First impressions matter, especially in marketing and sales. If you want to catch the attention of consumers — and keep it — then you need to be aware of both the recency effect and primacy effect.
Recency and Primacy Effects
Not everyone has a photographic memory, and it’s important to take note of this when presenting consumers with information.
And it turns out that there is an easy way to take advantage of address that in the way you present the information.
When it comes to picking something from a list, people are biased to choose items that appear early on if they’re reading that list. This is known as the primacy effect.
But, if people are listening to the list of words, they'll have better recall of items that appear later on, which is called the recency effect.
How It Works
Short term memory and long term memory are responsible for the recency and primacy effects, respectively. When asked to memorize a list of items, we tend to remember the beginning and the end of the list best, while the items in the middle are hazy.
This is the serial position effect, which is what the recency effect and primacy effect are part of.
Items at the beginning of the list enter our long term memory easier than items at the bottom of the list because it takes more processing power to recall additional items the further down the list you go.
Cute image by The Decision Lab
Our short term memory, or primary memory, can recall around 7 items, and this is where the items at the bottom of the list get stored. It’s also key to note that the recency effect occurs more in individuals who are tired or distracted
Do with that information what you will.
Being aware of these two cognitive biases is crucial when you’re arranging information on your website. As an ecommerce business, consumers are typically reading your information on your website, on social media, and in your email communications.
PRO TIP: Put what matters most high up, especially if you’re listing any products or services or reviews. This item will enter their long term memory, rather than their short term memory, and could influence them to purchase later.
How To Use Primacy And Recency Effect In Sales And Marketing
Marketers can use primacy and recency effects to keep customers loyal to their brand and to encourage them to make repeat purchases. It’s important, though, to differentiate what makes the recency effect occur and what makes the primacy effect occur.
Consumers have a cognitive bias to prefer the first option they’re presented with, right?
Businesses can use this to their advantage by purposefully ordering their products on category pages as well as the product features in the description. This increases the likelihood that customers will remember and purchase those specific items.
On the other hand, recency bias will cause people to recall the last piece of information if it’s presented in an audio format like an advertisement on television. If you’re running ads or making use of audio on your website or social media, then the last piece of information you present is what consumers will remember more as this format will produce recency effects.
Here are 8 ways your brand can tap into the primacy and recency effects in their marketing strategies.
1. Ordering product description features list
When outlining your product features, you should put the most attractive features near the top. Not only does this make logical sense — ordering things by importance — but you can play around with the order depending on the type of customer you’re targeting.
Customers that are drawn to sales and deals may view features in a different order of importance than those that are drawn to exclusive, high-quality products.
Friendbuy customer Neom Organics takes advantage of this by putting their discount code front and center on the homepage:
Most people are interested in a discount and since visitors are likely already interested in the brand too, this could bring the extra boost in conversions that Neom is looking for.
You can also change the order that features appear in to appeal to these different segments.
For example, this listing on Neom for their best-selling product lists the product features in order of attractiveness.
The product’s most important details are showcased first: highlighting the convenient size, the convenient instructions, and the convenient charging requirements. Next are other cool details that customers would be interested in only after learning that the product ticks all the initial boxes listed above.
Consumers are more likely to remember and take note of the first few items on this list, which is why the ones that are important to the customer are at the top.
2. Using product order to increase sales
When you’re listing out all your products or promotional offers, consider the primacy effect.
If you’re trying to get consumers to buy a specific service or product, that’s the one you should be featuring at the top of your homepage. Not only will this be the first thing customers see when visiting your site, it’ll also stay in their mind when they’re purchasing your other products and they’ll be more likely to consider buying it.
Casper has two promotional offers that they put at the top of their website.
These are the first offers you see when visiting the homepage, and the offers that customers are most likely to remember.
If you don’t want a complete bed set, then a 50% discount would be nice. That’s a choice that will leave customers pondering over.
They also take advantage of the primacy effect at checkout. When a customer is done adding things to their cart, Casper suggests other products go well with it. The order of these suggestions is intentional, and you can do A/B testing on the order to see which placements result in more sales.
3. Making your first impression with customers positive
The primacy effect isn’t limited to lists of items. The first encounter someone has with your business, services, or products is the foundation for how they'll view you going forward.
Consider offering new customers a special offer so that your first interaction is positive. Be mindful of how you begin new relationships, because it’s much easier to make a good first impression than try to improve a customer’s negative perception of you down the road.
This phenomenon is called the anchoring effect, meaning people will rely too much on the first piece of information presented about something, and ignore any additional information they receive after.
With this in mind, pay attention to the language of your emails. Make sure new customers feel welcomed and appreciated when you send them a confirmation email.
This referral email from Dollar Shave Club is a great example:
They start with a “Congratulations!” and then a pretty sweet deal. And if the referred friend accepts the invitation for $1, then Dollar Shave Club has them on their email lists and subscribed to their products. 🤑
Post-purchase emails are also a great chance to offer additional discounts or promo codes to entice customers to come back and make another purchase.
We encourage our customers to promote their referral programs after a customer’s first purchase, just like UNTUCKit does here:
This way, not only are they impressed with the product and service they just received, but also by the quick opportunity to get a 30 percent discount.
4. Choosing ad positions to increase clicks
Research from 2006 found that links at the top and bottom of website menus received the most clicks from visitors. Marketers should be placing the page links they want users to visit more at the very top and very bottom of their site’s menu.
This stayed true when link wording was controlled. People either tend to select the first link — simply because it’s the first option — or the last one after reading through the menu of options. The links located in the middle of the menu will receive the lowest traffic, so it’s important to arrange your links accordingly.
Pay attention to the order of links on Tonal’s menu.
The “Equipment” and “Workouts” are the first two links after “Home,” and they lead to pages that directly advertise their products/services and lead to sales pages. The last two links are for “Contact” and “Gear Shop.”
These 4 options will generate the most clicks due to the serial position effect, and will also lead to more sales and a better customer experience.
5. Advertising your referral program at the top of your site
Some people will visit your site and make a quick judgment without even scrolling or checking out different pages. You have one chance to showcase the most important aspects of your brand.
And if you have one, then that definitely includes a referral program.
One of our core principles of referral program best practices is to be loud and proud about your referral program. It’s something that will appeal to both new customers and existing customers.
Since the recency effect and primacy effect will influence visitors to look at the first and last items of your menu, these are prime spots to link to your referral program.
Natural Dog Company lists their “Refer a Friend” program as the last option at the top of their homepage.
It’s visible and customers are most likely to notice the “Shop” and the “Refer a Friend” pages, which is great for sales and their referral program. When visitors click on the “Refer a Friend” page, they’re taken to a well-designed referral page.
The offer stands out and it’s clear what deal the customer and their Friend can get. Brands should consistently be testing to see which placement of their referral program generates the most clicks. The primacy and recency effects can — and should — influence these decisions.
6. Offering promotions to boost customer loyalty
It doesn’t hurt to try and turn brand new customers into loyal ones right away. By offering perks to new shoppers, you’re creating a positive image of your brand in their mind.
Olive and June offers a 20% off discount for customers who sign up for emails and texts. This deal pops up immediately when you visit their site.
This is a great way to get more engagement and make your first impression a good one. It’s also an offer that existing customers can take advantage of whenever they want.
If you want customers to stay loyal — and maybe even participate in a loyalty program — then you’ll need to offer incentives like Olive and June does. It’s a great way to capture the attention of new shoppers and improve your customer retention.
7. Advertising new products before they’re available
Brands choose to advertise their products before they’re even available because it ensures that the first thing the customer hears about this new product is something good. Pre-promotion generates all kinds of hype and it can’t be countered by any negative user reviews.
By heavily advertising unreleased products, consumers are likely to have a positive perception of the product before they even try it. Apple does this on a large scale — they get everyone talking about the upcoming iPhone and its features before its release.
Obviously, not every brand can advertise on such a large scale like Apple does, but they can take note of what the company does well. Send out emails to subscribers notifying them of a new product you’ll be releasing soon, and tell them how great it’ll be.
Friendbuy customer Vitamin A Swim does this with their new collections:
Vitamin A highlights the fact that this new collection is already popular, showcases a few designs, and describes how the eco-friendly material makes this a guilt-free purchase.
8. Asking your audience what they find most important
If you’re not sure what your customers value most, then ask them. Send out a survey that requires them to rank the order of importance of information. Use this data to consider rearranging parts of your site.
It’s also a great time to plug your referral program once the survey (any survey) is completed. Friendbuy integrates with Delighted, making it easier for our customers to do just that.
Another way to see what’s working is to ask customers to perform a quick free recall test. What do they remember from your landing page? Is it what you wanted them to remember? If customers are gravitating to information you didn’t need them to focus on — and forgetting valuable information — it’s time for a website update.
You’ll need to keep the primacy effect in mind when constructing your survey. Customers who are trying to get through a survey quickly will often choose the first answer due to the primacy effect. Make sure you’re randomizing your survey and sending out options that have the answers in different orders to avoid this bias.
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