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A beginner’s Q&A to consumer psychology

A beginner’s Q&A to consumer psychology

As with any broad topic, consumer psychology can cause many questions for those first learning of its existence. To build a foundation for better understanding consumer behavior, these questions must be answered.

To set you on the right path to success, we’ve written a list of common questions about consumer psychology. 

1. What is consumer psychology?

Consumer psychology studies how consumers’ perceptions, beliefs, feelings and thoughts impact purchasing behavior.

2. What are the benefits of consumer psychology?

Just how does consumer psychology positively impact brands and marketers? 

We spoke with Kaylee Boulton, the Director of Behavioural Science at Hotspex, a digital advertising agency based out of Canada focusing on emotional science and research, and asked her to share her thoughts on how beneficial understanding marketing psychology is for brands.

She shared three perks: 

1. Win-win for consumers

With consumer psychology being the study of consumer behavior patterns, it’s a scientifically proven way for brands to develop a stronger understanding of their audience. In some ways, Boulton said, it can even help brands determine what consumers need before they do.

“...Because the marketing manager's goal is to get people to buy their brand or their service, but I think where marketing psychology comes in to help consumers is that marketers really need to understand what motivates their consumers. Whether that’s an underlying psychological principle or something that they’re more aware of, it’s still helping the brand show up for the consumer at the right time and in the right place…”

2. Giving consumers the purchasing experience they need

If you've ever been interested in understanding the purpose of consumer psychology, allow us to share this quote from Boulton: “[Marketing psychology] helps make the shopping journey easier and as a result it becomes more enjoyable for the consumer."

What she shared is true. Through your journey with consumer psychology, you’ll quickly come to learn that consumers prefer certain experiences over others. For many customers, simple easy interactions with brands will always take the cake.

Consumers are psychologically inclined to want simple experiences. These sort of experiences require less thinking and stress which allow consumers to get their needs met faster and feel more confident in their decision-making.

Understanding marketing psychology can help you grasp concepts like this and leverage that knowledge in your campaigns. 

3. Adding value to the customer journey 

When we spoke with Boulton, she told us that one benefit of marketing psychology is that is not only helps to understand your consumer, but the entire customer journey.

“We really need to consider every step in the consumer journey and what that experience looks like to make sure that it adds value to your consumer and makes them want to come back. People are more likely to buy into an experience than a product,” said Boulton.

The customer journey is made up of 5 stages: awareness, consideration, decision, retention, and advocacy. (You can learn more about the customer journey here.)

Whether consumers know it or not, they are looking for and expect value throughout their journey with brands. Having a good idea of their psychological and tangible needs can help you offer that value to your customers.

4. Cutting through the noise of competition

Standing out from the crowd in a noisy market isn’t easy, but having the right tools at your disposal can make the job a little smoother.

According to Boulton, being able to tap into the different psychological principles allows brands to measure what kind of biases might be going on within a consumer for a brand and then develop and test different innovations that can help break through the noise of the competition.

For instance, large retailers could eliminate some of the guesswork created by too many consumer choices by giving them the option to compare and contrast fewer items. Tactics like this help consumers to hone in on the pros and cons of a brand’s product much easier and reach a decision faster. 

(Read more on the benefits of marketing psychology.)

3. How is consumer psychology used in B2C marketing?

The better question, we might argue, is how is it not? Consumer psychology is everywhere in B2C because consumer psychology influences many of the decisions consumers make.

Consumer psychology can be used in a variety of ways including on e-commerce websites, in QSR campaigns, and retail. And there are many tactics B2C brands can use to leverage consumer psychology in their marketing.

Tactic #1: Understand the buyer decision process

As a marketer studying consumer psychology, there’s one question you constantly want to have an answer to: what brain science elements have the largest impact on consumer decision-making? 

In our talks with a number of marketing and consumer psychology experts, we learned that the buyer decision process can be narrowed down to five key checkpoints:

Now, what makes a consumer buy a product and the persuasive marketing around it also requires some background knowledge of consumer psychology. (You can learn more about these two topics in our blog.) 

Tactic #2: Encourage quick decisions

Urgency marketing is a subform of consumer psychology that allows you to craft marketing promotions in a way that drives immediate consumer response. It consists of psychological principles, such as: anticipation, scarcity, social proof and competition. 

And it is most typically seen in the form of limited-time offers, countdown clocks and flash promotions. It is also the driving force of major shopping holidays like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. 

Tactic #3: Utilize the Foot-in-the-door Technique

If you’re looking to gain the attention of consumers against the rise of various outside influences, consumer psychology may have the answer.

The "Foot-in-the-Door Technique" can be described as asking a small request of your customers to warm them up to a larger request. 

It’s often best to keep things simple. You can do this by offering your customers something of value that would make their purchase even better, but doesn’t scare them away. Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) do this by asking customers if they’d like to add a drink or small pastry to their meal. 

Tactic #4: Choose powerful imagery

Humans are visual creatures and imagery often helps consumers tangibly see the value a brand or product will have in their lives.

If you want to combine marketing psychology tactics with your imagery, think of various ways that psychology can be leveraged through a photo or video. Consider using social proof, consumers’ innate desire to trust other likeminded people, and show lines of customers entering a store or a video of a customer reviewing a product. 

Tactic #5: Use language that promotes trust and reliability

Trust is a major factor in the consumer journey and it can be exercised in the language you use to communicate with your customers.

The psychology of language, or psycholinguistics, refers to an area of linguistics that focuses on how the human mind processes language. The type of language used has an influence on the degree in which we pay attention to messaging, how we relate to messaging and whether messaging is memorable or not. 

Tactic #6: Appeal to emotions

If you want the attention of your customers, appealing to their emotions is a great way to do so. 

Emotions drive the decision-making process. When customers feel emotionally connected to a brand (either as a result of brand love or relevance), they feel more confident in their decision to purchase a product or service.

Tactic #7: Create belonging through exclusivity

Humans like having a sense of belonging — and we like it even better when we belong to an exclusive group.

According to a study by Alex Imas, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at Chicago Booth and Kristóf Madarász, professor of Managerial Economics and Strategy at London School of Economics, “a person’s desire for something is a reflection of how much others want it and how many of them can’t have it.” 

Social proof is one psychological principle that speaks directly to this behavioral concept. It states that humans are more likely to be motivated by — and follow the lead of — other people. This is why we see people willing to wait in long lines for rare products or race to get items before anyone else.

Tactic #8: Create a brand personality that resonates with consumers

When it comes to marketing psychology, simply having a brand isn’t enough — you also want to be a brand with a relatable personality.

One common way to do this is to humanize your brand. This is the process of making your brand more human by emulating and connecting to the personality traits of your target audience. This could mean being a bubbly brand or honing in on more professional characteristics.

(Read more about 8 marketing psychology tactics for B2C brands.)

4. Is consumer psychology ethical?

Upon first learning about brain science and how consumer decisions can be influenced by brand marketing, it can cause some concerns about the equitable nature of consumer psychology. We spoke with Sue Moore, founder of Virtual Gold Dust, a marketing psychology consulting firm in Northern Ireland, to help us dive deeper into the ethics of consumer psychology.

The first step in making sure your strategy of using consumer psychology comes from a place of integrity is by having the right intentions. The second, Moore said, is by ensuring your customers and their needs are at the forefront of your marketing decisions.

“Marketing psychology isn’t all about brain-washing and subliminal messaging. It’s actually about thinking ‘What do my customers need? What do they want?’ and really focusing your marketing on that,” said Moore.

(Read more on how to use marketing psychology to better serve customers.

5. How does psychology influence consumer behavior?

A strong ability to understand consumers, comes from understanding consumer behavior. These behaviors could happen during any point of the consumer journey (online, in-store, alone or with friends.) Consumer behavior has a large impact on how consumers interact with brands, so understanding the factors that influence it is important.

John F. Tholen, Ph.D., author of "Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind," spoke to us about five major influences on consumer behavior: discretionary income, future finances, future values, likely payoff, and psychological needs.

For some consumers, their psychological needs might refer to their need for attention and approval from peers. Having a certain psychological need will then inform many of the consumer’s future decisions. How will this brand or product fulfill this need? How does this brand or product align with the consumer’s end goal? The proximity of the brand to the consumer’s psychological need(s) will determine their behavior.

(Read more on the top 5 influences on consumer behavior.)

It takes a special kind of marketer to want to learn about consumer psychology in order to better serve their customers. We’ll be here to help you answer any questions you have as they arise and we hope you’ll look back to this guide from time to time as a reminder of how far you’ve come.


Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.