Neuromarketing and marketing psychology- why social proof works and how to use it to increase your conversions

Neuromarketing.  Nobel laureate, Francis Crick called it the astonishing hypothesis; the idea that all human actions, feelings, thoughts, and even consciousness itself are merely products of neural activity in the brain.

This is good news for marketers, especially affiliate marketers because neurobiology can help you optimize your website and copy so you can ultimately increase your conversions.

This is possible because you’re no longer guessing; you already know what is in your audience’ mind because you’ve been there.

Or at least seen what goes on inside it.

What is neuromarketing anyway?

As with any subject that is heavily researched, the answers vary wildly. And some definitions just say the same thing but with different words.

Although there are many definitions, let’s look at two definitions.

Wikipedia defines Neuromarketing as “a new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli

Wikipedia further states that researchers use fMRI to “measure changes in activity in parts of the brain…to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.”

The online encyclopedia claims that ultimately, neuromarketing will be able to tell the marketer “what the consumer reacts to; whether it was the color of the packaging, the sound the box makes when shaken, or the idea that they will have something their co-consumers do not.”

However, Roger Dooley, neuromarketing expert, and writer and owner of the blog takes this definition a step further and then simplifies it.

He defines neuromarketing as “…the application of neuroscience to marketing.”

He continues by saying in this post that

“Neuromarketing includes the direct use of brain imaging, scanning, or other brain activity measurement technology to measure a subject’s response to specific products, packaging, advertising, or other marketing elements”.

He adds that “in some cases, the brain responses measured by these techniques may not be consciously perceived by the subject; hence, this data may be more revealing than self-reporting on surveys, in focus groups, etc.”

We couldn’t agree more.  The point of neuromarketing is to see what goes on in the customer’s head.

A bit of history to put things in perspective

Although Wikipedia’s definition implies that neuromarketing is a new field, the opposite is true.

In the 1980s, as Pepsi began gaining ground in terms of marketing share, they began a marketing campaign (the Pepsi challenge) to prove that consumers indeed preferred Pepsi.  The Pepsi challenge involved a blind taste test and predictably, the majority of participants in the Pepsi Challenge chose Pepsi over Coke.  Notwithstanding, Coke still continued to dominate the market.

In 2003, Read Montague of Baylor College Medicine, baffled by Coke’s dominance of the market despite people’s preference of Pepsi, decided to conduct an experiment. In his experiment, he used the same blind taste test. But this time, he hooked consumers to an MRI machine to track their brain activities.  During the blind test, most of the participants preferred Pepsi over coke.  In the blind taste test, scans showed activity in a region of the brain called the ventral putamen which is associated with seeking reward when they drank their favorite drink (Pepsi).  However, in a nonblind test, Coke was more popular.  During the nonblind test, he observed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (which is associated with higher thinking) and the hippocampus (which is associated with memory).

This led Montague to conclude that their brains were recalling the emotions, images, and ideas from Coca-Cola’s commercials which influenced their decision.  Although Montague’s experiments pushed neuromarketing to the public eye, someone else had already applied neurobiology to marketing.

The concept of neuromarketing was first explored by Harvard marketing professor Gerry Zaltman in the 1990s.  He went on to patent a technique called the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique.  ZMET (Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique), has since been used by large companies such as General Motors, Nestle, Procter and Gamble, and ironically, Coca-Cola.

Some nerve-wracking facts about neuromarketing

For one, neuromarketing isn’t cheap.

An MRI machine can cost as much as $5 million and twice that to set it up.

A single ad sample group of 20 people can also cost more than $10,000.

Consequently, only companies with deep pockets can carry out neuromarketing research.

Research from marketing schools shows how some companies (with deep pockets) have benefited from neuromarketing research.

· Google and MediaVest partnered with biometrics researcher NeuroFocus to gauge how users responded to their InVideo advertisements (the semi-transparent overlay ads on YouTube). Forty participants’ sensory responses were scored along with such criteria as attention, emotional engagement, and effectiveness.

· Microsoft uses EEG data to better understand its users’ interactions with its personal and laptop computers, including feelings of “surprise, satisfaction, and frustration.”

· Frito-Lay studied the female brain in order to learn how to better position its advertising. The company discovered that it needed to avoid talking about “guilt”—even “guilt-free”—and instead focus on making “healthy” associations in its advertising.

· The Weather Channel (TWC) was another company that partnered with NeuroFocus, as it prepared to relaunch its “When Weather Changed History” series. Using EEGs as well as eye-tracking technology and GSR (galvanic skin response), TWC was able to refine its commercials and programming for maximum impact.

Okay, no more nerve-wracking stuff

Let’s talk about how neuromarketing can help you increase your conversions.

As we said earlier, neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience to marketing.  One of the many theories and principles of neuroscience and psychology that can be applied to marketing research is the principle of normative social influence.

It is more commonly referred to as social proof.

What is social proof

One way to explain this concept is to use some real-life scenarios.

When you need to buy an item you want to get value for your money so you’re willing to buy something that is proven to be reliable and durable. As a result, you’ll look to friends and/or family for recommendations.

If you don’t have friends or relatives who have used the product you want to buy, you’d probably resort to looking at online reviews by people who have actually used the product. And it’s not just about reputability too; it’s also about what other people are doing, what they like, and what they’re buying.

For example, if you see a group of people standing in the street and chattering, your curiosity will immediately be aroused and you’ll want to know what all the chatter and buzz is about.

The same thing happens when an influential person like a rapper wears a certain brand, the item immediately gains mass appeal simply because it has been associated with a popular person.  This is social proof demonstrated in all its majesty.

The term (social proof) popularized by Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence”, refers to the psychological phenomenon whereby a person who doesn’t know what to do in certain situations will look to other people and imitate their actions.

This is based on the psychological principle of social normative influence where people tend to follow a norm in a society so they can be liked and accepted by other members of the community.

Social proof: The two-headed monster

There are two ways to look at social proof.  Although both perspectives focus on social proof, the points of view are quite different.  Here’s why.  Social proof can be examined from two angles; liking and doing.

Further down this article, we’ll discuss research results that validate these perspectives.

Liking and doing.

If you really think about it, social proof can be framed in terms of actions (how many people have purchased this item?), versus preferences (how many people like this item?).

Most people can probably identify with this.

In fact, a certain eCommerce giant uses these phrases ever so often on their website.

How do you apply this to your marketing endeavors?

Well for one, research done by Tu and Fishbach (2015) revealed why people are more influenced by the masses’ preferences than their actions.

If you’re like most people, you’d be inclined to think that preferences more significantly influence buying decisions.

People are in fact more influenced by other people’s preferences rather than their actions.

To apply this concept, simply change the wording of your copy to reflect preference rather than actions.

This is why social proof is relevant to affiliate marketers.

Solomon Asch in a bid to understand social influence conducted some experiments.

His research led to two conclusions:

  1. People want to fit into a group
  2. They believe the group is better informed than they are.

This is why people trust referrals when making purchases and why they will trust referrals over ads of any kind, irrespective of how optimized or creative they are.  Nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing or referral marketing.

In 2016, a Nielsen study revealed that the vast majority of Americans trust the recommendations of friends and family when considering a purchase.  And up to 67% say they’re likely to purchase a product after a friend or relative posts about such a product on social media.  In addition, up to 86% of Americans with incomes of more than $500,000 seek recommendations when considering a purchase.

The power of social proof is incredible.  Even Instagram uses it.  Have you ever wondered why Instagram shows when someone you follow likes a photo?  It’s because they know that if someone you follow likes a picture, you’ll probably follow suit.  If the above stats don’t convince you, here’s one more for good measure. Research by Mintel found that 70% of Americans are likely to visit use review sites or independent review sites before making a purchase.  In addition, 7 out of 10 Americans will seek other opinions before making purchases.

In short, an affiliate marketer not utilizing social proof is missing out.

Examples of social proof and how it can supplement your affiliate marketing efforts

There are many different ways to show social proof.

Some of them include:

  • Approval
  • Celebrity endorsement
  • User testimonials or reviews
  • Business credentials
  • The wisdom of the crowd; social following
  • Awards and certification
  • The wisdom of your friends.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at these types of social proof and how you can use them to your advantage.

Approval by experts

In any field or niche, there are always a few people who are regarded as influencers or expects.  This is because, over time, they’ve established their authority by demonstrating their expertise over and over again.  Having one these ‘experts’ give you a thumbs up is a great way to communicate to your audience that your product or service is worth their time, and more importantly, their money.

For instance, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive income and Neil Patel are ridiculously popular and an endorsement from people as influential as this can result in stupid amounts of money for you.  This form of marketing is often referred to as influencer marketing.

Here are some stats that demonstrate the power of influencer marketing:

  • Twitter users have a 5.2 times increase in purchase intent after seeing promotional content from influencers.
  • 49% of users rely on recommendations from influencers on Twitter.
  • 40% of people say they’ve purchased a product online after seeing it used by an influencer on social media.
  • Content from influencers earns more than 8 times the engagement rate of content shared directly from brands.

You may see all these stats and want these kinds of results.  However, the key to getting sustainable results with influencer marketing is relevance.

This starts with knowing your audience.  You need to know your audience well enough to be able to choose an influencer that they like and trust.

To prove this point, let’s exaggerate a bit.

Assuming that your target audience is teenagers who love rock music and you erroneously choose to work with an older influencer who caters to those who love classical music, they won’t fit with your audience.  The soft flowing melodies of classical music are very different from the aggressive and punchy rhythms of rock music.  I leave you to imagine how dissatisfied your hypothetical audience will be.

Again, unless you carefully match the influencer to your audience’s needs, your efforts are similar to boxing the wind.  With influencer marketing, the key to success is relevance.

The benefits

Influencer marketing can be profitable.  Businesses are averaging $6.50 for every dollar they spend on influencer marketing.  In the top 20th percentile businesses can earn up to $20 and more.

Celebrity endorsement

This is just like in influencer marketing. But this time, the people who endorse your products are celebrities.  And celebrity endorsements can only work with products that have a general appeal.  Things like skin and hair products, clothing, perfume, etc.  It would be ridiculous if they endorsed products asides the above-mentioned products. Imagine asking Drake to endorse Ahrefs.

User reviews and testimonials

This is another powerful way to show social proof.  As we established earlier, whenever people want to make purchases they are likely to seek out reviews or testimonials.  However, there is a fundamental difference between reviews and testimonials.  When users describe their experience using a product or service, it’s called a review.  Reviews can be positive, neutral and even negative. And negative reviews will only give you negative social proof.  Testimonials, on the other hand, describe a customer’s positive experiences with a certain product or service and extol a product’s virtues or advantages.

You should get this right because this is what will eventually compel people to pull out their wallets.  Some industries like fitness and hospitality have benefited immensely from using testimonials. This is especially true of the fitness industry.  Big brand names like weight watchers, Orange Theory and Tae Bo established their credibility using testimonials.

There are very few methods as effective as testimonials for showing the value of your product.  But it isn’t all mindless praise.

How to get testimonials that convert

In his book “The Brain Audit”, Sean D’Souza closely examines testimonials and what makes testimonials work.  He says that the purpose of testimonials is to build trust and reduce fear in the first-time user, not to beautify your website.  And if new customers only see sugar-coated testimonials with “wonderful adjectives and powerful verbs”, they may be skeptical about buying from you.

Therefore, good testimonials should address any objections new customers may have.

What you’ll gain

More and more consumers will trust your brand more than they would if you didn’t have testimonials.  Research shows that people trust peer recommendations over advertisements.

One study revealed that 92% of consumers are likely to trust non-paid recommendations over any other type of advertising.

A large social media following

People like to follow the crowd. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as herd mentality. Whenever people observe a large group of people doing something, they’re more likely to join in.  This translates to social media as well. People are more likely to begin following a page simply because the page has a lot of followers.

And while a significant amount of followers is a good thing to have, we don’t recommend that you use the number of your social media followers to measure your success as a business.  This is because it’s a vanity metric at best.  But if you must…

Here’s how to go about it

If you want followers, there’s a caveat.

Creating a follower base that will profit your business, in the long run, will definitely take time; there’s no way around this unless you have deep pockets and can afford expensive ad campaigns.

To grow your follower base organically, you need to be creating valuable content regularly.

Supplement this with some ads and you’re well on your way to being a superstar in your industry.

Awards and certification

People generally want to buy from brands that are credible.  What better way to show your trustworthiness and credibility than through awards?  Awards validate your brand simply because they come from a third party who testifies to your excellence.  And the more prestigious and recognizable the source of the award, the more valuable it is in showing your credibility.  If your site has been mentioned on popular media outlets, mentioning that on your site can make a great first impression.

According to, putting the logos of business customers on a website can increase conversions by up to 400%.

Another real-life example.  In a bid to see if putting awards on their site would affect conversions, a former eCommerce company, Bag Servant decided to carry out an experiment.  They created two versions of their website.  On one, they put one of the awards they received from a well-known businesswoman at the top of their shopping pages.  They then created a control version that included a button to follow them on twitter along with their follower count.

The first version beat the control version hands down.

Displaying user and customer count

The logic behind this is straightforward really.  We’ve previously established that social proof can be viewed in terms of actions and preferences.

This method of showing social proof is why McDonald’s puts captions like “Over 9 billion served” on their golden arches; they aren’t afraid to emphasize the popularity and value of their services.

If you’re an affiliate marketer, Widgetly can help you achieve this with the notifications feature.  Users on your website can see how frequently other people purchase your service or your product.  This is the ultimate form of social proof as it’s proof beyond doubt that your service is indeed worth a user’s time, and more importantly, money.

Now that we’ve examined the various types of social proof and how they can benefit your business, let’s now proceed to explore some ways you can benefit from using social proof.

Not toot our own horn, but use Widgetly

Widgetly can help you increase your conversions, and no, we’re not boasting.  Widgetly has a feature called the notifications popup that allows you to show how frequently customers purchase your service or product.

You can even display where the product was bought and when the product was purchased.  In addition to this, Widgetly also allows you to display awards or certifications you have gotten in the past.  What better way to show your customers that you’re a badass to be reckoned with?

Subtly brag about the size of your customer base.

Yeah, we said brag, but make sure to do it subtly.  Do it like McDonald’s.  Like McDonald’s, just casually mention that you have served over 200,000 people across the world.

Get verified

If your business thrives on social media, you should probably use this tip.  When you get that coveted blue checkmark that very few people have, your credibility and your authoritativeness instantly goes up.

As only the top brands and celebrities have the blue checkmark, your possession this mark is one of status and prestige. At least in the social media world.

Work with micro-influencers

Admittedly, while we have a great product, it won’t work for everyone.  For instance, some companies live and die on Instagram. They know Instagram algorithim intimately. If the algorithm so much as twitches, they notice.  And we recommend that these types of businesses work with micro-influencers.

Micro-influencers aren’t as influential as influencers, but they’re usually very niche-specific and have a greater reach and influence on their followers.  An example of a brand that has successfully worked with influencers is Daniel Wellington.  Watch enthusiasts and purists all over agree that DW watches are overpriced. They generally agree that other brands give more value for money.

We don’t know about all that; all we know is conversion.  But we have to admit, their marketing game on point.

This is proven by their 4.7 million followers.  Over the years, DW has partnered with countless influencers to appeal to the fashion audience.

They have succeeded in dominating this market.  We recommend that you do the same.  Identify the big boys (influencers) in your industry and partner with them whether they be macro or micro.  We don’t like to be salesy or pushy or anything, we just really believe in our product.  And we want you to see how awesome our product is.

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