3 Psychological Marketing Tricks You’ve Already Fallen For (and How You Can Use Them Yourself)

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had the power to persuade any consumer, anywhere, of anything?

(Don’t lie, the only true answer is “yes.”)

It’s probably for the best that brainwashing techniques of that magnitude don’t actually exist, considering what would happen if they fell into the wrong hands.

That said, the human brain comes standard with a few “short circuits” that, if you understand them, can help make you more persuasive with consumers.

Before I share those with you, though, here’s a word of caution:

These techniques can work very well when used properly, but if you abuse them, people will eventually notice. You can’t fake reputation, and in the era of the Internet, you can’t hide it either.

On top of that, these “tricks” only work if you have some sense of subtlety and tact. They aren’t magical incantations that will work if they are applied bluntly, or with transparently self-serving goals.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to get inside the mind of the consumer.

1. Repetition

Yes, this one’s well known and you’re almost certainly already aware of it, but you might not realize just how effective it really is, or what it takes to really make it work.

One series of experiments that’s especially telling was conducted by Kimberlee Weaver and her colleagues, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

When we consider ourselves uninformed, we tend to go with majority opinion. It’s human nature. The problem is, we rarely make a conscious effort to figure out what majority opinion actually is. So if we hear one thing several times, and don’t hear much different from anybody else, we usually end up assuming that it’s the majority opinion. As a result, if we consider ourselves uninformed, we tend to adopt the opinion that we’ve heard.

Kim Weaver’s experiment revealed something extraordinary about this. If one person in a group repeats an opinion three times, this is almost as effective as hearing three different people state the same opinion. Weirdly, if one guy repeats something three times, it will persuade 90 percent as many people as if three people stated the opinion.

Repetition of messages So, how can we use this to our advantage?

  • The effect isn’t going to work as well if the opinion is obviously self-serving. Repeating over and over that your product is “the best out there” probably isn’t going to persuade that many people. The more specific and factual you can get, the more likely you are to be taken seriously.
  • Repetition doesn’t mean repeating a catchphrase and inserting it at every possible opportunity. Repetition needs room to breathe. This is one of the reasons why content marketing works so well (as long as it’s focussed on audience retention). It allows you to repeat a message without shoving it into the same communication multiple times.
  • Repetition is more useful if it’s used in multiple contexts and with different phrasing. We tend to think that an idea is more important if we see it in multiple contexts, and how it can relate to several other ideas. We’re also less likely to ignore an idea if we see a new spin on it each time, because the human brain tends to favor novelty and dismiss sameness.
  • Use repetition for more than obviously self-serving ends. As I said earlier, people are more likely to adopt your opinion if they don’t believe you have it just because it’ll make you money. There are long-term benefits to persuading people even when it doesn’t benefit you directly, since this helps establish a brand “personality” that people can relate to and grow accustomed to.

2. Giving a Reason

So here’s an interesting effect.

If you want to cut in line at the copier, try saying “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

Those simple words “because I have to make copies” are enough to convince 93 percent of people to let you cut in line. Without them, only 60 percent of people will let you through.

Think about that for a second. Everybody standing in line at a Xerox machine has to make copies. Why does telling people you need to make copies have any impact on whether or not you’re allowed to cut in line?

Because you gave a reason. The word “because” is almost like magic… to a point.

The word because is like magic Here’s the thing. Try saying the same thing, except start it with “Excuse me, I have 20 pages.” Suddenly, “because I have to make copies” isn’t a good enough reason. However, use the words “because I’m in a rush” and suddenly people will let you through again.

What does this mean?

When it comes to small favors, people are essentially on autopilot. Use the word “because” and then give people pretty much any excuse, and they will oblige.

Ask for something a little more demanding, though, and your excuse needs to be a little more compelling.

The important thing to understand is how big a difference just adding a reason can make, even if that reason isn’t very compelling. This is a step we often miss as marketers. Here are a few examples.

  • When consumers fill out a form, they might question some of the fields and why they need to be there. Give a simple explanation why, and they’ll be more likely to finish filling out the form.
  • Don’t just ask readers to click a link, give them a reason why. What’s in it for them?
  • Don’t just say you’re “best in class” or “the cheapest.” Give a reason why.
  • If you ever have to inconvenience the consumer, make sure you give them a reason why.

3. Remind People of Their Free Will

Paradoxically, this is one of the easiest psychological tricks in existence, and one of the hardest for marketers to embrace. There is an irrational fear that reminding people of their own free will is somehow going to snap them out of it, and that they’ll suddenly realize that they shouldn’t spend their money on you.

The truth is just the opposite. A meta analysis of 42 scientific studies, conducted on 22,000 participants, has demonstrated that people are twice as likely to say yes to something if you remind them that they have free will.

Free will

The phrasing itself doesn’t seem to matter, either. Everything from “but you are free…” to “but obviously do not feel obligated” seems to have the same effect.

While the effect is stronger in person, it has been demonstrated to work in scientific studies involving email campaigns, too.

People resent being forced into making a decision, and this causes them to reflexively make the opposite decision. Reminding them that they are free to make their own decisions allows them to make the choice from a more rational perspective of how it will benefit them, rather than instinctively pushing them away.

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Carter BowlesCarter Bowles is a strategist who leverages his technical knowledge of statistics (which he holds a bachelor's degree in) and his years of experience with SEO and content marketing to organize comprehensive marketing strategies. He works at Northcutt.com. Find out more about Northcutt here.


  1. Hi Carter,

    Interesting post. I don’t know if you listened in to Pat Flynn’s interview with Clay Collins from LeadPages last week. But they were discussing this little quirk that a 2-step opt-in process for newsletter sign-up (behind a small opt-in button), seems to be converting better than having the sign-up form readily available.

    This is counter-intuitive as you would expect people to respond better to the simpler 1-step direct sign up form applied on most blogs, but if you link it to your 3rd “mind-trick” above, perhaps having to press a button reminds people that they have a free choice to either take it or leave it, and it is exactly this sense of free choice that makes them more likely to comply.

    All the best,