Priming Effect in Marketing

Have you ever played the game of word association? It’s where everyone sits in a circle, and the first player says one word out loud. Then, the next player has to say a word connected with the previous word quickly. Depending on the people you are playing with, it can be an exciting icebreaker activity!

This seemingly easy-to-play game has a mountain of Psychological theories backing it up. I am here to talk about one such theory that can be of great help to you.

The theory says that if you play this game twice a day, every day for a week, your sales will increase by 50%.

You are right, not a great joke. However, if you stick with me increasing your sales will become easier (with time and hard work) than playing this game twice a day.

The actual theory of the day is the theory of The Priming Effect. Priming or the Priming effect is when an individual’s exposure to a particular stimulus influences their response to a subsequent stimulus without awareness of the connection. Reread it.

Priming is what happens in the word association game as well. So, for example, if I say jam, you might think of bread or peanut butter. This happened because jam and peanut butter or jam and bread are closely associated in your mind. But, again, this association will occur without your conscious awareness.

This effect is mysterious and complex. For example, Suppose I say something as simple as a dog, you might think of companionship, or you might think of a dangerous animal. But, of course, this will depend on your past experiences, personality traits, and god knows what else.

Priming has a significant impact on our behavior. We can be primed to behave in a particular manner based on what we read, watch and hear. If similar priming happens on a larger scale, it has the power to impact a large group of people as well. A simple example of this can be if, as a store manager, I want people to buy more beer, I might play the latest party trend music playlist in the store. The playlist might remind people of parties where they drank beer, and they would want to buy more beer in the store.

Why does this happen?

In the world of Psychology, ‘schemas’ is a word used for units of information stored in our memory. These schemas are activated by our senses like smell, sight, and sound. After the activation of these schemas, it becomes easier for us to access our memory. Priming suggests that activation of one schema might lead to activation of a related schema. For example, a schema related to a pencil may activate multiple schemas related to erasers, pens, and a school backpack.

Why am I telling you this?

However complex, Priming can turn out to be a great marketing tool.

Here is how -

(a)Direct Attribute Priming - A good tactic can be starting your sales pitch with a question related to the attributes of that particular product. For example, if you are selling a phone with a great camera, you can start your pitch with a question: Are you tired of carrying your DSLR everywhere? Or Do you wish your phone was as good as your DSLR? These questions will automatically make the customer focus more on the camera than the other attributes of the phone. Similar tactics can be applied to your service as well.

(b)Indirect Attribute Priming - Best example of this tactic is to play a certain kind of music in your store/restaurant to promote a particular type of product. Another great example would be to make your holiday/vacation-related billboard blue in color. The blue in your ad will make the customers think of the sky and the sea, making them more receptive to the idea of taking a vacation.

(c)Brand Priming - Brand priming is used to influence the customer’s thoughts and actions through the name and the logo of the brand. There are great brand priming examples like Redbull - the brand tries hard to associate itself with concepts like energy and speed or Nike - All the ads, taglines, and pictures used by this brand are focused on exercise and feeling of achievement.

(d)Priming with colors and pictures - Different colors have different meanings and emotions associated with them. So while choosing a brand color, you can pick one with the right emotions related to the color.

Similarly, the pictures used in ads also portray particular emotions. For example, Coca-cola, in one of their campaigns, decided to use images associated with happiness.  

Priming is, so far, my favorite marketing tool because it doesn’t call for significant changes in your branding but focuses on small fixes that can lead to a more substantial result!

Some quick takeaways -

  • The Priming effect is when an individual’s exposure to a particular stimulus influences their response to a subsequent stimulus without awareness of the connection.

  • Priming is a complex procedure that is associated with our subconscious mind.

  • Priming has a significant impact on our behavior, both at an individual and at the societal level.

  • A better understanding of the priming effect can help you build your brand better.

One last thing….

While researching the Priming effect, I found many articles questioning the ethicality of using Priming as a marketing tool. I understand it might look like you are manipulating or tricking your customers into buying your product or service; however, that’s not the case. Priming is mainly dependent on individual differences. For example, the party playlist in your store might remind one customer of the good times they had at a party. Still, the same music might remind another customer of the horror of being a part of an embarrassing family party. The customer with a positive association to the music might buy your beer, but the negative one will want to leave your store.

Look at it like this - You are just putting in your efforts; the final decision still is the customer’s right. Therefore, the customer is still the king!