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How Psychology Can Power Your Marketing Program

by internationaldirector

By: Darren Morris, Columnist, International Director

The term marketing is often confused with the term promotion, or with aggressive sales efforts, which gives marketing a bad name. And while marketing does employ sometimes pushy sales tactics and distracting advertisements, these tactics are not its primary concern. That is, of course, if you’re doing marketing right. The primary concern of marketing is building organizations on unparalleled understanding of human behaviour and needs. And as such, it can be an invaluable tool in deriving organizational success.

The renowned marketing professor and guru Philip Kotler defined marketing as “meeting needs profitably”. The word needs is central in the definition as a driver of demand and profitability (rather than the aggressiveness of the sales team). With this definition, the focus shifts from sales to understanding those needs well enough to achieve better bottom lines. At that point, it became clear that marketing needs to rely on behavioural science to enlighten its practice. Those behavioural sciences, such as psychology, help not only in identifying the needs of customers, but also in making the work of salespeople effortless.

Psychology, as a key behavioural science, can give valuable insights into the reasons why people behave the way they do. Those reasons, or motivators, can be classified into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Marketing programs can, and should, build on both to achieve success.

The word motivation originated from the Latin word movere, which means “to move”. And following the meticulous identification of customer needs, marketers should aim to move people, whether from within or from outside, to purchase their products and/or services.

Extrinsic motivation

As the name implies, extrinsic motivation refers to external motivation. Extrinsic motivation is easy to understand, and it follows the pattern of stimulus-response. Sellers offer discounts, promotions and free add-ons to encourage people to purchase their products. In other words, they provide the stimuli hoping for responses from potential customers. While this works well in many industries, it cannot be sustained in the long-term given the costs it incurs. What’s more, research done on the issue has found that introductory promotions on new products were not the best alternative. When research participants were asked to choose between a magazine with a discounted price or an extended subscription having an equal value to the discount, the results showed that the monetary discounts were unnecessary.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from the inside. Consider your hobby that you do out of passion rather than to get paid, or the activities you carry out with your friends. Typically, you do not need an external reward to enact those behaviours, because they are driven by intrinsic rewards, which are primarily intangible, such as knowledge, curiosity, accomplishment, recognition and others.

Function-based vs. human-based systems

Initially, most organizational systems had “function-based designs”. That is, they assumed that humans would do what the process told them to do. Factories were built on the assumption that people follow instructions like machines. Many call this approach Taylorism, given that Frederick Taylor was one of its pioneers.

The problem with Taylorism is that it completely disregards the fundamental differences between humans and machines. Humans have feelings and dignity. They are more emotional than most economic models assume (many if not most economic models assume that humans are rational). Humans have pain and pleasure circuits, which machines don’t. And function-based-designed systems have been significantly deficient in their assumptions.

There has been a need to move to human-based-designed systems: systems that better understand human nature and the reason why people do what they do. The gaming industry has been one of the pioneers in those designs, given that it has needed to develop products (games) that engage players and keep them coming back for more.

The Octalysis Framework

Figure 1: Octalysis Framework

From the efforts of gaming companies, the Octalysis Framework emerged. This framework identifies main common human motivations upon which systems can build for better design. Those motivations are (in no particular order): meaning, accomplishment, ownership, social influence, unpredictability, empowerment, avoidance and scarcity. All of those elements can be “movers” of behaviour. Their power lies in that they are effective in motivating people, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, and work for different kinds of products.

People seek meaning, and this is relevant mostly in services. Stronger brands provide experiences with rich meaning. People also gravitate to the unpredictable. And marketers can use this to build anticipation for their new products. Scarcity also is known to be a factor that increases prices according to the laws of supply and demand. Marketing campaigns can build on this by communicating that the supply is limited, as they often do. Furthermore, marketers can build on the sense of ownership of people who already bought their products and reinforce their choices by communicating to them that they have made the right choices and congratulating them. Social influence is the leverage of social-media websites that rely on social proof to promote products for their client businesses.

There are numerous ways in which marketers can design their offerings and promotional campaigns to deliver the message to the audience seamlessly, without any friction. And the room for creativity is vast.

Understanding human motivation is key to influence. And behavioural science has provided many useful frameworks. In addition to the Octalysis Framework, marketers can use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to avoid trying to sell services that give people self-esteem and sense of accomplishment when their basic physiological needs have not been met yet.

Final thoughts

With their breadth, behavioural sciences can enable businesses to achieve their market objectives much better by deriving the desired behaviours from customers. Interestingly, those same methods can be applied to improve team performance and morale. Giving people tasks that are aligned with their intrinsic motivations will lead to people learning more on the job and developing themselves faster. It will also lead to more focus and less distraction, as well as greater sense of satisfaction among team members. This can only translate into superior performance across the entire organization.





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