'Brain Science' Tips Urge Us to Lose Cents, Use Faces and Bundle

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I've experienced that physical pain of paying a lot for something that Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer for Wilde Agency, talked about last week in her revealing webinar titled Brain Science in Business: Using Psychology to Increase Response.

For me it has happened when I'm considering a big vacation, expensive concert or trip to Whole Foods. That pain, Harhut said, comes from the "exact same part of your brain that gets activated when you have to pay cash for something. 95% of purchase decision-making takes place in the unconscious mind. [Researchers] have found that all of us rely on decision-making shortcuts. We've developed these hard-wired decision defaults."

Here are some suggestions she has for your pricing:

  • Eliminate the cents. Sometimes the brain reads a bigger number.
  • Eliminate the dollar sign. She said that room service prices often will not have dollar signs, and some charities have seen increases in donations when they haven't used dollar signs. (The Kennedy Center took it to the next level in their bi-monthly schedule/brochure by eliminating the pricing altogether for the events. But I think that can create confusion.)
  • Go red. Men perceive a better discount when prices are in red than black.
  • Bundle away. Bundling products and/or services will make customers more likely to buy because it's only a single hit of pain, even if the price is more.
  • Sale prices on the right. For sales, she recommends always putting the original price on the left and the sales price on the right. And that people may look at relative difference more than the absolute value. The further apart the two prices are distance-wise, the better the deal appears to be. Bigger gap, bigger savings.
  • Use charm prices – ending in 9.
  • Go small. The smaller the font size on your sales price the more people believe it's a good deal.
  • "Options help in making a purchase decision," Harhut said. "With one option we may not be quite sure." 2, 3 or 4 options are best; 5 or more may be a bit much and could give analysis paralysis.

Here are other tips that Harhut said we need to pay attention to:

  • Use faces—real ones from your events, if possible. Faces and eyes attract us.
  • Use the eyes of your person to direct the customer. "We're hard-wired to follow someone's gaze," Harhut said.
  • The credibility of text increases when accompanied by a photo. She gave an example of a quiz that asked if a celebrity was dead or alive. A photo made more people guess alive.
  • Color imagery is shared more often. Use black and white if you want the reader to focus more on essential benefits. Color is cosmetic, less essential.
  • Putting a dash line around something, like a coupon, will draw more attention.
  • Use numbers in marketing—not spelled out—when possible. We skim and scan, Harhut said. Numbers promise ease and order. Odd numbers are more credible; they show that we may have given it a little more thought. But any denomination of 10 is also good—it gives cognitive fluency and is easy for us to process.
  • Questions pull people in (vs. declarative).
  • Align your choices. An email with a set appointment that people can change is better than an open-ended one asking what time might be convenient. "They didn't have to take action to schedule," Harhut said. "They had to take action to get out of it" (which is less likely). It's why free events are often over-booked but under-attended. People will take the action to sign up but not the action to cancel.
  • Add urgency to your message. "Urgency provides a 34-36% lift in open rates," Harhut said. She also said that flash sales now are doing well in B2B. "If I don't move quickly I will lose out."
Go here to access the webinar. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…