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The Psychology Behind Inbound Marketing | Why and How it Works

Mar 1, 2017
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Our psychology plays a very important role in how and why we make the decisions we do. Some of our patterns are conscious and other are subconscious, but both are very powerful. The success of Inbound Marketing over the past few years stems from the way this form of marketing relates to humans and our cognitive patterns. Inbound is all about influencing and persuading. In this post we’re going to take a look at the science behind Inbound and a few simple ways you can apply it to your strategy.

I’ve always been fascinated by why people do what they do. When it comes to creating marketing messages that resonate with your audience, having a better understanding of what makes them tick will help you deliver better results. Having a better understanding of the psychological make-up of your audience will not only help you have more impactful marketing, but will also help you deliver better services and create more personalized solutions.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, is the Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. Over the last 30 years he has studied the science behind how people are influenced. His findings are summarized into six core principles behind how people are influenced.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

“The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

When you give something away for free, the person who receives it feels a sense of obligation to the person who gave them the gift. This is why eBooks, white papers, webinars and other free offers are so effective not just in generating leads, but nurturing them as well.

Principle #2: Commitment and Consistency

“Our best evidence of what people truly feel and believe comes less from their words than from their deeds. Observers trying to decide what a man is like look closely at his actions.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

When we make a commitment, we put ourselves on the line. Even if we aren’t fully convinced of our decision we will often stick with it simply because we don’t want to contradict ourselves. Why? We know others are watching. Now, this is one principle that can get sticky if you use it unethically. Socially conscious marketers should use this knowledge to help educate their audience into making better decisions. Pushing someone into a decision they regret will always backfire.

Principle #3: Social Proof

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

We all hate the fake laugh tracks used in sitcoms, so why do TV producers still add them in? Because they work. Humans are social beings. We like to be part of the majority. Building a strong social following or getting testimonials goes a long way in persuading someone to engage with your brand. Inbound marketing thrives on building brand communities and advocates that help you spread your message.

Principle #4: Liking

“We like people who are similar to us.”- Dr. Robert Cialdini

This simple fact holds so much power. Humans, just like any other animal or creature, tend to navigate toward others that are similar to themselves. Educating and nurturing your brand community will help you attract more people like them to you. Building connections with the people you are reaching is key in today’s culture. It’s more than just getting “likes”, it’s about being liked.

Principle #5: Authority

“Titles are simultaneously the most difficult and the easiest symbols of authority to acquire.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

Influencer marketing is very hot right now. But in reality, it’s always been a huge part of marketing. Why do you think national brands get celebrities to endorse or use their product in a commercial? When we tend to see someone in a place of authority use or endorse a product or service, we more often than not believe it’s credible because of their title. Finding a person, who is seen to have authority in your community, to endorse you can go a long way.

Principle #6: Scarcity

“The joy is not in experiencing a scare commodity but in possessing it.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

We’ve all seen the signs, “Store closing, everything must go! Last 3 days!” Why do these signs work? Scarcity. Because after 3 days, it’s gone. The same tactic is working online as well. I've seen a number of webinars or online deals that have very limited quantity. We love to have what others can't. This is why scarcity works so well in our messaging. Again, the key here is to be honest. Don’t claim something to be scarce when in fact it isn’t. The easiest way to lose trust and destroy your brand is to mislead your audience.

There are many scientific reasons behind why people do what they do. Understanding the psychological tendencies of your audience can help you create messaging, stories and campaigns that resonate at a deeper level. Take some time to learn more about your users and their behavior. I promise, the time invested will be well worth it.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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