When it comes to customer acquisition, there's no denying that you are in the people business no matter what you're selling.

Why? People buy your products. It doesn’t matter if you're selling dog food; Fido isn't going to be the one to lay down the bones for those fancy chew toys and leather doggie jackets.

You’re always selling to people.

The more you understand about how people "tick," the better off you'll be. You'll be able to create better products (the kind that truly help people), craft far more useful content, and nudge people towards saying "Yes!" ... all without the sleaze.

Today, you're in luck! We've done the heavy-lifting for you, and you'll get to reap the benefits of our many days of research with this cheat sheet of the 25 best academic studies that relate to human behavior and persuasion!

This article is not going to go over SEO techniques or how to do “ad buys”; we will be addressing the fundamentals of human behavior – creating a business and a marketing strategy that deeply connects with a customer’s psyche.

But enough of the small talk, let’s jump in!

Writing Better Copy

On the web, words rule. Even the best user-interfaces and the most beautifully designed sites wouldn’t be usable (or enjoyable) without the words on the screen. For business owners and professionals, words play another pivotal role — the act of “copywriting,” or writing in a persuasive manner, is key when you want to turn random readers into loyal customers. Below you’ll get to check out some of my favorite research on making your writing more persuasive.

1. Make ‘em feel something

Imagine you just watched your favorite football star break a rib due to a tackle. Ooof. Couldn't you feel yourself cringing from the thought? That's the power of mirror neurons and insight into how they affect the mind. Research shows that when you can create a physical feeling with readers using mirroring, you’re using some of the most persuasive writing possible.

2. Sweat the small stuff

Research from Carnegie Mellon University shows how changing the phrase "a $5 fee" to "a small $5 fee" increased response rates for a DVD trial program by over 20%. This is must-heed advice for those of you selling to conservative spenders.

3. Play devil's advocate

A study by social psychologist Charlan Nemeth shows that arguments framed in the "devil's advocate" style were useful in enhancing the persuasiveness of the original argument by pointing out potential flaws and then addressing them. If you want to be more persuasive in your writing, bring up common objections and fully address them.

4. Create urgency, then give instructions

Marketers have long known that urgency can get people to move, but science shows that this can also backfire when used incorrectly. Researcher Howard Leventhal conducted a test on the effectiveness of urgency utilizing a scary video about tetanus and a follow-up packet. He found that the subjects who had follow-up info were much more likely to actually take action—a clear case for speaking clearly to your readers about what you want them to do.

5. Use persuasive power words

Not all words are created equal. There are certain persuasive words that inspire people to take action. Although this may seem trite, research has shown that words like free, new and instantly encourage customers to buy.

6. Don't forget the verbs

According to an interview with a Harvard MBA admissions director, verbs beat out adjectives when it comes to writing admission letters. What's this have to do with persuasion? In reality, an admission letter is just another piece of copy that is trying to persuade the reader that the student should be admitted into the school. Copywriters should take a lesson here: Verbs are persuasive because they are specific and therefore harder to push aside.

7. Create a physical sensation

In one of the most interesting copywriting studies I’ve read, researchers tested the effects of "textual metaphors" on the brain and found that they light up areas that most other adjectives couldn't touch. Whenever possible you should use words that elicit a textual feeling when heard such as crisp, polished and bright.

Creating Popular Content

Back in the day, the best method that brands had to get some attention for themselves was to use “interruption” marketing, which was annoying for consumers. Today, smart entrepreneurs know they can use the web to create a “magnetic” form of marketing, in the way of providing free content (like you’re reading now!) to build an audience that helps build their business. Below is some of the best research available on creating content that people love.

8. How emotions effect virality

Would you like to be able to regularly create viral content? Of course you would—who doesn't?! According to the now notorious paper from Wharton, What Makes Online Content Go Viral, the six high-arousal emotions of awe, anger, anxiety, joy, lust and surprise are common in the most viral content on the Web.

9. The art of creating buzz

The book Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes (a notorious advertiser who managed to convince a town to re-name itself Half.com) discusses Hughes’ findings on what makes people talk. He concludes that things that are taboo, unusual, outrageous, hilarious, remarkable or secretive garnered the most attention (especially when combined).

10. Transportation leads to persuasion

What's some of the most engaging content you can create? According to psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock, the answer is a compelling story. Most of us would not deny the enveloping nature of a good story, but this research adds some solid evidence to a fact many of us already assumed: Stories envelop people up in a way no other writing can master.

11. How to create better stories

If you're sold on the impact of storytelling, I've got good news. In a recent study on Narrative Persuasion, researchers found that six common characteristics of persuasive stories—delivery, imagery, realism, structure, context and audience—matter most when creating an engaging story that captures readers attention. Read more about this study here.

12. Spend extra time on headlines

According to the latest Eyetrack study, your headlines are consistently the most viewed thing on your homepage—even before your images! Even more interesting is that your headlines need to capture someone’s attention in less than one second in order to be effective.

Persuasive Pricing

Pricing often seems like a no-brainer… until you realize that many neuroeconomists and consumer psychologists have this to say about how we evaluate price points: “People tend to be clueless about prices… we make do with guesstimates and a vague recollection of what things are ‘supposed to cost.’” Stay ahead of the curse with these pricing studies that show you how to correctly price your product.

13. Cut choices & boost sales

You might think that consumers like a lot of choices, after all: the more the merrier, right? As it turns out, that is dangerous thinking — research from the psychology department at Columbia University (the famous “jam study”) has shown that decreasing the available options to customers actually encourages them to buy. The researchers concluded that having too many options can lead to “action paralysis” where customers won’t take any action if they have too many choices available.

14. Selling time over money

Have you ever wondered why the cheap beer Miller Lite has the slogan "It's Miller Time!"? New research from Jennifer Aaker reveals why: People are fonder of experiences when they remember the time they spent (or saved) with a product rather than the money they saved.

15. The power of 9

Does the "end your price with the number 9" tactic really work? According to this research it does. Prices such as $39 outsold even lower prices (such as $34), and even sales benefited from having a price point that ended in $9.

16. It's all about the context

What could convince an individual to pay more for the same product they can find cheaper elsewhere? According to this pricing study (which also used beer!), context does the trick. Researchers found that people are willing to pay more for the same beer at a classy hotel than when it is at a run-down grocery store, a clear example of how perception can be used to maximize price.

17. Learn to reduce the friction

According to fascinating research from Wharton, every business (no matter the industry) sells to the same three types of customers: tightwads, spendthrifts and unconflicted buyers. One thing all of these groups have in common is that they prefer reduced friction in the form of bundling, smaller price increments ($84/month instead of $1000/year), and re-framing the product's value.

18. The dumbest pricing study ever

Sometimes when reading research, I come across a study that I just can't stand. A recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology definitely fits the bill here. Researchers found that prices that have more syllables when spoken actually seem higher to consumers. That means that instead of pricing something at $1,499.00 or even $1,499, you should simply leave it as $1499. Apparently it even matters when the price isn't spoken out loud!

Establishing Trust & Authority

It takes a lot of hard work to get customers to know, like, and trust your business enough to buy from you. Many professionals don’t worry enough about this aspect, thinking that their product/service will “speak for itself.” What you have to understand is that customers often know nothing about you. Fortunately, the studies below will show you a few ways to build lasting trust with customers and convince new customers that your company is around for the long haul.

19. Tell them you’re trustworthy

This advice seems far too obvious to be on a list such as this, but this study reveals that placing a seemingly obvious phrase like, “You can trust us to do the job well for you,” can increase the perceived trustworthiness of a message by as much as 33 percent! Other trigger words from the study included the likes of caring, fair treatment, competency and quality work.

20. How to create the halo effect

In social psychology, the halo effect is a cognitive bias that tends to make us judge a person based on our overall impression of him or her and NOT on the situation at hand. To create this effect, psychologists have shown that it's best to master one specific aspect of a larger topic or field of study, in the same way we focus exclusively on data-driven customer loyalty tactics on the Help Scout blog.

21. It's okay to admit shortcomings

Hey, we all make mistakes. According to research from psychologist Fiona Lee, it's actually good for business to own up to your errors. Her research shows that customers trust companies more when they admit to shortcomings than when they blame downturn on external events (their willingness to admit to a mistake makes them seem more honest and in control).

22. Use “no proof” rather than low proof

In the famous words of P.T. Barnum, “Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” The opposite also appears to be true – according to this test conducted by VSO, websites that have “low social proof” will often perform worse than if the social proof was removed all together.

23. Stay away from negative social proof

According to a research study examining the use of social proof in a petrified forest, when “negative” social proof was used (‘Over 10,000 pounds of petrified wood is stolen every year’), thefts of the endangered wood actually increased! Researchers concluded that the negative social proof was encouraging people to act in a similar manner.

24. Increase trust with images

According to new research on "truthiness," people become more trustworthy of statements/facts and people when they see an accompanying image. This can be used to give a better visualization of your product, or to give a digital download a physical face-lift, kind of like we do on our free guides.

25. Put a face to your business

It's hard to love a faceless company. Many of us recognize this, yet I still constantly see small business owners and marketers missing out on this easy opportunity to better connect with potential customers. Research has revealed that photos of people are known to increase empathy with the viewer, so put your team out in front of customers, like Wistia does on it's "class photos" page.


One last thing I should mention…

According to psychologist Norbert Schwarz, surprising people with a small gift is one of the best ways to create a lasting bond and a reciprocal relationship.

That said, as a special thanks for making it all the way to the bottom of this (admittedly) long post, we’d love for you to download one of our free resources at no charge!

Gregory Ciotti

Gregory Ciotti

Greg is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.