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Human Behavior In Digital Marketing: How Important Is It, Really?

In the 1980's, Robert Cialdini brought us "Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion". The principles he shared have not only influenced the world of marketing, but also shaped it. Here's how.

When I was at university in the early 1980s, psychology professor Robert Cialdini wrote “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. Cialdini gave us unique insights into the science of human behavior. Fast forward thirty years later. We’ve applied the principles guided by Cialdini’s research to an entirely new platform: the world of human behavior in digital marketing. 

Today, we’re all dabblers in psychology. Some of us even have psych as part of our college major/minor. We’re search engine optimization (SEO) consultants, analysts, social media marketers, mind readers, and prognosticators. Some in our industry enjoy riding the edge of tech; others wish the edge wasn’t so sharp.

Yet, in some way or another, we all return to the 7 basic principles of Cialdini’s research. These principles are scarcity, authority, social proof, empathy, reciprocity, consistency, and, later, unity.

These principles are more important than ever to keep in mind and apply to marketing efforts. Now, the industry as a whole has expanded to include technologists and prompt engineers. We’re using increasingly smarter, more advanced search engines, automated tools, and AI to predict and cater to customer desires.

While Artificial Intelligence can provide reasonably human-sounding outputs, it has yet to really understand human behaviors. But what happens when we couple our understanding of behaviors with AI-driven insights? We create user experiences that are more efficient, effective, and personalized! That’s what successful online marketing is all about!

In essence, merging consumer psychology and technology gives us powerful new tools to engage consumers in a deeply personalized way. How can we use Cialdini’s principles to increase our online digital footprint? Let’s take a look.

Scarcity in Content Writing

Scarcity applies to creating content–web pages, specific landing pages, social media posts, Google ads, it’s all content–that is unique, rare, and not readily available elsewhere. This approach posits that items in limited supply tend to be more highly prized. This principle is even more important in a digital world where content is abundant.

When you produce scarce, exclusive content, you increase your relevance. Even though you aren’t writing for search engines, your unique insights attract more attention from both readers and search engines like Google, helping you stand out. This can translate into higher organic rankings, more traffic, and enhanced user engagement.

The scarcity approach to content creation has proven successful time and time again. By restricting how available your content is, you enhance its perceived value.

Scarcity also creates a sense of urgency and directly ties to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is where human behavior begins to tie into digital marketing. Numerous studies show that Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has a real, noticeable impact on purchasing decisions and sales. For instance, 60% of millennials make reactive purchases to avoid missing out on events (Eventbrite study). FOMO marketing tactics increase email open rates by 22% and influence 60% of shoppers’ buying decisions. 

Scarcity tactics you can include in your marketing campaigns and content development:

  • Providing rare insights.
  • Extending exclusive offers to specific audience segments.
  • Showcasing limited-time deals.
  • Proposing special offers tailored to a specific clientele or social media platform.
  • Showing how much stock is left for a product.
  •  Introducing flash sales that offer consumers only a brief window to capitalize on a deal.

Building Authority in SEO

In both realms of human cognitive process and algorithmic understanding, authority plays a pivotal role. Simply put, content produced by authoritative sources builds more trust and is likely to rank higher in the SERPs. Authority in content writing comes from in-depth research, citing credible sources, and maintaining factual accuracy.


When we talk about authority, EEAT quickly becomes part of the conversation today. EEAT stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. EEAT is a Google concept, developed to help Quality Raters decide the quality of the search engine’s results.

Not sure where I saw this but, it was something like “think of EEAT as a concept rather than a ranking factor.” This concept was introduced to emphasize the importance of content creators’ firsthand experience, alongside their expertise, authority, and trustworthiness in their field. While it’s not a direct ranking factor, it does give us insight into what the search engine wants.

The importance of creating and optimizing your content to improve these areas can’t be overstated. What you say, how you say it, and what you use to support what you say all hold immense weight.

Qualities like credibility and trustworthiness are critical. We can’t offer lip service to the terms and then ignore them; it has to be baked in. Why?

Let’s look at a few YMYL industries to answer this question.


YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life, and this concept has a significant connection to EEAT that can’t be ignored. YMYL topics significantly impact a person’s health, financial stability, safety, or well-being.

High EEAT levels are extremely important for YMYL content. Misinformation in these areas can have serious consequences. If you’re in one of the YMYL industries, your content has to pay attention to EEAT to be considered trustworthy and valuable according to Gogole’s standards.

The fact is that people are susceptible to the information they encounter. Search engines, social media platforms, and marketing mavens all know this. As an author, you need to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Show integrity and commitment to produce honest, reputable, and discoverable content, regardless of the subject matter.

Social Proof

Social proof is crucial in convincing a reader or a search engine algorithm. While the type of content makes some difference (for example, videos do better than written text for some search queries), social proof is more of a success indicator.

When a piece of content is shared and liked by a massive number of people, it validates the content quality. This principle is also one of the ranking factors used by search engines to assess the popularity of a webpage.

Social proof has become almost mandatory for successful online selling. It plays a pivotal role in creating confidence in your brand and trust in your target audience. When potential customers see that others have made purchases and enjoyed positive experiences with your online store, it significantly enhances their comfort levels and willingness to engage with your brand.

So what constitutes social proof? Think about the markers you look for when evaluating a blog or social media post, for example. Here are a few areas people look at, especially when prominently placed:

  • Number of social media followers
  • Product reviews
  • Product, page, or site mentions in blog posts or news articles
  • Displaying customer testimonials
  • Customer case studies
  • User ratings and feedback

The impact of social proof can be huge. Consider that a staggering 97% of consumers acknowledge the profound influence of online reviews on their purchasing decisions. An impressive 83% of consumers actively recommend brands they follow on social media to their friends and family, creating a powerful ripple effect.

To underscore its significance, a remarkable 95% of shoppers diligently read online reviews before committing to a purchase. This collective data unequivocally underscores the pivotal role that social proof plays in the online shopping landscape, making it a fundamental aspect of any successful e-commerce strategy.

WOM Marketing

You’ve probably heard of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, but maybe not in this context. Like FOMO relates to scarcity, and YMYL relates to authority, WOM is directly related to social proof. Both concepts leverage the influence of others to shape perceptions and behaviors.

WOM is where people share information and review products or services. It naturally creates social proof by demonstrating that a product or service is valued and trusted by others. This endorsement, especially from friends, family, or trusted influencers, significantly impacts decision-making. Study after study has shown that people are more likely to trust and follow the recommendations of their peers over advertisements.


Creating high-quality content that resonates with the audience or empathizes with their pain points is basic Marketing 101. Empathy enhances user experience and engagement, and also makes a piece of content more ‘shareable’. We use this empathy in SEO to understand the user’s search intent and target the correct search terms.

Of course, the ideas of sympathy and empathy demand that you connect with the emotional aspects of customer experience. Empathy steps beyond sympathy: Not only do you need to understand that they need your product, you need to understand why they need your product. It’s not always “because I don’t have one” or “my old one broke”. It could very well be something more obscure, “because John has one, and his is newer than my last one, so I have to get a better one.”

Empathy necessitates a deeper level of emotional engagement, as it means genuinely comprehending and resonating with the customer’s feelings.

Emotional Branding

Empathetic marketing, or emotional branding, develops the brand’s relationship with its customers. The brand steps into the customer’s shoes, crafting digital marketing strategies that precisely align with their unique desires and requirements. It’s the customer-centric approach, grounded in a thorough understanding of who the customer is, the significant challenges they face, and the driving forces that compel them to take action.

This strategy uses empathy by understanding and reflecting the feelings, needs, and aspirations of consumers. Empathy makes brands more relatable and memorable. Just as FOMO takes advantage of scarcity, emotional branding uses empathy to foster loyalty and trust. It encourages consumers to form a deeper, more personal connection with the brand.


The age-old principle of give-and-take is just as important for content creation and SEO. Content creators must provide valuable information, solutions, or entertainment to the audience in return for their engagement, sharing, and, eventually, converting. Similarly, in SEO practice, exchanging value through quality backlinks is still a powerful method for improving search ranking.

Reciprocity is the principle that people feel obliged to give back or reciprocate when they receive something. It builds a sense of obligation within the individual. “I must give back to maintain the status quo.”

Reciprocal Marketing

In reciprocal marketing, this might involve giving something of value to customers. For example, you might give free samples, valuable content, or exclusive discounts. Blog posts are an example of reciprocal marketing. The expectation is that this act will encourage positive customer behavior in return, such as purchases, loyalty, or word-of-mouth promotion.

Reciprocal marketing is also characterized in a scenario wherein two businesses collaborate to promote each other’s interests, leading to mutual advantages. This marketing approach, which has found prominence in the tourism sector, underwent a transformation in the 1990s and has persisted into the mid-2000s, adapting to the dynamics of electronic retail.


The principle of consistency really dives into human behavior and digital marketing. Cialdini’s work suggests that people have a deep need to be consistent with their past actions and beliefs. Once we make a choice or take a stand, we face personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.

Just think: do you know anybody that really likes change? My bet is that they’re few and far between.

Consistency doesn’t have a connected marketing concept like FOMO or WOM. However, you can just as well call it “yes marketing”. Marketing strategies often focus on creating positive responses from potential customers. Consistency takes that one step further.

Consistency in marketing creates a coherent brand message and experience across all customer touchpoints. This approach builds trust and reliability, as consumers come to know what to expect from the brand. By maintaining a consistent brand voice, imagery, and values, companies can strengthen their brand identity, making it easier for customers to recognize and prefer their offerings over competitors. Consistent messaging reinforces brand recall, enhances customer loyalty, and can influence purchasing decisions by aligning with the consumers’ expectations and experiences.

But all of this goodness doesn’t happen out of nothing. Building customer loyalty starts with the first “yes”. It’s the Hanzel and Gretel of marketing.

Capitalizing on consistency starts with small offers – a blog post here, a free downloadable resource there. This is the first “yes”, and it’s a low-cost offer. From the user’s perspective, all it takes is time to read a post or download a resource.

The second ask is just a little more complex. “Did you enjoy our post? Sign up for our newsletter and get posts directly to your inbox.” This “yes” has your target marketing willingly giving you their name and email address.

The asks should follow the customer touchpoints, leading them from new visitor to follower, to customer to brand advocate.


Added later to Cialdini’s principles, unity refers to the sense of we-ness, or sharing a sense of belonging with the audience. This comes with understanding the audience’s needs, interests, and values, and curating content that echoes these aspects. Unity in SEO involves aligning with the user’s search intent and providing content that satisfies their needs.

Unity has people saying “yes” more readily. Why? Because they feel the brand shares the same identity as they do.

Cialdini’s Unity Principle delves into this shared identity, emphasizing the common ground between the influencer and the influenced. An excellent example of this is the age-old PC vs Mac battle. Both companies capitalize on the concept of unity. Beyond technology, they represent very different lifestyles and personal choices.

Tapping Into Human Emotions is Imperative

It’s imperative to understand our own humanity and the behavior we exhibit in the realm of digital marketing. As we’ve seen with Cialdini’s principles like scarcity, unity, and others, tapping into the core of human emotions and behaviors isn’t just beneficial; it’s essential.

This is especially true as we enter an era where AI and technological advancements promise to redefine how we interact with digital content. The challenge and opportunity lie in harmoniously blending AI’s analytical capabilities with our innate understanding of ourselves and human psychology.

Buyers are increasingly looking for more connected brands. We have the awesome and exciting job of creating profoundly personal and impressively effective user experiences that not only close deals but also build communities in our niche.

There’s room for AI support in this environment of “my friend, the brand”. The future of digital marketing lies in our ability to anticipate, understand, and respond to the ever-evolving landscape of human behavior, all while harnessing the power of technological advancements.

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In the 1980's, Robert Cialdini brought us "Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion". The principles he shared have not only influenced the world of marketing, but also shaped it. Here's how.

Today's Author


Interested in Guest Posting?
Read our guest posting guidelines.

Leave a Reply

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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

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