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DCE Magazine

Digital Marketing: Hack Marketing & Communication with Human Behavioral Science

Fall 2017

Human behavioral science and digital technology join to influence consumers in new ways.

Traditional marketing media may be teetering on irrelevance, but the long-established principles remain as vital as ever. It's just a matter of adapting and streamlining traditional theory to master marketing and analytics in the digital age.

That's the idea behind the Digital Marketing certificate program, a logical extension of the DCE's Marketing and Communications program. “Old school principles are just as valid as when print and broadcast TV were dominant forces, but it's essential to master 21st century digital media to reach today's consumers,” said DCE instructor Marc Villarreal.

“Traditional tactics and theory definitely still apply, but the tools we use to market to individuals are constantly changing,” he said. “It used to be mass-media, but now it's singular-media — or customer-centric one-person at a time. And they can engage any time, at the place of their choosing, use an app or visit a company's website 24/7. We all carry smartphones with us, which are, after all, pocket computers.” Digital marketing is far more immediate and lets marketers more precisely target potential consumers and track the effectiveness of their message. In turn, consumers can provide input, which helps marketers shape their campaigns and determine what works best.

“In traditional media, a company says ‘Look how great we are,’” Villarreal said. “Over the Internet, consumers say ‘Not so fast.’”

The basis of marketing remains what Villarreal says is simple persuasion on a subconscious level. “A key concept I learned 35 years ago: Share of mind equals share of market,” he said. “A key complementary concept I proselytize is that marketing is actually mind manipulation. Studies show that 95% of purchasing decisions are based on subconscious factors.”

It's just a matter of adapting to a new world of digital media, analytics and technology — all of which have come of age.

Nancy Harhut, a Boston-based marketing consultant and speaker at industry-favorite conferences like Marketo's Marketing Nation Summit, believes that basic marketing theory can be boiled down to her Seven Human Behavioral Tactics to Hack Marketing, many of which are integrated into DCE curricula. They include proven methods to influence potential targets, such as Choice Architecture and Pricing Perceptions.

“Quite simply, the way choices are presented to people can influence how they decide between them,” she said. “The way a marketer orders options, sets defaults and describes choices can influence how a customer or prospect perceives them and responds to them.”

For example, Harhut worked on a campaign for an insurance company that was trying to get employees at various companies to attend a meeting about optional insurance they could purchase. “But instead of asking them to sign up to meet with an insurance rep, we scheduled the meeting for the employees,” she said. “In the past, the default was to not attend.”

With this new approach, the default was to attend — it required effort to get out of the meeting — and it resulted in a double-digit lift in sales.

“How people perceive prices is also very interesting,” Harhut said. “A large body of research has found that the context in which a price appears influences perception of how high or low it is.”

Price anchoring is a proven principle in which exposure to an initial price colors how we view subsequent prices we encounter. For instance, if an ad shows a sale price for an item, it's best to keep it to the right, with the original price on the left. And ending any sale price with .9 is considered a “charm price.”

Commitment and Consistency are other key components of Harhut's Marketing Hacks. “For marketers, this means if we can get our first ‘yes’ from someone, they're more likely to say ‘yes’ a second and third time,” she said. “This is why free samples, starter kits, and introductory offers work well.”

Scarcity can be a very persuasive marketing tactic, as well; people are more likely to buy a product that's available for a limited time or offered only to an exclusive group of people. Also, the use of faces and eyes in marketing visuals, has proven benefits. People are simply hard wired to be attracted to other people's faces, especially their eyes.

“Nancy Harhut's marketing hacks are a wonderful starting point in the discussion of consumer behavior and how incentives are used to modify it,” Villarreal said. “Most of her points are cleverly infiltrated within basic marketing pedagogy.”

For those who want to take their careers to the next level, the DCE's Digital Marketing certificate program provides a solid, comprehensive examination of strategies including mobile marketing, social media, online analytics and search engine optimization. Expert instructors blend new and traditional tactics aimed at finding new customers, improving profitability and more.

For career changers and others looking to break into marketing, Villarreal suggests also taking the DCE's Marketing and Communications certificate program, which provides deep background in basic marketing principles, along with strategic planning and brand development.

“All of our marketing courses have incorporated digital into the curriculum,” Villarreal said. “But we thought it was time to offer a dedicated Digital Marketing program. There are so many facets to emerging digital that go way beyond just posting on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. The current science behind it is fascinating.”

With about 6,000 new phone activations a day, mobile marketing is one of the hottest emerging digital trends, he said. Ambient Computing integrating the Internet of Things (IoT) are poised to make a huge splash on digital marketing, as well. Harhut points to Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality as tools that will someday transform marketing into a more immersive, emotional experience.

But no matter how advanced digital platforms and media become, traditional principles will remain as valid as ever.

“I believe that's true,” she said. “At the end of the day, channel/ medium is just one consideration. Where your message appears won't save you if it's not properly constructed. Today's marketers need to understand their audiences, the best way to frame their messages and value propositions, and how to price their products and services.”

For free resources on marketing strategy and information on how to advance your career with continuing education visit