469531429-237042-editedBuyer brains are unusual things, aren’t they? The strangest and most unlikely triggers can influence consumer behavior, with homophone priming being one of the all-time weirdest. Before you can use it on your own ecommerce site, you kind of have to know what it is, right? Prepare to be amazed.

Homophones, obviously, are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. We run across these every day and even see cute puns that make use of them. Some examples might be right/write, you/ewe, there/their, and buy/bye. Ever seen the little stuffed sheep wearing shirts that say “I Love Ewe”? So, that’s homophones explained. What about priming?

When you use priming techniques, you’re essentially training buyers to perform certain actions after they receive cues. You can do this with specific text throughout your website copy. When the time comes to act, visitors will know exactly what to do.

Combining Homophones and Priming

When you put these two together, you get a pretty powerful trigger. The reason is that the human brain makes associations according to context, even when we can easily distinguish between the correct and the incorrect use. For instance, someone who is dashing off an email in a hurry may accidentally type “your” instead of “you’re.” When reading over at a later time, of course that writer recognizes the mistake.

Now, imagine using that association on your ecommerce site. What do you think would happen if you gave a very polite “bye-bye” just above the call-to-action button for making a purchase? If you guessed that more visitors would be likely to make a purchase, you’d be right.

Not only would the use of “bye-bye” likely increase the number of purchases made, but it may also increase the average amount spent. Someone else already conducted that experiment for you, so don’t worry. A restaurant testing a Pay-What-You-Want model sent out prime and control messages to buyers, with the prime signing off with “bye-bye” and the control with “so long.” Those primed with the “bye” message then spent more money, even when they could have chosen nothing at all. 

A Few Caveats

It’s important to note, before you take this idea and run with it, that a few caveats do exist. This method is always more effective on those with lower reading levels. Those with higher reading levels can still be manipulated, but only if their brains are already taxed with something else.

In order to make the most of the “bye-now” effect, you have to be crafty. Those who were primed in test runs didn’t realize they’d been manipulated, but overuse could clue them in. This means you must be very clever when devising your strategy. Create content to challenge the mind, slip in your homophone primer, and then execute with a call to action.

Putting Into Practice

Now that you understand how it all works, you’re ready to give homophone priming a try, right? We already covered the smoothest way to ensure a sale—using the sign-off “bye-bye” followed by a CTA. Are there other ways to use the “bye-now” effect? Absolutely.

Consider adding the words “goodbye” at the end of your thank-you email or checkout page. This will help reinforce the idea that the buyer made a good choice—or a good buy. 

What other ways might you use the homophone priming technique? We’d love to know your thoughts and ideas, so leave us a comment!

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Originally published Jun 20, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016