Article - Marketing

What is Digital Psychology?

Jack Bray - Content Marketing Manager at GDS Group By Jack Bray|18th May 2022

Digital psychology (also known as web psychology), is a fairly new term which combines digital marketing with the theory of behavioral economics and psychology to create content that is persuasive to our unconscious mind. As part of this, Digital psychologists look into online behaviors, to give an explanation as to why customers behave the way that they do. If we’re able to better understand those behaviors, we can better understand how to digitally position ourselves.

To understand digital psychology, it’s important to look at the role of a cyberpsychologist. But what is this? A cyberpsychologist focuses on the study of human-machine interaction and how we are impacted by technology on a daily basis, both of which impact our digital consumer behavior. This is the primary role of a cyber psychologist in digital psychology. Within their role, they might look into how technology can be used to equip people with the tools for learning, or how social sites have affected what we perceive as a relationship in today’s world, but also technology as an addiction. Additionally, they work to improve human-technology interaction, and how we can use it to our advantage.

Rory Sutherland, VP Ogilvy & Mather gave a keynote presentation at one of GDS Group’s CMO Summits about why ‘psychological insight is just as valuable as technological advance’. Sutherland paints an intriguing picture of the topic and why it’s just as important to have the psychological insight as it is to move forward with digital transformation.

So looking at the theme of digital and web psychology as a whole, and the science of online persuasion, what hidden psychological influences do you think your company uses on clients? How do you get people to click on something? And what should you be doing?

This article will dive into more detail about digital psychology and what exactly you can do to digitally persuade your audience with effective marketing, but more importantly why you should be doing this and how you can become a web psychologist by understanding some of the key terms in digital psychology, starting with social psychology.

What is “Social Psychology” in Digital psychology?

Social psychology is a rapidly growing field within digital psychology. It considers how we think about human behavior in social situations. A social psychologist believes that a person’s behavior is determined by two things:

  1. The characteristics of the individual
  2. The social situationsurrounding them.

There is also the overarching opinion from psychologists that often a social situation will impact someone more so than their characteristic, in essence, social perception and social interaction are vital to understanding social behavior.

This leads us nicely into the idea of social proofing. In simple terms, Social proof is the reassurance that the actions of others can justify the reason for doing something. One of the best social proof examples is a customer review or testimonial. Other examples include earned media, where press have published positive reports. Also, word of mouth – recommendations by friends or colleagues who we trust.

Examples of how to include this are testimonials, which you can feature on your website in either written format or video interviews to reinforce the trust.

Example of testimonial in a written form

Example of testimonial in video format

But how does this work in digital marketing and digital psychology?

Various types of social proof used in digital marketing can certainly help when it comes to improving brand reputation and credibility. But why is it so important? First and foremost, it’s about gaining trust. Offering social proof can instantly make your brand more believable. It can also give you an edge over any other competition and it isn’t particularly hard to gather in the first place.

So how does your company go about showing this social proof? There are approaches but here are just some examples:

  1. Reviews
  2. Testimonials
  3. Affiliations
  4. Social following
  5. User submitted content

In order to utilize social psychology and social proofing effectively in your digital marketing, you need to ensure that you understand the concepts behind design psychology.

The thought process behind design psychology is that designers can leverage human psychology to build a more intuitive product experience. One example of this is ‘Hicks Law’, which predicts that the time it takes to make a decision, for example, clicking on something, increases with the number of and complexity of choices available. Naturally, this will impact how we make our design choices.

Another example is ‘Cognitive Load’ – which refers to the mental processing power being used by our working memory. So, when the amount of information coming our way exceeds the space we actually have available, cognitive load happens, and performance suffers and decisions are affected.

So, what can we take away from this?

  1. Too many choices lead to Cognitive Load, so sometimes, less is more.
  2. Break up long processes into fewer options, perhaps split over several screens.

In order to implement design psychology, you also need to be aware of the three main types of research design in psychology, which are:

  1. Descriptive – creates a snapshot of the situation
  2. Correlational – assesses the relationship between two or more variables
  3. Experimental – assesses the impact of one or more experimental manipulations on a dependent variable

All psychologists are in agreement that their research has to be backed by data, however with each type of design psychology it will have a different goal in mind.

So, what is user psychology?

To create an exceptional user experience, you must consider the behavioral psychology beforehand. This will help you to build a more powerful and engaging experience for the customer, whether they’re new or existing. There are several principles for this:

  1. Speak-easy effect– in order words, familiarity, whether that’s products, words or experiences
  2. Goal gradient effect– help users feel like they are making progress
  3. Choice paradox– giving users fewer options leaving no chance of being overwhelmed
  4. Endowment effect– letting the customer actually take ownership of the experience
  5. Zeigarnik effect– praise completed tasks, and make those uncompleted less daunting
  6. Peak-end rule– make sure they remember it! Final moments weigh more heavily in our brains, so ensure that final point is memorable

Example of Choice Paradox 

Above is an example of choice paradox. Users can clearly choose where they want to go on the page, with limited and clear choices to avoid being overwhelmed.

In addition to this, digital behavior, which is essentially what a consumer does online, the devices they use, the sites that they visit, what they click on and how they navigate from one place to another, helps us to analyze user psychology.

But how do you set about changing this digital behavior? Companies everywhere are trying to change the way that people behave online and their attitudes towards things. There is research being conducted to discover the impact of social psychology with digital interventions to see if you can change the behavior of a consumer. Examples of consumer behavior includes:

  1. Needs – customer decides that they ‘need’ something
  2. Search – discovering and researching products
  3. Purchasing decisions– how a customer decides to buy something
  4. Customer loyalty– why a customer would stick to a product and repeat purchases
  5. Technology adoption– why customers make the decision to try a new technology

When we look at consumer power, this refers to the capacity of that individual customer to buy a certain quantity of the product. If you had a ‘high consumer power’ this would mean that you have a high income and that your purchasing power is relative to the supply and price of the goods available.

To add to this, the consistency theory in digital psychology states that people are motivated by cognitive consistency, and will accordingly change their attitudes, beliefs and perceptions to achieve it. The cognitive consistency theory proposes that humans are motivated by inconsistencies and a desire to actually change them. However, problems arise when thoughts start to conflict with each other and that very tension creates a motivation to change and correct the inconsistency.

This brings us to consumer psychology and looking at how and why people end up buying products.

Consumer psychology is the study of people who buy products, and why they do so. In this school of thought, psychologists look to understand why and how we make the choices that we do and how people respond to the influence of marketing or any external factor that is persuading an action.

Have you ever wondered how much marketing messaging has influenced a decision making process? Do you wonder why people buy certain products and not others? Consumer psychology studies our thoughts, feelings and our beliefs and how perception influences what we consider worth buying.

How do you achieve this?

Emotion is key to building an impactful website that drives sales, engagement and captures your audience’s attention. When someone looks at a website, an emotional reaction occurs, which in itself is an interaction. People have to choose where they click or engage on that website, and that comes down to how they view it.

But how do you build an appealing website? Designers have to consider things like color, images, text, navigation and alignment to name just a few. There is also something known as ‘the rule of thirds’. It states that a photo frame is split into nine sections, and by positioning something in the intersection of these lines, it makes it more pleasing to look at.

Building an appealing website is crucial to creating an emotional website. It’s said that customers are far less likely to trust a brand if their company website isn’t aesthetically pleasing. To do this, you need to understand your users’ goals, have a clear call to action, use rich and engaging content and visuals in easy to read formats. It’s important to simplify your website as much as possible, and when it comes to content, less is definitely more. Minimize the options of your site visitors and get them to focus on the things you really just want them looking at.

You can also achieve this through a digital trigger. This is the opportunity for somebody to get in contact with you via a marketing trigger you send. This could happen on a website, during a purchase or perhaps when they abandon a purchase. This could be automated or personalized according to data collected.

Here are some common types of trigger-based messaging:

  • Adverts
  • Direct Mail
  • Emails
  • Onsite Content
  • Social Messaging and customer loyalty in digital psychology

Finally, it’s important that we cover digital rewards and customer loyalty in digital psychology. This can be both physical and digital. Digital incentives and rewards are often offered by companies, for example, digital rewards programs and digital rewards cards.

Loyalty schemes, especially in the digital space, opens up a whole new strategy. More often than not employers will also offer rewards to their employees, not just to their customers. Loyalty program members typically spend between 12-18% more per year than non-loyalty program members. This is a big uptake, which many companies can’t afford to miss out on.

In today’s world, people seek gratification in many forms, and loyalty is no exception. People want to be rewarded for this. People also like to feel that they are committed to a company or product. It’s a common tendency that people have to always ensure consistency between actions and promises, and commitment is the key driver of this.

Consistency is viewed as an attractive social trait – it indicates someone who is rational, trustworthy and stable, and so naturally, we all want to be seen to be consistent. This has many purposes when it comes to marketing strategies. For example by getting customers to register for a newsletter, you are then in a much better position to motivate them to keep engaged as they feel compelled to keep consistent to their initial behavior in the process.


This article should give you the building blocks to understand what your business can implement to improve digital psychology and the tools to become a cyber psychologist. We’ve touched upon social psychology and its considerations for how we think as humans, and how this affects our decision making process. We’ve also touched on how this works within digital marketing and the tools and tips you can use to help persuade in the buying process. It’s also important to look at user psychology and how you can make simple but effective changes to elements on your website that help encourage your audience to, for example, click on a button or make a purchase. And finally, the importance of digital rewards and customer loyalty.

GDS Group hosts experts to help experts. We strive to provide an atmosphere for our attendees that enables them to confidently lead their companies through major transformation projects. For information on upcoming events, view our Technology Summits and Executive Events. To remain current on our activities, visit GDS Group on LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter.


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