The 3 psychological principles behind Black Friday (and other events)

We know Black Friday in particular from the huge discounts that are given on almost everything. Okay, we are a little more reserved in the Netherlands, but anyone who has ever been to the US with Black Friday can confirm that everything is really on sale there. In this article I share 3 psychological principles that you as a marketer should (consciously or unconsciously) rely on. To sell our valuable and dear customer as much stuff as possible.

1. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

Fear Of Missing Out is a well-known principle in marketing and sales. Translated into Dutch, it is the fear of missing out. FOMO is a very strong principle and one that you can do little about. It is the perception that others have more fun, have more stuff, have more happiness… It carries a deep sense of jealousy and can put a huge dent in your self-confidence. Make no mistake about this.

If you have a child entering high school, you know this better than anyone. This FOMO effect is particularly evident in girls. Just think about whether your child should have a phone or not, and the effect of your decision.

FOMO is something that you as a marketer or sales accountant are only too happy to use to encourage visitors to take action.

How do you see this reflected in Black Friday?

When you walk through the shopping streets, you see all kinds of other people full of bags and packages. This alone gives the feeling of FOMO. Now you may think that this is different online, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a website, you can eagerly make use of this by, for example, using social selling techniques such as reviews. But also other techniques such as texts such as ‘Pietje has just bought item x’.

Who do this very well?

Companies like Airbnb and Booking.com are good at applying this FOMO principle. Once you’ve done a search on the site, you’ll always come across a popup that says something like: ‘It’s very busy on the date you searched for…. Book quickly before it’s full.’

This makes a direct appeal to the FOMO principle and thus the fear of missing out. These companies know exactly how to respond to this and do so consciously.

How can you apply this?

Use a variety of tools to social selling and create scarcity. You can do this, for example, with pop-ups, but also with abandoned cartemails and retargeting. Constantly confronting visitors with the ‘fear that it’s too late’ appeals to the FOMO principle.

I use it a lot myself Elementor, but also OptinMonster is a good one to create scarcity. For email and abandoned cart functions you can think of ActiveCampaign, but I’m sure your programmer can help a lot in this case too.

Of course you have to use the FOMO principle wisely. Precisely because it is such a powerful one. You can go quite far in this and you should therefore always ask yourself how far you want to go.

2. Loss Aversion

The fear of losing is greater than the will to win. This principle is certainly not to be confused with the FOMO principle, although they do have some common ground.’ This is a well-known one-liner from Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘our fallible thinking’. An must read if you are interested in the human psyche.

Many studies have shown that fear is a major motivator for people. People have a greater fear of losing $1,000 than the will to win $5,000. That is, people take less risk of winning $5,000 than the risk and work they are willing to put in to avoid losing $1,000.

Within the golf world they have done a nice research. Each course has an average stroke count for how long it takes you as a professional golfer. This goes under the name par. Par 5 is that a golfer can take a maximum of 5 strokes. If he takes 4 tricks, then talk about a birdie. If a golfer takes 6 strokes, it is called a bogey.

The brain activity of tens of thousands of golfers was subsequently measured and it is seen that the concentration and focus is higher if one wants to avoid a bogey (possible loss) than to win a birdie (potential gain).

So people have a huge fear of losing their current status quo. So they will do everything they can not to waste that current situation. Even more than doing things to improve that situation.

People have a greater fear of losing $1,000 than the will to win $5,000.

How do you see this reflected in Black Friday?

This principle is particularly reflected in online tools. It’s pretty simple. Once you’ve been introduced to the tool, you’ll have a new status quo, a new ‘normal’ for yourself. When the trial period is over and you no longer have access to the tool, you theoretically lose something that has already become normal for yourself.

This principle thus responds to the status quo of the customer and the new reference points that the customer sets for himself. In that case, the trial period of the tool must have set a new standard for the customer. If it has not provided any added value, the user will not lose anything when the trial period ends.

At Black Friday, for example, you see this in the form of incentives. Huge discounts on x amount of products and then a range of upsell and upgrade options.

With this principle you play even more on the psyche of the human being. Only then not on ‘missing something’ but on ‘actually losing’.

Who do this very well?

Almost all clothing brands do this well. They all have a free return policy. Order, order and order, but then return free of charge. But what they also know is that if you send it back, you will lose something that has become ‘normal’ for yourself.

Companies that offer online tools or software are also good at this. Take the 7-day version of AHrefs for $1. They will introduce you to their comprehensive set of tools to optimize SEO. After 7 days you have a new standard for yourself after which it is a loss if you are no longer allowed to use it.

To make it even more beautiful, you can often enter the platform, but everything is locked. You can easily remove this lock by becoming a member.

Screenshot of a psychological principle of aHrefs.

How can you apply this?

This principle asks you as a marketer to create a new standard for your visitor. You do this by using incentives, trial periods or giving away certain parts of your product for free. With Black Friday, for example, you can offer your product for a lower price for a certain period or offer part of your service for a trial period.

3. Discount

Discounting products appeals to a number of psychological principles. One thing I want to mention is that it makes you feel good. A sense of victory, a sense of power for your visitor.

When people get a discount, they feel they have won. The item they bought is then secondary to this dopamine shot.

Another principle is the psychology behind reference points. If a discount is given, the original price is always stated. This original price is the reference point for the visitor. This is the ‘normal’ value of the product. Something that we as a society have all accepted as ‘normal’.

By marketing below this ‘normal’ price, your customer will find it cheap by definition, regardless of the price. By gradually increasing the reference, you can do a lot of stunts with prices. Something that happens all too often in the retail world.

Discount is therefore something that happens a lot and that marketers and sales accountants like to use to get the dopamine shot at the customer.

How do you see this reflected in Black Friday?

At Black Friday you often see this in different ways. Low-hanging fruit is simply offered for a very low price, with the more luxurious products often slowly increasing in price in the months leading up to Black Friday. When it is Black Friday, the discounts on those products are no longer so huge, even though your visitors think they are.

In addition, by buying 1 product your visitors have changed from ‘visitor’ to ‘customer’, which I sometimes call the ‘McDonald’s’ effect. Come in, buy a burger for €1 and the step to an entire menu has suddenly become small.

Who do this very well?

Top performers in the application of this principle are IKEA and McDonald’s. There is always something you can buy for €1 at those companies.

At McDonalds you have the burgers for €1, and at IKEA you can eat unlimited ice cream for €1. In many cases, the original price is reported (or you know that it is a very low price), whereby the feeling of discount and of ‘visitor to customer’ is made in one fell swoop.

The 1 euro burger from McDonald's.

How can you apply this

As a marketer, you want your visitors to see that there is a huge discount. With Black Friday, that is also the principle. So this shouldn’t be a problem. Make it clear that a huge amount of the original is missing. Make use of colors here (for example, the old price in red and the new price in black) and with crossed-out texts.

An even more attractive approach is that you make a number of products even cheaper. Products or loafers that are a ‘no-brainer’ for your visitors. The moment the visitor purchases this product, you come up with an upsell (whether or not with an offer). The visitor is no longer a visitor the moment he or she has clicked on that one euro, but a customer.

It is easier for a customer to pull out his wallet.

To work

3 beautiful principles that are applied in marketing and sales and in particular at events.

  1. FOMO
  2. Loss aversion
  3. Discount

I hope you realize that with these techniques you are making a heavy appeal to the human psyche. Almost everyone is weak in these situations and I think you have to decide for yourself whether you want to participate as a fire. Good luck.


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