How Crowd Psychology is Used for Marketing

23 Oct, 2019

As we are living in the platform era, those who play the crowd best, win. Insights from 120 year-old science of crowd-psychology are used by marketers, fundraisers and content authors. This article lists 36 tactics and a little background.

I had executed a crowdfunding campaign in the heyday of the Bitcoin/Blockchain gold-rush. Alas, we came too late to the party and most of the niblets had already been nibbled, the remaining breadcrumbs were not enough to fully finance the project. All that remains now are the results of my research – my 34 propositions in how crowd-psychology is used in marketing. I believe that knowing these helps an aspiring blogger, Youtuber or Instagramer because modern content platforms run on the virality of crowds.

I am not a fan of applying tricks – I prefer something that I call radical authenticity. In my practice as a communicator I use this list to recognize when other’s try to game me into participating in the mass delusion of the crowd. Take your pick on how to use it. As I have done my research for crowdfunding, this list is directed to fundraising. But the tactics are applicable to every form of communication.

What makes a crowd different from individual people ?

As long as a person is alone she considers her own interests and tries to advance them. In so doing she behaves responsibly, weighing the facts to choose wisely. When in a crowd the same person will become unselfish, thus irrational and irresponsible.

“All work of general import, demanding for its accomplishment a minimum of egoism and a maximum of blind devotion, self-abnegation, and sacrifice, can scarcely be accomplished but by crowds,” 

Gustave Le Bon, founder of mass psychology already in 1895.

Another great thinker, Serge Moscovici says that members of a crowd act just like an individual when under hypnosis. In this state suggestion can do anything.

“An individual, once he has been absorbed into a crowd … enthusiastically embraces ideas he is told to accept and experiences needs he had never experienced when he was on his own,” 

Moscovici states.

In a crowd, the individual becomes a mouthpiece for collective words. Suggestion becomes the basis for Mass Psychology. According to Le Bon who wrote this 35 years before the Nazis came to power, suggestion needs a leader and the crowd will follow.

Psychological Attribution of Crowds

Previous economic endeavors revolved around a “core”. Take a library: founded by institutions, churches, Government. Maintained by professionals. They are the core. The opposite of the core is the crowd.

The crowd is much more disruptive. It is decentralized and uncontrolled. The core is a curated and tailored experience. The crowd is a library of a Billion books, but all lie on the floor. This was a problem in the beginning. But the answer was in the crowd as well. The content itself told the world what it is and Google became the manager. The crowd dictated how to distribute content by its own meta data.

The crowd heals itself by shunting out bad elements. Until it reaches a tipping point where the crowd becomes bad. See fake news.

In 1945, Austrian-born economist Friedrich Hayek set out to prove the superiority of the crowd. He asked whether a centralized planning organism like the Soviet Union (the core) was better than decentralized development in the West (the crowd)? We know who won.

I had executed a crowdfunding campaign in the heyday of the Bitcoin/Blockchain gold-rush. Alas, we came too late to the party and most of the niblets had already been nibbled, the remaining breadcrumbs were not enough to fully finance the project. All that remains now are the results of my research – my 36 propositions in how crowd-psychology is used in marketing. I believe that knowing these helps an aspiring blogger, Youtuber or Instagramer because modern content platforms run on the virality of crowds.

I am not a fan of applying tricks – I prefer something that I call radical authenticity. In my practice as a communicator I use this list to recognize when other’s try to game me into participating in the mass delusion of the crowd. Take your pick on how to use it. As I have done my research for crowdfunding, this list is directed to fundraising. But the tactics are applicable to every form of communication.

Why do people participate in an uncertain viral Campaign such as a crowdfunding?

People connect to the campaign’s greater purpose. They want to be part of an entrepreneurial community, an innovative idea or a product of a project of great social value. If you can combine these then you got a winner. The crowd connects to physical aspects of the campaign like rewards or gains. They connect to the creative display of the campaign’s presentation.

How can we use the insights of crowd-psychology?

We have to say good-bye to the traditional idea of target group segmentation. In Marketing you learn to narrow your potential customer base to better address specific needs. As a blogger, you usually want to write for a specific audience. A viral campaign has the whole world as an audience but that doesn’t automatically make it a crowd. Crowds have specific behaviours the campaign can use to its advantage. Successful marketing has to go even one step further. It has to create a crowd, trigger behaviour and steer it.

I take marketer Nick Kolandas model to define 7 steps of marketing.

Before the request
1. Form their perception
2. Trigger Attitudes that are same as yours
3. Trigger Social Pressure
4. Get them accustomed to your Message

The request
5. Optimize your Message
6. Drive their Momentum

After the request
7. Sustain their Compliance

This list makes clear that you will not be successful if your first or only communication with the crowd is a call to action. Nobody waited for you.

Checklist for psychology-based marketing

Every campaign has a set of potential actions. You probably will do the same things with or without crowd-psychology. What changes is how you implement.

1 Crowds need an object of attention. They are impulsive, sensitive and sensual. You don’t try to convince a crowd as you would in a human to human sales pitch. The offer to the crowd is: “If you find the idea good, follow me. Else don’t.”

2 address emotions. Emotional ties bind humans in a group by mutual commitments such as fear, love, sympathy and loyalty (Serge Moscovici). When marketing a campaign or blog, you have to give the crowd those commitments. Charge the product with so many emotions that it is impossible to love. Create team profiles that generate sympathy. Paint a fearful picture of how bad the world is without your subject. Generate loyalty by showing that only this project can bring that vision to life.

3 Discussion but not discourse. Make a clear distinction between the two terms. One of your prime concerns is to generate and moderate discussion among your followers. But it can’t be about anything serious. Crowds hate details. Avoid details when it comes to crowd-campaigns.

4 Self-hypnosis and suggestibility. If the crowd believes, the crowd believes and critical thinking is suspended. Don’t share information, create believe. Check every slide in your deck and every page on your website. Is this piece of information steering the crowd towards believe? If not, either scrap it or shape it.

5 Crowds are irresponsible. Everybody feels more comfortable when being irresponsible. That’s human nature. So don’t address rational reasons. There is nothing rational about a marketing campaign.

6 Changeability. Crowds fluctuate. When doing a crowd-campaign you have to adapt in real time. Of course you don’t change from god to devil, but everything else is possible. Throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks with your audience. Adapt your messages and channels and activities on a daily basis. You have a limited amount of time to make it work. Adaptation wins.

7 Circular Reaction (mutual emotional infection). It is enough to have 2–3 people in a crowd to create a leading emotion. Find these people and engage them early.

8 Common emotional condition. A crowd becomes a community by a shared event that binds the group together. Create that event.

9 Birth of a new object of attention. People want to be associated with something big. This is a basic need. We need to be part of something great. Make it clear that without the crowds’ participation, there won’t be the greener pastures. The whole project needs to be transformed through the engagement of the crowd. Show them this transformation. They must witness the birth of something new.

10 Activation. People invest in people, not in products. It needs a leader to activate the members of a crowd. You need to be visible, audible and you need to be a leader. To show passion, to be real, to show strength.

11 Shift of responsibility. People pay others to take responsibilities from them. Don’t let them find out if what you promise is valid. Communicate so that they can trust you. Take the burden of responsibility off their back.

12 If you want to tell people the truth, be funny or they will kill you. An old proverb by movie director Billy Wilder. People are willing to pay for amusement. Have some elements of fun in your communication.

13 The last ones get bitten by the dogs. People want to get what you offer before everybody else. Give them the chance to be first. The ones to see the Alpha. This is the basic principle of donation services like Patreon.

14 Crowds can’t be smart. What you do is not for smart people. It is for all people. Remember Nupedia? Of course not. They wanted to make a crowd-sourced encyclopedia but demanded that authors had PhDs. They achieved 12 articles in 18 months. Then they dropped the PhDs and renamed themselves Wikipedia. End of story.

15 1-click investment. You maybe want their money, or at least an email address. Make the contribution as easy as possible. Or else you lose the money of lazy people.

16 Crowds need to know what is at the end of the rainbow. Remember Disney World: you line up for a ride. You always see your object of desire. Goofy makes fun and so deflects your boredom. You see the signs: just 30 minutes to go! Use these three elements throughout the campaign and afterwards: Seeing the goal, segment the time and fill the space between.

17 Manage rumors. That doesn’t mean reacting on rumors but actually manufacturing the right ones. A good rumor is something that might be troublesome but doesn’t affect the campaign. In 1999 you might have heard that Steve Jobs was an emotional ice-block who sells his own daughter for success. That is right off the rumor-mill and the crowd discusses it fluttering. But it actually strengthens the perception of the product.

18 Crisis is good. Create something that the crowd can rally behind. Something that sounds like make and break.

19 Fundraising only – Minimize the crowds’ risk. Take an all-or-nothing strategy. When you don’t reach the Soft Cap, give back all of the money. Kickstarter knows, what it’s doing. It gives investors the feeling of a can’t-loose. It gives you the crisis towards the end of the campaign for which you can rally the troops.

20 Secure mutual benefit. The emphasis is on mutual. Everybody knows that one has to point out the benefit for the audience. But as important is to disclose whats in it for you. If you just lay out the benefits for the customer you are nothing more than a sleazy second-hand car dealer. The perceived benefits should outweigh each other.

21 Make directional communication. Make it personal. Talk to people in text. Look at the camera on video.

22 Most people are visual. Good visual communication outsmarts text or audio every time by a factor of three. (old and never exactly proven dogma)

23 Create a guilty conscience. Compare the investment to some worthless indulgence. “Buy me a coffee”.

24 Create a formula. Remember Freud: “credo quia absurdum – I believe because it’s absurd.” When a spiritual leader was asked what to do to become enlightened, he said: “say 10.000 times ‘supreme’. But you have to mean it. Say it once without meaning it and you have to start all over again.” Create a formula, a claim that defies all critique. You lead every communication with this formula and you also make the formula the focal point of your communication.

25 Be of the people and with the people. Make your visual communication in a rough style. Videos should not look too classy. Make selfie-videos but with a classy camera and good sound recording. Become friends with your audience. Appear young and smart and unconventional. French social psychologist Gabriel Tarde says: “Society is imitation and imitation is a kind of sleepwalking.” The crowd wants to be like its leader.

26 You make a product because you want to use the product yourself. Show that you first discovered the need for the product in yourself. Then you did market research and voila, others think like you do. Now you have got a solution. Without your product, the crowd is natural. And as such having the intellectual average of the least intellectual members. When the crowd follows you, it becomes organized and you raise the level of intellect to the same level of yourself. This is your gift to the crowd. Show it. Be the crowds voice.

27 The future customer and the investor are the same thing. Don’t differentiate your communication in customers who should love the platform and investors who should see the investment potential. Marry the two things with a focus on the consumer. Investors are smart individuals. They see a good investment when the consumer experience is great.

28 Do, don’t tell. Never make claims. Show instead. Claim: “our platform is superior”. Show: “We have nearly no commission, a human touch user experience and a matching algorithm that gets you the place that fits your needs best.”

29 Use numbers not to quantify but to qualify. 0.45 % is better than less than half a percent. But not because it has precision and not because the actual number counts. People’s psyche plays tricks with them. They don’t know, they can’t know. To create a sense of security, people trust precise numbers. Plus it helps their laziness if somebody else has come up with precision.

30 Let the crowd create the company. Well not really, you don’t want a Boaty McBoatface. But offer tokens for ideas how to transform the company or the market. Run a contest. Create public challenges. Even better: do human resources with ideas — people who bring good ideas coupled with a good profile get hired. “When the shit starts to get complex, don’t get an expert, get an outsider.”

Crowd unspecific stuff

31 Let them think what others think. But guide that thinking. If you want customers to buy Tokens for usage then address their own benefits. If you want customers to invest in Tokens address what they think is beneficial to the customer.

32 Priming: check your PR environment. Don’t advertise next to hard topics. Pay prime to put your banners next to positive and successful stories.

33 Schematic wording. If you need open mindedness, use words such as flexible, elastic, change.

34 Tell them what they are thinking. Example of a product that offers better user experience: “I hate complicated forms on webpages. Don’t you hate forms? I am sure you do. Imagine if you could just write in plain old English what you wanted and the machine understood you. That’d be nice for change, wouldn’t it?”

35 Don’t convince people. You are not selling to critical people but to enthusiastic ones. So never try to convince a critic that her criticism is unfounded. Say goodbye and find an enthusiast.

The theory: Psychological Attribution of Crowds

Previous economic endeavors revolved around a “core”. Take a library: founded by institutions, churches, Government. Maintained by professionals. They are the core. The opposite of the core is the crowd.

The crowd is much more disruptive. It is decentralized and uncontrolled. The core is a curated and tailored experience. The crowd is a library of a Billion books, but all lie on the floor. This was a problem in the beginning. But the answer was in the crowd as well. The content itself told the world what it is and Google became the manager. The crowd dictated how to distribute content by its own meta data.

The crowd heals itself by shunting out bad elements. Until it reaches a tipping point where the crowd becomes bad. See fake news.

In 1945, Austrian born economist Friedrich Hayek set out to prove the superiority of the crowd. He asked whether a centralized planning organism like the Soviet Union (the core) was better than decentralized development in the West (the crowd)? We know who won.

Crowdfunding is the way to get capital in the 21st Century. „Distance is not an impediment. Race doesn’t matter. Being a big strapping male or a nubile female won’t affect the amount of deference you get . . . This does lead to a freer, truly disembodied mingling of minds.“ says writer Robert Wright.

What makes a crowd different from individual people (customers)?

As long as a person is alone he considers his own interests and tries to advance them. In so doing he behaves responsibly, weighing the facts to choose wisely. When in a crowd the same person will become unselfish, thus irrational and irresponsible.

“All work of general import, demanding for its accomplishment a minimum of egoism and a maximum of blind devotion, self-abnegation, and sacrifice, can scarcely be accomplished but by crowds,” said Gustave Le Bon, founder of mass psychology already in 1895.

Another great thinker, Serge Moscovici says that members of a crowd act just like an individual when under hypnosis. In this state suggestion can doanything.

“An individual, once he has been absorbed into a crowd … enthusiastically embraces ideas he is told to accept and experiences needs he had never experienced when he was on his own,” Moscovici states.

That must be it when Blockchain enthusiasts need to take part in an ICO and send money to an address with receiving nothing tangible in return.

In a crowd, the individual becomes a mouthpiece for collective words. Suggestion becomes the basis for Mass Psychology. According to Le Bon who wrote this 35 years before the Nazis came to power, suggestion needs a leader and the crowd will follow.

Sigmund Freud has his say as well: “It is worth specially stressing the fact that each portion which returns from oblivion asserts itself with peculiar force, exercises an incomparably powerful influence on peo- ple in the mass, and raises an irresistible claim to truth against which logical objections remain powerless: a kind of ‘credo quia absurdum.’”

Marcell Nimfuehr

Marcell is a jack-of-all-trades. He as a writer and filmmaker, has worked in strategic marketing and is one of the makers of SmartLike, home of "Just the Hits" blog. He loves Science Fiction, reportage photography and Russian movies from the Soviet era.