Proven Secrets for Persuasive Marketing

Nancy Harhut on Virtual Lunch

Have you ever stopped to think about how you’re influenced by marketing – and how your marketing influences others?

In this rebroadcast of Virtual Lunch, Nancy Harhut shares ideas that tap the science of human behavior to improve your marketing results. You’ll discover how to:

  • Give buyers choices so the decision is theirs
  • Use pricing strategies that impact audience perception
  • Create a bundle that’s more appealing
  • Name products or offers that appeal to audience interests
  • Create a sense of fairness

Here are the links mentioned during the interview:

(Note: Some links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and choose to purchase I may receive a small commission or other compensation. You will not pay more for buying a product through these links. I’m disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations regarding endorsements.)

About Nancy Harhut

Nancy Harhut
Nancy Harhut

Getting people to take action is what Nancy Harhut is all about. Her specialty is blending best-of-breed creative with decision science to prompt response.

A frequent speaker at industry conferences, Nancy has shared her passion with audiences in London, Sydney, Moscow, Madrid, Stockholm, Sao Paulo, Berlin, and all over the US, including SXSW.

Along the way, she’s been named Online Marketing Institute Top 40 Digital Strategist, Ad Club Top 100 Creative Influencer, and Social Top 50 Email Marketing Leader.

Prior to cofounding HBT Marketing, Nancy held senior creative management positions with Hill Holliday, Mullen and Digitas. She and her teams have won over 175 awards for digital and direct marketing effectiveness.


[00:00:00.490] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights Podcast season 16 Episode 17. I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results on today's episode brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe. We've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch with Nancy Harhut, who's sharing how to tap the science of human behavior to improve your marketing results.

[00:01:02.570] - Marlys Arnold

I actually heard Nancy interviewed on my friend Ruth Stevens podcast, which some of you may remember Ruth. She was one of our virtual lunch guests last year, but when I heard Nancy interviewed earlier this year, I thought it was just fascinating what she had to share. And so I reached out to her and asked her to be a guest on Virtual Lunch. So she's here with us today. I'd like to give you a quick little introduction to her. Getting people to take action is what Nancy's all about.

[00:01:30.640] - Marlys Arnold

Her specialty is blending best of breed creative with decision science to prompt response. Frequent speaker at industry conferences. Nancy has shared her passion with audiences in London, Sydney, Moscow, Madrid, Stockholm, Sao Paulo, Berlin and all over the US, including south by Southwest. And I happen to know that a few weeks ago, she actually spoke in the middle of a bomb cyclone with a broken ankle. So she is definitely a speaking pro. Along the way, she's been named the Online Marketing Institute Top 40 Digital Strategist Ad Club, Top 100 Creative Influencer and Social Top 50 Email Marketing leader.

[00:02:13.350] - Marlys Arnold

Prior to cofounding HBT marketing, Nancy held senior creative management positions with Hill Holiday, Mullen and Digitas. She and her teams have won over 175 awards for digital and direct marketing effectiveness. So we are very honored to have you here with us today on Virtual Lunch. Nancy, thanks for joining us.

[00:02:33.060] - Nancy Harhut

Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here and thank you for that lovely introduction.

[00:02:37.790] - Marlys Arnold

Well, you're welcome. I think just what you do is so incredible because you take the science and you make it practical and you make it fun. So let's talk a little bit some of the things that you've covered we've talked about before in our earlier conversation, but you talk a lot about making the marketing. How should I say it giving the audience more control. So talk a little bit more about that. How you do your marketing so that people feel like they're the ones in control?

[00:03:18.810] - Nancy Harhut

Sure, it's interesting. What social scientists and behavioral economists have found is all of us men, women, young, old, rich, poor, very educated, not as educated. All of us rely on decision making shortcuts. And the reason we do is we couldn't possibly weigh every bit of information before making a decision, or we just never get around to making any. So instead, we've developed these hardwired behaviors. And what happens is we kind of cruise along through life on autopilot and when we encounter a certain situation or what a researcher would call a stimulus.

[00:03:51.150] - Nancy Harhut

We just default to these automatic instinctive reflexive responses, giving them little, if any, thought. So what it is is it's a way for people to just kind of make it through the day and make all the decisions that we're faced with without depleting our mental energy. And so from a marketing perspective, if we are aware of these automatic reflexive responses that people have, we can kind of get out ahead of it. We can make sure that our marketing strategies or marketing executions trigger some of these automatic responses so that they work in our favor. They work to our advantage. So that's the way we can kind of leverage this as marketers.

[00:04:32.610] - Marlys Arnold

So one of the things that I know I've heard you talk about is the giving the buyer choice and giving them permission to make their own choice. So I don't want to spoil what it is. But can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:04:48.440] - Nancy Harhut

Absolutely. One of these decision making shortcuts that people or that humans have developed is this need for autonomy? Social scientists call it autonomy bias. And it's basically this deep seated human desire to have some kind of control, some kind of agency over ourselves in our environment. And one of the ways that people feel like they're in control is when they have choices. So what that means to us when we're trying to persuade someone to do something when we're trying to market things is we want to give people choices.

[00:05:18.290] - Nancy Harhut

So instead of saying here's the one thing would you like to sign up or here's the one thing. Would you like to buy it? We're better off giving a couple of different choices. Two, maybe even three choices. Studies out of Tulane University actually Show that that can really increase the number of people who say yes. And then there's this wonderful little technique. And I think this is where you are going. It's called the BYAF technique.

[00:05:41.050] - Marlys Arnold


[00:05:42.570] - Nancy Harhut

Of this, right. This is so good. Yes. B-Y-A-F. Stands for. But you are free. And what social scientists have found is when you ask somebody to do something and then you remind them, but you're free to choose, but you're free to decide. It's up to you. The choice is yours. Any of those kinds of phrases, you don't actually have to use the exact words, but you are free. But anytime you just ask someone to do something and then remind them, but the choice is yours. It's up to you.

[00:06:08.080] - Nancy Harhut

But you're free to choose. That can actually double the likelihood people will agree to what you're asking them to do. And it's because you're reminding them that they're in control. They've got the power, they've got the choice.

[00:06:20.490] - Marlys Arnold

And I love that because it is. It's something that's just so simple, but it does kind of take the pressure off of them. It's like you're not forcing them to do this. This is their choice that they could choose these different things. Again, on that idea of choice. You also talk about some pricing strategies as well. And I know I've tried to use some of these things, but it's just really clever how the pricing strategy can be framed that way, too.

[00:06:45.970] - Nancy Harhut

Yeah, it's interesting. Social scientists have found that when we have to make a purchase, we have to part with our hard earned cash. It actually registers in our brain in the exact spot that the brain gets activated when we're in physical pain. So if you stub your toe, if you have a stomach ache, if you break your ankle like I did right, there's one part of your brain that registers pain, right? That's the particular part of the brain that registers pain. That same part of your brain lights up when you have to spend money.

[00:07:16.010] - Nancy Harhut

But there are ways to kind of minimize that. One of them is by using something known as magnitude encoding process. And it's a fancy phrase for the idea that the way prices are displayed impacts how people perceive them. So say you're going to charge $500 for something $500 in the upper left hand corner of the page of the screen is read as a higher price than that same $500 in the lower left hand corner of the screen or the page, which is really interesting. If you're talking about saving somebody $500, you would want to write it as dollar sign five zero zero decimal point zero. Why? Because that takes up more space than simply saying dollar sign five zero zero. So when you're talking about the cost of something, you want to take up less space because it looks smaller and the brain perceives it to be a smaller price. So cost for something make it appear small. Savings or value make it appear large. So it's the amount of space it's higher on the page, lower on the page. If you're having a sale, a lot of times we'll Show the original price and then the sales price will have, I don't know, $500 ... $450.

[00:08:24.780] - Nancy Harhut

But the further apart those two are spatially. The further apart people perceive them to be financially or monetarily. So you could say $500 ... ... $450 because they're further apart spatially, the brain just perceives them to be further apart monetarily. So there are lots of really wonderful things you can do. You can also use anchoring, which is the first price that somebody encounters that becomes their reference point. And any other price they're going to look at will either be above it or below it. So what you want to do is you almost want to toss out a high anchor.

[00:08:58.900] - Nancy Harhut

You might expect to pay $500 for this, but to get into our exhibit space, it's only $450. So that $450 seems like a bargain because you already anchored the $500 by saying you might expect to pay $500. There are lots of different ways that we can kind of address prices so that people respond more favorably to them.

[00:09:18.970] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and you see that a lot where people will frame it as for less than a cup of coffee a day or for less than the price of a dinner out or things like that. They'll frame prices like that. What about the whole psychology of the whole 99 versus 97 versus zeroes? Is there some proven science behind what it is that triggers best in people's minds with that?

[00:09:44.930] - Nancy Harhut

Yeah. There's actually something known as charm pricing and charm prices are prices that end in 99, and it could be $0.99, or it could be, actually, I should say they're prices that end in nine, so it could be $0.99 or it could be $49. But the human brain is so used to that nine representing a good deal. That when we see it, we don't exert a lot of mental effort. We just go, oh, yeah. That's going to be a good price. And there were a couple of researchers at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and they ran a study and they took this article of women's clothing, and they offered it separately at I think it was like $39, $37 and $34.

[00:10:20.690] - Nancy Harhut

And all things being equal, what they found was it sold best at 39, even though that wasn't the cheapest price. But when people saw that nine, it just seemed like that's a good buy. So when you take advantage of charm pricing, so whether it's the $0.99 or anything ending in nine, that can be a really good thing. There are some studies that Show that round numbers do better than exact numbers. And as you start to tease those apart, what you find is round numbers are easier to process.

[00:10:49.760] - Nancy Harhut

So for, like, a luxury product or indulgent product, just go with a round number. It's $100 because it's easier for the right to process. It feels right. But if you're talking about something that's more of a practical purchase, you might want to be more exact. It's actually $94.32. And the reason for that is the specificity equals credibility. So if you're making a rational purchase, if you've got to buy plumbing for your house or a tool or something, that's not an indulgent purchase, but that's more of a rational, practical one. You want that specificity because it's more believable.

[00:11:24.150] - Marlys Arnold

It is funny how some people really take that whole pricing model to the extreme. Alan and I like to watch Escape To The Country. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but it's a British Show where they're looking at real estate at three different properties. And so sometimes I always have to laugh. It's like their budget is, say, $500,000, but the property will be priced at $499,950 or 995. Really? Just say 500. It sounds so silly when they put it in that kind of massive context.

[00:11:59.690] - Nancy Harhut

Yeah. Well, you know what's funny? You're watching it. And so you have a different perspective and you're like, oh, come on, come on. But in the moment, what happens is something known as the left digit effect. So even if it's I don't know, 5 million and they cut it down to $4,000,999, the first digit on the left, which is the first one that you see. You look at that and you're like, oh, it's only in the $4 million range, not the $5 million range. It's crazy. But that's what happens in our heads when we're making these decisions quickly. It goes from being in the 5 million range to the 4 million range. And so even if it's a dollar difference, we're like, oh, no, to the 4 million range.

[00:12:36.110] - Marlys Arnold

But that's what's so funny. You're talking half a million dollars, and it's like, $5 difference. Oh, wow. What a savings. So talking about, especially when we get into the Trade Show realm for offering a special in our booth, talk a little bit about bundling and how we can put a bundle together and make that sound more intriguing to the audience.

[00:12:59.790] - Nancy Harhut

Sure. Well, Bundling in and of itself is a good idea because we were talking earlier about the pain of paying. And every time you have to part with money, it registers in your brain as if it were physical pain. So if you can bundle say three things together for a single price, that's better than three separate exchanges of money. Right. Three incidents of the pain of paying. So bundling is good. And then social scientists have found that you can kind of do bundling 2.0. So instead of just saying, okay, these three things are going to be together, and it's going to be this price. You can say we're going to put these two things together for this price, and we're going to include this third one for free. And what you want to do is you want to make sure that the third one is probably the more indulgent or maybe the one that people don't feel they really need. If we're talking about, like, Internet, cable TV and HBO, you could say, okay, you're going to get Internet, cable TV and HBO for $50 a month, or you could say you're going to get Internet and cable TV for $50 a month.

[00:13:59.740] - Nancy Harhut

And we're going to give you a free HBO because you don't really need the HBO. But if it's part of the bundle of something free, well, you're more likely to say yes to it. So I'm not quite sure what the Trade Show equivalent of that would be, but the HBO, Internet and TV is a good way to illustrate that principle.

[00:14:17.550] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that makes a lot of sense, because the third item would be something that they probably wouldn't just purchase on its own anyway. But if it's in that bundle, it's like this is an added perk.

[00:14:29.250] - Nancy Harhut

Right? Exactly.

[00:14:30.930] - Marlys Arnold

So kind of shifting gears a little bit talking about naming. And I know there's a whole strategy on how you name things. But what are some of the tips and tricks from the science perspective, the psychology perspective of naming things so that people are more excited or more likely to take advantage of it.

[00:14:53.550] - Nancy Harhut

Sure. So there's a couple of things. There's something called labeling. And when you label a person as part of a particular group, even if they didn't think of themselves as part of that group, they start to respond that way. Right. So that's one way to use labeling to kind of say, all right. You may have never thought of yourself in this way, but actually, you are an avid entertainment influencer. So therefore, you should think of yourself that way. The other thing you can do is if you know what somebody is interested in, you can label your product or your service so that it's going to kind of mirror their interests.

[00:15:30.090] - Nancy Harhut

So maybe you're dealing with somebody and you know that they're really Eco conscious, right? They're really environmentally conscious. They're really green. So maybe you want to label your proposal the scene is green proposal. Because of that name, it's going to mirror what their interests are, and people are going to be more open to it. They are going to be more likely to embrace it. The other thing you can do is you can take advantage of alliteration, which is a series of words that begin with the same letter.

[00:15:57.170] - Nancy Harhut

It goes back to I don't know what one were kids it was. I'm not going to do this. She sells Seashells by the Seashore, right. But you can maybe introduce your rapid response service. So you've got the two R's together or your custom calling coalition. But putting things together that begin with the same letter is also a good thing to do. And then you can also use rhymes. Maybe as you're developing a tagline, maybe as you're naming a product, maybe as you're naming a service, or maybe even as you're writing your email subject line.

[00:16:33.720] - Nancy Harhut

But rhymes have very interesting effects from a behavioral science perspective, because when people read something that rhymes, it's easier to process. And as a result, it feels right. And when something feels right, we believe it's right. So not only is a Rhyming phrase more memorable, but it's also something that people have a tendency to accept at face value, more so than a similar phrase that says the same thing but doesn't rhyme.

[00:16:57.750] - Marlys Arnold

Well, that makes sense, because that again goes back to when we're kids and we read all these picture books that rhyme. It just kind of like it clicks for us in our brains. One other thing I do want to cover. And there's so many things we may have to have you back for another episode. But one of the other things I want to talk about is appealing to fairness and leveling the playing field. I thought that was really fascinating how you talk about that?

[00:17:20.130] - Nancy Harhut

Yeah. So what's interesting is social scientists have identified something known as inequity Aversion, basically, what it means is human beings are kind of hardwired to appreciate fairness. And when we see an incident where something isn't fair, where there's an inequity, we actually respond against it. We don't like that. We prefer things to be fair. And researchers ran this experiment where they gave one person a certain amount of money. So maybe they gave me $100. And they said, Nancy, you have to divide that $100 with Marlys, and she has to agree to the way you divide it.

[00:17:55.850] - Nancy Harhut

And if she does, you both get the money. And if she doesn't, neither of you get any money. So I could be a good sport and say, Well, we're just going to get $50 or I could say, Well, you know what? The money is mine. I'm going to take 90. I'm going to give you ten. You have nothing, Marlys. Right now I'm going to give you ten. You should say yes to that. But the researchers found that anything less than, like a 50 50 or 60 40 split usually got rejected, even though just taking the $10, you'd be $10 ahead of where you are right now.

[00:18:22.450] - Nancy Harhut

The idea that you took ten and I kept 90, you'd rather forego the ten. Then let me have the 90 because it's not fair. So we as human beings, we appreciate fairness. We want fairness. And so as marketers, there are things that we can do about that. You can say, hey, look, in some situations, the best spots are given to the people who are willing to spend a little more extra money. But we're making this available to everybody. First come, first served. Well, that seems a little bit fairer than other places where they might be kind of greasing the skids.

[00:18:57.890] - Nancy Harhut

Or you have to know somebody to get the prime spot on the exhibit floor or the prime spot as a keynote. They're saying, no, we're doing it based on first come, first served, or we're doing it based on last year's speaker reviews. So there's this need people have for fairness and in marketing, we can make that work for us.

[00:19:18.210] - Marlys Arnold

Well, I think that's a really good point because it is true that people do feel like I think people genuinely understand if everybody can't be completely equal, but just feeling like they're getting their equal share, I think makes so much difference. So we're going to have in the links. We've got a link to that original podcast I mentioned with Ruth Stevens that Nancy did. We've also got a link to an article on Content Marketing Institute. I believe it was. And then, Nancy, how can people best get a hold of you?

[00:19:54.990] - Nancy Harhut

Well, I'm everywhere you can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me on Twitter @Nharhut. You can find me on Facebook. And you're welcome to go to the website of the marketing agency that I cofounded. We specialize in best practices and adding behavioral science. And you can find that at So it's HBT human behaviortriggers HBT and then MKTG, which just is short for marketing. And if you want to connect with me there, or if you just want to check out some of the resources that we have posted articles, interviews, it's a great place to go, so I'd love to hear from people, and I'd love to connect in social.

[00:20:38.490] - Marlys Arnold

Well, Nancy, thank you again, this has been such a fascinating conversation and we had, like I said, so much to cover in such a short amount of time. But I think it's really important that Exhibit Marketers and Show organizers remember that there are some things and I know a lot of the discussion is making it ethical and appropriate. But I know Nancy is great at having a lot of tips for that. And here is the link again for Nancy's website at HBT Marketing. So, Nancy, thank you so much for being our guest today on Virtual Lunch. We really appreciate you giving up all your time and your insights for us.

[00:21:16.740] - Nancy Harhut

Thank you very much. I've been happy to be here.

[00:21:25.870] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode's Show Notes at and if you'd like to join us for an upcoming Virtual lunch, you'll find info on If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device. Simply search for Trade Show Insights, Apple, Spotify Stitcher, or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button.


Trade Show Insights and is protected by the Creative Commons Copyright License. You may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embedded on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes. To learn more, please see the link in the Sidebar of the Show Notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our Show Notes and Archives at You can also connect with using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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