15 psychological triggers to help you increase conversion rates on anything – with examples and why they work.
You’d like to get more opt-ins to your email list, right?
You’d like to have people open your emails.
You’d like to get more people to buy more stuff from you.
When you start looking into this world of marketing, you’ll find a lot of people talking about various aspects of human psychology. Almost as if human beings are a stimulus-response organism that we’re all figuring out how to manipulate into doing what we want.
And, it really isn’t that simple. Because humans are humans.
There is a stimulus-response component to the human psyche, however there is also a creative and spiritual component as well. This component isn’t so easy to put into a nice box with a bow on it.
So, there’s a lot of variability to what works in marketing. However, there are certain common themes. Some might call them… triggers.
The word trigger refers to something you pull and a very predictable action takes place. You pull the trigger on a firearm and it goes boom. We all know that.
As much variability as there is to the human psyche, there ARE certain common triggers that tend to drive people into action better than others.
Understanding the “conversion triggers” will allow you to move people into action…. whether that be to buy something, to opt into your email list, to open an email, to click on an email, to post a comment, to click on a tweet… whatever it may be.
Moving people into action is the name of the game when it comes to content marketing – and these conversion triggers are a very important part of doing it.
Is Using Conversion Triggers Manipulative?
Inherently, discussion of conversion and sales tends to make humans out to be merely stimulus-response. The focus, all too often, seems to be what combination of words and colors magically make this hypnotic creature pull out their wallet and enter their digits.
I don’t like that at all. That kind of mindset does come across as manipulative.
That said, marketing is not inherently manipulative. And certainly, your use of the conversion triggers we’ll discuss below is not manipulative by nature.
Human beings tick the way they tick. Additionally, our entire society is built upon convincing our fellow humans to do various things. Marketing and conversion is part and parcel of our daily lives and we wouldn’t have a society at all if we didn’t do it. As with all things, it comes down to the intention.Marketing and conversion is part and parcel of our daily lives and we wouldn't have a society at all if we didn't do it.Click To Tweet
If you only work to convince others to do what is in their best interest, it is good. If you work to convince people to do something that is not in their best interest, it is bad. Conversion triggers can be used in either direction.
The moment you utilize conversion triggers to convince somebody to do something that is only good for you and not necessarily good for them, you go into the realm of being a scam. It will blow up in your face eventually, so I don’t recommend it.
Good marketing is aimed at conversion, but it is built to attract those who it is right for and repel those who it isn’t right for. Ethical marketing means being willing to tell a person when what you’re selling isn’t the right thing for them. It means that what’s in THEIR best interest is more important than what is in your best interests.
Why These Triggers Work
These conversion triggers work this way because it is just the way humans tick. When you utilize one or more of these triggers in your marketing, it isn’t working because you are manipulating them. It works because it runs parallel to our natural tendencies.
In fact, these triggers are so naturally a part of us that we will often find ourselves utilizing them without even thinking about it.
Understanding these triggers gives you a better understanding of our own nature.
So, with that, we’re going to cover 15 different psychological triggers. I’ll explain why they work and how we can use them.
#1 – Avoidance Of Pain And Attainment Of Pleasure
We start out with something that is more than just a “trigger”. This goes to the very heart of our basic nature.
At the base level, life has the the basic impulse to survive. Peel away all the onion layers and, at the core, survival is the basic command that all life obeys. It is true for all human efforts to live a better, more fulfilling life…. all the way to the tree which finds a way to grow out of a rock with barely any water.
Survival is a gradient scale with numerous shades of grey. We’re not talking about basest necessities and what keeps the heart beating. That would be very low-level survival. At the highest level of survival, we are happy and fulfilled.
So, degrees of survival are best measured by pain on the negative side and pleasure on the positive side. Humans are “wired”, then, to avoid pain and seek pleasure. We are not talking just physical pain and pleasure, but also mental and spiritual.
In terms of our marketing, then, we want our offers to be seen as moving toward pleasure and away from pain. What defines pleasure and pain is obviously going to be different for each market. In my training, I often call this the transformation.
The transformation is a before/after scenario. In the before state, the person has a lesser level of survival. In the after state, they have a higher level of survival.
To market anything, you need to understand fully the transformation that you’re enabling. In some markets, the pain and pleasure is literal. For instance, in the health market, one would quite literally be looking to avoid pain. In other markets, that pain is more mental. It might be stress, lack of fulfillment, issues with one’s relationship or something else. In more of a hobby-driven market, the pain could be something as simple as feeling left out or simply not living up to where one wants to be. These are different forms of pain.
For each end of the transformation, you want to be able to fully paint the scene. You need to know and understand and FEEL what life is like at each end of the transformation. Only by a true understanding of what that pain and pleasure feels like can you effectively use this “trigger” for conversion.
Interestingly, in many markets, the avoidance of pain is actually a stronger motivator than the seeking of pleasure. A lot of this depends on the chronic emotional level of the market. People with an active pain usually have more of their attention wrapped up in that pain. This drags their emotional tone downward and they’re really not as easily motivated by high-level pleasures. Their chief concern is just making that pain go away. In your marketing, then, you would concentrate more on the avoidance of pain.
- Clarify and write down the transformation that you are in the business of delivering. How are you moving them away from pain and toward pleasure?
- Fully “paint the scene” of their current reality, what it looks like, how they feel, etc.
- Fully “paint the scene” of the NEW reality (the more pleasurable reality) at the other end of the transformation.
- Review any offers you are running currently and see if you are effectively painting this picture for them so they see how your offer will move them away from pain and toward pleasure.
#2 – The Idea Of Novelty And Newness
Every year, Apple releases a new model of their iPhone. Every now and then, something interesting is changed. However, most of the time, it is a minor incremental upgrade and there’s really no strong reason to upgrade. Yet, every time, Apple sees lines and online orders from people upgrading their iPhones.
Apple understands the power of NEW. And the real reason why new has such a draw to us is because of the potential of pleasure. It is the possibility of reward and the resulting curiosity draw of what that reward might be. Of course, Apple sales are also driven by community and status, but we’ll get to that shortly. 😉
The power of NEW is why something as simple as a bottle of shampoo can see sales increase merely by changing the design of the bottle. It is what drives software companies to continually issue new versions.
This trigger is simplistic… and easy to apply. The solution is simply to routinely come out with new offers and new things to buy. A fresh offer, a new version, a new bundle, or even a whole new product. Give the offer a new, fresh feeling and let this trigger do a little bit of work for you.
In practice, this trigger is usually coupled with other ones we’ll discuss. But, that’s common for how this stuff works.
- Review any offers you have (free or paid) and see what you can do to introduce a new version or incremental update and announce it.
- Write down a few NEW offers (free or paid) that you can create for your audience.
#3 – Providing The Reason Why
One of our human tendencies is to find meaning in things. We see new information and we want to file that information in relation to the other things we “know” in order to evaluate the meaning and importance.
Sometimes in marketing, prospects might err on the side of inventing their own meaning for things if you don’t give them what it is. It happens often. People are notoriously good at making things up to fit new data into their existing paradigm. And if you’re trying to sell something, the stuff they make up is probably not going to be in your favor. 🙂Sometimes in marketing, prospects might err on the side of inventing their own meaning for things if you don't give them what it is.Click To Tweet
This is why one of the triggers is simply to give them a WHY. To connect the dots, no matter how trivial it might seem.
For instance, if you’re running a sale or a discount… WHY?
If you’re giving away a free consultation… WHY?
Yes, we all know your reason why is to make more money. 🙂 They know that, too. In fact, these days it might be novel and instill trust if you just come out and admit that. The reason why could also be obvious, such as doing a Black Friday offer during Black Friday week.
You can also connect the dots by simply showing them WHY what you’re telling them matters. Why is your product or offer better than another one? Why should they act now and not later?
- Review each of your landing pages. Are you telling them why they should take action?
- When you craft and announce new content, give them a compelling reason why they should care about it.
#4 – Stories
What do you remember the most from TV? A good movie or a documentary? Most likely, you remember the movie and it’s plot. The documentary might have had some interesting facts, but you’ll often forget them before too long.
That is the power of story.
Story works because the viewer becomes a participant. They put themselves into the minds of the characters and feel what they feel. When the movie or the book is really good, you FEEL the energy and you really want to see how things turn out.
Stories are a pattern we recognize from life. We participate in them. We experience them. It is so much more powerful than being told a bunch of facts.
Stories also work well because any message or motto you want to convey can be observed, evaluated and owned by the viewer themselves. It isn’t told to them from somebody else’s viewpoint, but instead it is observed and the conclusions drawn are their’s because they came up with them.
Stories trigger emotions. They activate the senses. They make us SEE things.
For all these reasons, stories are a powerful tool for conversion. It is one thing to tell your prospect what’s up… it is quite another to present a story and have them observe what’s up on their own. They’ll remember it and they’ll own it.
So you need to ask yourself “What stories can you tell that would ultimately lead into your offer?”
It could be stories of your own back story or how the offer they’re seeing originated. It could be a story of somebody else. It could be a story you even made up – it doesn’t really matter. Don’t make up lies, but there is nothing wrong with telling a fictional story if it parallels the pathway that your prospect is going to probably be traveling themselves. Let them put themselves into the mindset of the person in the story ultimately leading them up to a point where they might want to seek a solution by way of the thing that you are selling them.
What stories of struggles being overcome can you tell? What kind of cliffhangers can you put in there? This will be a sales message which doesn’t even seem like a sales message because it would be communicated via a story.
- Create a document and list out any real-life events from your past or people you have met which contain a lesson which would be relevant to your market. Then, for each one, expand the storyline.
- Write down some ideas for fictional stories you could tell to illustrate a point to your audience.
#5 – Making Things Simple And EasyMost human beings are kind of like water. We'll flow downhill and take the path of least resistance.Click To Tweet
Deep down, we’ve all got some laziness in us. If two solutions are presented, we’ll choose the easier one.
If you show people how your offer is going to show them how to get the result that they want as easily as possible and with the least amount of effort, you are going to win. You want your product to show them from the outside that they are going to get what they want without having to work very hard at it.
Of course, we’ve all seen marketers who take this too far such that it escapes reality. Lose 30 pounds in a week! Press this big red button and your online business will be built for you, without any market or traffic required! Yeah… it’s bullcrap. So, obviously, you can’t mislead people.
Don’t lie or give false impressions, however there’s nothing wrong with presenting your solution as something that is doable by them. If you can point out the aspects that are easy, do it. You don’t want to go out of your way to make it seem complicated and difficult as that is just a conversion killer.
Many times, you can frame it as “easy” simply by showing how many of the typical constraints have been removed. For instance, in my line of work, building up an online business can seem very complicated and overbearing. If I present, instead, an orderly 5 phase system or framework for what I do, then that by nature is introducing simplicity. It codifies something that is unwieldy into a series of steps. By making it understandable, I’ve made it simpler without telling them it is going to be push-button easy (since that’d be a lie).
So, think about how you can introduce simplicity and ease into your offers. Sometimes, it is about framing and the phrases we use and not just about acting like there’s no work or effort involved.
- Review your offers and any landing pages for them. Are you pointing out how your offer will make the transformation easier and simpler?
- Can you add or revise anything in your existing offers specifically to make things easier and simpler for customers?
#6 – Common Enemy
Humans tend to operate in packs much like many animals. Various other triggers I’m discussing here lend themselves to why this is, but one of the best ways to UNIFY a pack is by giving them a common enemy.
This is that classic “us vs them” conflict and it unites groups of people and moves them to action like crazy. Just like at these examples:
- People being unified by patriotism in times of war.
- People being mobilized to vote or support certain politicians because of “they” on the other side (who is all evil, of course). There is almost no more classic example of “us vs them” marketing than modern politics.
- Apple and Microsoft bashing, or war of which computer operating system is best.
Common enemy marketing is used across the human spectrum… to sell products, to wars, to religion, to sports… and the list goes on.
People like a good game. And in order to have a game, there must be an opponent. Couple that with the pack mentality and you’ve got a powerful combination.
Clearly, this can be used in a manipulative way (politics, for example). But, it can also be used for good.
Think of an online marketer who takes a stand against “get rich quick” scammers. Think of a car company who selects boring, soccer mom vehicles as their “enemy” and positions their car as the alternative. Look at how every iPhone owner gets an emotional reaction when defending iOS against the Android enemy.
It is one thing to stand for something. It is another (and often equally important) to stand against something. Make it clear what you’re not and what you don’t stand for. Unite your community and your branding around that message.
- In the context of your blog, business and market, what do you stand for? Who or what do you stand against?
- Review your branding, your about page and your offers. Look for ways to instill your stance into your content.
#7 – Curiosity
Mystery is like fly paper to the human mind.Mystery is like fly paper to the human mind.Click To Tweet
An information gap can exist between what we know and what we want to know. Inside that gap, you will find mystery. Many times, the draw of that mystery is so strong that people can be preoccupied by it. Sometimes they will even make things up to fill in the gap.
This mystery is what gives cliffhangers in stories and movies their power. It is what excites children before Christmas morning. It is what drives conspiracy theories.
In your marketing, it is quite easy to create an information gap. Simply tease what might be there… and don’t tell them everything. 🙂
Years ago, I was doing some client work and we accidentally sent out a BLANK email to his email list. Oops! Funnily enough, however, he told me that that blank email had the highest open rate he had ever gotten. He had people replying back to it wondering what the email was supposed to say! It was totally by accident, but they wanted to know what they were missing.
I’m not recommending you send blank emails. However, there are numerous ways you can use curiosity:
- Using curiosity subject lines in your emails to make them wonder what’s in it.
- Using bullet points on your opt-in pages that tease what’s in the lead magnet and make them REALLY want to know what the answer is.
- Teasing upcoming announcements, but making them wait for it.
It is a powerful trigger, when used properly.
- Review landing pages and opt-in forms to see if you are crafting curiosity about the contents of the lead magnet.
- Next time you announce a blog post to your list, tease them and create an information gap. Make it so that clicking the link is the only way to satisfy their curiosity.
#8 – Anticipation
In physics, the term potential energy is used to refer to the energy that an object has related to others because of it’s position. For instance, if you hold an object up off the floor, it has potential energy. That energy isn’t realized until you let go and let it drop. Likewise, if you pull back on a bow in archery but don’t let go, you have potential energy.
Anticipation is merely mental potential energy. You can create excitement and curiosity for something, but don’t give it to them. This potential energy builds up until the moment you allow it to discharge.
Product pre-launches work this way all the time. It builds up massive anticipation that cannot be discharged until launch time.
A lot of the power of anticipation isn’t merely the moment of discharge, though. It is the actual anticipation itself. A lot of the excitement comes from the anticipation. It is similar to how much of the fun of Christmas is all the buildup and excitement that comes before Christmas morning.
The use of anticipation and curiosity often go hand-in-hand, but when used in your marketing, it raises participation and hence… conversion.
- Look at your email sequences. Are you teasing what’s coming up? Are you building any anticipation?
#9 – Status
We want to impress and be respected by those around us. We want them to see us and think we’re awesome.
It might seem childlike, but this is just how most people operate. And it fuels multiple industries:
- People want to have nicer cars to keep up with those around them or have others be impressed.
- People spend money on expensive clothes or brand-name fashion accessories so that others will notice and think they’re awesome.
- A person will buy a Rolex as a status symbol, even though a cheap Walmart watch tells time just as well.
- Many Apple fans will upgrade to the latest iPhone just because they want others to see them with it.
- Airline statuses make frequent fliers feel better than others, so they continue to fly that airline.
Right on down the line, many product purchases take place because we care what others think of us. That’s STATUS.
How can you build status into your marketing?
Much of it comes down to your positioning. If you position your product as high-end, then a certain degree of status is automatically assigned to it.
If you were running a membership site, you could build member levels into it. Perhaps gamify participation in the membership and give special gifts and labels to certain members within the community. If you elevate their status, they’ll stay members much longer.
- How can you elevate the status of your customers? How can you make repeat customers feel more special?
#10 – Social Proof
As mentioned before, human beings tend to operate in packs. Some people are natural leaders… most are followers. And, when in doubt, they will look at those around them to look for proof that it is OK. It is a rare person who likes to be first.
You see this everywhere, such as:
- The use of testimonials to show that others have used the product and were happy, thereby making it OK for the prospect, too.
- Product reviews and ratings (which can obviously work against you if the product sucks)
- Case studies
The status of the person giving social proof matters, too. As we already covered, status is also a conversion trigger. And we tend to respect the status of others. For this reason, third party proof from opinion leaders, celebrities or other people your prospects would know and respect will weigh higher than others.
- Set up an automated way to collect testimonials from your customers. Read: How To Set Up An Automated System For Gathering Testimonials On Autopilot
- Don’t have testimonials? OK… check this out: How To Get Social Proof When You Don’t Have Any Testimonials
#11 – Reference Points
When we come across new pieces of information, we will almost always evaluate that information in relation to other information we already know. Even if what we know is wrong.
In other words, we don’t get new information or make new decisions in a vacuum. We’ll do it framed around the things we are already familiar with.
In his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely says
“Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.”
You can use this in your marketing because we do judge the relative value or advantage of something by comparing to other things that we know the value of. For instance, I’ve seen many people who will compare the cost of their offer to something familiar like the cost of a dinner out or a coffee at Starbucks.
Those points of comparison are reference points. It is giving people a point from which to make judgements.
Another application of it is when presenting multiple price points or multiple membership options. For instance, if you saw a “silver” membership level at once price and then a much better “gold” level for just a few bucks more, it makes the deal of the more expensive level seem much better.
Reference points can also be used to help people understand things much faster. For instance, I’ve seen many sites which compare themselves to Netflix. For instance, seen two sites who have called themselves “Netflix for marketers”. By comparing to a brand we all know, it instantly makes the value proposition understandable.
- Look for opportunities to run a special offer which will automatically reference the discounted price to the normal price… therefore increasing conversion.
- Create price comparisons to make your offer price a better deal when compared to other familiar alternatives.
#12 – Sense Of Belonging/Sense Of Community
We bought an RV at a dealer called Lazy Days a few years ago. After we closed the deal and signed on the dotted line, we went through a sort of onboarding process. We were given a big bag of swag, complete with t-shirts and branded gear. They gave shirts to my wife and kids, too. The guys we dealt with were sharing little inside jokes and the like… and all of it added up to feeling really good about buying from Lazy Days.
They had the process lined up to make buyers feel like part of a Lazy Days family. All of this might have been after the sale, but it is still a strong conversion trigger.
We like to feel like we’re part of a group or a community. It make us feel like we belong. It gives a sense of security.
Lazy Days did it after the sale (which is smart), but it can certainly be used before the sale or just as a way to maintain a strong brand. Think about how sports teams have their team of supporters wearing the shirts, or how political “teams” will show their support with bumper stickers and yard signs.
Some of the things which help build this sense of community are:
- Symbols and logos
- Specialized language or words only known by members of the group
- Inside information only those who “belong” know
Can you share inside information with your tribe? Give them a special name that only members of the group have? Maybe even some branded swag?
When they feel like they belong to something bigger, they’re more likely to take you up on anything offered.
- How can you make your community and customers feel like they’re part of something bigger?
- Can you give your “tribe” a name?
#13 – Current Events
Most people tend to have pretty short attention spans. We pay attention to the things which are most immediate.
And what drives much of the popular attention these days? THE MEDIA.
For this reason, one way to gain the attention of people (hence, a conversion trigger) is to tie in to a current event. It could be a holiday or something in the news, but if your audience is pretty aware of it, you can get their attention a little easier by bringing it up.
An example of this might be Nike’s ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Obviously, he was a hot item of discussion for awhile and people were arguing about it on TV. So, Nike put him in an ad. Whether you liked it or complained, you were talking about Nike.
This trigger might not be as helpful on actual conversion, but it sure can help with getting their attention in the first place (which is also a conversion).
- Any current events that you can work into an email to your list?
#14 – Scarcity
Alright, this one is pretty darn easy. It is the fear of missing out (FOMO). It is seeing that deadline coming up and you feel like you need to act before you miss it.
Simply put, scarcity and urgency work like gangbusters. Putting an offer out there without some form of it is just leaving money on the table.
The thing is… most people don’t like to make decisions. They are in their little comfort bubble, so when presented with a yes/no decision, they’ll usually err on the side of no. Because no is safe… it is status quo… it is nothing lost.
Scarcity and urgency is about forcing people to make a yes/no decision. It is about giving them a clear reason to get off the fence they’re sitting on.
So, deadlines work. Limited quantities work (as long as it’s real). When you can find a way to put scarcity and urgency into your offer, do it.
- Look for opportunities to build scarcity and urgency into every offer you make.
- Read: How To Choose And Use Countdown Timers In Your Online Marketing (Includes 14 Different Tools)
#15 – Controversy
Last but not least, we have controversy. This one is very similar to current events, since these days many current events are basically drummed up controversies by the media. Why do they go that?
Controversy gets attention. It also divides people into teams (common enemy) and they’ll sit there and do some of work for you. 😉
It is why half the news is about controversy over some thing or another. Often, there’s really no controversy at all, but the media will create the conflict, report on it, then it proceeds to become a thing.
It is why you’ll see celebrities sometimes wear very eye-catching clothing on TV, or you’ll find people saying controversial stuff just to get on TV. It is why reality shows always introduce tons of fake drama.
It comes down to the 3B’s… challenge their behavior, challenge their beliefs and challenge their belongings.
It is why I wrote a blog post calling banner ad revenue the dumbest method of monetization. For one, it happens to be true. 🙂 But secondly, I’m challenging the default belief of many in my market.
- How can you take on a controversial angle (or headline) in your market?
Those are our 15 conversion triggers.
These are not the only things that go into copywriting and marketing, but these are the big kahunas when it comes to the kinds of things copywriters have in mind when they are orchestrating a sales message.
It isn’t only about making the sale. We’re talking about any form of conversion. Any form of getting somebody to do what you want. This includes opening or clicking an email, reading a social media post and clicking, watching a video, you name it.
Some when we look at what our purpose is here with content marketing, the purpose is to drive people to take action. That’s what these conversion triggers are all about.
You really need to understand how the human mind ticks and what makes people do what they do. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that, underneath all the mechanics and the websites and the tools, we’re dealing with real life human beings. Understand what motivates them and work with it, and you win.
One More Thing
In the end, the psychological triggers in this post will help you increase conversions on your offers. However, none of this works in the face of a bad offer. The offer itself is what matters most… then utilizing these triggers work.
To that end, we’ve got an entire course on the topic of creating offers that convert. This is a course on offer creation and making sales… designed specifically for people who weren’t born to sell.
You will learn how to find out what people want, how to craft your offer, how to price it, how to present it… and how to sell it.