The Psychology and Persuasion of Digital Marketing [Review]

Understanding the impact of psychology on consumer behavior and applying it in your practice can mean life or death for any business. Really, if your messaging isn’t effectively speaking to your audience’s decision making needs, you’re pretty much dead in the water. 

This week in my journey through CXL Institute’s Conversion Optimization Minidegree, I was especially excited to dig into some courses on persuasion psychology and neuromarketing. 

This blog post is part 3 in a series where I detail my experiences with the Conversion Optimization Minidegree from CXL Institute.

For transparency, I received a scholarship to this program (for which I’m eternally grateful), but I’ve tried to keep my thoughts and reflections in the following post as unbiased as humanly possible. Of course, we all know that humans are inherently biased - whether we’d like to be or not - so don’t fault me for being human! 😂

Principles of Persuasion

Cialdini is a name that came up frequently throughout quite a few courses this week, so although I wasn’t familiar with him prior to starting the program at CXL, it’s clear he’s the big kahuna when it comes to persuasion principles.

He previously had 6 persuasion principles, then fairly recently added the 7th:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment/consistency
  3. Social proof
  4. Authority
  5. Liking
  6. Scarcity
  7. Unity

Even if you don’t know Cialdini by name, these principles probably sound familiar to you. We see them, and react to them, unconsciously every day as we go about our daily lives.

And once you start to notice them more, you can become more effective in influencing people to say “yes” to your offers.

Here’s a breakdown of each so you can use each of them in your landing pages, sales copy, emails, and product catalogs:

Reciprocity 🎁

We all know the feeling. Someone does something nice for us, out of the goodness of their heart and we feel the need to reciprocate. This is the whole reason those “pay it forward” things really take off despite humans being quite selfish creatures at the core. 

By offering your visitors something free or at a deep discount, like a valuable piece of information or resource, they’ll be much more likely to buy from you when they’re ready. 

This is why a free tool or guide can be such a valuable way to begin a relationship with a potential customer, especially if you have a higher ticket item that has a longer decision making process. 

Commitment/consistency 🤝

People are much more likely to stick with something once they’ve started. This is why you should always start with easy form fields, to give the user momentum in the process, like we discussed in Form Best Practices. 

Once they’re begun and have some “buy in”, they’re more likely to commit to the entire process. A public commitment to complete a task or challenge works as well – this blog post is an excellent example of that in action. 😁

Social proof ❤️️

Humans being social creatures are innately influenced by those around them.

We love being part of the crowd, whatever crowd that is for you, and feeling like we belong. And social proof accomplishes this desire quite nicely.

Social proof can look like many things, ranging from testimonials, to case studies, to product ratings, to user generated content on social. 

Basically, if people are saying you’re awesome, you should get as much of this and highlight exactly why to others who might be thinking of joining the pack.

Authority 🎥

Love ’em or hate ’em, celebrities are a great example of authority. And if you don’t have the chops to have that authority built yourself, you can use others’ authority to make the same impact.

Don’t know Oprah well enough to get her on your Instagram? No worries, you can borrow authority from other sources.

How about joining forces with a partner company who’s more well known in your niche for a promo instead? Or using market data and industry studies to help support your claims?

Just be sure to keep pushing your own content and knowledge so you can eventually gain this authority status yourself too!

Liking 😁

This should go without saying but we generally choose to do business with people who we like. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to be “nice” although that’s not a bad thing. 

I’m just saying that if your vibe is a more direct than diplomatic, that might be the thing that your customers might like about you. Just be aware that while a little conflict can generate a buzz, being a dick usually backfires if you end up letting that color your customer service interactions. 

But hey, you do you, right?! 🤷‍♀️

Scarcity 😱

We’ve all had this happen…

You open your Amazon app to check out something you might want to buy in a week or so but- gasp! – there’s only 2 items left in stock.  What do you do? Well, you buy it right then and there of course. It’ll probably sit in your kitchen for a month, but you couldn’t take the chance of losing out on the opportunity.

Scarcity is so effective that you see people misusing it, which can cause people to mistrust you if you’re not careful. Don’t use fake countdown timers. They don’t fool anyone and they make you look scammy. 

And if you say that a sale ends at midnight, it better not still be in effect 3 days later. You’ll end up ruining your brand and pissing off a lot of folks. But, use it wisely and scarcity can be a highly effective tool in your conversion kit.

Unity 🙌

Unity is the newest of the persuasion principals and really has to do with being part of a group identity. 

This is the us vs. them principle, the exclusivity vibe. Russell Brunson calls this throwing stones at your enemies or something like that. 

You can create a sense of community and exclusivity by creating and using shared language that’s specific to that group, by sharing a common “enemy”, and co-creating shared experiences with your “tribe.”

Neuromarketing - The science of human decision


I’m going to dive a bit into some of the concepts here in this great course by neuromarketer Roger Dooley. Of course, I love most things that have to do with cognition and behavior, so I found Intro to Neuromarketing especially interesting.

But before we can go any further, it’s important to recognize that we all have 3 brains.

Instinctual (oldest and most central)

Emotional (middle child – the “Jan” 😂)

Rational (newest and most exterior)

While your new brain is a rational and analytical machine, capable of advanced logic and calculations, your reptilian brain is primarily concerned with survival.

Think about your average lizard, living in the moment, eating flies, having lizard babies, and trying not to get eaten by a bird or run over by a busload of schoolchildren. Not a lot of deep thought going on there.

Your reptilian brain is 500 million years old, always on, fast (but not very smart), unconscious, present, and uncontrollable. 

Your new brain is the opposite of this. Yes, it’s smart but compared to the lizard brain, it requires a lot of time, calories, and effort to process information.


How to attract the lizard brain

There are 6 stimuli to the reptilian brain.

Knowing these opens up a world of understanding your potential customer on a level that’s far more meaningful than any demographic data you’ll get. Screw getting their zip code, here’s where you can get inside their heads…

Self centered:

The lizard doesn’t care about you. The lizard cares about itself and its survival. This is why your copy needs to be all about the customer. Find out why your visitor came to your site and dig into that. Make it about them and when it’s time to make it about you, make it about them some more.


Your reptilian brain LOVES highly contrasted images. This is why before and after pics work so well.


Because your reptilian brain doesn’t know how to read, you need to find another way to deliver your message and clearly demonstrate the benefit to your customer. This needs to be incredibly concrete, and is usually best done through the use of visuals to show the message of transformation you’re trying to deliver.

Beginning and end:

Your lizard brain pays the most attention to the beginning and end of events and interactions. But the middle — not so much. This means that you need to deliver the most important information at the beginning or end, or else risk it getting completely overlooked.


If you’ve noticed anything so far, it’s that the reptilian brain is highly visual. 

In fact, just like light travels faster than sound, your optic nerve is directly routed to your lizard brain and delivers visual stimuli 50x faster than your auditory nerve can deliver sound to your brain. What this means is that you need to connect and deliver your message visually with images, not just with your written text.


Appeal to the emotional side, not the logic. Remember, your lizard brain doesn’t like to think too hard. It reacts. And highly emotional stimuli evokes a reaction. Emotion can also be something like cognitive biases, like getting a free gift or reward which makes someone want to do something in return because of reciprocity.

What this means for marketers:

Neuromarketer Patrick Renvoise goes even further and applies these six stimuli to four steps for effective marketing. I’m not sure if Patrick already does, but I’m going to call them the four D’s:

  1. Diagnose the customer’s pain at a reptilian level
  2. Differentiate your claims
  3. Demonstrate the gains
  4. Deliver to the reptilian brain

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5 Favorite Neuromarketing Hacks

Of course, everyone has their favorite “hacks” when it comes to these things. So it wouldn’t be fair if I left out Andre Morys’ five favorites from Elite Camp 2015:


Confirmation bias: 

Here’s something to chew on. Andre basically called BS, saying that a large number of A/B tests are flawed in that they mistake significance for validity. 

What he’s saying is that we really need to be aware of the methodology of the tests, including the length and sample size, before we get all excited by impressive stats. Sometimes, he claims, because we’re excited to confirm the effectiveness of our changes, we end the test too soon before giving time for things to “level out” so to speak.


Mere exposure effect: 

Andre reminds us to repeat elements and maintain features across pages for best effect. If you’re advertising a sale in a banner in the header, carry this through the site.


Loss aversion: 

The human brain is a funny thing in that it’s generally more concerned with avoidance of a loss than gaining of a benefit. And this is most certainly true in purchasing decisions. As soon as the customer knows he’s going to buy/do something, he focuses on avoiding loss. 

Similar to scarcity, you can take advantage of this with limited time offers and notifications of low stock in e-commerce.


Emotional resonance: 

Remember the lizard brain? Here it is again. Remember that most buying decisions aren’t made with logic. Appeal to your buyer’s emotions and the reason they came to you in the first place.


Bandwagon effect: 

The tendency to do or believe things because many other people do or believe the same can be a powerful pull to behave in a certain way. This can be tied into things like social proof, testimonials, visitor counters, even low stock notifications. Because of course, if everyone else is buying it, you should too. 😉


The Persuasion Slide


Finally, I want to mention the Persuasion Slide. Now, when I first saw this listed, I was thinking PowerPoint slides, but it’s actually referring to a slide on a playground. You know, the one for kids.

Roger uses this visual to illustrate the forces acting upon a customer when they’re making a decision whether or not to act or say “yes” to your offer.


This is the potential customer’s initial motivation (needs, wants, goals). Basically, what they’re bringing to YOU and why they sought you out in the first place.


Just like a child might need a little push to help them get started, this is the little push you give your user when you ask them do something. This could be an email, phone call, ad, prominent CTA, etc.


Now they’re sliding! But how fast will they go? Here’s where you provide some extra motivation through use of conscious and unconscious motivators and cognitive biases. Free, scarcity, social proof, all of these work to make your sliding slope a little more slippery.


Of course, we’re not in a vacuum. There are opposing forces at play here (no pun intended lol 😉) and boy, are there a lot of them! 

To make matters more complicated, there are both real and perceived sources of friction leading to 4.6 trillion dollars in abandoned carts annually!

Real difficulties are easiest to manage with a clear and intuitive user experience. These are things like clear form fields, marked steps and progress, using auto-fill for forms, eliminating confusing password requirements and difficult captchas when possible.

Basically just make it easy! 

There’s also imaginary/perceived friction, but all this means is again, don’t over-complicate getting the message to your visitor. Your message has to be easy to read and understand, (this includes font and even things like avoiding difficult to spell words). 

Remember those best practices: your user experience should be as easy and clear as possible. 

Closing Quotes

Here are two of my favorite quotes from this week, both from Roger Dooley’s Persuasion Slide presentation:

“If it’s not motivation, it’s friction.”
“Non-conscious [motivators] almost always costs less”

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