October 18, 2012

The 3 Words Your Customers Love Most

The 3 Words Your Customers Love Most

"I love you!"

...Well, not quite THOSE words.

As it turns out, there are 3 words that your customers do LOVE to hear, but they are 3 distinct words which have nothing to do with your significant other.

Interesting behavioral research has revealed these "magic" words to be not so surprising choices, but perhaps unusual in their own sense for how effective they are.

Today you're going to get to look at the research and experiments that reveal what these words are and how to implement them into your marketing plan without sounding like a used-car salesman.

1. “Free!”

Beginning our list of not-so-shocking winners, it's not big news that "free" is a word that customers love; it's been used for decades as the #1 attention-getting word for every industry out there.

Today, free almost seems like an expectation, so how persuasive can it really be?

Despite it's overuse, "free" is indeed a very special concept, and according to research by Dan Ariely, our preference for it appears to be almost hardwired into our brains.

In an experiment described in his book Predictably Irrational, Ariely tells the tale of a battle between a Hershey's Kiss and a Lindt chocolate truffle. If you are unfamiliar with Lindt truffle's, they are a magnitude more expensive than a simple Hershey's Kiss, and generally considered to be much richer in taste.

In his tests, Ariely sought to reveal what differing levels of price would do to subjects choices between either the Kiss or the truffle.

In the first test, truffles could be bought for 15 cents (about half their usual cost), or subjects could choose a Kiss for 1 cent. Nearly 3/4th of the subjects chose the truffle, since they were getting a great deal and a superior product.

In the next test, the cost of each item was reduced by a single cent: 14 cents for the truffle, and 0 (free) for the Kiss. Although the difference in price remained exactly the same (14 cents), the behavior of the subjects changed completely.

Subjects now chose the Kiss more than 2/3rd's of the time over the truffles.

Ariely's conclusions point to loss aversion and our susceptibility for "low-hanging fruit" as the culprits. That is ...

We seek to avoid losses more-so than attaining gains, even when the loss is actually a great deal (the truffles being half-priced). We also have a tendency to seek out things that can be gained with minimal effort or expenditure.
In an additional showcase of the power of the word "free", Ariely covers an intriguing example from an international promotion that was made over at Amazon.com.

During a time when Amazon launched a free shipping promotion for every customer who purchased a 2nd book, every single country except France had shown a huge jump in sales.

What was it with the French? Did they not like books? Was the marketing strategy coming up short? Were the French consumers not all that impressed with the deal?

None of the above: as it turns out, in France the promotion had a slight alteration. Instead of the shipping being "FREE!" with a second book, it was only reduced down to a single franc (about 20 cents).

When it comes to buying ~$15 books, the change was negligible in relation to the final cost.

When it came to performance though, it mattered big time: with the 1 franc charge attached to the French promotion, Amazon saw no (that's ZERO) increase in sales.

When things were fixed, the sales jumped to the results achieved in every other country, a notable display of the power of the word "free".

When utilizing "free" in your own business, the only things you want to avoid are false promises and turning your customers into "bargain hunters" rather than value seekers.

Don't hurt the longstanding prices and perceived value of your own products by attaching "free" to everything in sight, but do be aware of instances like the one Amazon ran into:

Charges you deem to be insignificant can often hold back sales since they take away the opportunity to promote something that is "free" for customers.

We've seen the power that free mints can have on customer's willingness to tip, and you can be sure that the fact that they were free was an essential aspect of their usefulness: few people would have been willing to pay for them, and the personalized power they hold would have been a moot point.

2. “Instantly!”

Again, not so surprising, but if there's one thing our brains love, it's solving our pain-points "instantly".

The ability to delay gratification is a trait that many researchers have said is paramount to being a successful, healthy individual. If you are familiar with the famous "marshmallow experiment", you'll recall that researchers found those kids who were able to defer their gratification increased their likelihood of becoming successful adults.

What the heck does this have to do with your business?

The reason that deferred gratification is such a hot topic is because our brains are known to love chasing instant rewards: several MRI studies have shown that it's the frontal cortex that fires up when we think about "waiting" for something.

When we think about an instant reward, however, activity occurs in our mid-brain, and that's what gets us primed to buy.

Words like "instant", "immediately", or even "fast" are known to flip the switch on that mid-brain activity.

The temptation to fix our problems instantly even works on conservative spenders, so you can be sure that your customers are much more likely to give your product a chance if they know they won't have to "defer" their gratification to a later date.

Even if you aren't able to ship things immediately (not everyone sells digital goods), reminding your customers that their purchase will arrive "quickly" can be the small-push needed to make the sale.

3. “New!”

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

While many of these words recall those cheesy local commercials promoting their bottom dollar prices in big red font, I want to remind you that implementation is totally dependent on your target customer: it's the words that hold the power, not the yellow highlighter on that corny advertisement.

That being said, yet another perennial entry of attention grabbing words again makes this list of words our customers love to hear. "New!" has worked for a long time in sales and will continue to do so forever... but why?

Thanks to those clever neuroscientists, we now know that the word "new" holds it's power due to it's appeal to novelty: things that are new activate our brain's reward center, whereas novelty tends to die off quickly in material purchases (much faster than "experiential" purchases).

What's a small-business owner to do?

First thing to remember is this: while novelty plays a huge role in breaking out of the static of selling the same old product, there is a TON of value in maintaining a familiar brand with customers.

In fact, MRI studies have shown that our brains respond better to brand names than to novel brands. Remember the disaster that was New Coke? Novelty doesn't always have it's place.

This is perhaps why it is the most difficult word to utilize. Successfully implementing it in your marketing efforts relies on you NOT changing those defining characteristics of your business that are notable for their consistent nature: your overall unique selling proposition, your exceptional customer service, the quality of your products, etc.

When it comes to the many core aspects that give your business the good reputation it has, you can fall back to the old adage of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it it."

The best way to incorporate novelty is to avoid becoming stagnant in the eyes of your customers: new products, new improvements, new features, new branding (with the same core values), new fixes to old problems, and new ways of getting your message out there (Red Bull's recent skydive event, as an extreme example!).

Keep your customers on their toes, but don't be quick to change fundamental aspects like service if your customers are already singing high praises.

Your Turn

What did you think of this research? Did any of the words or (perhaps more likely) any of the examples surprise you?

Let me know in the comments, and be sure to join to our newsletter for even more customer research, and get a brand-new, FREE e-book for signing up, instantly! ;)


Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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Vlada Briks Oct 23

How about "you"? The psychology department at Yale University did a study some years ago. In that study they managed to identify the 10 most powerful words in the English language and "you" was the top one. Communicating how a strategic advice or service/product can make a difference for YOU is a great way to make one's copy writing more effective.

Jason Spencer Oct 24

Wow. All three of these words are a surprise to me. So far as all research I've ever read, FREE is not any sort of hypnotic word. As a previous comment noted, YOU is one.

There's also the words IMAGINE and BECAUSE. Those would be my top three words.

In fact: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/3-hypnotic-power-words/

Evan Mills Oct 24

"You Deserve A Break Today"?
"What Would You Do For A Klondike Bar?"
"You Could Learn A Lot From A Dummy"
"What Can Brown Do For You?"
"When You Care Enough To Send The Very Best"
"Never Let "Em See You Sweat"
"How Do You Spell Relief?"

Gregory Ciotti Oct 24

@Vlada & Jason - Awesome insight guys, I'm actually very familiar with both of the studies you cited, and I was actually tempted to include "because" as a bonus with the research your mentioned Jason.

The reason I chose these has been hinted at: they are surprising in a way due to their overuse. People tend to not view these words as having as much sway because we see them constantly, so I just wanted to remind folks (with research to back it) that Free, Instantly, and New are still potent choices for all persuasive copy.

Thanks for your comments guys, keep them coming!

Jay Oct 24

Thanks, Gregory -- Now what about numbers? I'm seeing prices ending in 7, like 19.97. Someone said the fewer the syllables the smaller the monetary value, like 1 or 2 or 9. What do you think?
Hummm. I'd put "now" up there with instantly. Best wishes, Jay

Gregory Ciotti Oct 24

@Jay - There's actually some very good research on the "power of 9" done at MIT: http://www.springerlink.com/content/g27943713n352n8w/?MUD=MP

I also wrote a post about that here (last section): http://blog.crazyegg.com/2012/10/04/smarter-pricing-tactics/

Hope that helps! Great question by the way.


Pat Oct 25

I liked the article, but do the same 3 words apply to a service oriented business?

Linda Oct 25

I disagree! FREE - isn't that attractive, as if people take up FREE offers it means they don't really value your product/service, and if they do value your product or service they won't take up your offer as you've just totally de-valued it by giving it away for free.

New - maybe, as people do like to try new products, and be one of the first to do so.

Instantly - again not necessarily, as this again can sound as though your product or service isn't really worth much.

I agree with everyone who says the word "YOU" is the most important. All marketing should be focused on the customer and what they want/not what you think they want. It's about putting them first in everything.

Philippe Oct 25

I agree with Linda, FREE must be used with caution. Certainly best to acquire new customers proposing a free (separate but useful) item in order to connect your prospects to your source of revenues: e.g. a free mobile (no capex) to consume (more expensive opex) telephony services. That certainly works! But it is a lot more difficult to bring the customer to pay for something that was free at some point.

Gregory Ciotti Oct 25

Very good points guys.

"Free" was choice because the evidence provided *does* suggest that it holds a very persuasive power, but your additional points on being weary of over-utilizing free in fear of creating "bargain-seeking" customers is very pertinent.

The point I was more closely try to make though was the power that "free" has in grabbing attention and being persuasive.

BTW I really am loving these comments, very thought provoking. :)

Saurabh Khetrapal Oct 25

"We seek to avoid losses more-so than attaining gains, even when the loss is actually a great deal"

A great point. Sometimes customers are so intent on getting the "best" deal that they actually miss out on a great opportunity. You have to make sure they understand the real value of your deal and aren't blinded by "free."

Felix Oct 26

Free is definetly the winning word. People are going crazy after everything that's free, even if it's useless sometimes. Good article!

Sherrie Nov 2

Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project
in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on.
You have done a extraordinary job!

Leon D'Silva Apr 15

Interesting Insights ! I fully agrre with Gregory with the words like Free ! New ! etc also Fresh ! Just for you ! I hope it will make your day ! any words with emotion in them or in the way one says it will work like magic on a customers heart strings !
Great Information Guys.


umar Sep 13

i am working with an advertising agency in Pakistan and my job is to look after the communication bit of our client, a telecommunication company.

the three magic words you mentioned above, have lost their magic here. we, us and 5 competitors, are using "FREE" & "NEW" in almost every communication and hence lost their charm and have become so boring to use at our end and to read at the customer's end as well.

so i think these magic words are not universally magical.

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