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Two Quick Psychology Hacks to Improve Your Online Marketing

The association marketer is always looking for a quick win to get members in the door. Have you ever considered how human psychology might work to your advantage?

I’ve recently been spending some time with a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The book offers enlightening insights into how we make buying decisions in both our business and personal lives. It illustrates how businesses use “nudges”—a behavioral science concept that uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence decision-making.

Now I’m feeling a bit duped.

Sure, I’ve long realized that the “Original Price: $400” tag on a $29.99 TJ Maxx dress is supposed to make me feel like I’ve bagged a steal, but the artful nudge of Netflix timing my next episode of The Good Place to auto-start in a calculated 15 seconds? Yep, even my binges have been masterminded.

In its purest form, a nudge is not about manipulation; it’s about using positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to steer behavior. A nudge promotes the action a website wants users to take but doesn’t remove the other options.

Savvy marketers take advantage of nudges to ease users’ decision-making—giving them context and directing them toward the “best” action.

Let’s take a look at two nudges you can put into action pretty quickly.

Anchoring

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Anchoring is the human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.

In one famous anchoring demonstration, test subjects were asked two questions:

  1. Is the tallest redwood tree in California taller or shorter than 130 feet?
  2. What’s your best guess for the height of the tallest redwood tree in California?

Here, “130 feet” is the anchor. When a second group was given this simple questionnaire, the first question was switched to “…taller or shorter than 1,400 feet?”—and now, “1,400 feet” is the anchor.

The first group’s guess for Question 2—the height of the tallest tree—was much lower than the second group. In other words, the presence of either “130 feet” or “1,400 feet” vastly influenced people’s guess.

This same principle can be used for your association’s membership forms. For example, you want longer membership commitments, so you help “anchor” your potential members to a longer term. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Anchor with web design. When the potential member lands on your membership form, a five-year membership term is already selected. If your average membership term is one year, then by selecting a longer term and offering several options, you might see the length of your average membership term increase.
  2. Anchor with text. If your average membership term is one year—and you want to increase it to three years, for example—you might include text above the form that reads: “Thanks in advance for your membership. Many of our members are signing on for three-year membership terms” (assuming this is true, of course). This little bit of text might be enough to sway some potential members—it’s like the “most popular” option you see on so many for-profit software offerings.
  3. Anchor with ordering. Instead of listing membership terms from shortest to longest, reverse it. Let the first option they see be a longer term. AARP.org does this well:
AARP membership form with three membership options

Decoy Effect

When presented with too many options, people freeze. It’s why we take forever to order off the mega-menu at The Cheesecake Factory.

Thus, smart marketers present users with options A or B or C instead of options A-Z.

This is where the Decoy Effect comes in. People tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when also presented with a third option that is asymmetrical.

No one puts the Decoy Effect to better use than movie theaters. The image below shows exactly what I mean:

Three sizes of popcorn: a small for $6, a medium for $10.50, and a large for $12

“$12 for a large box of popcorn? Well…the medium is $10.50 so I guess that’s not so bad.”

This is the phrase that goes through the head of every popcorn-loving movie-goer across America when they step up to the concession line. And it’s all down to the Decoy Effect. The movie theaters don’t actually expect anyone to buy the medium popcorn. That option is simply there to drive sales for the large popcorn.

Here’s how associations can put the Decoy Effect to work:

Take a look at your continuing education offerings. Say you’re a bar association and a member is about to buy a digital publication called “Legal Billing/Accounting Software Options” for $100. For a second option, you also offer them the printed version for a total of $150. The 3rd asymmetrical option would be to add on a related publication called “Becoming the Tech-Savvy Family Lawyer” for a total of $165. Because, after all, buying two reports for $165 versus one report for $150 sounds like a better deal (and it is, right?!).

Now, get to work! You’ve got some nudgin’ to do.

Check out Mighty Citizen’s free on-demand webinar, Hack the Mind: Using Psychology to Boost Online Engagement, for more psychology hacks!

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