How Psychological Biases Can Influence Human Behavior Online

Written by Courtney Raguso, Social Media Content Creator

You don’t have to be a psychologist to be good at marketing, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the common psychological biases and how they can influence human behavior online. Understanding the consumer thought process and why people perform certain behaviors can help us better target the customer and get them to make that purchase. Let’s first talk about what psychological or cognitive bias actually is. Generally speaking, bias affects the decisions we make and how we act, and is a natural human behavior. This thought process is defined as repetitive paths that your mind takes when doing things like evaluating, judging, remembering, or making a decision. They help us make quicker decisions and take action. This is largely due to the social pressures and emotions we experience that influence us daily and they can be either conscious or subconscious. When you apply this to your marketing strategy, you are making more educated decisions instead of relying solely on hard data and what you think is the reasoning behind their behavior. Just make sure to consider your target audience and marketing goals to determine which tactics would work best for you.

Today, we’re going to discuss a handful of different common psychological biases we experience. One of the first ones we come across frequently is the Bandwagon Effect. You probably guessed it right, this is one that most of you already have heard of and refers to the power in numbers. So, think of reviews on TripAdvisor, or a long line at a crowded store. The more public support an idea, product, or person gets, the more successful it will become because of how the Bandwagon Effect works. People like social proof, and when they see a lot of support for a belief, idea, fad or trend, the more support it will get because others will also give their support. This is known as herd behavior, and really only happens when you have the numbers for the feeling to really take effect on people. Next, we have the Zero Risk Bias, which can be very effective when it comes to marketing because people like guarantees without any risk involved. In terms of marketing, this usually is when a business offers a money back guarantee on a product or free shipping and returns. When you convince a customer that they aren’t making any binding decisions, they will feel better about the decision they’re making and will not have to evaluate and weigh in the potential risks beforehand. Aside from including this promising verbiage on your website, you can use it in your social posts and advertisements to leverage the zero risk factor.

Now as we said earlier, some bias behaviors are more subconscious than others, such as ones that provide you with a sense of self identity. In-Group Favoritism is another psychological bias that you can see happening a lot in consumer behavior. It takes effect when people prioritize products and values that are popular with a group with which they’ve aligned themselves. This is when your brand identity comes in. Consumers these days only want to support brands they align themselves with, meaning they only want to purchase from a company that shares the same values they have. So for example, if your target market is outdoorsy people who like to go camping, you can probably assume since they like the environment, they also value sustainability and eco-friendly products. As a brand, you can position yourself as more eco-friendly than your competitors by practicing recycling and being more self aware of your company’s involvement in helping the environment. Another popular bias is called the Confirmation Bias, which is when our mind searches for information that confirms beliefs we already have. Using this bias to your benefit can help increase trust with your customers. You can do this by doing some research on your audience and seeing what they post and talk about online. Once you get an idea of their buyer persona and their beliefs about your industry or product, you can share information from your brand that they already believe to be true. This will reinforce their beliefs which will help them trust your brand more. 

The last two biases we think are worth discussing are the Endowment Effect and Not Invented Here Bias. The Endowment Effect is an interesting bias because it plays on the idea that something is more valuable when you already own it. Maybe not to others, but to yourself. That’s sometimes why it’s hard for people to let go of their items because people tend to not like change. Let’s explain with an example. Say you’re trying to get new leads and get some emails. You might want to offer an incentive because people would rather try before they buy. Incentives could be free coupons, trials, demos, or sample products. Once they have a sense of the product and what your brand can provide, they will be more likely to further pursue your service and grow trust with your brand. They will also not want to give up the ownership because they already have it, unless it was a negative experience. As for the Not Invented Here Bias, this one is extremely common and can relate back to social proof. People tend to be wary  of new ideas because there’s a chance it might not work out well. Successful ideas that have been proven to work tend to be adopted over newer ideas. Like we said, people like certainty when making decisions, and this bias involves people going with what already works. That’s why there are  places like kickstarter to help new brands get people behind them to launch their products. Now, if you can relate your brand to another brand that’s already reputable, that can help overcome this effect. It can be in the form of you posting “as seen on” on your website or awards your brand has won. Just remember, people like social proof, so use whatever connections and associations you have to your advantage. 

The scientific reasoning behind all of this is energy conservation. It’s in our instincts to conserve our energy and is a result of your brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. When we become biased, it’s because attention is not easy to obtain for an extended period of time and people can’t analyze every detail before making a decision. So, it’s our brains relying on mental shortcuts to help us make that decision. One of the biggest components of being good at marketing is understanding how and why people think and act the way they do. By taking these factors into consideration, you will then be able to create better and more accurate campaigns that can favorably sway the target consumers’ decision making. Everything from the copy you use, to the colors in your graphics, and your brand story and reputation matter and affect the success of your business. If you can really get to know and understand your customer, you can then apply the psychology to your marketing. This isn’t meant to be easy, and will take a lot of time to gather information and see what works best for your brand. With the right knowledge and expertise, you can always make it work. 

At MSM DesignZ, we put in the time and energy needed for success, so you can ensure you are using every dollar for maximum return. With over 20 years in the business, we have watched marketing evolve from traditional to digital. Whether you need a website refresh, more attractive email, or a quality online presence, we can do it all. When we take on a client, we put in 110% and treat every brand as if it’s our own. We will always continue to place our clients’ needs at the heart of our operations. From web development to social media management, we’ll work directly with you to build a personalized strategy to not only retain but also gain business. We are assisting in all areas for our clients. Visit our contact page at, and we’ll work with you to devise a custom plan that will keep your brand alive and well. We look forward to working with you!