Neuromarketing is a growing area of marketing. Copywriters have been using consumer psychology for 60 years, the rest of digital marketing is finally starting to catch up.

We are going to explore the subject of heuristics and the role it can play in our marketing strategy and execution. If you’re new to the subject of heuristics, it could be mindset changing. 

What are Cognitive Heuristics?

The brain has cognitive biases. It will perceive a situation or data differently to what can objectively be considered rational or objective. In other words, we have set ways we look at the world, and it’s something we can take advantage of as marketers if we understand what they are. The brain takes “shortcuts” to follow set patterns. These are heuristics.

So everyone acts the same? 

Of course not. But you’ll be amazed at just how many people are prone to react similarly to specific situations, so much so that a large section of our potential audience will sit up and respond to these heuristics.

Next, I’ll walk you through the three heuristics and how-to guide or influence consumer buyer behavior. 

Scarcity Heuristic – For A Limited Time Only

This is probably a no-brainer to most people. 

If someone wants to buy your product or service, but they decide to put off the decision until later, you can be guaranteed you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential sales.

Life gets in the way. The potential customer is busy, they put buying from you on the back burner. Some forget about buying altogether, others will remember but forget they had already decided they want to buy from you. A third group will have rethought what they were looking for and now, you’re not the most suitable option for their needs.

All things considered, if a potential customer leaves your site (for example), you have to assume you’re going to lose them or pay for expensive retargeting.

So we use scarcity. Probably the most recognizable heuristics used today. 

Just the fact that the offer is limited makes the heuristic or mental shortcut. It immediately places a high value on the product. The limitation could be a price for a limited time, or it could be a limited number of products available. 

Testing has shown that even if the consumer feels that the scarcity is fabricated – a marketing ploy – they still feel an urge to buy so they don’t miss out. That’s why it’s heuristics, logic is replaced with an urge to avoid missing out on something perceived to be of high value.

Having said that, it’s important to try to offer genuine scarcity such as a limited time offer, because it could devalue your brand or the lifetime value of your client if they later see the scarcity that caused them to buy was a lie. They will feel tricked or foolish. 

Representativeness Heuristic – If It Looks Like A Duck

We miscategorize or misunderstand a situation because it feels or looks similar to a pre-existing idea we have in our mind. The representative heuristic is the process of the brain making a shortcut and associating the thoughts and feelings it has about one thing with the thing you want to sell them due to their perceived similarity.

We crave familiarity and so if we give the brain that sense of familiarity it could lead to sales by that association. 

“The new hybrid engine, developed by Audi delivers more power per cubic capacity than any other engine in its class.”

If you read that, you would assume that we are talking about one of the latest and best Audi cars. A sporty model probably. 

Actually, it’s the 1.4 liter engine found in a Skoda. A saloon or estate family car built for reliability and value for money.

The engine is, in fact, awesome, but awesome because it is fuel-efficient. It’s considerably smaller than most in the class which have 1.9 liter or larger engines. But it delivers the same levels of performance.

This can impact sales in two ways.

A positive association can drive sales. In the example above, we are making this Skoda car (a great car in its own right) sound like a high-end, high-performance Audi.

On the flip side, if we have a negative association by allowing potential customers to make the wrong shortcut it can drive away sales. Using the example above, it’s awesome, but if all you need is an affordable family car, you wouldn’t be interested in the above description. 


Availability Heuristic – I Can Almost Taste It

The more vividly you can get the potential buyer to imagine a scenario with themselves as the main character, the more sales you’ll get.

Ever had the feeling of being in the ocean and it felt like something touched your foot?

Be honest, for the briefest of seconds you are paralyzed with fear. 

Truthfully, the chances of it meeting anything dangerous a few feet out from the shore are almost non-existent. Most animals are more afraid of you than the other way around, but we’ve all seen Jaws

What if it’s a shark and it is about to attack me?

That’s because Jaws was so good at making us feel like we were there in the water. So, the brain makes it’s a shortcut. We bypass rational thought and go straight to the worst case scenario.

Lets’ put this analogy into a marketing context. Case studies, when properly written, are great sales tools.

Most companies write case studies that are almost nothing more than a set of facts. The client wanted X, we did X and Y, and they were happy because they got Z. 

All positive but we are missing an opportunity. 

We could use a case study to help build an emotional picture for the audience. Help them imagine they are the client in the case study. 

For that, you need an element of feeling and emotion.

It’s a story probably more than it is a statement of facts. Helping the audience put themselves in the situation of the client, sending them on a journey that results in a positive experience. Do that and you’re one big step closer to making a sale.


Even the greenest of marketers will be familiar with these concepts even if they have never been able to articulate them. They are not new concepts but still, they are significantly under-employed. Prompting your prospects’ to take these mental shortcuts can be an effective blueprint for increasing sales.