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Priming: an invisible power tool for online marketing

Subconsciousness. You’ve without doubt seen this word pass by a few times in our blog. That is not a coincidence. Why? The subconscious brain plays a huge role in our daily life and neuromarketing. From the moment we learn to walk, start driving our first car or develop a hobby. At some point, we own these skills naturally and without thinking. A little brother of subconsciousness is priming, a phenomenon related to learning and our memory. Priming enables us to recognise information that we have been exposed to subconsciously. That means that exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus. For psychologists, priming is a Valhalla for research. It’s mysterious, complex, and impacts a significant part of our behaviour. In this blog, we will describe the basics of priming and how you can use it for online marketing.

Priming and pasta
Thinking about Italy makes you crave a plate of pasta

A pile of associations

When we mentioned that priming plays a massive role in our everyday lives, we were not exaggerating. Imagine that your friend returned from a trip to Italy and told you all about it. During the chat, it’s not unusual to find yourself craving a plate of pasta. Waiting for your doctor’s appointment in a room painted in a calming tone of blue? That will make you more relaxed when seeing the doc. Even after reading this article, you might recognise prime numbers faster. How do psychologists explain this?

Human memory is pretty amazing. We are not only able to memorise words. Also, things like feelings, smells and sounds are present in our mind. Like thinking, we have both conscious and nonconscious memory. The latter is called implicit memory and plays a significant role in—surprise—priming. Our implicit memory is programmed in such a way that it links and associates everything we store in it. If your friend is talking about posing next to the Tower of Pisa, your memory activates associations. Words like the sun, ancient buildings and—drumroll— the pasta will show up. This automatic activation of related words and thoughts results in priming. Without us noticing, it affects our behaviour or reactions to other stimuli.

Different types of priming

There are different types of priming. We will mention three types here to give you an impression of its complexity:

  • Conceptual priming: the meaning of the stimulus activates associated memories in semantic tasks. Reading the word banana results in faster recognition of the word mango compared to chair. That happens because they belong to the same category (fruit).

    Priming and kindness
    An act of kindness activates positive associations in our memory
  • Positive priming: being exposed to certain stimuli makes a particular response to second stimuli more likely to happen. Remember that we talked about smelling bread in the bakery leads to a higher chance of buying it? Yes, this is a perfect example of positive priming.
  • Kindness priming: when being exposed to an act of kindness, you will notice more of the positive features of your environment. If you receive a free Ice Tea from a promoter on the street, you will experience everything more positive. That happens because kindness activates related positive words and thoughts in our memory.

As you can see, there are different types of priming, but sometimes they overlap each other. The main idea for all kinds of priming is the same: one particular event or stimuli subconsciously influences another.


Persuasion guru Robert Cialdini wrote a book about influencing, priming and communication. His book Pre-suasion explains how you can guide someone’s attention to get their agreement with a message before they experience it. Cialdini writes that numbers, background information or words can influence how someone reacts to a message. These are a few examples out of the pre-suasion communication list. You can also apply this knowledge to online marketing. Are you interested in how you can improve your online communication with priming? Have a look at Cialdini’s tools.

Priming consumers

It will not be a surprise that a lot of commercial companies use priming for marketing. An effect can already be reached with the smallest detail. You can use colour, your brand logo and typology to achieve this effect. Because everyone is a consumer at some point (yes, you included!), we all are primed when buying a product.

For example, McDonalds’ big yellow M is without a doubt present in the memory of most people. When we see it shining somewhere, our brain activates associations. A tasty burger, coke or ice-cream will pop up. For some of us, McDonald’s wins and we start driving towards it to get stuffed. Besides unhealthy behaviour, priming can also result in more healthy decisions. A green food package is associated with healthy and natural food. Health freaks will buy it more often. Do you own a liquor store and do you want to increase the sales of French wine? Play some French music in the background! Research shows music can prime people. For example, restaurants can influence how fast their guests eat their meals. More upbeat music causes us to eat our dinner faster.

Red Bull and priming
Red Bull literally gives us wings!

Red Bull gives you wings?

We will further show the power of priming and a brand logo with a fun research project on Red Bull. Researchers aimed to influence the driving style during a computer game. They did this by creating two different types of cars. One group of vehicules showed the Red Bull logo, the other the logo from Guinness or Tropicana.

They found that when people drove the Red Bull car, they indeed got wings. They drove fast, powerful and aggressive compared to the people in the other vehicules. People also took more risks and were unaware of their driving style in the Red Bull car. That shows that Red Bull’s brand priming is a mighty one. People are subconsciously changing their behaviour towards their brand image. So be warned: don’t put their logo on your car if you don’t want to be in a crash!

Boost your online marketing

Now that you know how other companies use priming, it’s time to put it into practice yourself. As mentioned before, there are different types of priming. If you are creative enough, the use of priming for your marketing strategy can be endless. Even the smallest detail can affect. If you own a webshop, visual priming will be your most prominent point of focus. We will give you some examples and tools on how to do this:

  • Use associative priming as a conversion booster for your webshop. You can prime your visitors using visuals that make them feel more comfortable, confident or luxurious. Example: the online basket of H&M’s webshop does not look like a basket, but a real-life shopping bag. This small detail increases the positive association with shopping, leading to more online sales.
  • If you add pictures, use positive priming and show happiness. Because smiling people will prime the visitor with other positive associations, this can increase your sales. Have a look at the next two pictures. Which one do you think will boost the sales of a hat webshop?

Positive priming can boost your online marketing Negative priming can hurt your online marketing

  • Look out for negative priming: you can subconsciously prime someone in a positive direction, but the opposite is also possible. So, negative words or images will activate related associations in your customer’s memory. Example: offer them the possibility to sign up for a newsletter and promise that you will not send any spam. The word spam will activate negative memories and associations, with the chance of no sign up at all.

Choose wisely

When you think about it, almost every aspect of your webshop or website is related to priming. It can boost your online marketing! Specific words, colours and images will influence your visitors. That might sound a little bit overwhelming, and you can’t decide what’s best for your shop in just a day. It will take a lot of time and effort. Choose wisely and keep your brand in mind! As a result, you will optimise your content to the fullest.

Do you need any help? Contact us so we can help. Combining psychological knowledge with marketing gives you the best results!

How authority can improve your online marketing strategy

How authority can improve your online marketing strategy

You’re watching a movie and a Colgate commercial is shown during the break. “Stronger and whiter teeth, a fresh breath and healthier gum. Switch now to Colgate, the number one toothpaste recommended by dental professionals”, as told by a smiling dentist. But is this really a dentist? He is wearing a white coat, so he must be. Do you believe him? There’s a big chance you do. In the end, he looks like the professional that knows everything about a healthy looking smile. Following the lead of an expert is called authority, another of Cialdini’s persuasion principles. Authority can be a powerful tool for both offline and online marketing. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know and give you some tools how to use it yourself. Keep reading if you want to learn how to show off your expertise!

Judge a book by its cover

The most important fact about authority is that it’s mainly based on perception. We are visual creatures. To show off authority, you will need to convince others you have the right knowledge. If you are able to do this and people believe you are trustworthy, you are able to influence their behaviour. You doubtless have heard of this master in authority: Dr Phil. Yes, he is a doctor. Hence why he is showing off his title. Yet he is not licensed as a psychologist, even though he has helped thousands of people in his show. Dailymail even calls him a tv shrink. Dr Phil convinces his fans with his title, nice suit and trustworthy attitude. Is he licensed in what he does? People don’t seem to care. Dr Phil gets away with pretending to be a psychologist, when in fact he is not. He is the perfect example that we value visual aspects more than facts. Be careful though, we don’t want you to misuse authority! Always remember to be an expert. Otherwise, it will backfire and result in negative outcomes.

Visual webdesign to improve authority
The right visual design will leave a good first impression

First impressions are the most lasting

Now you know that visual appearance is important, it will not be a surprise to you that your website should visually stimulate your customer. This happens within an eyeblink: we can assess the visual appeal of a website within 0.05 seconds! It is important to give your online shopper a positive, first impression within this timeframe. You can lose a customer by just one mouse-click. If you do it right, the visual aspect of a website can even be so strong, that it draws away the attention from usability problems. This shows that the first impression is a very important one. Consequently, this first impression will leave a mark about how much customers enjoy your website and products. This will have an impact (positive or negative, depending on the impression) on the chance they will pay for their online basket.

Be an expert

Do you have a product that you support completely and know everything about? Are you able to share your knowledge about this product with others? Good! You are ready to become an authority on your product. We especially want to make you realise it’s important to not just be an advertiser. You must be an expert. The more specific your area of expertise, the better this will show off to your customers. Let us explain this through the idea of Stephen Covey who created two circles: one of concern and one of influence. As their names suggest, the bigger Circle of Concern holds everything you are involved with. The Circle of Influence lays inside the Circle of Concern and holds everything you can have an influence on. Which one should you focus on?

Improve authority with the circle of influence
Put your energy in the circle of Influence and be proactive

If you put too much energy in the Circle of Concern, you focus on stuff you can’t influence. In return, this will lead to frustration, anger and disappointment. As a consequence, your Circle of Influence will shrink, meaning the impact of your influence will become less and less. If you put your energy in the Circle of Influence, you are being proactive. You will see improvement, get satisfaction and energy. Your Circle of Influence will grow and the influence you have will be more effective. In conclusion, if we can give you one advice: it is to stay within your Circle of Influence. Focus on the stuff you know, so your influence will increase. Eventually, this will show off to your customers, leading to more trust and increased conversion.

How to use authority

You already know that authority is one of Cialdini’s persuasion principles. We previously showed you how to use social proof and scarcity for business improvement. We will now further explain three examples mentioned by Cialdini to show you how to put authority into practice:

  1. Use of titles; Such as Founder, CEO or PhD assuming there’s a high level of expertise and knowledge and you know whom you’re talking to. Example: Apple launched their Genius Bar, where you can speak with an Apple expert to get immediate support;
  2. Use the right visual design; Wearing a suit, uniform or other forms of clothes are ways that express authority. Think about the dentist in the white coat. For eCommerce, the suit or uniform of your website is its visual design. Therefore, make sure that the layout, images, typography and colour match its purpose. Example: adding an About Page including a photo to your website. Research shows that a photo results in more trustworthiness;
Original Beans about page
The about page of Original Beans
  1. Use of trappings or accessories that add authority; In the offline world, a powerful trapping can be a badge for a policeman. This badge, therefore, makes people respect the person in a suit more. For your website, you can add a badge in the form of social media or a case study. Example: Airbnb added a community centre to their website where customers can discuss problems and ask questions.

These tools are examples of how you can show your expertise to your customers. Remember you have to back up the expertise claim if you want it to be long term. If you can’t meet your customer’s expectations, your so-called expertise can backfire and result in disappointment. However, when putting your focus on the right areas where your knowledge is already present, your work will pay off! See your conversion increase if showing off the right expertise.

Do you think you are able to show off your expertise, but you’re not completely sure how? At Neurofied we can help you with finding the most suitable solution. Contact us so we can discuss the options!

Scarcity: only one left

How scarcity and urgency improve your sales

If you like to go on holiday, you probably have used Booking.com at least once in your life. During my travels, I used their app almost every day, in order to find myself a bed again for the night. How relaxing travelling may be, Booking.com always succeeded in making me nervous with their “hurry! We have only 1 room left” note, resulting in a pretty fast decision of booking a room urgency. This is a classic example of The Scarcity Principle: people attach more value to things that are fewer in quantity1.

A golden persuasion principle

Marketing means persuasion where you build on a customer’s impulsive behaviour that eventually, or hopefully, leads to a sale. As we do here at Neurofied, psychology can be a useful tool to understand and influence this behaviour. In his book ‘Influence’, marketing expert Robert Cialdini views Scarcity as one of the six golden persuasion principles. He says that Scarcity and Urgency combined are a success formula for increasing online sales 2. From a neuromarketing perspective, this means that certain words, layouts and colours have an influence on decision making that largely happens unconsciously in our brain3.

The online salesman

Can I help you? - Photo by Naomi Hébert
Can I help you?

Before the digital world made its entrance, a salesman in a shop was the one to persuade a customer of buying a new kitchen. Communication between and the emotional state of the customer are important factors that determine the success of a sale4. We can apply this oldskool information to the nowadays online sales world where not a person, but a webshop is selling a product. For a website, this can mean that the first page the customer sees presents the initial message and leads to more curiosity to further explore the website. In addition, the use of certain words or images —priming— can lead to certain emotional responses like familiarity or empathy.

How to use scarcity

Putting all this information together, there are quite some tricks that combine scarcity, communication and emotions in order to make your online sales rise. We will mention a few to give an impression of how to use this type of neuromarketing.

  • stock scarcity: displaying how much stock is left for a certain product, in the form of ‘only X numbers left!’. This will increase the chance a customer will buy the product and speeds up the whole buying process.
  • seeing other buyers: displaying how many other people are looking at the product. Booking.com is again a good example of this and replicates the real-life situation where two people grab the same item in a store at the same time. If others are also interested in an item, it becomes more valuable to us.
  • fear of missing out: also known as FOMO, which is the anticipated regret of not being able to seize an opportunity. A good example is a limited-time discount, which pushes customers in the direction of buying the article during this period.

The list of how to influence your online customers is even longer. For instance, think about using social proof in your marketing. But with this article, we want to give you a short introduction in how this works and how to put it in practice. The power of online marketing can be enormous if you know how to apply it.

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