Marketing Psychology 101 — Following the Leaders

  •    digital marketer and writer in New York. She specializes in social media, web development, and publishing. Say hello in 140 characters @melissajohill.

Every commercial you see on television and every advertising campaign you view on the Internet employs marketing psychology to some degree. Why? Marketing depends heavily on mastering the subtle art of persuasion, and persuasion is a psychological trick that anyone can learn.

Don't worry, you don't need to go back to college for a psychology degree to employ these marketing hacks in your own sales efforts — just follow the leaders. By studying the heavyweights in the advertising world, you can learn what makes for effective sales copy, and use that same strategy for your own small business (minus the million-dollar marketing budget).

Nike's #justdoit and Apple's Apple Watch

Nike is, without argument, the most recognizable sports apparel brand in existence. Their latest marketing campaign matches world-class athletes with the gear they trust to excel in their game—all hashtagging #justdoit. Fresh off the summer Olympics, Simone Biles #justdoit microsite is full of brilliant examples of marketing psychology in action.

Apple is also at the top of tech in the marketing game. And one of the newer additions to their product lineup, the Apple Watch, is a textbook case of how effective advertising copy can convert leads to sales for a product.

​Marketing Psychology Tactic #1: The Principle of Exclusivity

The subheader on Biles #justdoit microsite captures it all. “She's conquered the Worlds, now Simone wants even more." This is followed up by an iconic-looking black and white photograph of Biles wearing a trademarked Swoosh. Scrolling down is a quote from Biles on perfection, paired with her Nike shoes. The message is clear: Nike gear is for world conquering, awesome athletes.

Nike Demonstrating the Exclusivity

The Apple Watch website promises that the Apple Watch lets you express yourself in “a whole new way… Apple Watch isn't just something you wear. It's an essential part of who you are." You may think that no one who has a smartphone, laptop, or tablet needs the redundancy of a watch-style device. Yet Apple tells us this is essential—it's what will make us us.

In both these instances, the copy gives the buyer a sense that they're entering a world that is exclusive to those who buy in.

Takeaway: Elevate your product or service as though it's only available to a select few, who know or understand something others don't.

Marketing Psychology Tactic #2: Feelings over Functions

No one wants to know how the Apple Watch works… shoppers only care about how it will improve their lives. And Apple is happy to explain. The copy mentions that you get your “favorite notifications" (rather than “never miss another voicemail from your mom"), and that you can monitor your health and fitness (no mention of the exercise or diet that has to go along with that). The focus of the copy is on how the Apple Watch makes you a better person—not just the tasks it can accomplish or the features it includes.

Apple Demonstrating Feelings over Functions

Meanwhile, the #justdoit site focuses heavily on how Biles had a dream and accomplished it (and you can too, with Nike!). The athlete is presented in near mythical terms and the copy uses words like unlimited, dream, achieve, and journey—all words that appeal to our feelings. There's no mention of the tech or design of the gear, that's less important because buyers only care about emulating athletes like Biles. They want to #justdoit… not #justthinkabouthowitworksorwhyitsagoodbuy.

Takeaway: Focus less on how your product or service functions, emphasize how your product or service makes people feel.

​Marketing Psychology Tactic #3: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD)

This third aspect of marketing psychology might be painful for some to hear—but without question, one surefire way to get into your customer's heads is to plant the seeds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

You can do this by creating a sense of fear of missing out. The Apple Watch copy does this eloquently: “Never miss what matters," Apple promises. Meanwhile, the Nike microsite suggests that without gear designed for peak performance, athletes like Biles wouldn't achieve the same results.

If you're using this tactic, be sure to do so with a light touch. It's important to not be overtly negative or trigger pain for your audience—remember, the goal is to get them longing, not make them feel desperate.

​Takeaway: Plant the seeds of your market's fears, then show how your product or service can alleviate those.

Marketing psychology is an entire field of study that advertisers devote their careers to, but there's no reason you can't use similar strategies in your own campaigns. The next time you feel moved to purchase by a website, some great copy, or even a commercial on television, take a moment to think about what's going on behind the scenes and use those ideas to enhance your own online marketing strategy.