Cognitive Marketing & Social Proof — Review

I hope you’ve been following along with my learnings with the CXL Institute! Their online teaching platform has been extremely helpful as I navigate the inner workings of Conversion Rate Optimization. If you’re curious about the other courses offered with CXL, click here to find out more info. If you’re ready to continue on with the key information I pulled from this past week, keep reading to get the scoop!


We all have them… but what are they? Cognitive Biases are tendencies to think in certain ways. As marketers and optimizers, we need to be on top of our target audiences’ cognitive biases.

The instructor of this lesson gives us some specific examples to mark biases by:

False-Consensus Bias is thinking the world is like you. A tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree with you, and that everyone has the same opinion about something.

The Curse of Knowledge is that you can’t unknow what you know. Once you’re aware or learn information, you can’t go backwards.

Egocentric Bias is recalling the past in a self-serving manner. You remember a story or thing how you want it to be, not as it was.

Recency Bias tricks you into having a preference for fresh data, rather than older data.

Confirmation Bias is having a tendency to test things that confirm your beliefs.

Congruence Bias is testing hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.

Clustering Illusion is thinking you spotted a trend and basing all your optimization and hypotheses off that small amount of data.

This was such a helpful section. I tend to forget just how heavily marketing relies on understanding and interpreting the mind. We can’t just go off of what we think looks “good” to the eye, because there is a whole other world of psychology behind every element we choose.

Something important to note in relation to people and psychology is that humans are not logical when making decisions. We tend to use the emotional side of our brains, which is why marketers need to be hyper aware of this. “The very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.” I thought this was very interesting, considering most of the heavy or difficult conversations in life (meaning of life, politics, moral ethics, etc.) tend to be led with heated emotions (anger, joy, fear). Why would this be any different when we look at and process things we want to buy?

Keep in mind that people like to think they are rational, but often times are simply not so. Due to this, product images can have a large part on emotional decision-making. We must be considering how we can compel our customers with both an emotional and rational case.

As far as attention grabbing psychology goes, there are some key elements to go over:

Top left corner gets the attention first. Users on websites will begin their perusal starting from the upper left corner, and moving on from there — left to right. It goes without saying that you want to ensure your most valuable information is featured accordingly. The bottom right corner of the page is the “terminal area,” meaning your call to action will get the most views if placed here.

People read in F-patterns. The word “read” is used very lightly here, considering most people don’t read, but scan bodies of text. This goes to show that viewers want to get to the point as quickly as possible. Eye Tracking visualizations show us that users often read website content in an F-shaped pattern — 2 horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. This indicates that your value proposition will be most effective on the top, and your menu should either by top horizontal or on the left (vertical).

Use visibly bigger introductory paragraphs. This will improve attention with boldface or larger font size. Keeping the paragraphs line length short and in a single column will increase reading probability, because that is what people are used to viewing.

People won’t look past the first search results. The reality is well-known at this point, so I don’t think I’ll be crushing anyone’s dreams… hopefully. If you don’t pop up as the top 2 or 3 in Google for a keyword, you’re likely going to be losing major business. Users typically find a link worth clicking on among the first few options. After that, all bets are off on whether or not you’re getting any clicks.

Left side of the page gets more attention than the right. Since people read from left to right, that is generally how the eye tracks. A website that follows this guideline typically yields more profit. Consider putting your vertical menu on the left, and navigation placed at the top of the homepage for best performance.

Use large, high quality images. Naturally, we want to see the best. Pictures are no exception, and marketing studies confirm this. Image quality has a strong effect in inviting people and increasing their desire to continue looking at your website. I know for me, I am more apt to trust that I am going to receive a quality item if the photos are crisp and aesthetically pleasing.

Dominant headlines draw the eye. Ever hear of the line, “the bigger, the better” before? In this case, making your headline bigger than your body copy is crucial. Our eyes are drawn to the headline if it is large in the upper left corner. We can’t help, so let’s not mess with this information and simply use it to our advantage!

Almost full? Before we wrap up, there is a bit more information I’m hoping you can digest today, because this is some good stuff.

The instructor laid out an explanation for a term called Cognitive Fluency. This is the human tendency to prefer things that are familiar and easy to understand. I definitely am guilty of this preference, myself! I often look to purchase things that I know work best for me, or want to learn more information on something that I’m relatively comfortable understanding. It’s all about an easy-to-process mentality (or at least it should be) when it comes to marketing.

If you look at marketing in this light, it makes sense why companies with easy-to-pronounce names significantly out-preform the harder ones. Same goes for listing prices — is it a complex or straightforward advertisement?

Consider this line: “Hard to read, hard to buy.” I don’t ever want to forget that, because making something slightly too complex for the average viewer could cost me a sale. No bueno!

It appears through studies that a difficult-to-read font transfers that thought into the product/service itself being difficult. Unless a person has tried a brand before and knows that they like how it performs, they are not likely to branch out. They don’t know if the reward will be worth the risk. Why rock the boat, right? For marketers, this indicates that we have to really grab that first time purchaser and make it worth their while. We have to make everything as simple as possible in order for conversion to be possible.

I couldn’t help but continue to read on, diving into “Social Proof,” and found it to be a super interesting topic. Social Proof is best worded as any third party, unbiased proof that’s outside of a claim your company would make. We are always going to want that outside proof, and it’s best that your company is that one handing it to them.

You can do this through surveys, reviews, and all the things we have previously talked about. People want to see data. They want to see others’ thoughts to help rationalize their own decisions. Social Proof will never lose effectiveness, so we need to learn how to use it for sales purposes.

Case studies and testimonials are great, because they can help your customers:

Self Select — “Is this solution really for me?”

Establish Empathy — You can show that your company understands them

Can act as an Interest Point — Can pull people in. Use a quote or concern as a headline to immediately draw viewers in

Because Social Proof is others’ responses/reviews about your company, they are more likely to trust you because it’s unbiased.

How do we get a successful case study? You best believe CXL explained it!

  • Relatable Subject: Feature a client that’s like the people you want to attract and show what it was like before, during, and after purchasing your product/service. What can people sink their teeth into with actual proof? Don’t say “it’s great!” but say something like “it’s durable and really holds up for all my children.”
  • Conducting Customer Interviews: First, you have to have a willing interviewee. Make sure you have legal approval who reflects who your ideal market is. Do they have the right traits? Make it a conversation. Never ask yes/no questions. Structure it in the same way as you want it presented… before, during, after, and make it conversational. We want to know the pain point of how they got to your company. Let them share their experience in their own unique way.
  • Where to Include Social Proof: What’s the context? How do you use it to alleviate friction? You can open up with a quote that relieves a pain point. Clarify pricing with social proof with quotes that other people liked it or it was worth it. Validate why your business is “the best” around. Never put all your social proof eggs in a video basket because not everyone will watch it. Have important snippets all throughout your site, without making it so long that they can’t get through it all. Keep customers’ time in mind.
  • Negative Social Proof: While you’re on your own site, you don’t want to add negative copy, but it’s okay if not every single person in your reviews liked it. You can use social proof of those who still love your product and respond positively. Always expect the natural negatives since it makes your brand more realistic.
  • Common Mistakes with SP: Choosing customers who are not your average customer and displaying in a way that’s not credible. You want to link to a website or online profile or headshot so it’s more credible. Similarly, using social proof in the wrong context makes it irrelevant. You want to use it to support a specific claim. Don’t say something without supporting it in context.
  • Keeping SP Fresh: We’re always going to want third party proof, but we need to be adaptable to how that information is best delivered. We should use it wisely in how we wield the reviews and responses we want the public to see. Audio/Video is not utilized enough, and is really at the top of the chain with SP. Experiment with the amount of social proof you provide — maybe your service needs to show more than another website in order to convey the right amount of proof.

These are some seriously rich tips. I feel like my mind is bouncing around, thinking of all the ways it wants to get creative. How awesome was this lesson?! My fingers are starting to cramp from typing so fast (yes, I get excited over this stuff!), so I’ll take it as my queue to call it quits on this blog post. I hope you liked unraveling a bit more of the human mind with me! Until next time…!