Most of us believe that we make logical decisions from the choices we are faced with in life, especially business decisions. However, logic is not the factor that drives the majority of our decision making. Many decisions which you believe you have arrived at by logical means have actually been decided by a range of emotional and social factors. Understanding the consumer psychology behind online buying decisions can help you sell online, attract new customers and retain the old ones.

Post-hoc rationalisation

Post-hoc rationalisation is the mental arguments made by people in order to justify decisions which they have made emotionally without considering the logical evidence. Post-hoc rationalisation can be more easily explained with the experiment of the attractive and unattractive chicken.

The Attractive & Unattractive Chicken

Picture of a chicken

Marketing professors Raghunathan and Huang conducted an experiment where two groups of people were shown one picture of a plump attractive chicken and one picture of a skinny chicken and told that the attractive chicken was natural and the thin chicken was genetically engineered.

Half of the participants were told that natural chickens were healthy but less tasty and the genetically engineered chickens were tasty but less healthy and the other half of the participants were told the opposite.

The results found that almost all of the participants expressed a preference for the plump natural chicken but their justification changed depending on what they had been told. Some said they preferred the plump chicken because they valued health over taste and others said they valued taste over health.

Pic of a plump hen

People felt the need to justify their choice not based on how the chicken looked (which was obviously a big factor), but with ‘logical’ information based reasons. This shows that not only do people make emotional decisions they will then seek apparently logical information to back up these emotional decisions and make themselves feel like it is based on logic.

Persuading Your Customers

With that being said how can you persuade your online audience that your company is the right choice?

Aristotle describes persuasion in three parts- Ethos, Pathos & Logos. Despite living in 384 – 322 B.C these 3 elements working together still produce a strong persuasive argument today.


Ethos refers to the credibility of the persuader and their ethical appeal. In business terms this would translate into the brand. Is your brand something that your customers feel comfortable and empathise with? To best utilise ethos, convey to your audience that you are someone worth listening to, a thought leader who is likeable and worthy of respect.

Convey your brand online with the design of your website, the colours and imagery used and the tone of voice. Remember that a brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in a consumer’s mind, every point of contact with your customer is a chance to shape this mental representation.


Pic of Aristotle

Pathos is the emotional appeal of a persuasive argument. As we have learnt from the attractive and unattractive chicken, emotions play a huge role in decision making and people do not like to think they do so.

You might wonder how you can make people feel emotion when they visit your website but it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Language choice and tone of voice are of vital importance when building an emotionally persuasive argument. Utilise storytelling by sharing your company’s history, the company philosophy and team updates.

Lived experiences will effect emotions more so than mediated experiences so ensuring that your product or service actually delivers what it describes is paramount. Customer services should be friendly and helpful and any product delivery should be efficient and painless.

A very easy way to solicit a negative emotional reaction from people is to make them feel stupid or cheated. For example, if someone clicks a search result or PPC ad they want to land on a page directly related to their search query and landing on an unrelated page will unpleasantly surprise them, making them feel cheated. Similarly, page headings should reflect the content of the page accurately and content which is presented as educational or useful should not be used to sell hard to customers. Additionally, websites that are hard to navigate make people feel stupid and forms that are long make people feel frustrated. Essentially give people what they want and what they are expecting!


Logos is the logical element to persuasion. Providing logical reasons why a consumer should buy your product or service is probably the easiest part of your persuasive argument online. Your website’s copy is the best way to convey information like your company’s USPs, past results and success stories and benefits of your products or services.

Conformity Bias

Conformity bias refers to the tendency of people to take cues from what others are doing around them rather than using their own judgement. Almost anyone who has studied the subject agrees that people strongly conform to social behavioural norms.

This ‘when in Rome’ attitude will drive people to make decisions as others have done before them. For your website this means showing social proof. Testimonials from real people that show success stories of people like your customers and case studies that show tangible benefits and results will help persuade potential customers. Placing testimonials and case studies at key points in the customer journey will play on conformity bias and help persuade your audience.

Thanks for Reading

If you’ve found this article helpful check out more of my thoughts on consumer psychology and email marketing. Stay up-to-date with the ever changing world of digital marketing and get great blogs delivered straight to your inbox with our monthly guest list email.

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