Consumer Psychology: Why, When and How
What is it?
Consumer Psychology studies the behaviour of consumers as individuals, groups, or organisations and all the activities associated with their purchases, uses and disposal of goods and services. It also analyses the factors that influence consumer decisions, such as family, friends, brands, advertising, and society in general.
Interest in consumer behaviour dates back to the 1940s as a subdiscipline of marketing, when understanding consumer motivations rather than mere actions became pivotal for advertising and marketing professionals to reach target audiences more effectively. As a result, psychology and marketing scholars developed an interdisciplinary and multifaceted science that studies consumer behaviour in the context of emotional (or affective), mental (or cognitive) and their behavioural (or conative) responses. Consumer Psychology is a unique way to interpret and strategise brands’ impact by drawing on theories from psychology, social anthropology, ethnography, marketing, behavioural economics and behavioural sciences.
The internet changed the consumer realm forever. While consumers are increasingly and uninterruptedly exposed to more information and stimuli from brands and media alike, marketing professionals and analysts are exposed to more stakeholder demand and tools to get to grips with what today's convoluted communication landscape means for consumer decisions. Signs, symbols and brand associations in the world of the consumers are fluid, but so are the tools of analyses... With so many moving ‘unknowns’, heightening consumer awareness, and changing digital communication channels, Consumer Psychology brings brands and consumers closer by drawing back to the drawing board to build intelligence from bottom-up by shedding light on psychological dynamics. Looking beyond the actions and transactions, and investigating the drivers of any action in the first place helps futureproof any strategy. As a result, a genuine understanding of the consumer psyche equips marketers with a type of knowledge that becomes intrinsic - so circumstances may change but human nature remains a constant resource to check in with.
Consumer Psychology is an invaluable discipline in all stages of any brand’s initiation, development or maintenance journey - in other words, it’s never too early or too late to tune into consumer consciousness. While it’s always better to bring in Consumer Psychology as a discipline on overarching brand-level planning, it’s also a perfect fit for campaign planning and research/insights deepdive exercises ahead of creative idea development. In addition, Consumer Psychology can provide colour and context in multi-year business plans, quarterly product or brand reviews and other brand health check exercises. As a versatile resource of human insight resource, our discipline becomes a gift that keeps on giving once a deeper human understanding of consumer dynamics is established. Marketing, strategy and brand professionals can always translate this knowledge to multiple layers of any project, and keep their fingers on the pulse of the consumer in a much more empathic and human manner.
As a consumer psychologist and strategist, my approach begins with target consumer persona analysis through available business intelligence like demographics, customer segmentation and digital behavioural data, then build on these with theories of personality, lifestyle, decision making, motivation, purchase and post-purchase behaviour to validate them, or create a more robust understanding of existing and prospective audiences. While consumer psychologists do and should have different approaches in the field, as a digital strategy veteran, I always prefer to initiate my analyses with an audit of existing digital and/or behavioural data to inform a relevant psychological interpretation before I construct the gap analyses. This allows brands and marketers to make sense of their consumers' psychology in connection with all the existing proprietary research and data they have at their disposal, then consider where there may be blindspots. The end result is a comprehensive picture to inform their strategic roadmap and stay attuned to the needs of the existing and prospective consumers in the long run.