Engauge’s Melissa Read, Ph.D., on the Role of Psychology in Marketing to Today’s Consumer
Psychology—largely defined as the study of the human mind and its functions as they relate to behavior—is not an entirely foreign concept when it comes to marketing, especially direct response activities. For example, Publishers Clearing House knew exactly which human drives it was tapping into with the lick-and-stick magazine stamps in its sweepstakes direct mail packages of yore. But while copy, design and offer development has leveraged psychological findings to the hilt, the utility of this tool can be extended deeper into marketing strategy to develop more continually relevant interactions with prospects and customers.
Melissa Read, Ph.D., the vice president of research and innovation at marketing agency Engauge, explored this concept in "Using Psychology to Drive Digital Behavior," a chapter in the book, "Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing." This collection of essays on the rapidly evolving world of marketing, and the myths surrounding direct marketing and digital channels, was edited by Engauge Chairman and marketing master Stan Rapp; he published the book in association with the Direct Marketing Association.
Here, Read explains why psychology is becoming more important to the marketing process, as well as how marketers can apply psychological insights to better meet prospects' and customers' needs.
Target Marketing: What changes to the marketing environment have prompted the need for a more psychological-based approach to marketing?
Melissa Read: Truth is, there's always been a need for psychological-based approaches to marketing. Even in one-on-one marketing in ancient bazaars, there was a science to effective communication. Understanding your customer and their buying process drove transaction back then, just as it drives transaction today. Use of psychology has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years. It's on the rise today as new marketing channels emerge and as our resulting interactions with media change.
TM: Why is it important, as you note in "Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing," for marketers to play a central role in prospects'/customers' decision-making processes?
MR: Ultimately, our involvement in the customer decision-making process puts us in their consideration set at the time of purchase. The question is often how we want to involve ourselves in that decision—which part of the decision-making process we want to be part of. Some marketers choose to work upstream, spending dollars energizing the category. Others wait until customers are sold on the category and spend dollars helping them refine their choice. I've seen both strategies work well and many other strategies that fall in between. Figuring out which strategy is right for my clients [at Engauge] involves carefully studying the customer, the category, the brand and the decision-making process—its stages, obstacles, triggers, motivators and timing.
TM: How can marketers apply psychological principles to their audience interactions—campaigns, customer service, etc.?
MR: That's a great question, because psychology should be leveraged in all customer interactions. Its power in business isn't limited to marketing communications. Every touch point between a business and a customer is a communication. Every communication should be carefully designed. When we leverage psychology to design all customer communications, including but not limited to those in marketing, we make the customer experience truly seamless and holistically drive transaction.
TM: How can psychology help marketers better anticipate and address obstacles to audience engagement?
MR: There are many stages of audience engagement with a brand. Engagement starts with thoughts of initial interaction and moves to behaviors like ratings, voting and commenting. As engagement deepens, it is expressed by behaviors like social brand advocacy and endorsement. Psychology explains what moves customers from one engagement stage to the next and what obstacles stand in the way. Psychology explains why some customers progress in deepening their engagement with brands while others choose to disengage altogether.