The head or the heart – the psychology behind marketing

Ben Christensen

Ben believes marketers are in danger of getting bogged down in KPIs and analytics

I have always had a fascination with psychology and the idea of the sub-conscious determining behaviour. Whether that’s fight or flight, denying an obvious statement or agreeing to something you wouldn’t in an ordinary situation – we’ve experienced our fair share of examples where our behaviour was affected by psychology.

Ok, so I don’t hold a PhD in psychology and I’m definitely not pretending to be qualified enough to deliver a lecture in sophisticated theories. However, I do know marketing and as long as I stay away from making tenuous claims or jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions (something us marketers never do – right?) I feel I can provide some interesting insights and helpful guidance on psychology in marketing.

The importance of understanding the psychology behind marketing

Much of marketing today (especially digital marketing) is driven by KPIs, targets and ways to optimise and improve existing tactics in order to reach or beat those numbers. Small changes are made to existing campaigns and those changes are tested extensively.

While I am by no means telling people to discard such best practice processes I do feel we are in danger of missing out on some important and potentially constructive insights – namely why does a certain thing work? If we can answer these questions then it should be possible to get to more effective campaigns without the incremental testing and changes in between. Equally, a more thorough understanding of behaviour, reactions and psychology should help marketers plan more creative and different campaigns – rather than trying to edge an additional 0.05 per cent out of an existing approach.

What follows are a few examples and a few ideas of how marketers could incorporate the psychological elements of marketing into future campaigns.

5 example psychological reactions marketers need to take into account

  1. Commitment

Once someone makes a commitment they are more likely to follow through with it. This doesn’t work all the time, but if you’re trying to kick a habit or start a new one (quitting smoking and getting into shape are two obvious examples) you are far more likely to be successful if you a public commitment by telling friends and family.

The same goes when you agree to do something – whether that’s signing up to a newsletter or coming to an event – once you’ve agreed to do something you’re far more likely to actually follow through.

As a marketer the messaging is important, you are in no way forcing anyone to do anything – the power of commitment won’t make people do something they don’t want to. What you ask them to commit to has to be something they actually like and would consider doing, the commitment element is just there to help them go through with it.

If marketers can get a customer to make a small commitment to the brand (like signing up for the afore-mentioned newsletter), they are more likely to eventually purchase from that brand.

  1. Reciprocation

As implied by the title, reciprocation is a human being’s impulse after being given something to give back in return.  Examples of this in action are free samples at a supermarket, unasked for vouchers (for items they have bought in the past) and free tickets to upcoming events.

In order to trigger a feeling of reciprocation the item being given has to be something they want, need or find useful – it has to add value. This can be based on your understanding of their past purchase behaviours and preferences, combined with their socio-demographic profile.

  1. Missing out
Marketing Psychology

Knowing why people feel like they do is a shortcut to providing your customers with what they want

Everyone’s afraid of missing out. Regardless of whether it’s a particular offer, deal or product. If there’s only a limited supply or available for a brief period of time it’s likely to trigger the ‘I’m missing out factor’.

This one’s fairly self-explanatory. However, a word of warning – don’t overplay it or force it. Make sure what you’re offer adds value and is something your customers actually want; it’s not your job to persuade them to buy something they don’t want.

Similarly, how are they going to feel if they make a purchase based on the fact it was limited or only available for a brief period only to notice it still available after the deadline has passed? They’re not likely to think highly of your brand as a result and you’ll struggle to win back that hard-earned trust.

  1. Positivity

We’re all far more likely to buy something from a brand or person we like. That sounds like I’m stating the obvious but it’s a simple process that works. Why else do you think brands spend millions on getting celebrities to endorse their products? And why is smiling so important as part of a face-to-face sales process?

How do marketers tap into this? Well, to be honest it’s nothing a good customer service and PR operation shouldn’t already be handling. Looking after your customers and making them love you is a major part of modern marketing and should be intrinsic to your brand. The brand is what you get reactions from and the best way to get a positive response is to work on your customer experience, make your customer central to everything you do.

  1. Authority

It’s a slightly depressing fact but people (generally) react positively to authority. It might be a hangover from school or childhood, but when someone in perceived authority says something we’re more likely to do it.

For marketers this doesn’t mean telling people what to do. It means building up people’s belief in you and your company in order to be seen as an authority figure. If you’re seen to know what you’re talking about you’re going to be listened to.

Likewise – refer to external experts where you can to make your points. If they’re endorsing your product, that’s even better.

Psychology in marketing

It’s patronising of me to point out that psychology is a complicated subject. However, I feel that if marketers can take some of what I’ve said on board and start to consider the reasons why people react in specific ways we can shortcut our way to more effective and beneficial campaigns.

These campaigns are still reliant on data analysis and insights and those self-same KPIs I was criticising earlier remain important, as is testing – we still need to know whether what we’re doing is working.

In essence it all boils down to providing our customers with better experiences. Better experiences based on what we know about them, from a data and psychological perspective. Don’t just base it all on KPIs. Now, remember to smile.

Do you have any questions for Ben? Tweet him at @BenjiAdventure and use the hashtag #InteractWithUs

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