Consumer Psychology: Why, When and How
In a nutshell
Consumer Psychology provides strategists with a filter that cuts through the transactional focus of conventional consumer marketing and research.
It 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. Most importantly, it 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 the context of emotional (or affective), mental (or cognitive) and behavioural responses. Consumer Psychology is a unique lens to interpret and strategise brands’ impact by drawing on theories from psychology, marketing, social and cultural anthropology, mixed method research, behavioural economics and behavioural sciences.
The innovation in social platforms and technology keep shifting the dials of attention, not to mention global events such as the pandemic which disrupt contexts. 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 fluid ‘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 in. While it’s always better to bring in Consumer Psychology as a discipline in overarching brand-level strategy, it’s also a perfect fit for campaign planning and research/insights deepdive exercises ahead of creative idea development. In addition, Consumer Psychology can reveal nuances in context and trends in the preparation of multi-year business plans, quarterly product or brand research and other brand health check exercises. As a versatile resource of human-centric insight, 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 product or project, and keep their fingers on the pulse of the consumer in a much more empathic and relatable manner.
While consumer psychologists and behavioural scientists do and should have different approaches in the field depending on the context and challenges, as a digital strategy veteran, I always prefer to initiate my analyses with an audit of existing digital and/or behavioural data to set a foundation through the lens of psychology before I plan actions to fill the gaps of intelligence. This allows brands and marketers to make sense of their consumers' broader psychology in connection with all the existing proprietary research and data they have at their disposal, then make informed plans for a research programme or make insights-led strategic commercial decisions. I then build on these with trends, psychology and behavioural theories of personality, biases, decision making dynamics, motivations and values and purchase behaviour to validate them, or embark on a journey to drive insights around the 'missed opportunities' of engagement. The end result is a comprehensive strategic consumer experience roadmap with which brands stay attuned to the needs of the existing and prospective consumers in the long run.