The Psychology behind “Trying It Out”

20.10.2017 |

Episode #3 of the course Psychological factors that influence purchase decisions by James Scherer


Free trials are a universally accepted strategy for software companies everywhere. Product sampling is a standard practice in grocery stores. Consider test drives, or walking around the shop in a new pair of shoes.

The list goes on.

This psychological factor is called sampling, and it’s hugely influential for three primary reasons:

First, all prospective customers have an internal, doubting monologue that runs through their minds while making a purchase decision. We all actively try to stop ourselves: “This product is too expensive.” “I don’t really need it.” “It’ll probably break down in a week, anyway.” And so on.

Sampling interrupts this internal monologue.

If you are trying the thing you’re doubting, your doubt gets interrupted. There’s no room for,“I probably won’t like the fit,” when you’re wearing the thing.

Second, we have a very strong sense of fairness (most of us). Sampling creates a feeling of obligation toward the person or brand who gave us the free thing.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Dan Ariely (the behavioral economist with all those Ted Talks). Dan puts it this way: “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct. If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

Third is something called “the endowment effect.” This is the value that people ascribe to an item after having interacted with that item vs. the value they ascribe before interacting.

Or, in the words of the guy who coined the term (Thaler): “the fact that people often demand much more to give up an object than they would be willing to pay to acquire it.”


Example of This Psychological Factor in Action

Let’s move away from the standard “free trials work” or “give your pizza pops out at the end of the grocery aisle” (though these are both viable examples of the “try it out” psychological factor).

Instead, let’s examine a study done in the ‘90s by psychologists from Princeton University:

“Researchers asked two groups of people how much they were willing to pay for a ceramic mug. The first group was only allowed to look at the mug, while the second group was allowed to hold it and inspect it close up. After the trial, the researchers concluded that the second group valued the mug almost twice as much as the first group. It was as if being allowed to touch and take ownership of the mug added sentimental value to the object and increased its overall quality.” (source)

The lesson here? We ascribe subjective value to our own property above and beyond its actual value.

Are you surprised by that, though? There’s a reason we don’t throw out that t-shirt we love even though it’s full of holes. The best marketers are able to tap into the power of that sentiment to make sales.

Actionable takeaways for this psychological factor:

• Whenever you create email-gated content (a whitepaper, industry report, webinar, e-book, etc.), take the first chapter or a 30-second segment and showcase it with “Take a sneak peek!” on your landing page.

• Give your leads complete access to your tools, only requiring a credit card when they attempt to finalize or publish whatever your software offers.

• Place a sample tray on your counter, giving prospective customers a taste of a new product as they come in.

In tomorrow’s lesson, I’ll be getting into the nitty gritty of design: four high-impact rules, best practices, and design elements you can use to direct attention and focus your prospective customers on the most vital information to getting the sale.


Recommended book

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill


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