Applying Psychology to Marketing

Since people started buying and selling from each other, some version of marketers – though the profession itself goes back perhaps only to the early 1900s — have tried to attract customers and increase sales.

Early marketers and their modern counterparts try to tap into reasons people make decisions. In this way, marketing and psychology are inextricably linked.

Psychology is important to marketing because understanding the emotions behind a person’s decision to respond, engage and buy can improve the success of any marketing campaign.

Classic Marketing Concepts Still Apply

Old-school marketers utilized traditional channels, such as direct mail, broadcast ads on radio and TV, or print ads in newspapers and magazines. Today, it’s all about digital marketing and engaging with customers more personally. However, the underlying concepts behind successful marketing haven’t changed. Here are two pioneers in marketing who understood their audience and developed marketing concepts that still apply today.

Victor Schwab

In 1956, Victor Schwab released his book “Mail Order Strategy”. Schwab was a veteran advertising copywriter in the early 20th Century, who found success in writing mail-order copy. Eventually, he headed his own ad agency and researched new ways to gain responses to his ads by testing headlines, copy length, layouts and calls to action. His book was the result of his decades of research.

In “Mail Order Strategy”, Schwab outlined 40 key, psychological and emotional drivers that lead to the decisions people make. These include:

What they want to gain: What they want to save or reduce:
  • Health
  • Popularity
  • Self-confidence
  • Improved appearance
  • Money
  • Time
  • Embarrassment
  • Work
  • Worry
  • Discomfort
What they want to be: What they want to do:
  • Creative
  • Sociable
  • Proud of their possessions
  • Good Parents
  • Creative
  • Express their personalities
  • Win others’ affection
  • Acquire or collect things
  • Improve themselves
  • Satisfy their curiosity

These concepts are still pertinent, decades after Schwab first described how they apply to mail order marketing. Marketing channels will always change, but the reasons people respond to marketing messages won’t.

Robert Cialdini

Dr. Robert Cialdini is well known for his 1984 book “Influence: The Power of Persuasion”, which has sold millions of copies worldwide. Cialdini outlined several principles of influence that affect how people make decisions, including the following:

  • Commitments: People like to follow through on their commitments. Marketers who get prospects to commit to buying will have more success.
  • Social Proof: People do things they see others doing, but hesitate to be the first to try something new. You might follow someone on Twitter because someone you like does, or share a blog post because you see hundreds of others have already shared it.
  • Authority: According to Cialdini, people tend to obey those in positions of authority. Marketers leverage this concept by using experts and celebrities in advertisements, or having well-known authorities endorse their products.
  • Scarcity: Cialdini explained that perceived scarcity will drive demand so marketers use terms like “exclusive offer” and “limited time only” to encourage responses. The less available something is, the more valuable it becomes.
  • Likability: People are more apt to be persuaded by people they like. Making your brand “likable” means getting people to feel positive about it, no matter what you’re selling.

Applying Psychology Concepts to Marketing

Connecting with an audience is a big part of modern marketing. Whether you’re doing it through content, social media or direct selling, it’s important to understand the psychology that makes people respond.

Consider incorporating psychology into your marketing by appealing to the key emotional drivers that Schwab described, or Cialdini’s concepts of influence, and you’ll see more responses, engagement and sales.

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