Startup School: 9 Mental Triggers to Help Launch Your Product

Tom Education, Startup School

If you’ve been following along in this series, we’ve talked a lot about strategies to choose your first and best market segment. Now, it’s time to go over some ways you can build influence within that market. Whether you’ve got a niche market picked out already or you’re just joining us, here are nine mental triggers that can help you do just that:


People tend to follow others in positions of authority. Think about doctors. For most of us, as soon as we walk in the examination room, a certain part of us becomes deferential. We listen to what our doctor has to say and take any advice seriously. If you want to be more influential with your product or service, it pays to be seen as an authority in your industry and community.


Reciprocity is the idea that if someone gives something to us, we will feel some obligation to give them something in return. When someone gives you a gift, and you don’t have a way to reciprocate, that triggers something deep inside of you. You want to “make it right,” and you look for a way to give something back.

When you give out free stuff – even this content, for example – you’re creating a reciprocity imbalance. The greater the value, the greater the imbalance. In the end, when you ask for something back, people will have a higher tendency to reciprocate.


Creating trust is the ultimate approach to becoming influential in someone’s life. I’m sure you can think of a time when a trusted friend told you something you believed without question. Something that, if a stranger had told you, you wouldn’t have believed. That’s the power of trust.

Of course, in a business it can be difficult to earn someone’s trust, especially in the current marketing environment. There aren’t really many “hacks” or workarounds for this one – trust takes time. Make sure you deliver on time and as expected and be honest when you mess up.


Another really powerful mental trigger is anticipation. Think back to when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait for a specific day. Maybe it was Christmas. Maybe it was your birthday or a trip to Disney. It was all you could think about and you just couldn’t wait for that day. If you use anticipation right, will put the date in their calendar and count down the days until they can make a purchase from you.


Likeability is probably the most common trigger. The simple fact is that we do more business with people we know, like, and trust. If you look around, you’ll see even the biggest corporations are starting to realize this and doing their best to humanize their message. Really, we’re all looking for increased connection and authenticity.

So, how do we become more likeable? This may sound silly – but do more likeable things. When you’re gracious, kind, generous and honest, people tend to like you more. And the more likeable you are, the more influence you have.

Events & Ritual

People love events, and they get pulled in by them. It makes them feel as though they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. This is one of the reasons sports fans get so caught up in the fate of their team. A big part of this trigger is the idea of “ritual.”Rituals pull people together and create a shared experience. Turn your marketing into an event, and you can see some pretty powerful results.


Community is a very powerful mental trigger. We act in accordance with how we think the people in our community are supposed to act. If you look at your own life I’m sure you can think of a bunch of different communities you’re a part of. These might be work communities, groups of friends, or even online communities. And all of these communities build a sense of belonging.

You may think communities are already established or difficult to get going, but that’s not always true. Startup Lansing is a perfect example. Jesse saw a need and started building. Look how far we’ve come in just a handful of months.


Scarcity is the most powerful mental trigger in existence. It’s pretty simple, too. When there’s less of something, people want it more. And really, it’s the perception of scarcity that motivates us.

One of the key things scarcity does is force people to make a decision. The vast majority of people will put off a decision if you give them a choice – especially when it comes to spending money. And when you’re trying to make a sale, the longer it takes someone to decide, the less likely they are to buy.

Social Proof

Social proof is the idea that if we see other people taking action, then we will be inclined to take that same action. Typically we take cues from the people around us when we’re unaware of how to act. We are social creatures and it’s hard to overemphasize just how completely we are influenced by what we see other people doing.

When someone new to your product sees other customer’s reviews and comments and makes a purchase, that’s social proof in action.

Keep in mind it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use all nine with one product, but the more triggers you can tie together the better. Some are natural fits, too. Try these combinations out on your own:

  • Community and social proof
  • Scarcity and anticipation
  • Trust and authority
  • Likability and reciprocation

Using mental triggers like this can be very powerful. And unfortunately they can be used for evil as well as good. Just remember that “with great power comes great responsibility.” I sincerely hope you’re creating something amazing and using this knowledge to share it with the world.


About Tom

Tom is a co-founder of The Center for New Enterprise Opportunity (NEO Center) - a small business incubator in Lansing. He believes that by helping entrepreneurs be more successful through education and investment, we enrich both the market itself and our community as a whole. You can follow him @TomforLansing

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