8 Key Truths of Consumer Psychology
by Dean Rieck
Too many direct marketing gurus profess simplistic ideas about consumer psychology. They insist that people perhaps the most complex creatures on earth can be understood by using a checklist of motivators or pyramid of needs.
But I can't even figure out why the teenage bagger at the local grocery puts three hundred cans of cat food in one bag and a single bunch of celery in another. So how can I possibly summarize the whole human experience in a few words?
Simple psychology is attractive, but ultimately limiting. When it comes to people, you have to observe closely, continue learning, and keep an open mind. Because just when you think you have everything figured out, someone does something you never expected.
With this caveat in mind, here are just eight of the hundreds of key truths I've learned about our wallet-wielding species.
- People make decisions emotionally. They decide quickly, based on a feeling, need, or emotion. Usually, therefore, intangible benefits are the key to persuasion. Even for offer-driven promotions and business-to-business marketing, there is an emotional core to every decision. Always ask yourself, "What is the emotional hot button here?"
- People justify decisions with reason. Example: A woman sees a dress in a catalog and instantly wants it. But she hesitates because it's so expensive. However, the copy provides details on the quality of the fabric, the close stitching, and how buying the dress is an investment. This justification allows her to act on her emotional impulse. The lesson? Give people reasons to help them justify a purchase. Another example: I know a guy who bought a huge backhoe because he needed to dig one hole in his back yard. He went on for an hour reciting his reasons for owning this mammoth machine instead of just renting it. Pure justification.
- People put off making decisions. Psychology and sales experience reveal two interesting facts: 1) The longer a decision is postponed, the more likely a decision will never be made. 2) The sooner you can provoke a decision, the more likely it is to be in your favor. Therefore, you should simplify the decision-making process in every promotion and force a quick response whenever possible. Specific deadlines are particularly powerful.
- People are egocentric. Not "egotistic," but "egocentric." That means centered on the ego or self. Anytime you ask someone to do something, you must answer that person's unstated question, "What's in it for me?" On a deeper level, the question might be, "How does this give me feelings of personal worth?" We all see the world and everything in it in terms of how it relates to us personally. That's why features must be translated into benefits.
- People are unpredictable. Even those of us who ponder the psychology of selling can never predict with any certainty how people will act in a real-world situation. The equation is just too complex. You can formulate hypotheses about why people do what they do. You can ask people what they think and like. But in the end, the results to your tests are the only data you can trust. So test and keep testing.
- People seek fulfillment. Love. Wealth. Glory. Comfort. Safety. People are naturally dissatisfied and spend their lives searching for intangibles. At its simplest, creating selling messages is a matter of showing people how a particular product or service or even a particular cause fulfills one or more of their needs. But remember that motivations always have deeper motivations. You seek wealth for security. You seek security because you fear change. You fear change because ... well, you get the idea.
- People usually follow the crowd. We look to others for guidance, especially when we are uncertain about something. We tacitly ask, "What do others think about this? What do others feel? What do others do?" Then we act accordingly. A related concept is what I call the "bandwagon effect." When lots of people do something, that thing becomes more than acceptable; it becomes desirable. This is one reason why testimonials and case histories are so influential.
- People fear loss. In general, the fear of loss is more powerful than the hope of gain. And this fear includes (1) losing something you have and (2) losing the chance to have something you want. By properly manipulating the instinct to avoid loss, you can trigger a favorable response to your offer. But don't turn every appeal into fear. Fear is powerful, but tricky. A positive approach is usually easier to pull off.
Copyright © 2000 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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