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How to Use Psychology in Marketing: 5 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

If you want to become a better marketer and grow your patient pipeline, you have to know how people think. That’s why this week, we’ll take a look at 5 revealing principles of human behavior, and how you can use them to your advantage when you’re communicating with patients.

How to Use Psychology in Marketing: 5 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Medical Marketing Podcast from Messenger – the show where we give physicians and practice marketing managers actionable tips and advice to help improve your marketing, grow revenue, and take patient experience to the next level.

I’m your host, Crawford Ifland, and this week we’re going to be talking about the psychological factors that influence our behavior…and how you can use them to your advantage when communicating with patients. Let’s dive in.

How to Use Psychology in Marketing

One big key to becoming a better marketer is to know why people behave the way they do.

  • Why do we buy certain items?
  • Why are we so strongly influenced by what others are purchasing and talking about?
  • What’s really going on behind the scenes?

If you want to become better at “selling” your services to your patients, it’s helpful to have a knowledge of the psychology of how our brains work – what makes us “tick”, so to speak.

Why can’t we resist the clearance rack? Why did we set foot in the grocery store with only a few items on our list, yet we come home with a car full of food?

There are lots of factors at play when it comes to marketing a product or a service, but psychology is one that often goes unnoticed. But if you want to influence purchasing decisions and get more patients to say “yes” to your practice, there are a few principles of behavior that you might want to know about.

First up: Reciprocity.

Factor #1: Reciprocity

Reciprocity is one of the most powerful psychological factors that healthcare marketers can use to their advantage.

The name of the game with reciprocity is offering value.

When a patient chooses your practice, they’re making an exchange: they’re trading something they value (their dollars) for something they value more (the services you’re providing).

But I’m not just talking about value in this traditional sense – it’s about much more than that.

We have a strong tendency to reciprocate beneficial actions that are taken towards us: if you do me a favor, I’ll be more inclined to do you a favor in the future. Our brains hate feeling like we’re indebted to others – this is reciprocity at work.

You can use reciprocity to your advantage by offering lots of value up-front before a monetary exchange ever takes place.

Most physicians choose to do this in the form of helpful resources or free downloads on their websites – things like white papers, FAQs, or guides to elective procedures. They offer these valuable resources for free in exchange for a small piece of information – say, an email address.

The hope is that as they offer value through these resources, the patient will eventually reciprocate by responding to one of their requests.

The key with reciprocity is to not ask for too much too soon. As you offer more value to your patients over time, you can slowly begin increasing your “asks”, until the patient is ready to take a next step that requires more commitment, like coming in for an appointment or scheduling their surgery.

Asking for a prospective patient’s email address when you offer a free download of a LASIK guide, for example, is probably as much information you can extract. However, if the patient subscribes to your newsletter and becomes more familiar with your practice and services over time, you can in turn offer them more valuable resources…and as they develop more trust in you, you can (gently) ask for more in return.

If you want to capture value from the patients you’re trying to sell your services to, you must begin by offering value.

That’s reciprocity at work.

Factor #2: Priming

Priming is what happens when you’re exposed to one stimulus that affects how you respond to another stimulus. Most priming happens subconsciously…and although this is a subtle technique, it’s incredibly powerful.

The more our brains are exposed to subtle messages about a product or service, the more familiar we become with it, and the more likely we are to purchase. Using nuanced priming techniques, you could help your website visitors remember key information about your brand, and maybe even influence their buying behavior.

In a study by Naomi Mandel and Eric Johnson, subjects were shown websites featuring two products in the same category (like a Toyota vs. a Mercedes). The only thing different about the websites people were shown was the background of the page.

The study found that visitors who had been primed on money (because the website’s background was green with pennies on it) looked at price information longer than those who had been primed on another factor, such as safety. Similarly, subjects who had been primed on comfort looked at comfort information longer than those primed on money.

While you probably don’t want to change the background of your website to green with pennies all over it, the concept still applies: what you focus on with your marketing copy is what patients will tend to focus on, too.

So think through how you can gently “prime” patients: what is the unique value proposition of your practice? What do you offer that your competitors down the street can’t possibly match…and how can you work those differentiating factors into your website and marketing copy so that patients begin looking in that direction?

That’s priming at work.

Factor #3: Anchoring

If priming gets us to subconsciously focus on one aspect of a product, anchoring is definitely more overt in its goal.

Why is it impossible to resist that (completely unnecessary) $79 gadget on Amazon? Because you can clearly see that it has been marked down from $149 – that’s a huge savings! The “compare-to” price is right there, anchoring your expectations.

Think about it: if that product’s price was viewed by itself with no context, you may not shell out $79. But when the price is anchored by a big $149 price tag next to it, it seems like a good deal.

Anchoring is all over the place in advertising…and it’s incredibly hard to resist. We’re constantly bombarded by comparisons that get us to believe that we’ve snagged a good deal, and that we should commit now, lest we miss out on this opportunity.

And while I believe that you should never have to compete on price alone, you can still use anchoring to your advantage in other ways.

In medicine, anchoring is often used to downplay potential side-effects or adverse outcomes caused by a procedure or treatment. By anchoring expectations, physicians can mitigate the downside and increase patient satisfaction rates. Likewise, if you offer financing for certain procedures, you can minimize the sticker shock of an expensive elective procedure.

A client of ours has a “LASIK calculator” to help patients understand how much they’ll save over the course of their lifetime.

By itself, LASIK can look expensive. But by anchoring the cost of LASIK compared to the cost of glasses and contacts over a patient’s lifetime, they help patients focus on the cost of not choosing LASIK…and it does wonders to their conversion rate.

That’s anchoring at work.

Factor #4: Social Proof

Social proof is one of the most powerful psychological forces at play in marketing, bar none.

Social proof is the principle that tricks our minds into participating in certain activities or buying certain products just because we see others doing the same. This is why patient testimonials and Facebook “Like” buttons with friends’ faces next to them are so convincing.

When we see friends or colleagues participating in something, we feel a natural inclination to join them. We have a “fear of missing out”, so we feel compelled to join in on the fun.

There’s a sort of “network effect” that tricks our minds into thinking, “well, if all of those people are enjoying this product or are participating in this activity, I should too!”

It doesn’t even have to be people we know – we’re motivated to follow the crowd, even when it’s total strangers we see participating in something. We don’t want to feel left out, and so we join in.

By showcasing things like patient testimonials and patient reviews left for the practice online, doctors can use social proof to their advantage. If patients can’t look around and see the positive experiences others have had at your practice, they won’t be very motivated to take the next step.

But if you highlight the wonderful experiences that others have had at your practice, you’re much more likely to convince that next patient that they’ll have a wonderful experience, too.

That’s social proof at work.

Factor #5: Scarcity

Ah, scarcity. I studied economics in college, so this one is near and dear to my heart.

Ever seen one of those advertisements with a huge “LIMITED TIME – ACT NOW!” message? That’s scarcity.

Truth is, the strict time horizons or extremely limited supply those ads boast are rarely ever true – the advertisers just want you to believe that if you don’t act now, you’ll miss out. The more scarce an item is, the greater its power over us.

Scarcity is the reason why Amazon sells billions of dollars worth of merchandise on it’s annual “Prime Day” event. There are a finite number of deals on a finite number of products – once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Amazon knows very well how to use the tendencies of the human brain to their advantage, and so should you.

You can use subtle hints in your marketing to indicate that the products and services you offer – or special you run – are in short supply, you can motivate patients to take action sooner.

That’s scarcity at work.

We’ve Only Just Begun…

These are just a few of the many psychological principles and tactics marketers use to influence our behavior. Entire books have been written on the subject.

If you want to learn more about psychology and how to use it to influence behavior, I strongly recommend the book Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini – it’s one of the best manuals out there to use psychological factors to increase conversions and build a more healthy business.

And now that you’re aware of these tactics, it may be surprising how often you’ll notice them at play in real life. By using various combinations of social proof, scarcity, anchoring, priming, and reciprocity (or all of the above), you can influence your patients’ behavior, extract value, and be well on your way to a more healthy practice.

Next Week…

Well, that’s all for this week’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – thanks for listening.

If you want more great resources like this podcast episode, check out our website at We’ve got a whole page of free practice marketing resources and tons of blog posts that will help you improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level.

That’s all for today’s episode. For Messenger, I’m Crawford Ifland – see you next time.

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