Marketing, at its core, is the art of persuasion using our current understanding of human needs and desires. Marketers need to grasp and utilize this knowledge to develop strategies and tactics to persuade large masses of people to take action. Whether it’s convincing an audience to purchase a product, sign up for a service, or donate to a charity, marketing is entirely about drawing people in and convincing them to do something. To do this in the most effective way possible, experts often draw on principles of human psychology and desire to influence consumer behavior in one direction or another. These methods tap into the way that people think, feel, and respond to stimuli, and marketers can use this advantage to create strategies that resonate with their target audience, ultimately leading to a higher ROI (return of investment) for businesses after launching their marketing campaigns.
The most vital point of marketing is the ability to persuade a lot of people to take action, like making a purchase, or subscribing to someone’s YouTube channel. But what motivates people to take action in the first place? Psychologists have been asking this question for decades, and philosophers for even longer! Fortunately, we seem to have a solid grasp on exactly what kinds of things are motivating people to take steps forward in today’s day and age, and it boils down to a few key factors of human behavior. These keys are the need for safety and social belonging, and the desire for self-esteem and self-actualization. Marketers use this knowledge to their advantage by tailoring their campaign messages to appeal to these underlying motivations that signal viewers to pay attention.
For example, a home security company might tap into the natural human need for safety by creating a commercial centered around the importance of protecting one’s family, which draws on fear and an innate sense of caution and protectiveness. A skincare brand might appeal to peoples’ desire for self-esteem by promoting their products as a way to achieve confidence or approval. By taking into consideration what motivates people at a deeper, psychological level, marketers and the brands they work with can tailor their overall message in order to fully reach and appeal to the mental state of their audience.
If you’re a human (and we hope that you are), you know already how powerfully your emotions come into play when making decisions. Marketers often use more emotional lures to sway the consumer’s mindset in the desired direction. Whether it’s making the audience feel happy, nostalgic, inspired, or even angry, emotions can be a versatile tool for creating brand associations. Studies have shown that building emotional associations with certain ideas or brands will make us more likely to commit them to memory, the same way that we will more easily recall our most dramatic moments in life before our most peaceful ones. Meaningful human emotions are like time stamps for the brain.
The idea of using this kind of manipulation on the masses begs an important question: how can marketing be ethically practiced? While it may seem more complex than this, and taking care to uphold an ethical code in any kind of influential position is important, the simple fact is that marketing simply must be done this way, especially in a modern society that moves from one thing to the next in a matter of seconds. It takes something special to grab and maintain our attention with so many moving parts and variables coming at us from all directions! The best way to ensure that you’re making ethical use of this understanding is to pay attention to exactly what emotions you’re inciting in your audience. As long as you’re making them feel something positive or useful and aren’t taking customers for granted, in all likelihood your brand’s marketing execution is perfectly ethical by normal standards.
Creating Social Proof
Human beings are heavily influenced by the opinions and actions of others around them, and this is one of the most commonly targeted aspects of psychology when it comes to marketing. Social proof refers to the idea that people are more likely to trust, believe, and follow something if they see that others have already trusted, believed, and followed it. Marketers and brands use this concept of social proof to create a sense of credibility and authority in an industry. In some cases this can include customer testimonials, endorsements, influencers promoting a brand, or even the sheer number of followers someone has on social media.
Does this mean that just because you have millions of followers and some articles about you, your skincare line is the best? No. Does it mean that more people will give it a try simply because you have a large following that makes people assume you’re trustworthy and valuable in your industry? Absolutely! It’s as simple as that. When people don’t have enough information to make a more informed decision (if they haven’t tried your product or know someone who has, for instance), they resort to the most basic piece of data they can get. In the moment, this kind of social proof they look for can take many forms, but the presence of it can make or break the scalability of a brand.
Leveraging Cognitive Biases
Psychologists have pinpointed a few cognitive biases that affect how people perceive, process, and respond to information. These biases can have an enormous effect on how we make decisions in our day-to-day and it’s wise to use them to one’s advantage in regards to marketing. For instance, people tend to be more receptive to brands that perpetuate and confirm their already-existing belief systems and values. They’re also more likely to remember information that’s presented in a simple, brief, and memorable way! Because of this concept of cognitive bias, marketers have a simpler time nowadays tailoring branding and campaign messages to align with the pre-existing preferences of their desired audience.
Another cognitive bias marketers often leverage is what is called the scarcity effect. We tend to place a higher value on things that are scarce or limited. This can be framed as limited edition products, exclusive sales, time-limited discounts, among other various tactics! When creating a sense of scarcity for the consumer, what follows is an automatic uptick in demand due to the sense of urgency involved with the campaign.
The Power of Persuasion
As stated before, marketing is all about persuasion. At the heart of effective persuasion is the ability to create a sense of trust and rapport with the target audience. People are more likely to be convinced by someone they trust and like, but in reality, there are many convoluted ways to reach that point, be it from purely positive marketing or by creating a fear-and-solution dynamic that gives the impression of being particularly useful for the consumer’s wellbeing; whichever path you choose, it must lead to trust and reliability in order to create a successful relationship between the brand and the consumer. All paths to marketing success begin and end with human emotions and the ability to connect and relate with one another enough to appeal to those feelings.
By now, most of society has a general understanding of how these tactics are used after a lifetime of being subjected to strategic marketing experiments by leaders in the industry. However, knowing this information doesn’t prevent it from being effective! This is because no matter which way you look at it, our motivations remain exactly the same, and in truth, we all want to find the things we’re looking for. If a product, service, or brand appeals to our basic human desires, our attention will go there no matter how we may try to fight it; if we need or want what someone has to offer, we’re grateful to find it! Complain as we might about the often scary levels of accuracy in the advertising we experience on a daily basis within the digital world, in the end we will still function exactly as we have.
The best thing one can do as a brand owner or as a consumer is to take into consideration what we know about human psychology, and be sure that you’re interacting with the world in an ethical and mutually beneficial way!
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