It’s important for marketers to study basic psychology because most buying decisions are motivated by the needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, which are psychological. People are rarely motivated to buy because of the basic needs of survival, such as hunger or the need for sleep, but most often because of the psychological needs of the upper four levels.

Advertisers Are After Your Emotions

People are influenced by a number of different factors when making purchasing decisions. Of course, they’re influenced by information and objective facts. But this objective information is often outweighed by emotional or psychological factors. Entire books have even been written about this.

Marketers and advertisers, who have put in a great deal of time and effort in studying buying behavior, have identified these emotional triggers.

A middle-aged man buys a gym membership, not because his doctor has recommended it or health tests have shown that he can reduce the risk of heart disease and other illnesses, but because he sees it as a new lease on life, a turning back of the clock to a younger self.

A young mother buys organic products that are essentially the same as the regular products on the shelves because for her, purchasing these goods is a decision for the environment, her children, and the future.

A teenager buys a pair of tennis shoes without doing any due diligence on the brand but simply because her favorite tennis player wears them and she imagines that she will play better with them.

A small business entrepreneur invests a great deal of money in a new content management system, partly because of the merits of the system, but mainly because she believes it will free up time and grow her business.

We buy because we want more time, better health, more self-confidence, improved appearance, more leisure or comfort, or what we perceive as a better life. We also buy to avoid taking risks, losing money, leaving ourselves vulnerable to threats, potential suffering, embarrassment or worry. We think our purchases will keep us up-to-date, make us likable or influential, or help us better express ourselves.

Each product meets a real need (if you’re ethical). But it also meets an emotional need. Cars are used to travel and their features can improve safety or fuel-efficiency. But your car also expresses your social status or makes you feel cool. Organic food does help mitigate our impact on the environment, but it also combats anxiety about potentially harmful chemicals. Mobile gadgets help you stay more connected and communicate better with your friends, but they also help you feel more futuristic. There is almost always an emotional component to even the most practical products we buy.

For example, if you’re a wine dealer, it may be a better strategy to emphasize a particular wine’s popularity or the awards it has won, rather than trying to educate your market on wine complexity. If you’re selling beauty products, you might choose to focus on how they give you confidence rather than their actual ingredients. A seller of gadgets might highlight how its products connect people and put them in touch with the future, rather than the actual features and improvements.

You’re not underestimating your customers or ‘dumbing-down’ your marketing. You’re simply meeting your customers halfway between the actual features and qualities of your products, and their psychological and emotional needs. You’re directly speaking to their needs or struggles.

When you understand where your products or services fit within your customer’s psychological and emotional needs, you can tailor your marketing approach and tactics. If you know at what point of Maslow’s pyramid they’re struggling, you can identify how your product helps them overcome their struggle or achieve what they want.

For example:

Physical: You could market a cheap meal or snack to people as something to help people get through the day and avoid hunger. A mattress dealer may emphasize the higher-quality sleep their product provides, which allows the customer to function better the next day.

Security: A car manufacturer might emphasize its car’s safety features rather than design or advanced features to fulfill its drivers’ need for security. Financial planning services help people get out from under debts and achieve financial freedom.

Social: Card or gift sellers help you maintain a good relationship with family or friends. A landscaping service or dealer of yard products helps you create the perfect space for entertaining, thus gaining you popularity in your neighborhood.

Esteem: Buying clothes by a certain clothing brand equals higher social status for you and makes you feel good about yourself. A real estate agency markets its upscale neighborhood as a way to move up in the world.

Self-Actualization: A course on self-improvement helps you achieve what you want in life. Donating to a charity organization makes you feel that you’re giving back and creating a better world.

Your customers’ position in the hierarchy will change over time, especially after major life events such as moving, losing a job, getting married, having kids, retiring, etc. When their position changes, your tactics need to change as well.

Since most products fulfill a variety of needs, most products can function at different levels. Let’s consider a car:

 At the security level, it provides safety for your family and gets you where you need to go.

 For the social level, the car brings the whole family together and lets you drive long distances to see friends and family.

 For those at the esteem level, a nice new car can make you feel good about yourself or earn you the envy of others.

 At the self-actualization level, the car is fuel-efficient, helping the environment and by extension making the world a better place.

The basic idea is to identify where your customers are and tailor your message to them by showing them how it meets these needs.

Now that you can see why psychology is so essential, let’s move on to the specific steps of the purchasing process, and then identify concrete tactics you can use to appeal to your customers’ needs.

Learning Activity:

Review the hierarchy of needs again and now think about how your own products and services fit within the levels. What do you offer at each level?

To Your Success


The Customer’s Decision-Making Process

The Customer’s Decision-Making Process

Before you can select from all the marketing tactics available to you, you need to understand the process your customers go through in making a buying decision. What they’re thinking and feeling at each stage is what will help you determine the best way to reach your potential customers.

There are five steps to the decision-making process that customers go through when they make a purchase:

1.Need Recognition and Problem Awareness

2.Information Search

3.Evaluation of Alternatives


5.Post-Purchase Evaluation

Step 1: Need Recognition and Problem Awareness

The buying process starts with a customer identifying a problem or need. It could be something like, “I’m hungry,” “I need a new lawnmower,” or “I don’t feel safe.” The customers may not identify this problem themself, but may be responding to an advertisement or stimulus. For example, you might walk by a chocolate shop and suddenly feel an intense “need” for truffles.

The distance between the current situation of need and the ideal future that fulfilling the need will create determines the strength of the customer’s motivation to meet that need.

Let’s consider an entrepreneur who realizes they need to automate some aspect of their business. If this automation will save her ten minutes a day, she will feel differently about it than if it would save her one day each week. The one day per week option will elicit a much more emotional response from her.

It’s good to understand just how much meeting this particular need will help your customer. A customer whose ideal situation is vastly better than their real, current situation will be much more emotionally motivated. For a customer whose ideal situation wouldn’t be much different than their current one, you would rely less on emotional marketing and more on presenting objective facts and data.

Step 2: Information Search

At this stage, the customer has realized their need and they’re gathering information on how to best meet this need. During this phase, customers pay more attention to information that comes from friends, family, or other consumers than the official advertising message of the company. They’ll also rely on their own feelings about the brand (for example, this security company is known for the strength of its products). In other words, people tend to rely on social information more than information from the marketers themselves.

It’s good to understand the sources that your customers use for their information. These could be:

Personal sources: Friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, and other acquaintances they trust.

Commercial sources: Branding, advertising, salespeople, retailers, and point-of-sale displays.

Media sources: Any kind of media including the Internet, TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.

Experiential sources: A customer’s firsthand contact with the product (for example, taking a free trial or handling an item in a store).

As we said before, people tend to rely on personal, public and experiential sources of information at this stage more than commercial sources. People judge information from these sources as being more objective, as they have no vested interest in whether you buy the product or not.

Step 3: Evaluation of Alternatives

At this stage, the customer is checking out alternative brands, products, and services in order to choose what they perceive as the best choice.

Purchases can be divided into two types: High-involvement and low-involvement. High-involvement purchases usually involve those that are high-priced or that involve a great deal of personal risk, such as a house, a car, an investment, or any other major purchase. They can also include items that the customer has a great deal invested in, even if the monetary price is not high.

On the contrary, low-involvement purchases are those that are low-priced or involve little risk. These include choosing basic food products, entertainment products, soft drinks, and so on.

The evaluation stage is much more drawn-out and complex for high-involvement purchases. For example, people spend a great deal of time checking out different models for their next major car purchase. On the other hand, low-involvement purchases are made with little evaluation of alternatives because there is little risk involved.

Step 4: Purchase

At this point, the customer takes the information they’ve gathered and the evaluation they’ve made, and uses this information to make the purchase that will help them meet their initial need.

This is a very simple step, but it’s still important to consider because it can be affected by a number of factors at the point of sale. These factors include customer service, ease of the shopping experience, shipping and return policies, promotions, and so on.

A customer who has chosen a brand for purchase may change her mind at the last minute due to difficulties during the actual buying process. An in-store promotion may sway a customer to change their purchase choice from the one they made at the information and evaluation stage, especially for a low-involvement product.

Step 5: Post-Purchase Evaluation

Once the purchase is made, we’re not quite finished yet. The product needs to deliver on the promises it made. It needs to be in sync with the evaluation the customer made. Other factors like customer support may also play a significant role here.

There are a few things you can do in order to ease the entire process and cut down on buyer’s remorse after the purchase is made:

Show that you understand the customer’s situation and focus on solutions to their problems.

Provide clear and easy-to-understand information about your product or service.

Encourage comparisons with similar products offered by competitors.

Make the purchasing process as easy as possible.

Provide an outlet for the customer to leave their feedback, such as through reviews.

Learning Activity:

1.Think about your own decision making process for finding a new dentist for yourself or your family.

What are you thinking, feeling, and asking yourself at each step of the process?

What information do you need at each step?

2.Now think about the decision making process your customers go through when deciding whether to buy your own products or services. See if you can answer the same questions.

If you have access to a few of your customers with whom you have a good relationship, ask them directly.

To Your Success


Introduction to Basic Psychology

Introduction to Basic Psychology

Since so much of the psychology of marketing is about meeting needs, let’s start with an overview of one of the major theories in psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed this theory. While most psychologists at the time studied mental illness, crime, and deviant behavior, seeing the individual as a “bag of symptoms,” Maslow had a more positive approach. He studied the lives of exemplary people like Albert Einstein and Frederick Douglass to learn about motivation and what he called “self-actualization,” or achieving true human potential and finding meaning in life.

His theory centers on a hierarchy of needs, as pictured below.

Maslow’s theory states that each of us achieves these needs by starting at the bottom, or foundation, of the hierarchy and working our way up. Only when the lowest needs are met can we move up to the next level.

When a need isn’t met, a person focuses on fulfilling this need. The urge to fulfill this need grows stronger as time passes, and the person can’t be bothered with other, less immediate needs. If you’re unable to eat, you’ll be overcome with hunger and you’re less likely to concern yourself with growth or self-actualization needs.

Each person, Maslow said, is motivated to move from the bottom to the top. This is important for marketers because it’s defines people’s different possible motivations. As a marketer, you need to fully understand your customers and their motivations, when it comes to choosing and buying products.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Explained

This concept is extremely important for marketers to understand in concrete terms, so let’s consider each stage of the hierarchy with examples.

Physiological Needs

These are basic biological or physical needs, without which you may experience pain, irritation, or other problems that prevent basic functioning. These needs include air, food, water, shelter, warmth, and sleep.

Safety Needs

Safety needs range from the most basic, such as protection from the elements or from immediate danger, to more complex security needs like the need for order and laws. At the personal level, these needs revolve around the basic need for stability and freedom from fear, without which we would be consumed by anxiety.

Social Needs

Social needs involve love, belonging, and feeling socially accepted. Specific needs at this stage include a sense of belonging to a community, having friends, functioning well in social situations, and having romantic relationships.

Esteem Needs

The needs at this level are associated with appreciation and respect. Once our physiological, safety, and social needs are met, we begin to focus on personal worth. This area includes achievement, mastery, independence, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others.

Self-Actualization Needs

The final level is self-actualization, which includes realizing your personal potential, self-fulfillment, gaining a sense of meaning in life, personal growth and peak experiences.

The term “self-actualization” has been used by a number of people to mean a number of things. Since we’re discussing Maslow’s theory, let’s consider his definition:

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Although everyone reaches self-actualization in their own unique way, Maslow identified certain behaviors that he found common in self-actualized people:

They are curious, focused, and playful, experiencing the world in the way a child does.

Rather than staying with what’s safe, they choose to leave their comfort zones.

They make decisions based on their own feelings and intuition, rather than on tradition or conventional wisdom.

They’re honest with themselves and others, avoiding games and pretenses.

They’re alright being unpopular if their ideas set them apart.

They work hard and take responsibility.

They constantly seek to find their weak points and strengthen them.

It should be noted that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs doesn’t apply strictly to everyone. He was looking at trends among groups of people. There are always exceptions to the rule, but his pyramid governs how most people are motivated and what struggles they face.

Learning Activity:

Review the different levels on Maslow’s hierarchy and think about what your own personal needs are on each level. Note your answers.

To Your Success


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