Smart businesses know how to impact consumer behavior using the basic principles of psychology.
A man in his 20s on a busy Manhattan sidewalk darts into a tech store to purchase an Android phone because he dropped his cell on the subway tracks the night before. A woman in her 40s in a suburban town pulls her SUV into the parking lot of a little ice cream shop that puts homemade hot fudge on its sundaes. A woman in her 30s standing inside a big-box retail store reaches for the mixing bowls with the smiling picture of her favorite cooking-show star on the label. These three people all have something in common.
You might think that what all of these people have in common is that they are shopping. However, that’s only the surface-level answer. What all three of these people have in common is that they are about to make emotion-based decisions. Let’s take a look at what we didn’t “see” with our eyes when observing these three shoppers.
The man in his 20s breezed past a row of shiny iPhones on his way to the Android selection. It turns out he thinks people who use Apple devices are the type to “go with the crowd” instead of making their own decisions. He certainly doesn’t want to be one of those people! So, he chooses an Android phone instead of an iPhone.
What about the woman in her 40s who drove to the ice cream shop in her SUV? It probably just looks like a woman hoping to enjoy a treat. However, what we don’t know is that the woman is actually “cheating” on her diet after a very stressful week at work. The fact that this ice cream shop offers homemade hot fudge is making her feel justified because it’s not like she’s eating cheap “junk” food. She’s making those cheat calories count!
And, the woman in the store aisle? Well, she actually just paid $6 more than she really needed to for cooking bowls. Why did she choose this specific set? These bowls were chosen because they are branded by her favorite cooking-show star. She passed up the less expensive non-celebrity bowls sitting right next to them. Why? The cooking star’s bowls make the woman feel like she is better at cooking and more in control of her life whenever she uses them. She sometimes pretends that cameras are in her kitchen when she’s mixing ingredients. What she doesn’t realize is that both products were made in the same factory.
We may think that we’re making purchasing decisions “in the moment” based on the concrete facts that we can observe in front of our eyes. However, our purchasing decisions are actually influenced by our own life experiences and expectations.
If your sales are stagnant, or you have experienced stalled growth, it could be because you are not paying enough attention to the basic psychological principles that drive consumer behavior. Emotions play a significant role in the choices that each of us makes every single day. You can have an outstanding product. However, no one will purchase it if you don’t emotionally engage your customers.
The first step in attracting consumers is to understand the process that people go through when making a purchasing choice.
The Consumer Buying Process
Here’s an overview of the psychological process behind every purchasing decision a person makes:
- Need recognition. This is the first — and perhaps the most important— step in the consumer buying process. It is the moment when a customer realizes a need for a product or service.
- Search for information. Next, a consumer will search for information. In today’s world, searches for information most often start online, however, that is not always the case. Some consumers prefer to search for information via word-of-mouth or print.
- Product evaluation. In this stage, the buyer evaluates the product, as well as alternatives. They may try out different products to determine which one best meets their needs.
- Product choice and purchase. The consumer selects a product and decides how to buy it. May factors can influence final product choice, including negative reviews.
- Post-purchase use and evaluation. The customer decides whether or not the item was worth the purchase and whether or not they are satisfied. This stage can determine whether or not they purchase similar items in the future. It can also influence whether or not they choose the same brand.
- Disposal of the product. At some point, the consumer will get rid of the item. In the past, little thought was often given to how products were disposed of, however, with more awareness being given to environmental issues, more and more consumers pay attention to whether or not an item can be recycled.
So, what does psychology have to do with the buying process? Consumers are powerfully influenced by their emotions. It’s important to know that every person experiences the buying process in a very different way based on the ways they perceive themselves and the world. Emotions influence every single step in this process.
The important thing to note is that we are all coming up with different outcomes when following the same processes. How do we know that? We would all be driving the exact same cars, wearing the same clothes and eating the same foods as our friends and neighbors if this weren’t true.
The fact is that even simple, everyday decisions are based on very complicated emotional responses. Products can satisfy both tangible, practical needs and deep emotional needs at the same time. Marketers need to know how to interlink the fulfillment of these needs when positioning products on the market. Properly meeting the emotional needs of customers and clients can have them walking away feeling like they got exactly what they wanted. Let’s take a deeper look at what we know about the role of psychology in marketing.
Finding Your Tribe by Attracting Those Looking for a Tribe
Let’s think about the man in his 20s looking for a new Android phone. His purchase isn’t necessarily motivated by his appreciation for the Android environment. In fact, his purchasing decision is almost certainly motivated by his lack of appreciation for Apple products. This is something very important for marketers to think about. We’ll have to look at something called social identity theory to work this one out. Humans have an innate need to feel like they belong to a group. Isolation from the group almost certainly meant death in harsher times.
Humans today still seek to gain an understanding of who they are through an association with a group. This is the social identity theory in action. We can see this play out when it comes to religious and political beliefs. It is also why so many people are so rabid when it comes to their loyalties to brands. The Android guy has decided for whatever reason that Apple is overly commercialized, inferior and something for the “mainstream” crowd. He is choosing an Android device because doing so allows him to think of himself as someone who doesn’t go with the crowd. Marketers need to realize that they are sometimes the Android device in this situation. People are going to seek you out because you highlight some desirable belief they want to believe about themselves. However, you must also prepare for the fact that you will sometimes be Apple in this scenario. You simply are never going to convert some customers. It’s actually fine if everybody isn’t converted to your brand. The polarity and tension can actually help to fortify brand loyalty among those who do prefer your brand.
Tribal behavior intentions are positively related to brand loyalty. Research from Veloutsou and Tsiotsou shows that consumers being identified with and actively engaged in a brand tribe are much more likely to continue their tribal behavior. What does the tribe aspect of social identity theory mean for marketers in real-world scenarios? This is where it becomes very important to recognize and reward loyalty. The goal should be to integrate customers into the tribe through reinforcement of polarity with other brands and inclusion within the tribe.
Trust and Ice Cream
Trustworthiness is huge in marketing. The woman who splurged on the sundae with hot fudge did so simply because the hot fudge was touted as being homemade. This instantly made her judge it as being of higher quality than another type of “junk” food she could splurge on. Research done by Deloitte Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) can shed some light on why brands often give foods that “homemade” label. It turns out that labeling foods as “freshly baked” or “homemade” increase sales by 27 percent. What’s more, survey respondents were willing to pay nearly 10 percent more for food with evocative descriptions.
The Value of a Familiar Face
What would make a person pay more for mixing bowls just because they were designed by a celebrity chef? Any rational person would know that purchasing bowls from a culinary star isn’t going to cause cooking skills to magically transfer to them! However, the psychological phenomenon of transference may have something to do with this. Marketers have known about this for a long time. The relationship process is thought to allow the celebrity to “transfer” his or her perceived qualities to the actual product. A study conducted by Langmeyer and Walker in 1991 found that there can be transference of qualities from a celebrity to an ordinary product. This means that marketers and retailers are relying on some “magical thinking” on the part of the buyer.
The woman buying the mixing bowls branded by the celebrity chef that she admires feels that these bowls somehow possess the same positive talents and attributes as the chef simply because there is an association. Research from Samuel Doss describes the transfer phenomenon as an event where the relationship process is thought to allow the celebrity to actually “transfer” his or her essence to a physical product. The woman shopping for the bowls wanted to feel like she was competent in the kitchen. In addition, most celebrity cooking personalities are presented as being warm, hospitable and highly organized. These are all traits that the woman in our scenario would like to possess.
How Marketers Can Move Forward Using Psychology
Marketers shouldn’t worry that using psychology to sell products and services is manipulative. Using knowledge of some basic psychological principles isn’t manipulative if the intention is to simply find new and effective ways to help consumers connect with products. This is where taking a positive spin can be helpful. For instance, we can all see how tribalism can turn negative. The goal of a marketer is not to create a toxic hatred for a competing brand among its tribe of customers. That actually isn’t creating value for those customers. The goal should instead be to create a sense of healthy competition that still allows a tribe to know that they’re on the winning side. Customers get to feel like they are “playing on the winning side” in a very low-stakes competition.
The same level of care should be given when it comes to using celebrity endorsements or idealistic figureheads for a brand. The woman who purchases the mixing bowls branded by the cooking star she admires gets to enjoy a nice confidence boost in the kitchen by taking part in a very light and low-stakes type of transference. However, the brand isn’t making any false promise that using the bowls will provide this woman with world-class cooking skills, her own cooking show and the adoration of millions of fans. The woman simply gets a chance to get a small taste of excitement while carrying out the mundane task of preparing her meals every day.
The three motivating factors behind purchasing decisions discussed here offer just a small glimpse into the complex process of selling using psychology. These were highlighted because they are the most common ones we see playing out in the commercials, digital ads, and billboards that are all around us. Major brands have the budgets and connections to land big celebrity endorsements and craft ad campaigns that “throw shade” at competitors. However, smaller companies can also implement these tactics on their own scales. The magic is in finding how to attract customers using a mix of high-quality products and need-satisfying messages. A satisfied need equals a sale. What key need hasn’t your brand identified yet?
It is crucial that you’re using current psychology strategies and tactics in your marketing and sales to remain relevant in the market. Click below to start a conversation about getting a quick audit to highlight easy wins and areas of improvement.