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How To Use Human Psychology To Shape Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

By Will ThomasComments

How to use human psychology to shape your inbound marketing strategy

I just can't help it. When it comes to inbound, I always get excited about the big ideas.

On a recent dive into behavioural psychology for one of our clients’ content campaigns, I couldn’t help but see the parallels with so much of what we do in inbound.

So, I dug a little deeper, and the links are there alright.

Psychology is already at the heart of B2B buying decisions, and getting smart about the research adds a whole new dimension to your inbound marketing...

I also discovered that top psychologists are masters of the convenient research location.

That’s right. Those noble researchers are going to hang around drinking cocktails, staying in hotels and dining out at fancy restaurants, gosh darn it - so that you can reap the rewards. Truly selfless.

Inspiration aside, here are the highlights: three surprising psychology experiments, and what they mean for your inbound marketing...


This is an easy one.

‘Reciprocity’ means simply, when someone gives you something, you owe them something in return. In other words, plain old good manners.

Plain it may be, but reciprocity is a potent psychological trigger.

By helping your buyers out, you create an itch they can’t scratch until they’ve returned the favour. It triggers an almost overwhelming urge to say ‘thank you’.


The Experiment

Last time you went to a restaurant, you were probably the victim of reciprocity.  

Remember the little gifts you got with the bill? Those tiny chocolate mints, that too-hot too handle, lemon-scented towel, or the weird liqueur you’re pretty sure you didn’t order?

Turns out these little gifts make a big difference to a restaurant's bottom line.

To prove it, Dr Robert Cialdini and his cronies spied on unsuspecting restaurant-goers…  

They found that giving diners a mint with their bill increased tips by around 3%. Not exactly mind blowing, but it gets more interesting. Trust me.

Add a second free mint and bingo, you’ve just quadrupled the effect - a 14% increase in tips!

That’s worth knowing, eh?

And here’s where it gets properly interesting. Cialdini and co. also had waiters drop off the first mint with the bill, start to walk away, then swing back and drop off a second mint with the magic words, “For you nice people, here’s a second mint”.

Customers lit up at this neat little trick, with tips surging by 23%.

This is reciprocity at play: give people a gift, no strings attached, and they feel the urge to give back.

The Takeaway

B2B businesses often want to hoard their hard-won expertise. Fair enough, too. Your insights and experience are what people pay you for, after all, so why give it away?

But generosity is what makes inbound tick.

Your business blog is the perfect place to start. Gather up your best insights, gift wrap them in your beautifully crafted content, and get it out there in the world where it can actually help people.

By giving great content away for free - resisting the urge to lock it behind long forms, or keep all the best bits for your eBook - you ignite the reader’s urge to reciprocate.

That way, when the handy option of a social share or a landing page form presents itself, your audience already feel like they owe you one.

It’s simple. Don’t wait until the bill: give early and give often. You will be repaid.

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The need to be ‘relevant’ shouldn’t be an earth-shattering revelation.

But bear with me, because this isn’t just age-old marketing spiel.

In fact, when you’re crafting content, psychology dictates that relevance has to be priority number one. By demonstrating the right kind of relevance, you can tap into your audience’s brain processes and grab their attention like nothing else.


The Experiment

Let’s take a brief detour into your imagination...

You’re at a packed cocktail party, and it is fabulous.

Taking an elegant sip from your delicious beverage, you’re surrounded by people nattering away. Without thinking about it, you ignore most of them. All that chatter fades into background noise, so you can focus.

But then someone, somewhere in the room, drops your name into their conversation.

Suddenly, you’re all ears.

Ever had that feeling? Neuroscientist Colin Cherry called it the ‘cocktail party’ effect, but the power of relevance runs deeper than a fancy drinks gathering.

In every part of our lives, our brains filter out whatever isn’t relevant to us. Without that filter, we’d be overwhelmed - we need it to get on with our lives.

The flipside is that when something is relevant - like our name in someone else’s conversation - our brain instantly tunes in.

Be relevant, and you’ve guaranteed yourself attention...  


Your prospects are at cocktail parties of their own. And boy, are they busy.

They’re drowning in content. Just look at B2B blogging: publishing frequency has skyrocketed by over 800% in the last five years. And yet, we’ve seen an 89% decline in engagement [TrackMaven].

Why? Because making more noise doesn’t engage an audience.

In fact, it’s a great way to turn them off.

To stand out from the crowd and have your voice heard, focus less on how loud you can shout, and more on what you actually say.

Get to know your customers. Get under their skin and work out what’s relevant to them - what do they need and want, what are the pains that keep them up at night?

This is where your buyer personas step in.

Your personas are your compass for inbound - they give you the direction you need to stay relevant, to make sure every piece of content you create clings tightly to your buyer’s needs.

Get that right, and the power of relevance means your prospects are already primed to listen.


If I told you that all the cool marketers are getting smart about social proof, would that make you want to do the same?

Maybe not. You might be totally immune to peer pressure.

If so, congrats! But remember: you’re in the minority.

Truth is, humans are social creatures. We like to follow the herd, and we can’t help but take notice of what everyone else is doing.

That makes social proof an outstanding tool for marketers.


The Experiment

Hotels have a problem.

They really, really want customers to reuse their towels, but people just keep ordering fresh ones. It’s expensive and it’s unnecessary (even if it does feel that little bit fresher...).

Standard hotel practice is a dose of positive encouragement for guests, leaving a small card in their rooms to highlight the environmental benefits of reusing towels.

And that works - up to a point.

But there’s a better way.

It turns out that 75% of longer-stay guests - that’s four nights or longer - already do reuse their towel at some point during their stay.

When hotels simply highlight this positive behaviour in their cards for all the other customers to see, they create a 26% rise in towel reuse. They actually went even further, too, with a card saying:

“75% percent of people who have stayed in this room have reused their towel.”

Frankly, that’s a bit creepy.

But it turns out that this creepy level of honesty created a 33% increase in reuse, making it the most effective way to get people to change their behaviour.

As Dr Cialdini puts it:

“The science is telling us that rather than relying on our own ability to persuade others, we can point to what many others are already doing, especially many similar others.”

The Takeaway

Social media hands over a brilliant way to point out what your prospects’ peers are doing.

You just have to make sure that what they’re doing is engaging with your brand…

You’re already making tightly relevant content that triggers your prospects’ urge to reciprocate, so make it easy for them to return the favour with a share on social.

That means getting those social sharing buttons front and centre; visible at the beginning and end of your blog posts and landing pages. You can help out further by making the content oh-so-sharable, writing in bold declarations, with plenty of juicy quotes and stats.

But remember, not all social shares are created equal. Peer influence only works when the shares come from your prospect’s peers - so make sure you’re encouraging shares from people in the same boat as your prospects.


And there you have it, three ways to enhance your inbound marketing with psychology. (Plus proof that you’d have had much more fun being a social scientist…)

‘Experts’ might try to mystify psychology as some hidden realm of wisdom, or to talk it down as a lot of academic fluff that’s no use in the cold hard world of business.

Truth is, psychology is already at the heart of marketing. We just have to get a little smarter about it, remembering that prospects are people with their own lives, influences and pressures.

It’s when your brand slots into those wider lives that psychology starts to earn results. When your content is relevant to your prospects’ pains, shared by their peers and on hand to help (with no strings attached), engaging with your business is just second nature.


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