Psychology in B2B Marketing: Priming

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Our brains are great at subconsciously forming connections between things that seem loosely related to each other. These connections can sometimes lead us to make seemingly arbitrary decisions. We’re more likely to buy French wine instead of German wine when French music is playing in a grocery store, even though we wouldn’t attribute the choice to the store’s music selection – and who needs an excuse to buy wine, anyway?

In addition to naturally occurring stimuli called primes that impact our next move, marketers also create primes to influence buyer decisions.

Choosing between brands in the B2B space is increasingly difficult as more solutions become available at higher prices. While priming likely won’t be the deciding factor in a multi-thousand dollar purchase, it can make prospects more willing to listen to your marketing messages, which hopefully will seal the deal.

In the B2B space, priming usually takes the form of mood setting, including pictures, text and sound. For example, if you’re a company that sells GRC software, use visuals and language that make consumers feel safe and comfortable on your website. Consumers will automatically associate your business with feeling secure, putting you in a great position to tell potential buyers why your software is best suited to their needs. Displaying pictures of happy, engaged people works in a similar way – prospects will buy into the notion that using your product will solve their everyday pain points and improve their company’s processes.

Some marketers also choose to go the other direction, instilling feelings of fear and urgency. This might include messaging that warns clients of the repercussions of not acting. If you take this route, make sure you balance these elements with positive ways you can help. If you’re telling a client that they may be missing out on revenue by using outdated software, let them know why your solution works. This is a great opportunity to include customer reviews and quantitative metrics displaying your success. Otherwise, prospects might quickly leave your site with a bad taste in their mouths – and in search of comfort from a competitor.

Just as priming can work positively to amplify the odds of a potential conversion, negative primes can easily discourage a customer from submitting a form. All too often, brands ask me to sign up for a newsletter with the note, “Don’t worry, we’ll never send you spam.” However well intentioned, the word “spam” triggers an alarm bell in my brain, and I’m far less likely to subscribe. Instead, you might promise to send infrequent and relevant information.

Researchers and marketers have long debated the ethics of tapping into someone’s subconscious to sell a product. In his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell famously observed that “what we think of as free will is largely an illusion…the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.”

As this quote suggests, priming has the potential to trick a consumer into buying a product that they did not originally need or want. I’d argue that this is priming at its worst. But at its best, priming helps B2B consumers feel more confident about a solution to an already identified problem.

It is our responsibility as marketers to ensure we use priming responsibly. It requires a deep understanding of our prospective customers, and should serve as an opportunity to connect to their needs and goals. If you aren’t aligning, even subconsciously, with a prospect’s value system, chances are you won’t be able to encourage conversions.

Whether or not you’re a supporter of priming, it’s important to understand it, because your website is likely generating all sorts of unconscious associations without you even knowing it. Integrating priming into your understanding of a user’s needs and motives can increase engagement and satisfaction, and ultimately drive more leads and brand recognition.

Figuring out how to use priming responsibly doesn’t have to be daunting. Get in touch with our marketing experts to learn how we do it.


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