Mobile Marketing Psychology

smartphone arrayMobile as a marketing channel is definitely on the move. A Pew Research study reported that 56% of U.S. adults now own smartphones.  Smartphone usage is highest among younger, better educated and more highly paid Americans.  They represent the very consumers often targeted by retailers, insurance carriers and financial services providers.

It’s important for mobile marketers to get it right the first time. Studies by social scientists confirm the old adage, “First impressions last.” This is particularly true in mobile marketing. The Skava Consumer Mobile Shopping Survey found that 30% of consumers who have a bad mobile purchasing experience never return to the offending site.

How can mobile marketers get it right the first time? 

A key factor is having people with the right knowledge base working on mobile e-commerce sites and advertising. There are undoubtedly many skilled IT professionals in this field. Certainly many talented marketers and website designers work in mobile as well. But what appears to be lacking in many smartphone-enabled sites is a good understanding of mobile marketing psychology­ – the psychological factors that come into play when consumers use their smartphones in making purchases.

Setting the right mood

smarphone scanningClearly, goal and reward seeking is a major motivator for anyone using a smartphone in shopping. When prospective buyers pick up their smartphones, they want to get information, essential product knowledge, price comparisons and money saving coupons. The more easily and quickly they can obtain them, the better they like it.

Mobile websites that facilitate this accomplish an important objective. When consumers quickly and easily obtain what they want, it makes them happy. Those good feelings get attached to the website that provides them. “An innocent association with either bad things or good things will influence how people feel about us,” states influence expert and presidential adviser Dr. Robert Cialdini.

Tom Brady Stetson adInnocent associations – like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of a bell that was often rung when they were fed – attach good or bad feelings to something that was merely present when the feelings occurred. Thus, advertisers race to associate their products with star athletes and popular celebrities whom their audiences like and quickly distance themselves from those whose words and actions earned public disfavor (like Paula Deen and Aaron Hernandez).

If brands earn points by merely being seen in the presence of sports heroes and popular celebrities, imagine how quickly good or bad feelings can get attached to mobile sites that readily give us what we want (or fail to) when we’re in a hurry.

Calming fear of loss

Consumers naturally seek to avoid loss and reduce risks. Dan Ariely, MIT Professor of Behavioral Economics writes, “We focus on what we may lose rather than what we may gain.”  People go out of their way to minimize risk. Thus when founder Jeff Bezos wanted to help consumers become comfortable with purchasing online, he wisely chose to start with a low-risk product: books. Purchasers recognized it was highly unlikely that a book they bought there would turn out to be fake.

smartphone thiefMany who regularly shop online may hesitate to do it on their smartphones. After all, mobile uses a different system and may not feel as secure. We see news stories or dramas on TV showing how easy it can be for knowledgeable persons to “clone” our phone or perhaps pick up personal data.

Mobile sites that make it clear they are secure (and live up to that claim) can gain an edge. Merchants that allow customers to voluntarily store a credit card number on that site and permit them to use that card automatically for purchases help patrons avoid the feeling of risk. They may feel unsafe entering their credit card information while in public and transmitting it over the air.

Make consumers feel comfortable and safe shopping on your mobile site and many will return regularly. The need for security is a major motivator.

Avoid irritating customers

Imagine how you’d feel if, while navigating an unfamiliar highway with your GPS and trying to find the right exit at high speed, your navigation page or map was suddenly replaced by an ad. Even if the advertisement is for a product you like, or if it offers you a useful money saving coupon, chances are you will find it pretty irritating, even infuriating.

mobile pop up adsMobile advertisers often do something similar. Determined to give clients’ products the widest possible coverage, they will arrange for ads to pop up on key sites. Often the ad fully or partially blocks the content users seek, perhaps when they really need it. Trying to close the ad on the small screen may result in an unintended visit to the sponsor’s homepage. It can feel as if hijackers have taken over the phone!

Mobile marketers who do this are truly harming themselves and the products they thus advertise. As Cialdini stated, ‘an innocent association with bad things will influence how people feel about us.’ Products associated with aggravation in ways that appear less than innocent will certainly not escape.

By making mobile ads invasive and irksome, marketers inadvertently connect the bad feelings they generate directly to the advertised product. Marketers who are schooled in social psychology will find better ways to deploy mobile advertising. They will see their ROI and reputations steadily improve as competitors continue the unwise practice of making mobile ads pop up in ways that inconvenience users.


Marketing psychology is the practice of using scientifically proven tools of influence in crafting marketing strategies and tactics. Research has revealed a number of effective ways to increase response rates, conversion and sales. As mobile continues to grow as a source of revenue, those who market effectively on this burgeoning channel will only increase in value to their clients and organizations.

Learning consumer psychology and how it applies to mobile (or adding a marketer schooled in this discipline to your team) will improve your chances of success now and in the future. If you’re interested in discussing this further, please email me here.





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