Psychological Triggers Cheat Sheet

The Psychological Triggers and Cognitive Biases Cheat Sheet

Talia Wolf Conversion Optimization 1 Comment

Talia Wolf

Talia teaches businesses how to plan and execute conversion optimization programs. She runs thousands of AB tests using emotional targeting, real time data and consumer psychology to increase online revenues, engagements and sales.

Talia is a frequent keynote speaker at marketing conferences, teaching conversion optimization and growth on stages such as Google, Unbounce, MozCon, GMIC, CXL live, Search Love, Learn Inbound and many more.

She is the Co-founder & CMO at Banana Splash and was recently listed as one of the most influential voices in conversion optimization.
Read Time: 13 minutes

“We’ve just released a free psychological triggers and cognitive biases cheat sheet you can use for every landing page, sales page and any marketing campaign. Use this cheat sheet to get tips, case studies and examples of how to apply cognitive biases to marketing.

About psychological triggers and cognitive biases

Cognitive biases, or psychological triggers are our brain’s tendency to be persuaded by unconscious triggers that affect our decision making process.

From Wikipedia:

“A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion.”

Essentially there are many triggers and unconscious psychological triggers that affect our decision making process. Though we love to think of ourselves as rational people who make rational decisions, most of the time, our brain is affected by how things are presented to it and we later use logical explanations to rationalize our decisions.

How the Psychological Triggers and Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet Works

The following cheat sheet will help you quickly identify various psychological triggers you can use (or must avoid) in your design to improve conversion rates and increase campaign ROI.

The psychological triggers cheat sheet is divided into:

  • Name of psychological trigger or cognitive bias
  • Explanation
  • Ideas on what pages and sections you can use it
  • Examples of how to use and links to relevant case studies
  • Checklist –  use this to ensure you’ve either avoided or used the biases at the right time

Click here to download the cognitive biases cheat sheet

The following list gets updated regularly, check back for additional cognitive bases and psychological triggers you can apply to marketing.

The Complete List of How to Apply Cognitive Biases to Marketing

Analysis Paralysis

  • Definition: Our brain’s default is to shut down when presented with too many options. Due to a lot of noise, ads, calls to action and just plain ol’ life happenings, our brains over think and have a hard time choosing. As a result, the action (in our case the conversion) is either postponed or never happens.
  • Where to avoid it: Mainly landing pages, pricing pages and checkout flows
  • How to avoid it: Help your customers, reduce the amount of choices they have to make and keep your design simple, clutter free and clean.
    • On landing pages – Have one clear, actionable call to action, avoid too many offers and confusing messages.
    • On pricing plans – Your customers get dozens of offers a day and have many choices to make. Avoid having too many options and ensure those you have are easy to compare and direct customers towards a single option.
    • In promotional materials such as ads and email marketing campaigns avoid asking for more than one action – have one clear CTA that tells a visitor exactly what to do.
  • Examples:

Anchoring

  • Definition: Anchoring is our tendency to rely on the first piece of information presented to us to make a decision. Essentially, when a higher price is presented first, it becomes the benchmark against a price is evaluated. For example, if you go to a store and are asked to pay $700 for a shirt you may gasp in horror, however if you’re then presented with a shirt for “only” $400 it may seem cheap as now you’re comparing all prices to that initial $700.
  • Where to use it: Most common places include pricing pages and thank you pages.
  • How to use it: On pricing pages, consider placing the higher price on the left hand side (as people read in English from left to right) to ensure they see the higher price first, and the bargain right after. This helps people easily compare prices and helps you direct user attention towards a certain plan.
  • Example: This cognitive bias will help you create more persuasive landing pages

Anticipation

  • Definition: Anticipation, is a key stage in human happiness. Keeping our customer’s anticipation high, increases retention and brand engagement by ensuring people are constantly waiting to hear from you. We’re wired to anticipate and look forward to positive events and outcomes, the more we strenghthen this tendency with our copy and content strategy the more agreeing our customer may be.
  • Where to use it: Most commonly used on landing pages, email marketing campaigns, drip sequences and thank you pages
  • How to use it: A known tactic that many retailers use on their sites is creating anticipation towards the “end of the month sales” campaign. Throughout the month, send subscribers emails reminding them that the big sale is coming soon to increase customer anticipation. Using this bias, you not only ensure people are excited about the sale and waiting for it, you may also grow your subscribers list, increase engagement and conversions during sale time.

Authority

  • Definition: Our tendency as humans to inherently trust figures of authority.
  • Where to use it: To be used with hero images, social proof and reviews on landing pages, pricing pages and sale emails.
  • How to use it: Common examples on landing pages and pricing pages include:
    • Highlighting the amount of they customers/users you have
    • Highlighting well known clients or partners’ logos and mentions in well-known magazines and newspapers.
    • As social proof, having authority figures write a testimonial for you or using their image to establish authority, for example images of doctors, professors and other authority figures that project trust.

Bandwagon Effect

  • Definition: This bias represents our tendency to change our opinions, decisions, beliefs and ideas according to the amount of people who think the same way. This happens because most people prefer to conform and be just like everybody else. The more people think in a certain way, the more likely is it to grow in popularity and be trusted by newcomers. For example, when comparing between items/products/options we tend to choose the more popular one.
  • Where to use it: Pricing pages, landing pages, up sell emails and more.
  • How to use it:
    • Statements such as “Join millions of happy customers” are a great way to emphasis your popularity and show potential customers you are the safe and popular choice – the one everyone chooses.
    • Reviews are another great way to highlight the amount of people using your service or purchasing your products.
    • On pricing pages, a common practice is highlighting a certain package with a banner saying “most popular” / “most trusted”.
  • Examples: How I use the bandwagon effect (and other cognitive biases) in social proof to increase conversions 

Belonging Bias

  • Definition: Humans are social creatures who love to feel part of a group or a community. As a result of this bias, customers often purchase products in an attempt to feel part of a specific group. Being around people who share our goals or care about the same stuff as we do makes us feel more secure and happy about our decisions.
  • Where to use it: Commonly used in opt-ins, sign-up pages, pricing pages
  • How to use it: One of the most common and well-known strategies for signing people up to a service or a mailing list, is enhancing that sense of community and exclusive clubs or groups – showing the amount of people in the group and highlighting the unique content only subscribers get:
    • Invite visitors to join your family/exclusive club and receive exclusive personalized offers.
    • Other variations include: “Join X amount of people”, “Join our exclusive mailing list to gain…”, etc.
    • Name your pricing plans in ways that categorize people in groups such as the “gold members” vs. the “platinum” – it gives people a sense of prestige and belonging.
  • Examples: Emotional Targeting Guide

Buyer’s Remorse

  • Definition: This bias (stemmed from Cognitive Dissonance) is responsible for us second-guessing a buying decision.
  • Where to use it: Ecommerce emails, progress emails, gamification
  • How to use it: Our goal is to help people feel good about their purchase, keep our customers happy and returning. To do that on eCommerce sites:
    • Keep your customer’s updated with the current location and estimated time of arrival of their package. This will help increase anticipation and excitement towards delivery.
    • On SAAS platforms and tools show customers how far they’ve come and their achievements using your service.
    • Use gamification: Allow customers to set goals for themselves and achieve points for taking certain steps (e.g. filling in their profile, reviewing items, writing recommendations and sharing items). Once they get to a certain amount of points, offer a discount on their next purchase or a free gift.
    • Use your email marketing campaigns to constantly keep customers intrigued and excited about their decisions.
    • Use thank you pages to keep customers engaged.
  • Examples7 Ways I increase conversions and retention rates using thank you pages

Choice Supportive Bias

  • Definition: The act of remembering one’s own choices as better decisions than they actually were. This is one of our most basic psychological triggers, in charge of our tendency to think more highly of the decisions we make, even downplaying negative attributes of said choice. Due to this bias we tend to ascribe negative attributes to the option we did not select as a means to justify our choice to ourselves. This is the bias that’s in charge of making us feel better if we suddenly see the same shirt we just bought this morning, for half the price in another store.
  • Where to use it: Thank you pages, landing pages, pricing pages, email marketing, retargeting campaigns
  • How to use it: Similar to the”buyer’s remorse” bias, our goal is to make people feel good about their decision making process and past decisions. To do so:
    • Update your customers on their recent purchase or their progress within a platform by using positive attributes to it and congratulating them on their wise choice.
    • Displaying testimonials and reviews makes customers feel good about their decision, helps them feel part of a larger community and increases self confidence in their choices.
  • ExamplesHow to build habit forming experiences

Community Bias

  • Definition: Similar to the belonging bias, we have an inherit need to be a part of a social community. Being part of a community makes us feel more comfortable and inspires us to take action to achieve our desired results. Being around people who share our goals and care about similar aspects of our life makes us feel more secure, builds our self esteem and enhances our self confidence.
  • Where to use it: Landing pages, ad campaigns, pricing pages and checkout flows – also great for retention and engagement process.
  • How to use it: Enhance your brand’s sense of community using:
    • Testimonials that also mention the community or family feeling your service provides
    • Send out regular emails to existing customers updating them about your team and business so they feel connected
    • Highlight the amount of customers or users you have on your homepage or landing page
    • Create an online community or forum for people to ask questions
    • Use images showing genuine happy customers gathering together

Confirmation Bias

  • Definition: The tendency to favor information that confirms one’s existing beliefs or attitudes. This psychological trigger is so strong that if we discover a better deal / platform or service after our purchase, we will still convince ourselves we made the right decision.
  • Where to use it: Email marketing, retargeting
  • How to use it: To capitalize on this bias, you need to optimize your retention flows.
    • Make sure to continuously engage with your customers, remind them why they chose you.
    • Update them regularly about their progress or package
    • Make sure you build a strong relationship with them that makes them feel comfortable and interested in learning more.
    • Use positive affirmations congratulating customers on their great choice.

Decoy Effect

  • Definition: When presented with two options, people have a hard time making up their mind. People have a noticeable change in preference according to the way choices are presented and we tend to prefer the first option because it looks better, even though both options could be exactly the same. Many time, using a third option (a decoy) helps guide our customers towards a specific choice.
  • Where to use it: Pricing pages
  • How to use it:
    • Add a third “no-brainer” pricing plan option: The idea? Use a third pricing plan option to increase the perceived value of another plan. It’s a way of helping customers immediately see that by choosing X plan they get almost the same value as on the third plan but for much less money.
    • Add a third pricing plan option which is far more expensive that the one you want them to choose. Our goal: The higher priced plan makes the middle tier plan seem more attractive and economical.

Endowment Effect

  • Definition: Once we own something, we get used to owning it and we’ve adjusted to that ownership. We won’t be quick to let go of it. In fact, once we own something, even for a little while we tend to credit much higher value to it than it may actually have.
  • Where to use it: SAAS products – landing pages, email marketing, upgrade plans
  • How to use it: This bias can be very irrational and is similar to the IKEA effect, the more we put into a product the higher value it gets in our eyes:
    • Free trials are the most common use of the endowment effect. Once our customers commit to a certain product, invest time in it, building their profile and adding information the harder it is for them to let go and not upgrade their plan.
    • Apply urgency to your landing pages, pop ups and pricing plans. Highlight the outcome of leaving, for example “All your information will be lost”.

Foot in the Door Technique

  • Definition: Once we’ve performed a small action (like submitting our email address in exchange for a free guide) , we’re more likely to continue performing additional actions (like filling in more details about ourselves). This bias is used a lot as a marketing tactic that involves getting a visitor to agree to a larger commitment or request by first getting them to agree to a smaller, more trivial request.
  • Where to use it: Thank you pages, registration flows, opt-ins, free trials
  • How to use it: There are many ways to use this technique:
    • On your thank you page, learn more about your customer by asking them to take a survey
    • More on thank you pages: Ask your customer to take another action such as write a review, invite friends or join your social media assets.
    • Test breaking registration forms into multiple steps (especially on mobile). Once a visitor has entered their name for example, they’d be more prone to enter their email address and other details.
  • Examples7 Ways I increase conversions and retention rates using thank you pages

Hyperbolic Discounting

  • Definition: The tendency of people to prefer instant over delayed gratification. The farther the reward, the more likely we are to dismiss it. We prefer instant gratification.
  • Where to use it: Most commonly on Ecommerce sites and pricing pages.
  • How to use it: One way this bias is works is by offering an immediate small discount for a current purchase on your site rather than offering a larger discount for future purchases.

Loss Aversion

  • Definition: This bias focuses on our tendency to do everything in our power to avoid loss. In fact, the loss of something hurts us a lot more than to the happiness we feel when gain something. For example, most people consider the loss of $100 more significant than the happiness of gaining $200.
  • Where to use it: Pricing pages, registration forms, landing pages
  • How to use it: This bias is all about your content strategy and is very much worth testing. On your pop ups, pricing pages and even landing pages mention what a visitor may lose out on if they don’t perform a certain action, for example:
    • Instead of saying: “Save money” say: “Stop wasting money”
    • “This exclusive deal that runs out in X minutes” – consider adding a countdown timer
    • “Only 5 more items in stock”

Scarcity

  • Definition: This bias stems from “Loss Aversion” and is our natural inclination to become fearful and anxious when there is a threat of losing out (a.k.a- FOMO- fear of missing out). This sense of anxiety from scarcity triggers us into action and causes us to become more vulnerable to temptation and impulse.
  • Where to use it: Landing pages, pricing pages, email marketing
  • How to use it:
    • Limited time offers and time sensitive discounts are great ways to use scarcity and get people to take an action.
    • Scarcity can also be used to increase the perceived value of a product, the fear that there is a limited supply of something can make a customer purchase quicker.
    • On product pages in Ecommerce sites, you can display how many other people are reviewing the item you’re interested in to increase urgency and fear of losing out.

Social Proof

  • Definition: When other people see someone like themselves purchasing a product or service it has a positive influence on their purchasing habits. From a marketing perspective, social proof is way of showing customers that similar people to them are utilizing and enjoying a product or service. If a consumer feels like their peers approve of a product or service, it will gain more trust in their eyes and their desire to use it too and its value will increase.
  • Where to use it: Mainly on pricing pages, product pages in e-commerce, shopping carts and landing pages to increase trust and affinity
  • How to use it: “When you say it, it’s marketing. When your customer says it, it’s social proof”.
    • Most common tactic is displaying well known logos and seals on your pages.
    • Including testimonials of people similar to your target audience
    • Displaying reviews of your products.
    • Mention the amount of satisfied customers you have, any awards you’ve won by well-known organizations and the amount of social shares or followers you have.
    • Another well-known tactic is showing logos of publishers who’ve mentioned you (a.k.a – “As seen on” section).
  • Examples: 10 Advanced ways I use social proof to increase conversions

Status Quo Bias

  • Definition: The human tendency to prefer consistency over change. Essentially, most commonly we asses the potential loss of switching from the status quo more heavily than the potential gain of trying something new.
  • Where to use it: Great for increasing retention rates.
  • How to use it: To increase retention rates and keep customers buying we must constantly remind them of the wise choice they have made.
    • Remind people of the value of staying with you and perhaps the loss they may experience by not staying with you.
    • Personalize emails to create a sense of familiarity and strengthen your relationship.
    • Get to know your customer better and push out content that’s relevant to them.
  • ExamplesHow to build habit forming experiences

Trust Bias

  • Definition: Trust plays a huge game in the world of online experiences. Consumers must feel confident in your product, brand, or service.
  • Where to use it: This psychological trigger should be utilized and emphasized on all online assets, from landing pages to entire retention processes.
  • How to use it: There are many  ways to increase trust and build on it for a ongoing relationship with your customers:
    • Use the power of color psychology to enhance the sense of trust and security.
    • Choose images that portray trust and feel relatable to customers.
    • Displaying Well known icons, logos and authority figures are a great way to increase trust. Whether it’s your partner’s logo, client’s or simply a seal from a trusted and will known companies, these are known to increase conversions.
    • Since other people’s reviews and testimonials about you are far more trustworthy than self proclaimed announcements, make sure to display and highlight those as much as possible.
    • Display the amount of customers or users you have, display logos of well-known blogs and companies who may have covered you in the news.
  • Examples: How to choose the right image for your landing page

Click here to download the cognitive biases cheat sheet

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