consumer behavior

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How to Apply Psychology of Consumer Behavior To Your Startup

We recently wrote a post about the psychology behind switching software, but today we want to give you some tactics that may convert users from one software to another.  The purpose of every technology is to solve a unique problem, and form lasting relationships with users so that they use the product as if it were built into their lives — like a habit.  

Habits are pervasive, accounting for 95% of consumer behavior.  Our brains desire the autopilot decision making mode of habituation, and rewards our brains anytime we perform a habitual behavior whether conscious or subconscious. The problem is, most people have no idea they are making decisions based on habit and emotion.  It’s important to understand that if your company’s growth relies on converting users from a competitor’s product to yours, what you’re actually asking customers to do is change an established habit.  

Altering that behavior requires diligent research on ingrained patterns and a trained eye to find opportunities to make a conversion.  Good marketing understands why people have habits, and why they are so difficult to break. Emotions, timing, and context will play a leading role in developing your marketing tactics to disrupt habits.  

Empower Customers

Some recent findings in the Journal of Consumer Research pointed out that consumers are far more likely to switch brands or try something new when they feel empowered in their daily lives.  

There are two reasons why this empowerment works: first, because it sort of ‘points out’ that the customer has a decision to make, subconsciously nudging that habit is not the best reason to use a product.  The second is that this simply makes people feel good, because power is an emotional trigger.  Even temporarily empowering customers can go a long way; if you say something like, “We know you have the power to select your own task tracking software,” you might just convert a user.  


Reward Users with Instant Gratification

Think about Facebook or Instagram for a moment: You may not want to admit it, but notifications for likes or comments on your content is insanely gratifying. Gratifying to the point of addiction, gluing us to our phones and seeking out the next instance of instant gratification.

If you are interacting with potential users in any way, shape, or form, take this opportunity to return an instant reward.  Reward is the final step in creating a habit, so do not leave this out.  All it takes is telling someone you will solve their problem instantly, and delivering on that promise. A bubble that says ‘you’re awesome’ when a user interacts with your software can’t hurt either..

Take Market Research One Step Further

The info you gain from market research will only get you to the point of understanding if your product has a place on the market, but you can pretty much throw your market research out the door when it comes to converting a customer from one software to another.  If you really want to achieve a deep understanding of your customers, find out what drives their actions and behaviors, start at the source — context.  

Context will give you a clue at where to start, where those ingrained behaviors came from, and how you can position your product in the same context. When you understand the context, using a marketing information system or will help you find out what users are not getting from their current products. Behavior design may require bringing in an expert to analyze data, and dissect it to identify patterns surrounding ritual behavior. It’s key that you understand the stimuli that encourage current habits in order to change them, or create a new behavior.

Uber understood context when they created a service similar to those who were in the habit of using taxicabs for short-distance and on-demand transportation. They disrupted the current habit by offering a more convenient alternative that does not require tips or cash fares, and is less expensive during off-peak demand times. What was already an ingrained habit, Uber made more convenient.  Their service is now so habitual, most people living in cities wouldn’t even think to call a cab — us included.  

Create the Emotional Triggers

As we talked about in our previous blog post on this topic, a habit begins with an emotional trigger.  A Psychology Today article used neuroimagery to show that consumers primarily used emotions when evaluating brands, not attributes, features, and facts.

Since emotions are key drivers behind our everyday activities, the first step is to create positive emotions.  People take positive emotions to heart, and constantly seek to repeat interactions where they gain positivity.  Zappos does a great job with this, aiming to make their customers extremely happy throughout the entire process, not just the sale.  Converting customers is a process, so keep everything positive without being forced.  A human touch is important to making people feel happy and taken care of, and once you make customers happy, you’re unstoppable.  

You can also go another direction in triggering emotions, as long as it doesn’t reflect back onto your brand. A lot of companies will do this by making a common enemy, thereby helping people make sense of the world by placing the reason on a company or group.  Customers will identify on your ‘side’ and feel like you work for a common goal.  

Simply being heard by potential users is part of behavioral design.  Triggering customers’ curiosity will make them at least open your emails, or interact with your content to satisfy their need to know something.  You can do this with controversy, building anticipation, or a sense of novelty in your marketing content.  

Building a community is a smart way to convert people because it speaks to the emotional desire to be accepted and feel connected to others.  This is a very actionable tactic if done right.  Building a cool social presence online and bringing people with similar values together is a strong basis for converting users.  Never underestimate the power of word of mouth and people’s desire to be included — it may be the single most important aspect in getting people to jump ship.

Tell a Story

Stories activate parts of the brain that are associated with sight, sound, taste, and movement — allowing us to experience something without the direct experience.  They light up our emotional brains, coincidentally, in the same place where we make decisions to buy something or not.  

This is easily incorporated into your marketing and branding strategy.  Social media allows you to share micro stories constantly, giving you a chance to embed stories in the minds of your customers, slowly and in small doses.  If you do this right, eventually those stories become habitual and we crave them.


Create the Right Kind of Behavior

No matter what you do, ensure that the behaviors you’re creating are correct.  Some industries make the mistake of habitualizing bad behaviors, such as the shopping around associated with insurance companies.  Cable companies are another big offender, as they often provide lower pricing and incentives to new customers rather than rewarding loyalty.  This encourages customers to take a second look and consider other brands.  Always keep that in mind; converting your customers is breaking or creating a habit, and keeping them as loyal customers is the act of maintaining a habit.  

Emphasize Value, Educate

People are naturally going to favor the product they currently use, irrationally overvaluing its features.  This phenomena is known as the status quo bias, and it’s difficult to break.  In order to communicate the compelling benefits of your products, you’ll need to emphasize that the gains users will receive from making the switch are far more than the loss of the old software.  Educate customers on why and how breaking the habit of buying with your competitors is going to significantly improve their life.  

Habits are well-worn paths in the brain that allow the consumer to be relaxed so that it is available for important decisions and emergencies.  The good news for marketing strategy is that buyers are more likely to choose your brand if you can make it a habit.  The key is to light up the brain and force it to make a decision by introducing emotional triggers, and then making the decision easy — something people already do or want to do.

Do not expect this to be easy. These are the things that ultimately make a product successful and keep users engaged.  Execute your marketing strategies with the points outlined above, and you may stand a fighting chance of converting users to your software.