Priming Effect

The priming effect in psychology is the preparation of a stimulus-reaction scheme, whereby the input stimulus has certain associations and reactions. Priming is a type of preparation. The observed priming effect is due to the fact that people apparently record and process certain perceptual contents (words, pictures, or videos) differently if they were previously prepared in a specific way (by priming) for that content - it can be "primed".

A preparatory stimulus can, for example, activate memory content and neural patterns, which allow the cognitive classification of the stimulus to be carried out in a clearer context than in the case of stimuli which are not primed. The person changes their behavior and reacts differently because they unconsciously evaluate a priming stimulus differently and then change their behavior due to this stimulus.

General information

The so-called term priming effect was originated by American psychologist John A. Bargh. He showed that the behavior of two experimental groups can be altered by the triggering of certain associations. As a trigger, he used lists of words with two contrasting topics. A list of words related to the topic "age", such as bald, forgetful, stick or limp. The other group got a list of terms such as limber, spontaneous, sports or party, in other words, terms related to the topic, young.

He then measured the time both groups needed to leave the trial room. Obviously, the old age group needed much longer, which led Bargh to conclude that the triggers, such as the words bald, stick or limp, caused the test subjects to move slower and in the case of the other group, contrasting behavior was observable, they moved faster.

The Bargh experiment, which has become known as a Florida experiment, has been vehemently discussed. Not only because the conclusions imply that human behavior can be specifically influenced, but also because it was not reproducible. Nevertheless, Bargh’s experiment is still a standard part of psychology.

Moreover, it is used in various areas in online marketing to make advertising more effective. If behavior can be influenced by triggers, experts pose the question as to what the properties of triggers should be in order to create certain associations among customers and prospects. For example, this can be observed in content marketing, Banner Ads or Social Media Marketing. Images and terms from blog posts, listicles, and interesting videos are supposed to encourage users to click because of triggered associations.

How Priming works

In its simple form priming consists of two stimuli and is based on the framing effect, which refers to different behavioral patterns. Priming processes usually take place unconsciously. The time factor is particularly important. The faster test persons can process a stimulus, the stronger the association.

  • The priming effect, also cue, prepares the recipient of the message. The framework plays an important role here: the nature of the association is dependent on the extent to which the primary effect can activate or trigger memory content, desires, and needs.
  • The target is the reaction to be caused by the primitive effect. Objective and priming effects should be related to each other so that an association can occur and is likely.
  • The framing effect: Messages with different contents result in different behavioral patterns because they activate different neural patterns.

Examples of priming

Priming is found in many marketing concepts both offline and online. A TV spot, for example, is supposed to trigger an unconscious desire for a new product. At the same time, this product is advertised as a set with free incentives in the retail sector. Both stages of priming are aimed at producing an unconscious response in consumers. Simple priming ensures a positive association, twofold priming brings about the belief by the consumer that he is given something free of charge to the actual product.

Priming is more obvious in on-line media. A heading with suspenseful terms, active verbs, and appealing promises will encourage users who are interested in the topic to click. The same applies to image and video material, which makes one want more. Priming can also be used in product descriptions. For example, by asking questions about the topic and providing a framework in which the product is advertised can lead to an acceptable user response.

Importance for online marketing

Priming makes use of psychological user tendencies by paving the way for an advertising message. User expectations are manipulated to respond positively to these messages. What has long been common in market research and is claimed by neuromarketing or Natural Language Processing has a new, scalable dimension in the online area.

A commercial website can be designed in such a way that the content of the website act as a trigger which ultimately result in positive user reactions. These responses are measurable by factors such as click and conversion rate, length of stay, or click path.

However, since the Social Web is not just made up of consumers, but also prosumers, priming effects can also be used to prepare the path of the product to users through cooperation and opinion leadership from other users. Reviews, recommendations, and ratings can serve as triggers or priming effects (see also Social Proof) and, for example, can be used actively for referral marketing through influencers. This also applies to Image and Branding Campaigns. The combination of marketing concepts and priming effects from psychology is a modern way of anticipating the needs and wants of users more quickly and effectively through Crossmedia.

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