9 things every marketer should know about how the brain works

How to put human psychology at the heart of your marketing…

Every customer is human. 

Every human has a brain….

So it makes sense that if, as marketers and business owners we understand how the human brain works, we’ll get better results. Great things happen when you put human psychology in the centre of your marketing

What are some psychological factors in marketing?

1. The human brain is on average 2% of our body weight but consumes 20-25% of our energy.

(Karen Eber – Neurological Hacks: How to Tell Stories to Connect, Inform and Inspire Action)

That means that, unlike computers, our brains don’t like to make complex decisions. Why not? Because complex decisions mean burning more calories and quite frankly that risks threatening our survival.

So, what does that means for marketers?

If you’re going to encourage people to buy, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible for customers to understand what you sell, how your product/service will add value to your customers’ lives, and what they need to do to buy. 

Any area of confusion is a potential lost sale. 

The good news? Most companies don’t do this very well. So if you get this part nailed, your clear message will give you a source of competitive advantage.

Understanding how the brain works will help you…

2. The human brain is self-centred

Our brains are tasked with helping us to survive and thrive. They are continually scanning the environment with the question – what’s in it for me?

… and guess what? If your customer can’t work out what’s in it for them – they won’t buy.

So if we want customers to buy, we need to make that question as easy as possible to answer…. 

“People don’t care about what you do, they only care about what you can do for them.” (Donald Miller - Building a StoryBrand).

So 100% of your marketing should focus on your customer, not your product or what you have to sell. 

…and there’s a simple test to see how well you’re doing. Marcus Sheridan (You Ask, They Answer) recommends you head over to your marketing copy and:

  1. Count how many sentences include the word “you” 
  2. Count the number of sentences that include the word “we” or “our”, and “our company”.

For many, the results of this will be shocking. It’s likely to reveal that you’re not as customer focussed as you think. 

Sheridan suggests that the ideal ratio, from a customer’s point of view, is 5 to 1 or better. That means you should refer to your customer five times more than you refer to your company. 

What’s your ratio? If it’s less than 5 to 1, it may be time for a re-write!

Now to secret no. 3 about how to use human psychology in your marketing.

3. We actually quite like to be told what to do.

Why? See point 1 above. If we’re told what to do, we don’t have to think about it. We’d rather just do.

What does this mean for marketers?

Ever been to a website and decided you’d like to buy but found it hard to know what to do next? Frustrating isn’t it… and I’ll happily bet that you weren’t willing to put that much energy into working it out either. 

So here’s the lesson:

People don’t want to hunt around for the next step – that’s too difficult and burns too many calories. What do customers want instead? They want life to be easy. 

The easier we can make it for our customers, the more likely they are to buy, 

So include a clear call-to-action in every piece of marketing you produce. In many cases, this step is alone enough to deliver a positive uptick in sales. 

But we’re not done yet. Keep reading….

4. The brain wants to filter out unnecessary information 

We’re wired to hunt for meaning in everything. 

This means that to hold the brain’s attention, everything must be there on a need to know basis. (Lisa Cron, Wired for Story p.23, 27)

So if we’re to consider psychology in our marketing that means something important… 

Before our fingers even touch the keyboard or video play button, we need to know the purpose of our communication, so we can focus solely on that. 

… ONE big idea per piece of collateral. 

Not two.

Not three. 

Certainly not more. 

Just one. 

The way to do this is to start by asking yourself what point you’re trying to make…

… and then cut out any detail that doesn’t support that idea. 

A warning: This process can feel brutal.  But it’s worth it. 

Less fluff, better results. 

Remember: Everything you say and write should de included on a need to know basis. If what you say doesn’t progress your reader in their journey to understanding your big idea – cut it out. Your customers will thank you for your clarity. 

… and they’ll thank you for showing them contrast too. 

5. The brain loves contrast

We judge just about everything in comparison to something else (Changing Minds) 

I drive a Mini. It’s the car I like to drive… in comparison to other makes and models. Comparison is how we evaluate. 

So when deciding to purchase we’re constantly making comparing if we think something is better value, prettier or more appropriate than something else on offer.

As marketers we can use the implications of this tendency toward comparing things to our advantage – we can make it easy for our customers to make the comparisons we’re looking for. Here are some examples of where we can do that:

– use product comparisons: compare the features and benefits of your offering to those of your competitors.

  • price comparisons by comparing your product/service to one that is out of reach, to make yours appear more affordable… or offer pricing tiers so customers can quickly contrast (when offering 3 options they’ll likely go for the middle option).
  • Offer upsells – as when you’ve just made a big purchase, the cost of the add-on suddenly seems cheap in comparison. 

And where else can we use contrast? In colours. 

A great example of this is using colour on your “buy now” button. By making your call to action stand out on the page with a clear contrasting colour, your visitor is much more likely to be attracted to it. And what does attraction mean? An increased likelihood of that all-important click. 

6. People move towards the familiar:

Studies have shown that we are attracted to what is familiar to us (Psychology Today)

This familiarity principle is so strong that scientists have even discovered that the more frequently you see someone the more likely you are to feel romantically attracted to them.

For marketers putting psychology at the heart of our marketing this means that the more a prospect sees our brand name, the more the know like and trust is likely to build.

Consistency matters. 

But simply turning up isn’t enough. 

We’ve also got to be consistent in our messages, in our tone of voice and in what we say and do. Heck, even layout is important. 

Imagine what would happen if you popped over to amazon.com and the design was suddenly unfamiliar. The shopping basket was now bottom left, the search bar was on the right and the product descriptions were on the left. The chances are, you wouldn’t like it. It wouldn’t feel comfortable anymore. 

I wouldn’t mind betting that conversions would drop too. 

So remember – familiarity counts, The more consistent you are – the more people will trust and love you for what you do. 

7. The brain loves specificity

Humans love specificity.

They don’t like vague.

Vague means the brain has to think to work out meaning. That burns calories, and as we already know. Brains don’t like to do this.

“We’ll make your life better” is a vague statement. So is “flexible integration” or “collaborative solutions”.

Tell your customers exactly how you’re going to make their lives better with concrete statements like “more profits” “easy to use” and “fast results” and your chances of winning their attention skyrocket.

8. Everything we do is triggered by emotion.

Emotions shape just about every aspect of the way we live our lives: they shape our memories, affect our perceptions and impact our thoughts and judgements and actions. In short, they impact how customers feel, judge and act towards your brand.

So emotional connection has a direct impact on your bottom line. The more emotionally connected to a brand a customer is, the more they are likely to buy, the more they are happy to pay and the more they are likely to refer you. 

In fact, customers that are connected are 52% more valuable, on average than those who are highly satisfied (HBR)

So here lies the big question, what emotions are we looking to evoke?

Well according to Forbes, there are 5 emotions that are most likely to activate that buy button in our brain.

  1. Belonging
    Humans are social beings so we’re hard-wired to seek out belonging. It’s tied to social identity, shared values and ideals. People need to feel connected. So brands that can help us feel that important connection are likely to win in the marketplace.

    How do we help increase that feeling of belonging? Shared values and beliefs is one way.

    Another is to increase engagement, start conversations and create community. The more we communicate the more we feel we belong
  2. Happiness
    It’s not surprising that when we feel happy, we want that feeling to continue. As consumers, we’ve all felt that little hit of happiness when we’ve made a purchase. Brands that help us feel that way are the ones that win in the marketplace
  3. Trust
    When customers trust you, they know you won’t rip them off. They trust that you’ll keep your promises and do the right thing. When we believe that of a brand – it goes without saying that we’re more likely to buy.
  4. Fear
    We’re all familiar with this one. FOMO is a biggie. I experienced it recently when I saw the quality of the photos taken by the iPhone 13. If I didn’t have one, I’d be missing out on the stunning photographic memories I’d never be able to repeat. It’s a strong emotion that is difficult to resist (remember how people like to belong?)

    But fear can be other things too.

    … The things that we are actively looking to avoid. The fear of identity theft. The fear of growing old, making unhealthy choices… the list goes on.

    Be careful with this one. If you’re too heavy-handed you could be perceived as scaremongering – so in order to be a powerful motivator, hitting the right balance is key.
  5. Values
    Values and belonging are linked.

    When we share values, we share beliefs, we feel as if we belong. Take one of my favourite brands, Finisterre. Their values are to “stay true to our original design ethos of functionality and sustainability, remaining committed to product, environment and people.”

    For me, it’s hard not to share values like that… and what happens when we share values? We feel more connected and buy more.

The more emotionally connected you are, the less critical and the less objectively observant you become.

… and my final point has been kept to last for a reason…

9. The brain focuses on the beginning and the end.

First encounters are more easily remembered than later ones. 

You’ll remember your first kiss, your first day at school – but you’re much less likely to remember what followed…. Until your last day at school for example. 

These are the laws of primacy and recency.

For marketing they’re important. 

What you say first and last is most likely to be remembered. So don’t bury important points in the middle, they’re likely to be forgotten. 

You can use this theory to your advantage in speeches, in product listings and in practically any piece of marketing you can think of. 

And that’s not all….

We should also the law of primacy is also responsible for the reason why a customers’ first impression of your organisation is so important. 

It’s the one that gets remembered. 

If you go the extra mile to build a strong rapport early in the customer relationship, you’re much more likely to be remembered down the line… which in turn is good for the bottom line. 


Every customer is human. Every human has a brain…. So put human psychology in the centre of your marketing and you’ll get better results. 

  1. The brain likes simplicity and tries to avoid complex decisions
  2. The brain is self-centred so we need to appeal to our customers’ egos.
  3. We like to be told what to do – use clear calls to action.
  4. The brain tries to filter out unnecessary information – so focus on one big idea for any piece of marketing you create. Remove any unnecessary details. 
  5. Customers love contrast. 
  6. People move toward the familiar
  7. People love specificity
  8. Everything we do is triggered by emotions (and that includes buying)
  9. The brain focuses on the beginning and the end. 

Is ignoring human psychology in your marketing costing your business money?

Getting it right is easier than you think. So, book a free 45-minute strategy session and start getting the results you deserve.

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