What is Marketing psychology?

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Marketing psychology is an interdisciplinary field that studies how psychological factors influence individual consumer behavior and marketing processes.

Types of psychological approaches used in marketing: Basic needs approach – this approach states that our buying decisions are mostly motivated by meeting basic needs such as hunger, thirst, and sex. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we first prioritize basic needs, which means that for example hunger comes before the need to buy a sports car.

Social learning theory – this approach can be used to explain how we learn and acquire new buying behaviors through observation of others, such as seeing our parents use a product. It can also explain why we imitate the behavior of people similar to us when we do not know what to do (e.g. in an unfamiliar environment).

Cognitive dissonance theory – this approach states that we have a need to keep our thoughts, opinions and self-image consistent, and thus avoid situations that imply inconsistency. For example seeing an advertisement for a product that seems contrary to what we believe may create cognitive dissonance or discomfort within us, which will motivate us to change our opinion about the product (e.g. by deciding it is a good product after all).

Expectancy violation theory – this approach states that in a given situation we have certain expectations about the outcome of our behavior or decision, and if the actual outcome does not meet these expectations we will feel dissatisfied with the result. For example when using online coupons for grocery shopping at Tesco online we expect the relevant discount to be automatically applied, which will make us feel dissatisfied if it is not (or vice versa).

Behavioural decision theory – this approach states that in making decisions we weigh the costs and benefits of each choice. For example when deciding between two brands of yogurt with different taste profiles (e.g., fruit vs. vegetable), we will choose the one that gives us the most utility (benefit) for its price (cost).

Multi-attribute attitude model – this approach states that when making a purchase decision, many different attributes of the product play an important role. For example, when buying a mobile phone we consider factors such as camera quality, battery life and the number of remaining battery bars.

Consumer neuroscience – this approach is based on recent results from brain imaging research and uses these insights to inform marketing communication strategies that take into account how stimuli such as images, sounds or touch affect consumer’s decision making process. For example, we know now that product placement in TV shows can boost brand awareness by making it part of our subconscious.

Marketing psychology techniques used in marketing: Behavioral targeting – this approach targets consumers based on their online behavior, such as previous search queries or site visits. For example Google uses the information I have entered into its search engine to customize my home page for me with results that are more likely to be relevant and interesting to me based on my previous search history.

Neuromarketing – this approach measures participants’ brain activity during their interaction with products, services or advertising to find out what stimuli are most effective in influencing consumer decision making. For example fMRI studies have shown that the smell of fresh cookies activates the pleasure center in our brain, which can be used to optimize the design of supermarkets to make us buy more products.

Brand personality – this approach states that a brand has an image or personality in consumers’ minds, and these perceptions influence consumer attitudes towards brands. For example I have always associated Nike with being a dynamic and performance driven brand, which is why I am specifically drawn to their products as opposed to those of their competitors (e.g., Adidas, Puma).

Attribute importance – this approach states that some attributes are more important to consumers than others when making decisions about a product or service, and marketers can use this information for segmentation purposes. For example I am mainly influenced by the price and overall quality of wine products when deciding which ones to buy; I therefore use price as a means for determining which wines are of the highest quality.

Market segmentation – this approach segments consumer markets based on different psychological criteria such as demographics, personality traits, and needs. For example the German Institute for Economic Research segments consumers into value seekers (i.e., those who look to save money), status seekers (i.e., those who want to be seen as rich and fashionable) and quality seekers (i.e., those who look for the highest quality at a reasonable price).

Customer relationship management – this approach uses customer information such as previous purchase history, demographic data or psychographic variables like values and attitudes to create more effective marketing communication. For example I recently received an advertisement in the mail for a new sushi restaurant that is opening near my house because I made a sushi related purchase on their website and provided my home address as part of the order process.

Are you more interested in neuroscience or neuromarketing? Which marketing technique sounds most interesting to you?

Do you think any of these techniques influence your buying behavior?

What marketing techniques do you find most interesting and why?

How important is the Internet in terms of influencing your purchasing decisions?


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