[Let me kick off with a little warning... this is a LONG post... it covers subject matter that takes almost an hour to present... yep, I should probably have broken it out as a multi-post, but hey... maybe you can scan it now and then come back and read in more depth if you like it.]
If, like me, you have ever studied Economics, you’ll know that particular social science makes some very bold attempts to explain… well… life, the universe and pretty much everything. Micro-economics tries to explain individual and business behaviour with a handful of pretty funky looking diagrams. Macro-economics adds 3 or 4 more almost retro-chic diagrams to the mix to explain the most complex workings of governments and global trade. Econometrics provides equations that enable you to turn lies and damned lies in to statistics, while also attempting to explain the workings of The Matrix.
Theories of Comparative Economic Systems? Well with those you can explain how (a) uncontrolled capitalism without regulation or a social conscience is “just-super-thanks-for-asking” AND (b) pure communism, with no incentive for the individual to innovate, invent, explore or take risks will bring equality and joy to all – as has clearly proven to be the case in the United States recently and was show to be the case in the Soviet Union some decades ago.
Back in my days of study I even wrote an (A-graded!) paper that argued for the complete and total privatization of all government services including the military, law enforcement and judiciary using widely acclaimed and accepted economic theory! The point being to outline that while economic theory may have it’s uses, without an understanding of human nature it is both useless and dangerous.
You see the caveat placed on most economic theory is “that all other things remain equal and that human beings act rationally”. That’s quite the caveat. One of the times at which it collapses on a regular basis – and where Psychology plays as much as a role as Economics – is when humans are making purchase decisions. Understanding the elements of human nature that are in play at these times are key to developing successful marketing.
It’s incredibly powerful stuff.
So powerful that its (unethical?) use by marketers has created a backlash. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” as exemplified by the first video below is a backlash against the definition of beauty that has been created artificially by marketers. (Although Dove is of course a Unilever brand, as is Axe, so accusations of hypocrisy by Unilever seem to have merit – see second video below).
Just yesterday, I read this great article by James Feudo (Twitter: @jamesfeudo) which discusses the negative exploitation of human nature in the marketing of health supplements; weight loss programs; career services; financial services and dating services amongst others. As James details, such marketing serves to make people feel inadequate.
Yesterday I also came across this highly insightful case study – of a Facebook lead generation campaign for online Jiu Jitsu training. It again shows how marketers spin an individual’s weakness (whether real or perceived) in to leads and sales.
Does it work? Certainly.
Is it ethical? I could strongly argue either side of that debate.
Do I personally believe it to be ethical? Tricky. But I’ll stick my neck out and say that it does not cross the line, but that it skates close to it. I’d certainly not condemn Robert Drysdale for the campaign. Partly because he’s a 6-times World Jiu Jitsu champion, but also because I understand the need for effectiveness in marketing.
However, as a VP, Director or Manager charged with Marketing, you are often charged with being the guardian of a brand, as well as producing effective marketing. Marketing campaigns that tread the ethics line so closely may well damage your brand in the long term.
Such brand guardianship is the source of ongoing conflict between Sales teams and Marketing teams in businesses across the world – as one prioritizes shorter-term targets and the other prioritizes longer term brand building and positioning. I’ve had to fight many of those fights and they are never easy and never fun
So… why do we have this dilemma? “Predatory” marketing is so often highly effective, but are there alternatives? Well – yes – there are. It comes down to an understanding of various aspects of human nature, and then a decision as to whether, as marketers we use that understanding in an ethical manner. It’s also useful for consumers to understand this, so they can work out when they are being exploited.
Logical v Emotional Decision Making
When we use logic to make decisions, we seek to exclude emotions, using only rational methods, and perhaps even mathematical tools. This logical decision making takes time, and is often employed more for more substantial purchases. After all, the bigger a purchase, the greater the benefit of a correct decision and the greater the cost of an incorrect one. (Hopefully) you spend more time researching a property purchase or car purchase than you do on choosing which item to select off a Starbucks menu.
Of course appealing to emotion still has its place in the marketing of big ticket items. But it’s way more important that you can back up an emotional hook with solid info.
Here are questions that, as a marketer you can ask when developing campaigns and deliverables. Can your marketing appeal logically – does your product/service have the merit? Do you have enough information to present a logical argument. Do you have enough of the prospect’s time to present a logical argument?
When you’re making a one-one or group presentation; providing a proposal in response to an RFP; developing a leave-behind brochure or putting together an info-mercial – logical arguments can play a strong part in the marketing message that is being delivered – accompanied by emotional connections in a more controlled manner. But in nearly all other examples of marketing mediums there is little or no time to present a logical argument. The decision the customer/prospect makes as to whether to engage with your message, discover more information and make a purchase will be based almost entirely on emotion.
Think of a billboard by a highway. As a marketer you have just a handful of seconds to make an impression. The human brain just can’t take in and process a logic-based message in that time. The effectiveness of that billboard will depend on it’s emotional connection. That emotional connection may generate some name recall. It may just generate a visit to a website. But expecting anything more is futile and attempting to communicate anything more than a single top-level message is pointless.
With so much advertising and marketing competing for people’s attention the billboard principle now applies across so many mediums: the subject line of an email; the first frame of a banner ad; the photo and bio in a Twitter profile. All of them need that emotional connection.
Needs vs Wants
On the face of it basic human needs are very simple. Aid organizations such as the Red Cross would detail them as food, clothing, shelter. To survive, that may well be all we actually need. To fulfil a role in modern society there are other things we need such as education, personal security, transport etc. But often we want more than what we actually need:
- You NEED to eat and drink, but you WANT a Seared Ahi Tuna Salad and a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
- You NEED a roof over your head, but you WANT a 3000 sq ft penthouse with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge
- You NEED some transport so you can get to work… but boy you WANT that Bugatti Veyron
Why is that? Why is it that we gain pleasure from consuming and utilizing things that we don’t NEED. Well there’s some biological components to it of course – the release of hormones that simply makes us feel good. But different people behave in different ways and a lot of that is down to some Psychology. Here’s how the theory goes:
There are 9 basic human needs. Each person has 3 primary needs and 6 secondary needs. These needs are:
Security is the need to feel safe, to feel assured that you know what is going to happen, to know ahead of time what the plans are. Personified by things such as:
- Having a planned savings/retirement program
- Having a secure job
- Having a house, home and family
- Having a dependable car
- Paying off the mortgage or having no debts
- Having property, life & health insurance
- Carrying a gun or having a way to protect themselves
- Living in a gated/guarded community
- Living near friends and family
Adventure is the need for an adrenaline rush, to have new experiences, to travel, to have drama in life, to have a sense of anticipation about upcoming events.Personified by things such as:
- Traveling or thinking of travel
- Being an entrepreneur or being self-employed
- Changing partners or spouses
- Changing jobs frequently
- Moving frequently
- Buying a new car every year
- Conquering something (climbing the highest mountain, winning the gold medal, setting new records)
- Competitive sports of all types
Freedom is the need for independence and spontaneity. It is also the need to have choices and to feel in control of making those choices. Freedom does not care for plans or heavy structure.Personified by things such as:
- Having choices and making their own choices
- Feeling free to move around without restrictions
- Feeling free to make decisions in their job
- Making choices about relationships
- Choosing what work assignments they will accept
- Teaching others how to be self-sufficient
- Refusing to obey rules that were created by someone else
- Making or enforcing rules that allow Freedom and free choices for others
- Advocating Freedom as a basic human right
- Changing their appearance, hair style or way of dressing
Exchange is the need to trade information and knowledge with others, not just to socialize, but to deliver and receive something of value – information, conversation, communication, energy, friendship, services, money, gifts, love, shared experiences.Personified by things such as:
- Participating with others in discussions of all types
- Staying in touch with friends, family and business associates
- Working with others who have a common goal
- Participating in groups (teams, committees, clubs, boards, etc.)
- Feeling a sense of fairness and balance in interactions with others
- Working in a way that creates equality for all participants
- Feeling a sense of integrity and trust with others
- Study ethics, integrity and justice
- Building and maintaining an active network of contacts
- Making introductions to others through their network.
- Sharing a deep relationship with another person
People with a need for Power need to be in a position of authority and responsibility. People with a need for Power tend to be good organizers and accept responsibility, setting an example of leadership.Personified by things such as:
- Managing a company, a division or a department
- Becoming a leader in a civic organization or professional group
- Organizing events, trips, projects
- Achieving success
- Helping others feel empowered
- Being a well-known speaker
- Becoming an authority on some topic
- Writing a book that expresses leadership
- Being responsible for people, things, projects, events, situations
- Being a leader and recognized as a leader
- Teaching others about leadership and responsibility
- Taking command of an army or a military unit
- Taking over a country
- Rescuing a company in trouble
- Taking charge during an emergency or crisis
Expansion is the need to build something, to add onto, to create an empire, to expand horizons, to go where no one has gone before.Personified by things such as:
- Growing a company or a personal or political empire
- Creating a personal fortune
- Expanding a collection of any kind – art, books, CDs
- Building new buildings, cities, communities, roads
- Expanding a market niche
- Creating new knowledge
- Discovering new ways of doing things
- Expanding the boundaries of science, art, medicine, music, nature or spirituality
- Becoming an astronaut, oceanographer, medical researcher or scientist focused on exploring new worlds
- Exploring uninhabited lands or regions
Acceptance is the need to accept yourself and be accepted by others. People with a need for Acceptance are usually very easy-going and pleasant to have in a group. Personified by things such as:
- Participating with situations that are open and accepting of everyone
- Feeling a sense of acceptance by coworkers
- Being accepted by neighbors
- Being accepted as a valuable member of a family group
- Being accepted into a club or group
- Working with people who need extra attention and acceptance
- Feeling loved
- Accepting whatever comes up in life
- Doing things that make others feel good
- Being nice regardless of the situation or the person
- Being tolerant of self and others
People with a need for Community like having people around. They are highly social and will express their enjoyment of gatherings. These are the best folks to put in charge of parties and company gatherings. They will seek out people and are able to maintain large numbers of relationships. Personified by things such as:
- Throwing parties for the slightest of reasons
- Extensive and natural social networking
- Participating in classes, groups, clubs
- Going to a shopping mall or concert just to be around large groups of people
- Being the cook for large family gatherings
- Hosting family gatherings, groups of friends
- Running for public office
- Gathering signatures for a petition or ballot initiative
Expression is the need to be artistic, to be seen, to be heard, to be felt. It is the need to express oneself through words, speech, actions, dress, art and self-creations of all types. Personified by things such as:
- Writing newsletters, creating art, stating opinions
- Writing books, poems, articles
- Reading poetry at coffee houses
- Writing opinion articles for newspapers and magazines
- Public speaking about topics that are near and dear to the speaker
- Creating art in all forms (painting, jewelry, crafts, interior design, graphic design, furniture design, architecture)
- Teaching creative thinking classes or workshops
- Designing company logos or ad campaigns
- Coaching in creative arts
- Dancing or teaching dance in all forms
- Acting in movies, plays or local theaters
By understanding these aspects of human nature, marketers can base their decisions not just on a target markets demographics and demonstrated behaviours, but on psychographics too. As I said above, it’s powerful stuff, and it’s how marketers turn something that people might just want in to something they absolutely need – sometimes treading or crossing a line in to unethical exploitation of weaknesses.