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Using the Psychology of Decision-Making in Sales Content Optimization

17 min read

First, the question:

Living in the age of unlimited options, why do you choose a particular product? What makes you sacrifice all the alternatives you might need tomorrow and prioritize one thing over another?

Here’s the hint:

It’s not because you need it. With the internet being the #1 source of information today, it’s the content used by online marketers to influence your decision and convince you to purchase a product. They understand the psychology of decision-making and optimize sales content accordingly.

In this article, you’ll reveal the psychological concepts behind choices and decisions and learn how to use them in marketing content to get more customers for your business.

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The Psychology of Decision-Making

Imagine the situation:

One day you wake up and understand you need a new laptop. You go online, see dozens of offers there, compare features and prices, and… buy the one you didn’t consider best while searching.

A few weeks later, you sit at that new laptop and think something like, “Well, it’s nice, but I should have taken that one from XXX.”

It’s the work of one of the five psychological concepts influencing our decisions:

Emotional Outburst when Comparing Multiple Offers

The more options we have, the more difficult it is for our brain to decide which one to choose. The study proves it:

Overthinking a product leads to an emotional outburst that signals our brain to choose faster. As a result, we often follow emotional rather than rational factors when comparing multiple products on different websites. It takes milliseconds:

“So, anyway, this one seems nice — I take it!”

To get the most out of this psychological trick, marketers craft content appealing to positive feelings and emotions. According to the Wharton University of Pennsylvania study, the best instruments here are humor, personalization, and catering to the pursuit of happiness.

Show consumers how your product or service will make them feel, and it will convert much better than your rational explanations of its features. Emotional product videos, ads, — remember the guys from Dollar Shave Club who blew up the internet in due time? — and catchy custom visuals at landing pages can do wonders here.

Epicurrence created a landing page with signature visuals

The Psychology of Usefulness

Digital consultant Gord Hotchkiss defines the cognitive process determining people to stay loyal to a product as the need to find usefulness before trying it.

And here’s the kicker:

Our brain is lazy, and that’s why it determines usefulness as something that is most effective if allowing to spend less time and risk judging it.

When judging usefulness, the brain goes through a few steps to determine whether a product/service is worth loyalty to. Again, it’s more about emotions than rationality:

How people determine whether a product is worth loyalty

As Gord says,

“Our brains use a quicker and more heuristic method to mediate our output of effort — emotions. Frustration and anxiety tell us it’s time to move on to the next site or application. Feelings of reward and satisfaction indicate we should stay right where we are.”

So, the task of marketing content is to induce positive emotions from a reader. They communicate that the usefulness of a product is higher than the perceived risk, while negative emotions indicate the opposite.

The Framing Bias

While the standard model of rational choice in decision-making states that people strive to make the most rational choice possible, the framing bias beats it all:

It suggests that we build decisions based on our attitude rather than facts about something. The “frame” presenting the information influences our reaction and choice.

For example, a “97% effective” product will be more convertible than one with “just a 3% failure rate.”

One fact about a product can influence a purchase decision, depending on the context a marketer uses to represent it. Through framing, content creators can elicit positive rather than negative emotions from a reader, thus determining his attitude toward a marketing message they are trying to communicate.

How do marketers “frame” the information?

They use power words that trigger emotions, ensure their content has a surplus value and strong information scent, and consider the color psychology and principles of consistency when designing their marketing assets.

More on that is below.


Only the lazy didn’t hear the frenzy about the power of storytelling in marketing. And it makes sense:

People retain 70% of information through stories, but only 10% — through data and statistics. So, if you want to build emotional connections with the audience and make them remember your brand, storytelling is the best instrument for that.

How storytelling affects the brain (Source)

Stories influence the human brain, activating the areas responsible for experiences. When reading a brand story, people feel as if it really happens, get engaged through empathy, and feel connected.

Such an emotional response influences our intent to buy more than bare facts about a product’s features and price. People use personal feelings to evaluate a brand, and that is why emotions rather than other judgments determine customer loyalty.

The Anchoring and Processing Fluency Biases

The anchoring bias is our tendency to rely on the first piece of information we get. Moreover, that first information will influence how we further evaluate similar things.

Isn’t that why salespeople often start product presentations with a high price and lower it? “Anchoring” with the first info they got, people start considering a discount the profitable offer to accept.

Anchoring effect illustrated (Source)

Well, it seems the first impression truly matters!

The processing fluency bias refers to the notion that we tend to believe that things which are simpler to understand are more credible. The brain associates fluency with a positive experience, creating a sense of false familiarity and thus enhancing trust.

In other words, our opinion of something depends on how easily we understand it. We prefer information that is easier to get, and we find such info more believable.

To get how it works, try answering the question:

“How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?”


Another example of the processing fluency bias is how we interpret texts based on the font style they’re written in: Common and easy-to-read fonts make us more confident in our ability to digest the information.

Causes and judgmental consequences of processing fluency (Source)

That is why processing fluency is critical in user experience design: a website’s usability improvement can influence conversion rates by far.

Related: 15 Perfect Font Pairings for Your Ecommerce Website

How to Use These Psychological Concepts in Content

People are more likely to choose what they know and suppose to like. It explains why we buy iPhones and drink at Starbucks even if we don’t consider these brands the best ones in their niche:

With all the above psychological concepts influencing our decisions, it’s clear that we choose products that look familiar, evoke positive associations, and are easy to understand.

So, organize and optimize your marketing content accordingly — and your target audience will find you.

Here’s how to do that:

Design It to Look Familiar

For people, your brand is a sign. As Harvard Business School professor Susan Fournier noted, it “has no objective existence at all: it is simply a collection of perceptions held in the consumer’s mind.”

People use a so-called semiotic branding triangle to define your brand and its message:

  • Identity: A brand’s mission, story, values, equity, and the product itself.
  • Communication: A brand’s logo, slogans, and content.
  • Ethos: A brand’s reputation and the way consumers perceive it.

A semiotic branding triangle provides a process to define a brand and its interpretations (Source)

For the audience to define your product and choose it among others, you need to attend to all three elements. It’s a time- and energy-consuming process, and the minimum you can do is to pay attention to your brand communication:

Design everything so that people recognize your content once they see it. When looking familiar to the brain, it’s easier to decide in favor of this particular item.

How to make the content look familiar?

  • Use brand colors throughout content assets at different marketing channels for users to recognize you.
  • Design custom images of the same style for your content assets; avoid stock photos or generic visuals users see on dozens of other websites.
  • Place your logo where applicable across all channels you use for content promotion.

Also: How To Create An Awesome Logo For Your Brand

Also, consider the principle of consistency when designing your marketing content:

Use the same fonts for headlines and the same content formats, and remember to develop your brand’s tone of voice.

The tone of voice is how your brand sounds and speaks to the audience. It needs to be consistent throughout all your messages for consumers to get used to it:

  • Use the same words, speech patterns, and sentence structures in all the content.
  • Decide on the tone you’ll use when speaking to the audience: Is your brand their friend, partner, or teacher? Is it formal or friendly? Does it use humor in communication?

Create a brand book, aka guidelines for your content writers and designers, to follow the principles of coherency in brand communication. Like Mailchimp, Coca-Cola, and many other brands did.

An extract from the Skype brand book (Source)

Ensure Your Content Has a Strong Information Scent

As stated by Optimizely, information scent is about “the strength of relevant messaging throughout the customer journey as well as visual and textual cues that provide website visitors with hints on what information a site contains.”

A robust information scent of your content ensures processing fluency and serves the psychology of usefulness.

In today’s world of content shock and short attention span, when people scan, not read, your content online, they need some visual clues that help them understand they’re at the right place to solve their problems.

What you can do with content for that:

  • Stay consistent with headlines, CTA colors, and imagery throughout all the pages of your sales funnel.
  • Make content easy to read: Consider a color-contrast ratio for your texts to contrast with backgrounds.
  • Make content navigation clear: Link information to correct pages for users to understand what they’ll see.
  • Avoid overloading with calls to action: Users should understand what they can do on a page; stick to the “one page = one CTA” rule.

Format for Scanning and Better Readability

Our attention span is shrinking, so marketers have around 8 seconds to connect with a potential customer. Some even insist on the five-second rule here:

People scan content for meaningful headlines and visual clues that would help them understand if they are at the right place and want to learn more. With that in mind, you need to format the content accordingly and proofread your writings before publishing.

How to format content for scanning:

  • Write in short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use subheadings, bullet points, bolded words,, and other visual hooks for readers to scan your content faster.
  • Remember about visuals: images, videos, charts, graphs, and other elements — the human brain perceives them 60,000 times faster than text, so it’s your chance to motivate readers to learn more.
  • Craft clear yet emotional headlines. Add the element of urgency for users to feel they’ll lose something if they don’t check your information right now. Tools like Emotional Headline Analyzer can help determine the emotional value of your headlines.

When your content is ready, check its readability scores via tools like Grammarly or Readable. According to Cameron Craig, who had been doing PR for Apple for ten years, a text should be simple enough to be “easily understood by an average 4th-grade student or lower.”

Use Power Words and Human Language

Words you use in the content can make people feel a certain way about it. Depending on the emotion you want to evoke from a consumer, consider power words and avoid plague ones.

Power words are lexical items that appeal to our fears and desires, and that is why they are so compelling and persuasive when met in texts. Seasoned copywriters Jon Morrow and Henneke Duistermaat described such words best.

According to Morrow, power words are descriptive and persuasive words that create a strong emotional response in people. They can make people feel scared, excited, angry, or curious. Using these words helps make content more interesting and persuasive.

Duistermaat gives lots of examples of emotional power words:

Examples of emotional power words according to Henneke Duistermaat (Source)

At the same time, do your best to speak the same language as your target audience. Use human language, be specific, consider words your audience speaks daily, and avoid cliché marketing taglines.

Add a Surplus Value

The psychology of decision-making doesn’t let people trust only one source, so make yours stand out from others. For that, add some surplus value to your marketing content.

People visit a minimum of three websites before they find what they want. More than that, 70% read up to six customer reviews before they decide to buy! Trustworthy testimonials, true-life comments from other customers, recommendations from influencers — all can become a surplus value to add to your content.

A few advanced tips:

  • Add photos of your customers to reviews. Seeing the faces of real people behind testimonials, we trust them more.
  • Allow customers to vote for reviews as Amazon did. Supported by extra opinions, such comments look more trustworthy.

Besides customer reviews and other types of social proof, consider surplus values like referencing authoritative resources and crafting comprehensive content that leaves no questions.

Wrapping Up

Do you know that it takes 82,944 processors to simulate one second of human brain activity?

Yeah, choices are difficult, and decisions are even more challenging to make. Considering the psychological factors behind them, you can optimize the web content to influence customers’ decisions and motivate them to choose your products or services.


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About the author

Lesley Vos is a professional copywriter and guest contributor, currently blogging at Bid4Papers.com. Specializing in data research, web text writing, and content promotion, she is in love with words, non-fiction literature, and jazz. Visit her Twitter @LesleyVos to say hi and see more works.

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