Psychology in marketing – a 5-minute summary

Jan 03, 2023 by Mark Baines Category: Business, Marketing

The ‘online self”

The key to understanding the impact of digital marketing on consumers is recognising the ‘online self’. People have a different set of habits and personas online to off, and if we can understand these, then we can start to frame our campaigns around them.

For example, loneliness is a big issue. Social media allows us to be ‘alone together’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are any happier – in fact the opposite is often true. Research shows that we are now lonelier than ever before and that this extends throughout the age groups – it’s as true of kids as of old folk.

In fact, research shows that over 90% of babies have an online presence or appearance before the age of 2, so there’s no real means of escape for many people, who get addicted to the dopamine hit (the feel-good hormone) and the oxytocin hit (the ‘love drug’). So like Pavlov’s dogs we learn to drool whenever we get a buzz from our phone, and we will probably never break the habit.

What’s more we are continually being interrupted by unfinished tasks, and the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ highlights that our recall of these things is better than of our completed tasks. This explains part of the success of Gamification – most obviously visible in store loyalty cards.

Fear of Missing Out & Missing Me

People have come to suffer from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – and the armchair psychiatrists in all of us spend many hours agonising over this phenomenon. In fact, in recent research, 45% of people surveyed showed would rather receive an electric shock than be out of touch for 15 minutes.

However less well known is FOMM – Fear of Missing Me – which explains the many actions we take to reassure ourselves that we are doing okay. For example, buying a prestigious motor car is as much about this as about impressing our neighbours.

Jung talked about ‘the shadow’ – you/me/us – which underpins the attractions of a shared experience, which is often more important than the product itself: why else would anyone buy a pair of UGG boots – even the name is a play on ‘ugly’.

For us marketers all of the above means that we have to consider what we are selling ‘beyond’ our product – eg Coca Cola selling ‘happiness’ rather than a sweet fizzy drink.

In addition, there are many other psychological short cuts that we avoid at our peril. For example ‘price anchoring’ where we learn to look at value through context, which is one reason why in B2B buyers often get three companies to quote. And ‘phonetical discounting’ which is the theory that if you use words with fewer syllables it reduces the value – so if your product is expensive, make sure you use words of many syllables!

And don’t even get me started on graphical design!

However what it does mean is that there needs to be an element of ‘story telling’ in promotions, so that people can see themselves in a product, and how they’re going to feel in terms of FOMM.

Leonardo da Vinci said ‘All our knowledge has its origin in our own perceptions’ and more recently Ries and Trout said ‘The perception is the reality’. Marketers would do well to remember this. The medical industry has long understood it, as it’s been long known that a placebo can have a powerful effect – the stories that we tell ourselves have a huge impact on our actions.


So the moral is to remember these psychological factors. They can have a big impact on all aspects of our promotions, pricing, placement and product design. Hang on a mo’ – there seem to be four ‘P’s there – let’s make it up to 12 by including positioning, purpose, promise, principles, people, personas, proof points and process.

Get these right and you can’t go wrong!

Mark Baines

My thanks to Jonathan Gabay for providing the basis for this article in his CIM Webinar ‘Gateway to Digital Psychology for Marketing Professionals’ 13.12.22

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