The psychology of marketing communications
The more you can dig into the psychological roots surrounding your brand and environment, alongside the motivations for customers and consumers, the more pinpointed your marketing and communications can be. You’ll understand the behavioural drivers and motivators related to your organisation and therefore the more likely it is to achieve its objectives and succeed. Understanding psychological theories within your market place and what propels decision making and change can be pivotal for commercial and non-commercial ventures alike, including in terms of aiding growth, expansion and buy-in.
You may choose to look initially at some of long-standing and enduring psychological theories – including those in the cognitive, humanist, behavioural or developmental arena. For example considering how attitudes are formed and how that can perhaps play out in your marketing and communication plans, if you study Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning the associations are linked with positive and negative images and conditioning. The celebrated psychologist Watson shared a similar perspective that personalities, and therefore behaviours, can be malleable through conditioning. Whilst Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, believed that ‘archetypes’ are models of people, behaviours or personalities linked with the conscious and unconscious mind.
If you aren’t sure where to start with your business development planning, Maslow, McGregor and Herzberg all have their roots in the increasingly popular ‘Nudge Theory’ which has been adopted across many spheres, including being used to try to solve complex Governmental policy issues. The behavioural and economic theory received increased exposure in 2008 when American academics Thaler and Sunstein published ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth & Happiness’. Tversky an Israeli-American psychologist, and Kahneman a collaborator of Thaler’s, were awarded a Nobel economics prize for developing its principles.
Nudge Theory places a focus on positive reinforcement, indirect suggestions and gentle ‘nudges’ (as the name implies) to persuade and instigate the desired action or end result. It covers extensive ground, including ‘loss aversion’, the belief that customers and consumers are keener to retain or maintain something they already have as opposed to gain something new, there is greater value placed on existing possessions. It also talks about ‘conforming’, if you can change the desired behaviour of a few, their peers are quite likely to follow suit, or you can present information in the context that others around you are doing x, why aren’t you?
The foundations for all marketing communication theories can be found in traditional psychology fields. Take Social Judgement Theory (Carolyn Sherif, Muzafer Sherif, and Carl Hovland) for example which emphasises that message recipients do not evaluate messages purely on the merits of the argument, but they compare it with their initial attitude and then decide if they should accept it. So however powerful your message may be it still might not resonate for some if you haven’t payed closer attention to the underlying perceptions of your audience/s. The same could be said for Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Festinger 1975), which looks at the jarring of beliefs and opinions as a motivator for change, discomfort created by conflicting cognitions could be a catalyst for adopting new behaviour.
There is some debate, particularly when it comes to Nudge theory, that such psychological approaches to marketing and communications are manipulating innocent consumers and audiences, but in a world where there is so much noise and everyone and everything is competing for even a minute window of opportunity to snatch attention a logical, powerful, emotive and strategic plan needs to be put in place for any brand to have even a chance of succeeding. At the very least, psychology is an interesting though-provoking starting point for such marketing and communication plans.