Need to add some new tools to your customer acquisition toolkit?

Here are four strategies, all based on research, from Gregory Ciotti. He's a customer champion at HelpScout, a company that provides email support software for SaaS and e-commerce, and he also runs a very cool blog.

Here's Gregory:

When it comes to converting consumers, the secret to more sales is as simple as understanding just what your buyer wants (and expects) from your business.

While we're all different, in many ways our brains are prone to react in a similar manner … and understanding these subtleties in the human mind can help your business find creative ways to ethically move more buyers toward a "Yes!" to your products or services.

Here are four great approaches:

1. Break Through Action Paralysis

We all know that small things make a big difference when it comes to copy-writing. Interesting research by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, examined the donation process of the American Cancer Society and how a tiny change in wording delivered drastically different results.

The research also reveals why it's important to analyze the reasons people say "no," rather than always looking at why they say "yes."

Below are two phrases used to wrap up a door-to-door donation request. Researchers tested the effect of the slight variation in wording.

  1. "Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?"
  2. "Would you be willing to help by giving a donation? Every penny will help."

Subtle difference, right?

The wording may be subtle, but the resulting effect was drastic.

  • 28% of people asked the first variation made a donation.
  • 50% of people asked the second variation made a donation.

The researchers' conclusion: People are more likely to take action when minimal parameters are set.

People may ask themselves if they have enough to donate and whether it will make a difference. By clarifying that "even a penny" could make a difference, the second line makes the request more achievable for those considering a donation.

Donors were twice as likely to give in response to the second question, but the amount they donated did not diminish. Knowing that "even a penny" was enough still catalyzed them to give as much as respondents to the first question.

Bottom Line: Implying that a small action is a good start will make people more amenable to making a move. When making a request for people to take action, clearly identify a minimum in order to help people break through "action paralysis."

2. Embrace the Power of Labels

You might think this refers to brand labels, but far from it--think in terms of labeling your customers.

Sounds like bad advice, right? Wrong. Research shows people like being labeled and are more inclined to participate in their "group's" message if they feel included.

A study examined the voting patterns of 133 adults to see if labeling them had any affect on their turnout at the polls. Here's what happened:

  1. After being casually questioned about their regular voting patterns, half the participants were told that they were much more likely to vote since they had been deemed by the researchers to be more politically active. (This wasn't actually true; these people were selected at random.)
  2. The other half of the participants weren't told anything; they were just asked to describe their voting patterns.
  3. Despite the random selection, the group that was told they were "politically active" had a 15% higher turnout than the other group!

Our brain seeks to maintain a sense of consistency (even if it's artificial), and that's why the foot-in-the-door technique works so well.

We enjoy being consistent so much that even being told we are a part of a group makes us more receptive to that group's message as long as we approve of that message (like being a responsible voter).

That's why a "gold" or "platinum" status works well in customer loyalty programs. People who are labeled as "superior" consumers tend to spend more, and those in the "regular" class aren't affected.

Bottom Line: Don't be afraid to label your customers. People like being part of groups that imply superior quality or level of status. Even when given an artificial reason, people tend to take action in order to feel they belong to an "elite" group of people.

3. Highlight Strengths by Admitting Shortcomings

Is it ever a good idea to admit to your faults? After all, people don't want the "real" you, right?

Research from social psychologist Fiona Lee states that admitting shortcomings is a great way to simultaneously highlight your strengths.

Lee's study measured the effects of admitting missteps and faults, and how those actions would affect stock prices. Experimenters read one of two fictitious company reports. (Both reports listed reasons the company had performed poorly in the last year.)

  • The first report placed emphasis on strategic decisions. In short, "We Can Do Better."
  • The second placed emphasis on external events (like the economy, the competition, etc.) In short, "It's Not Our Fault."

Test subjects viewed the first company far more favorably than the second. Admitting to shortcomings in areas like strategic thinking made respondents feel the company was still in control, despite its faults.

After examining hundreds of these types of statements, Lee found that the companies who admitted to their strategic faults also had higher stock prices the following year.

When blaming external forces (even if they happened to be true), companies gave skeptics a reason to view them as not having the ability to fix the problem, in addition to the consideration that they might just be making excuses.

Bottom Line: Admitting to honest errors in judgment helps your customers understand you are still in control of the situation, are focused on overcoming problems and challenges … and are not prone to simply making excuses.

4. Make an Enemy

Meaningful connections are paramount to success. After all, whom you know is often as important as what you know.

But that being said, you still need an enemy.

Why? When could that ever be a good thing? Turns out, it's a great thing if you're trying to achieve a cult-like addiction to your brand.

In the controversial study Social Categorization and Intergroup Behaviour, social psychologist Henri Tajifel began his research trying to define just how human beings were able to commit acts of mass hatred and discrimination.

In the tests, subjects were asked to choose between two objects or people they had no relation or connection with; one example asked participants to pick between two painters with meaningless differences.

The subjects were then divided into groups based on their choices.

  • Tajifel found he could create groups of people that would show loyalty to their "group" and discriminate against outsiders … all with the most trivial of distinctions!
  • And when it came time to dole out real rewards, subjects had a huge bias toward those peers in their group and discriminated against handing out rewards to the so-called "others."

Sounds an awful lot like big companies going toe-to-toe, doesn't it? Like the Mac vs. PC commercials or Miller Lite taking potshots at "unmanly" light beers.

You don't need a physical enemy; you simply need to take a stand against a belief or idea in a way that resonates with your customers. The focus shouldn't just be on skewering your competitors to create an enemy but on associating yourself with certain ideals while distancing yourself from others.

Creating a unique selling proposition is as much about defining who your ideal customers are not as it is about defining who they are.

Bottom Line: You'll never find your brand's true voice without identifying the outsiders. In order to bring ideal customers into your camp, take a stand against an ideal, belief, or perception, the way Apple stood against "boring" PC users and their "uncool" computers.