How Classic Psychology Can Help You Understand Your Buyer

Modern Marketing


As a freshly graduated Psychology major, now is the time to compile all the knowledge I have gained over the past four years and apply it to a relevant career. One thing I did learn after acquiring my Psychology credentials is that I don’t want to be a Psychologist. Nor do I want to spend another four to five years advancing the field with my brilliant ideas on the future of the discipline, or at least not yet.

Instead I opted for a different and at first, a seemingly unexpected route. It began with an opportunity to try my hand at Marketing during an internship one summer, which then provided me with a valuable set of skills and network to land my current position at Marketo. Wonderfully enough, I have realized that marketing is the perfect landscape to apply my degree.

Psychology threads weave throughout the field of Marketing. From it I have noticed many lessons that relate to trends and practices common in Marketing. Let me show you what I mean.

The Link

First of all, articles linking Psych and Marketing are not a new idea, but many of the existing articles are outdated because they only relate to basic advertising and do not go deep into the buyer’s journey. Long gone are the days that companies can blindly throw information out into the world and expect their buyer to sit back and receive it.

Now the buyer is engaged and has an active role in interacting with a potential company. This lends itself perfectly to Psychology because we can use these theories to help us better understand the social interaction between buyer and company.  By better tailoring our marketing strategy to the educated buyer, both the customer and company’s goals can be met.

I see five classic theories in Psychology that translate to marketing strategy and shed some light on the relationship between a buyer and company.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The first one is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which outlines varying levels of human motivators. Every marketer should understand their customers’ motivation hierarchy to better provide services and products that satisfy those needs. A previous post, which can be found here, delves deeper into the intricacies of this theory and how it can assist with your social marketing strategy. Essentially, “Needs” are like a customer’s pain points.

Human Potential Movement

We can gain insight through revolutions like the Human Potential Movement in Psychology which took Humanistic Principles and applied them to useable tools to help people improve their functionality. In psychology these tools range from various types of therapies, encounter groups, and books. This is much like a company providing webinars, roadshows, and downloadable eBooks. Marketers are here to assist in development and functionality by sharing thought leadership and best practices. Be a part of the Marketing Potential Movement by being content creators and providing tools for thought leadership!

B.F. Skinner and Behaviorism

B.F Skinner and behaviorism sometimes gets a bad rep for synthesizing human behavior down to that of machines and animals, but there is still knowledge we can gain from him as marketers. The infamous “Skinner Box” was about manipulating a pigeon to press a lever in which caused the release of a food reward. It may sound harsh, but in a way we as marketers are figuring out a lever and interesting content that will drive people to press their mouse to receive more “clicks” on websites.

If a customer is clicking on a Facebook link, or re-tweeting a post, they should be gaining a reward–positive and useful information, which in Skinnerian logic should bring them back again. It is well known that buyers have the power in researching a company long before the sales guy gets to them. Therefore, as customers are doing research and looking into a company like yours- reward them! And they’ll be sure to remember.

Mary Ainsworth and Attachment Styles

In the 90’s, an influential study was done by the developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, which shed light on various attachment styles of babies. Her research suggested that secure attachment is the most balanced style and in the future it has found to produce a more psychologically “healthy” adult. A secure attachment has the qualities of trust, and a level of free exploration. A marketer’s job is to create a secure attachment between company and customer so when it comes time to buy, the customer feels secure, comfortable, and happy with the relationship. Marketing is about establishing that base of trust, and quickly meeting the needs of their potential customers (which can bring us back up to the discussion of Maslow).

Freud and the Talking Cure

We can’t mention theories of psychology without bringing up Freud. He was one of the initial leaders in the development of the entire discipline of psychology and is widely known for his psychoanalytic theory. I’ll leave out the discussion of the Oedipal Complex as it seems inappropriate to talk about that controversial theory here, yet his ideas were prompted from his innovative technique of “the talking cure”. It may seem obvious to us now, but in his age, talking about your problems to a therapist was unheard of, but by doing so it helped to foster a new way of understanding human behavior.

In Marketing, talking is central and valuable to gain new insights. Our goal is to either start the conversation, or continue the conversation through various channels of social media and email marketing. To be a good marketer- use the talking cure! Talk about what’s going on with your company, talk about new developments in the field, talk about the problems and issues and that will help everyone move forward and fix what needs working on. Psychoanalytic theory is the essence of what goes on in this blog and others- having a dialogue about marketing and engaging with customers.

What other psychology theories do you think might be relevant to marketing?