Marketing Psychology: 5 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

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 “sell” your services to your patients in a more effective way, it’s helpful to know how people’s minds operate, what makes us “tick.” 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 six bags full of food?

In this article, we’re going to explore some of the psychological factors that influence our purchasing decisions so you can understand how to make more people say “yes” to your ophthalmic practice and everything it has to offer.

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1. Reciprocity

The name of the game with reciprocity is offering value. If you want to capture value from those you’re trying to sell your services to, you must begin by offering value.

In the ophthalmic industry, this most commonly comes in the form of free resources offered on your website, a newsletter signup, etc. The key is to not ask for too much too soon. As you offer more value to your patients over time, the amount of value you can ask for in return increases proportionally. 

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 patients subscribes to your newsletter and becomes more familiar with your practice and your 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.

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; however, although this is a subtle technique, it’s incredibly powerful.

The more scarce an item, the greater its power over us. 

The more our brains are exposed to subtle messages about a product, 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 J. Johnson, subjects were shown websites featuring two products in the same category (think 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 (the website’s background was green with pennies on it) looked at price information longer than those who had been primed on safety. Similarly, subjects who had been primed on comfort looked at comfort information longer than those primed on money.

3. Anchoring

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

If the 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. The same goes for products in just about any category and any store – it’s not just on Amazon. Comparisons get us to think “hey, that’s a good deal!” when in fact, we just got duped.

In ophthalmology, anchoring is most commonly done to downplay possible side-effects or adverse outcomes caused by a surgery (by anchoring expectations), and to minimize sticker shock of an expensive surgery (by anchoring the offer with financing packages).

4. Social Proof

Social proof at play

Social proof at play

One of the most powerful psychological forces at play in marketing is social proof – the principle that tricks our minds into participating in certain activities, buying certain products, etc., just because we see others doing the same. This is why written 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. 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. 

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 at play. 

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. That’s because the more scarce an item, 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” alone. There are a finite number of deals on a finite number of products – once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Amazon knows how to use the tendencies of the human brain to their advantage, and so should you.

By optimizing each product or service you offer to highlight its limited supply, you can motivate people to purchase sooner.

…and many more

These are just a few of the many psychological principles and tactics marketers use to influence our behavior. 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 prospective patients’ buying habits and hopefully extract more value.