt and rescue sounds negative, but it’s really nothing more than emotion-based selling. Show that you understand your customers’ pain points, and you’ll be more effective in persuading them to consider your solution.

By designing your sites around people’s desires and unconscious behaviors, you can better influence buyer decisions. Use these and other neuromarketing principles to make your sites easier and more pleasant to use and to win buyers’ loyalty.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Tim Ash
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book "Landing Page Optimization," CEO of SiteTuners.com and chairperson of the international Conversion Conference event series.

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