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coupling marketing with psychology

psychological branding

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by Kenneth Rudich

At its most fundamental level, marketing is the art and science of motivating human behavior.  In light of that, there’s nothing more appropriate in a discussion about marketing than to couple it with psychology.

One theory of particular interest rests with the work of American psychologist Abraham Maslow.  He spent his entire career peering into the human psyche for the purpose of learning what makes people tick.  It’s worth mentioning he studied only mentally healthy and capable people, notables like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass, and also the healthiest one percent of the college student population.  Only the best of breed would suit his objective.

After cataloging his findings over time, he eventually wrote a book that included a chart like the one shown above.  It is known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Since an abundance of resources about Maslow’s Hierarchy is already available, I don’t want to rehash it here yet again.  Instead, I’d like to briefly focus on the value chain implications of it.


Earlier posts to this blog have explored the concept of value from a variety of angles – the definition of value, branding, the value chain, value creating scenarios, and creating value with modular thinking to name a few. One common theme throughout is the idea of framing your product or service in terms that invite people to develop a deeper connection with it.  Maslow’s work offers some building blocks to consider for doing just that.
If you think of Maslow’s chart as akin to a painter’s color palette, it provides a selection of psychological attributes that can be used in association with a product or service.  Just as a painter can select a single color or blend it with other colors, a product’s benefits – the value proposition it offers – can be tied to one or more of these psychological attributes.
An effective mixing and matching of the psychological attributes will depend on the motives and needs of the target audience.

For example, some businesses, like financial services or auto insurance, will typically link their products to the sense of security they offer.  Notice that this not a feature of the product.  Rather, it is a psychological benefit, and it is one they know people will readily embrace.
In another example, let’s take two different types of dog owners.  One who uses the dog for protection, and another who views it as part of the family.  How might these motives influence the marketing strategy for selling dog food?  Would you use the same promotional imagery or themes for both?  Or would you be more selective in your targeting – where one revolves around safety themes and the other around love and belonging themes?

what psychological benefits should you be marketing?

The same line of inquiry can be used to investigate potentially meaningful connections for your products and services.  Making the right connections will enhance the psychological value of it.


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