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Marketing Psychology: Avoid These Pitfalls in Your Copy

by Marcia Yudkin

Marketing psychology is like a box of matches: Used wisely, it creates appealing warmth and brightness for a business, but it can also spark a reaction that blows up in one's face.

We've all heard of spectacular marketing backfire, like the promotional firm that unintentionally shut down Boston in 2007 by planting devices that were taken for bombs. But good ideas can also go wrong in your copy in smaller ways with an inadequate understanding of the principles of persuasion.

Avoid the risks of butting up against the pitfalls of marketing psychology by steering clear of temptations to mislead or insert obstacles into the selling process. Pitfalls I've observed in action include:

* Forgetting the skepticism of many consumers, who bail out because you didn't reassure them appropriately. If there are no hidden catches or costs, say so. Avoid letting customers worry about possible hassles, flaws in a service or the need to fight to get a refund.

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* Exaggerating or misrepresenting things that buyers soon experience for themselves. For instance, a real estate ad for a house in my town claims "15 minutes to Northampton" (the county seat), when someone obeying speed limits could barely make it in 20 minutes. Another example is a franchise's ad claiming to be the only franchise brand committed to providing nutritious and delicious products. A quick Google search shows that to be untrue.

* Saying things that are hard to believe, even though they are true. If doing some little thing differently led to 4,000 percent better results, that strains credulity, even if it actually did happen. You're better off toning down the claim to something that is easier to swallow and also accurate, such as "more than 400 percent improvement."

* Offending potential buyers' basic commitments and values. For instance, legendary adman John Caples asked firefighters whether they preferred an electric popcorn popper or a set of chef's knives as a reward for reviewing a film on fire safety. They responded angrily: "You think we'd adopt a fire safety program because of some #$&%! popcorn popper?"

* Connecting your brand with irrelevant or highly controversial causes. One business owner ended his otherwise very useful book on small-business marketing with a kooky write-up about an issue related to health care. Yes, this was very important to him, but it undermines his credibility with 99 percent of readers.

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* Implying that your priorities matter more than your customers'. For example, this comes up when someone replies to all emails with boilerplate saying they reply to all emails after 2 p.m. every day because they get more work done that day.

By following these guidelines, you have a better chance of turning marketing psychology to your advantage, interesting potential buyers in your offerings and leaving them satisfied after their purchase.

Copyright 2016 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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