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How to Implement Digital Psychology Into Your Marketing: Scarcity, Social Proof, and Triggers

Kuba Rogalski
8 min read
Jun 15, 2020

We’re all attracted to things that are limited and respectively difficult to get. When we succeed in buying something unique that we’ve wanted, we feel rewarded. The mechanism that pushes us to do that is called scarcity. We’re also more likely to buy a product or service someone else recommended. That’s how social proof works. Lastly, all our behaviors are determined by triggers that come from within us as well as from the outside world.  

This article wraps up the series I started three weeks ago. Before delving into scarcity, social proof, and triggers, make sure you take a look at the digital psychology principles I covered before:

How to Implement Digital Psychology Into Your Marketing: Anchoring, Commitment, and Loss Aversion

How to Implement Digital Psychology Into Your Marketing: the Need to Complete, Reciprocity, and Rewards

Scarcity can even sell bricks

Scarcity is the next digital psychology principle. The term was first coined in 1984 by Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology, marketing, and business. Scarcity means that the rarer or more difficult it is to obtain something, the more valuable it becomes. This principle is widely utilized in online sales, whether it’s ecommerce or the travel industry. 

Scarcity is heavily linked with loss aversion. The fact that you’re enticed to buy a product because it’s rare and unique is bolstered by the fact that you’re motivated to purchase it because of the fear of missing out (FOMO). 

Remember the last time you wanted to book a hotel room on booking.com or another travel website? You’re looking at that hotel room you like, and you see a few pieces of information pushing you to book. You find out that there’s only one room left at this price. As you proceed, you learn that a specific number of people are looking at this particular room at the same time. When you’re still in doubt and think about closing the tab and looking for something else, you’re told that if you quit now, there’s a chance you won’t be able to book it later. 

Most ecommerce websites use this tactic, too. You see that a pair of shoes that you like is available in limited quantities, and, then, you also see that a few other people are looking at them at the same time. That’s when loss aversion kicks in, and you’re tricked into buying that item immediately. 

Another tactic that Amazon introduced years ago and is now becoming more popular is displaying the time you have left to order if you want to get your package the next day. Recently, I was looking to buy new soccer shoes. When you play soccer, hardly anything else feels better than unpacking a box of new shoes, trust me. I wanted to get mine and try them on as soon as possible. I fell for that tactic and ordered the cleats in time to have them on the next day. I didn’t have to pay extra for that, but many people are often willing to pay more to have their orders delivered as soon as possible. 

Scarcity in fashion

I was very interested in the sneakerhead subculture a few years ago. Before then, I didn’t realize people were willing to pay up to 10 times more than their real value for a limited pair of sneakers. The more unique and desirable a pair of shoes are, the more expensive they become. 

Nike, for instance, have their Sneakrs app with a calendar of upcoming releases. You’re hooked and more likely to do your best to get your pair once the shoes are available. Recently, Nike released a limited edition of one of their Dunks line of shoes, one of their most popular models. They were created in collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s. Yes, the ice cream Ben & Jerry's. Even though I’m not as much into the sneakerhead culture as I used to be, I tried to snatch them up because I knew their resale price was going to go off the charts. 

On the other hand, Adidas made a great move by offering Kanye West a deal as soon as they learned about the cracks in Kanye’s partnership with Nike. Each new edition of their Yeezy collaboration sells on the spot, with resellers buying them in bulk and reselling them for inflated prices easily. 

You can build your whole strategy around scarcity. Once you do, you might even be able to sell bricks with your branding on them, even if you’re not a streetwear icon like Supreme. One of the drops of their Fall/Winter collection in 2016 featured a brick that sold for $30 apiece. As you probably suspect, it later sold for up to $1000 on eBay.

While highly effective, scarcity is sometimes perceived as manipulative and exploitative. If you’re considering implementing this principle into your marketing, make sure you don’t use it in a ‘scammy’ way.  

Social proof

As a marketer with five years of experience in SaaS companies under my belt, I think I’ve seen social proof utilized a lot more than any other digital psychology principle. When you land on the homepage of any SaaS business, you’re bombarded with social proof from the start. Daniel Stefanovic prepared a comprehensive list of ways to display social proof on your website. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Make use of numbers

Numbers build trust. At LiveChat, we just hit the 30,000 customers milestone, and we proudly share that information with website visitors right below the signup button. Some companies in our industry have more customers than us, and some have fewer. This is all relative, and, what seems to be a big number to one person, doesn’t necessarily impress someone else. Still, if you think that displaying a customer count is beneficial to your business, do it. Adding the logos of a few of your customers should be helpful as well. 

Display customer testimonials

Customer testimonials are the second most widely adopted method of building social proof. Companies display their testimonials in different ways. Some of them add them as quotes on their own. Others use widgets that display genuine, clickable social media posts from people sharing their opinions about a company. Those testimonials are curated as well so that they don’t include any negative comments, but they still feel more authentic.

Showcase your case studies

Out of all of the methods of building up social proof, case studies provide the biggest value to potential customers. Customers use your product in different ways, and each case study can focus on different use cases. Looking at our company, we know that some people use LiveChat solely for customer support. Others use it to generate leads and increase sales. There’s also a group that uses our tool for both purposes. By creating case studies with different kinds of customers, we give potential customers an idea on how they can tailor the use of our product to fit their specific needs. 

Pavlov’s dog and triggers

Triggers are the little nudges that push us to complete an action. There are two types of triggers: external and internal. External triggers influence us from the outside. Think about calls-to-action, for example. External triggers don’t have to be tangible. A mouth-watering smell reaching your nostrils as you walk past a restaurant is also an external trigger. Conversely, internal triggers come from inside us. They are formed on an emotional level and connect with our memories and habits. 

It’s difficult to talk about triggers without mentioning a groundbreaking discovery in conditioning. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, conducted an experiment that set the ground for classical conditioning. Pavlov intended to study the digestive processes in dogs. He inserted test tubes into the cheeks of the dogs he studied to measure saliva when his assistants fed the dogs. The dogs started to salivate when they saw food. 

At one point, Pavlov noticed that they began to salivate as soon as they saw the assistants that usually fed them. To push his research further, he decided to introduce the sound of a metronome as a stimulus before he fed the dogs. After repeating the test a few times, he noticed that the dogs started to salivate at the sound of the metronome.

We respond to triggers in a similar fashion. Calls-to-action, push notifications, and those tiny red badges reminding you about unread messages, for instance, are all trying to make us do a particular action. Some of those triggers are reminders that help us do the things we tend to forget about. In most cases, however, they are designed to bring us closer to a purchase one step at a time. 

From a marketing perspective, bringing external triggers as close as possible to the internal ones would be a dream come true. That would mean that a specific trigger is so ingrained in your customers’ emotions and habits that they don’t need external motivation to take the desired action. Isn’t that what all marketers strive for?

Now, it’s your turn

Doing research about digital psychology and writing this series for you has already made me a better, more aware marketer. It helped me better understand the psychological mechanisms behind our decision-making, and I wanted to share that knowledge with you. 

The list of cognitive biases is significantly longer than the nine principles I described. With my interest in psychology and marketing, it’s safe to assume that I’ll be back with other articles related to them in the future. What’s your experience with digital psychology so far?

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