Every marketer wants to know what makes their customers tick. Why do they choose some services over others, and how can you get them to visit your practice instead of another? The answers lie in marketing psychology.
Every commercial you see on television and every advertising campaign you view on the Internet uses marketing psychology to some extent. Why? Marketing depends heavily on mastering the subtle art of persuasion, and persuasion is a psychological tool that anyone can learn.
Don't worry, you don't need to go back to college for a psychology degree to implement these marketing hacks in your own efforts — just follow the leaders. By studying the majors in the advertising world, you can learn what makes for effective sales copy, imagery and use that same strategy for your own dental practice(s) (minus the millions marketing budget).
Here's a peek into how those professionals entice people to purchase their products and services.
If you want to influence someone, tell them what to do — especially if you're an authority figure they respect (ahem, Father). When we hear from somebody or something that we perceive as having authority or expertise, we automatically assume it must be correct — and we listen carefully. We may even obey their requests without questioning the information presented.
For example: A study was conducted with 30 experienced tennis players, all of whom had reached a national ranking at some point in their career. Half were told "You know more than most people about tennis" before being asked questions about the sport; the other half were told "You know less than most people about tennis." Those who were told they were an authority answered twice as many questions correctly.
That's why advertisements will often feature a celebrity endorsement, a professional athlete wearing a company's clothing, or a well-known figure in the industry. If you don't have access to royalty or have no luck getting that sports star to pose for your billboard, consider interviewing your top employees and customers and sharing their advice online — it might be enough authority to convince someone to buy from you.
2. Consistency Principle
The need to keep consistency in one's mindset helps explain why we go out of our way sometimes to justify purchases. When we make a decision for ourselves, we're happy with what we selected because it reinforces our own self-image and boosts our ego. For example: You want to buy a new car, and you choose the Tesla Model S as it's really sleek and sporty — this reinforces your social acceptability as well as your sense of personal power. What if we asked you to sign a petition supporting equal wages for women? You'd likely avoid signing because that request conflicts with promoting equality only in the workplace (not at home).
To persuade someone, first show them how their current position and an alternative position will affect them personally. Next, encourage them repeat the action they're being asked to take without exposing too much negative information about their choice. For example: Take the previous example of equal pay for women. The ad would likely show how much less men make in the same position, showing the difference but not pointing out that they could be paid more if they were a man. It finishes by asking you to sign an online petition supporting equal wages.
3. Social Consensus
Have you ever seen a product or service advertised and thought "Everyone's using that? I should too." We all like the idea of being a part of the crowd — it creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie that we sometimes find hard to source elsewhere. In fact: Researchers have found that people who consistently took paracetamol for three months reported less pain than those who used no medication at all — but only when they were told everyone else had experienced a reduction in pain as well. To influence someone, you can use social proof through things like reviews online, engagement (think Likes and Shares) and the best, a personal referral.
4. Authority vs. Social Consensus
Can authority and social consensus be used at the same time, or does one method of persuasion preclude the other? To find out how these two strategies might stack up against each other, researchers first measured whether their participants preferred Coke or Pepsi (around 47% chose Coke). They then carried out a second test with some participants given several letters recommending Coca-Cola written by peers during an unrelated study, while others were provided with letters expressing the opposite preference. Another group wasn't presented with any peer letters at all.
For those who had no previous opinions about which drink to buy, results showed that half chose Coke told what friends thought, but only 33% chose it when told what experts thought. Those who were already loyal to Coke, however, chose it 81% of the time whether they heard peer or expert opinions.
The results suggest that people are more influenced by authority when they're undecided, while social consensus is likely to be more powerful when someone has already made up their mind one way or another . As a result: If you want to influence your customers, consider presenting them with "evidence" from other users (reviews and referrals) — you can do this with highlighting reviews on your website, social channels, on your printed or digital ads, and even in your emails.
5. Contrast Principle
It's easier for us to make decisions and draw comparisons if we have two choices: A and B. But if we introduce a third option (C), the other two may suddenly seem different in comparison . People perceive A to be close to B when C is introduced, while they see C as far away from the pair.
For example: Researchers tested this theory by asking students to choose between two snacks labeled "snack 1" and "snack 2." When a third option (labeled "snack 3") was then presented , 47% of participants chose snack 2 while 21% opted for snack 1 — but only 4% went with snack 3. This shows that introducing a third option onto the table can make similar choices seem more distinct, causing people to change their minds about what they wanted. To influence someone, offer them a choice of two items or services — then introduce a new one to make it seem less appealing.
A great way to do this in your dental practice, is by offering appointments over the phone with something as simple as "Would you like to visit us today or tomorrow?" or give two specific dates & times, vs allowing the patient to figure it out when they can come in.
6. Foot-In-The-Door Technique
People are more inclined to complete a second request if they've already agreed to do something similar beforehand. In fact: Participants in one study were asked either to volunteer the time for four hours over two weeks, or to sign a petition — and then afterward were asked whether they'd be willing to fill out a questionnaire with 24 questions about politics that would take 15 minutes. Those who had signed the petition (which was related to political issues) were 10 times more likely to agree than those who hadn't done anything at all.
This is because when we commit ourselves once, we're more inclined to feel obligated later on — even if what's being asked of us changes. To influence someone, get them to agree to a small request followed by a bigger one. You can do this when scheduling the first appointment, using verbiage that ties some emotion and understanding. A great example of this is would be to use the providers name, make the patient feel special, and then closing with a small ask. "Mrs. Smith, Dr. Johnson has set aside time just for you on date/time, and is looking forward to seeing you. Can we count on you to arrive on time?" This has worked well in many practices, helping the patient to commit while also feeling like VIP.
7. Commitment and Consistency Principle
When we commit ourselves to something, even in minor ways , we're more likely to honor that commitment : People were asked whether they'd prefer an apple or chocolate candy when offered either choice at the experiment's end; then given the option of taking both (which would give them neither). While 47% chose both if they hadn't been asked about their preference beforehand, only 21% did when they had previously committed themselves to either "apple" or "chocolate." Asking people to make quick decisions can increase their desire for consistency in the future — even when it results in less desirable choices.
To influence someone, get them to commit to something small like using the verbiage above committing to being at the appointment in which the provider has set aside dedicated time for the patient. The more they invest in the idea, the harder it will be for them to change their minds later on.
8. Scarcity Principle
When people perceive that opportunities are limited, they feel more motivated to act quickly . For example: People were told that tickets for a game would be sold out after 10am; then given either September 3rd or September 5th as the date when this happened (and that one ticket was available). Only 42% chose 1st while 55% selected 7th — but when both dates were presented simultaneously, only 30% went with 1st while 65% chose 7th.
This is because scarcity creates a fear of missing out, and makes us more likely to make a quick decision in order to seize the potential benefits. This type of psychology tool can be used in your ads, on the phone, and if you decide to run specials/sales. Using words like "only," "limit," and "expire" in your message — or make a deal contingent upon an immediate response.
9. Liking Principle
We tend to say 'yes' to people we're familiar with — even if they're asking for favors : In one study, participants had been chatting with another student who was apparently taking part from California over Zoom. When that person asked them afterwards to do a school assignment for them (which would take only 30 minutes), 67% agreed despite never having met before. This is because when we form an emotional connection with someone, we're more likely to feel obliged to help them out .
Spending the time before an exam becoming familiar with a patient can help them be more inclined to agree with you. If you're looking to use the "liking principle" before you've met, social media is a great way to engage and help others become familiar with you, your team, and dental practice.
There is an entire field many have devoted their careers to in marketing psychology 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.