Five Psychological “Bugs” that Can Help You when Creating a Product

Tom Orbach


5 min read

1. Social Proof

You won’t be surprised to learn that people copy other people’s choices in order to avoid the mental effort of making decisions. But here’s a little secret (that was also scientifically proven via research): when a customer has a lot of information, the effect of social proof is smaller. This means that if you put at the bottom of your page testimonials, star rating, or your customers’ logos, you have compromised the efficiency of this effect. That is because by this point the client already knows a lot about you. So what can you do? Showcase your social proof at the top of the page, so it will be among the first elements presented to anyone who enters the website. This is my first piece of advice when I help startups, and it almost always raises the conversion rate.

Here’s another small tip – combine social proof with the Similarity effect: for people from Israel, the phrase “X people from Israel use our product” will sometimes be stronger than “100X people all over the world use our product.” Using everything you know about your customer, try to show them that people similar to them use the product.

2. Sunk Cost

People have a hard time abandoning processes they are already invested in. When using a progress bar in a customer’s onboarding process, the trick is to jump from 0% to 50% really fast (even when it doesn’t reflect the actual progress), to get to the point where the user feels invested in the process, without actively putting in much effort. On LinkedIn, for example, your profile is at 80% completion from the moment you sign up, even before you’ve entered information about yourself. This is called the “Endowed Progress Effect.”

3. The Decoy Effect

People tend to buy product C as opposed to product A, if you put a product B in the middle that makes product C seem more attractive. Any product that is artificially paired with other products suddenly gets treated differently. Try looking at the price pages of popular SaaS (Software as a Service) products like Wix or Salesforce and you will easily see which option is the decoy. Research from recent years shows that this effect works best when you can really quickly and easily see the dominant product.

In this context, it is also important to remember the anchor effect, whereby the first thing you are exposed to affects the choice you make later (it is important that the anchor is not excessively higher or lower than the other options).

4. The Illusion of Effort

People overestimate products if they know others have gone to great lengths to make them (think of the transparent window in the bakery, behind which you see the bakers). And the trick is that this is probably true even when the effort is exerted by a computer. If we show through our product what’s happening “behind the scenes” and it seems to the user that the app or algorithm is putting in a lot of effort for them, the user will probably be willing to wait longer for the action to end and will also appreciate the outcome more. The SkyScanner flight search engine does this well – the user’s search results pile up in real-time, and every few seconds a cheaper flight appears.

5. Generating UGC

Allow User Generated Content through your product. Dozens of effects come into play here. Here’s a partial list:

  • The Ownership Effect – people value things that they feel they own more than things they don’t.
  • The IKEA Effect – People have more value for things that were made in a DIY fashion.
  • Commitment – If the user shares the content they generated through your product, they have in fact created a public commitment with themselves to use the product.
  • Status – People are looking for ways to gain social advantage.
  • Try to think: Is there anything personal you can give to any outsider that will make them look good in the eyes of others?

I want to tell you a little bit about myself:

My name is Tom, and I’m a fanatic for brain quirks and cognitive biases.In recent years I have been doing Growth Marketing in startups like BLEND, Jolt, and Mine. I founded the Applamush Community (Hebrew Acronym for “Psychological Effects for Product and Marketing Managers”) – with the aim that this issue will finally have a home for discussions and for sharing practical knowledge in Israeli high-tech. I am also a guest lecturer at the Sami Ofer School of Communication at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

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