Before I ever picked up a marketing book or walked into a lecture hall at university, I had more than a faint idea that psychology played a part in the process of marketing. To a certain extent, aside from the creative side of marketing, this is probably what drew me to studying the subject.
I was always curious to know why people acted the way they did and made the choices they made. I looked at myself and wondered why I preferred certain products over others and why I responded positively to some adverts on TV, while disliking others. How much psychology and marketing overlap is, for some, debatable, but for me there’s no debate to be had. My opinion is that it’s near impossible to execute a successful marketing campaign without psychology playing a major role.
Before I dive head first into my reasoning behind this, let’s have a look at some individual definitions of psychology and marketing.
“Marketing is the social process by which individuals and organizations obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging value with others.” _ Kotler and Armstrong (2010)
“Marketing is the management process for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” _ The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
“The scientific study of the way the human mind works and how it influences behaviour, or the influence of a particular person’s character on their behaviour.”_ Cambridge Dictionary
Studying the various definitions above, can you begin to see where marketing will need to draw from psychology in order to truly accomplish its aim? Kotler and Armstrong define marketing as a “social process”. Social process at its core is to do with behavioural patterns. Behaviour is governed by psychology. In the CIM definition, identification, anticipation and satisfaction of customers is highlighted. A marketer can only achieve this three part process by “getting into the minds” of the public. What do consumers think they need or how can we make them understand why they need it? How do shifts in society (e.g. technology, health) affect what the public may demand? How do we stimulate positive feelings from them and have a relationship with our brand?
My masterplan to get you to side with me on this topic has begun taking shape, right? Wrong? OK (rubs hands together), let’s look at a crucial pillar of marketing and how psychology plays a Robin role to its Batman.
Sounds like a Motown singing group from the 70s but the four Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) that form the marketing mix are vital to marketing.
Research and development are vital in the creation of any product. Part of product research is understanding the decision making aspect of a customer’s journey. Why would they choose one product over another? This is part of a larger consumer behaviour decision making process which may be illuminated by reference to marketing and psychology.
Sometimes consumers buy things because they are essential. It’s cold, we buy a warm coat. It can be as simple as that. On the surface, psychology and marketing don’t seem to come into play here. But looking a little deeper, there are other factors at play. Why buy a coat from Brand A but not Brand B? Frequently, there are psychological reasons behind this. Perhaps the decision to buy the more expensive and high fashion Brand A coat is based on how we think our social circle will react to it. Alternatively, it could be because the consumer is an animal lover and Brand A’s coat doesn’t have animal fur. Either way, the psychology of the individual determines the decision.
An essential part of the marketing mix, price can say plenty about a brand or product and how people perceive it. Let’s take Apple for example; the prices they set for their products are not simply a matter of manufacturing costs + overheads + profit = price. In addition to the aforementioned, there is a conscious decision to make the products some of the most expensive on the market because Apple are very aware that this gives the products not only luxury status, but acts as evidence of the high end, high quality of the items in the mind of the consumer.
When the average person is asked about marketing, promotion is probably the first thing that pops into their head, a testament to how synonymous the two are. Promotion is about increasing brand awareness. Underpinning all aspects of promotion is content, a communication tool that also comes with a psychological component. Let’s look at the marketing and psychology involved in promotion in a bit more depth.
Knowing what stimulates positive, imaginative thoughts in a target audience is vital to advertising. The stimuli people respond to is based on the perception aspect of cognitive psychology. To put it simply, it’s about how you respond to stimuli using your senses and how that in turn affects behaviour. For example, something as simple as colour can influence how a person reacts to a piece of promotional material so much so that it’s often used as a primer. There is a reason why red (signifying danger) is used in warning signs and blue (which denotes reliability) is used for corporate and business websites.
Promotion also aims to place a product in a certain space in the minds of the audience. It provides the chance to shift or reposition competitors’ brands in their minds too. For an example, yes, you guessed it, it’s over to our favourite fruit logoed company once more.
When Apple wanted to cement its spot as the prime personal computer provider in the market, it did this through a series of Mac vs PC television ads.
The fascinating aspect of this approach is that technically speaking, a Mac is a PC. But by jumbling all competitors into one, homogenous group and separating its product from the pack, it was influencing the consumer to think of the Mac as a different, higher level of product. Also, by humanising the products via actors, Apple urged the audience to link their own identity to the product and/or person. This is a great example of psychology and marketing overlapping through creative storytelling and content.
Let’s use tone of voice, an important aspect of content marketing in relation to promotion, as an example here. It may seem that the choice of tone of voice is governed by how a brand wants to be seen (or heard), but deciding on it without thinking about the psychology of the people one is reaching out to would be negligent. Marketers want the consumer to see themselves reflected in the brand. This is only achievable by knowing how the target market thinks.
The place in which a product is made available can influence the status it is given which in turn can influence purchase decision. A product that is exclusive to Harrods department store for example, is likely to be perceived as a luxury, high end product. Making products available at a few select stores can also create a scarcity effect, with consumers seeing the product as having more value as a consequence.
Moreover, the mere fact that purchase can be made from the comfort of one’s home or conveniently via a handheld device, significantly influences customer behaviour.
By definition, marketing seeks to influence consumer behaviour. This can only be achieved by having a clear understanding of how people think and how these thoughts influence how they act. With this in mind I think I’ve shown how psychology and marketing are two peas in a pod that feed and influence consumer behaviour. And just to prove to you how deep marketing and psychology goes, I bet you haven’t noticed the ten smiley face emojis I have subliminally peppered all over this post, so intrigued have you been by my persuasive words and might! (I’m only kidding. I didn’t really. You’re not going mad).
The River Group is a content innovation agency. We create end-to-end content ecosystems that fuel customer engagement and loyalty. We create, deploy, measure and constantly refine content programmes that integrate with our clients’ existing technology and data platforms. Where they don’t exist, we build them.
We evaluate, embrace and execute innovative content solutions to marketing and commercial challenges and we create exceptional content to engage, entertain and inform. The structure of our five planning labs and five delivery hubs enables us to effectively embrace fragmenting channels and new technology disruption and so achieve our mission goal– the creation of great content which has great value for both brand and audience.
Our clients include, Co-op Food, Holland & Barrett, Superdrug, Weight Watchers International, Princess Cruises, The Ramblers, McCarthy & Stone, The Perfume Shop, Visit Britain and World First. We are 22 years old with 104 staff and work for clients in the UK, Europe and the USA.
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