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    How To Use Marketing Psychology To Support the Buying Journey

    September 5, 2023
    13 minute read
    How To Use Marketing Psychology To Support the Buying Journey

    What you purchase throughout your week — a craft coffee, deodorant, a pet toy, whatever — are more than just items.

    Like all relationships, the connections you form with any of these products — and the organizations behind them — can become rather complex representations of marketing psychology.

    The taste of that delicious coffee that helps you check off your morning to-dos, the deodorant that smells reminiscent of your family’s beach cottage, the squeaky pet toy you know your favorite friend can’t wait to serenade you with — all of these little moments and sensations inform the chemical cocktail swirling inside your body and inform your emotional responses (and overall psyche).

    The scientific study of the mind and behavior (or psychology, per The Ohio State University), combined with the basics of marketing (or the way items and ideas are presented for purchase or adoption) makes for a fascinating window into better understanding and winning modern consumers.

    This post will explore the elements of marketing psychology, how emotions can impact the buying journey, and how brands and retailers can use these insights to better connect with consumers.

    What Is Marketing Psychology?

    Marketing psychology, also called buyer psychology, is the scientific study of humans as consumers and how they respond to and interact with products, messages, and services.

    Closely related is the concept of neuromarketing, which is the commercial use of neuroscience tools to improve consumer insights and marketing effects.

    Gathering these insights can fuel an organization's development of content, products, and sales or ecommerce marketing strategies, as they can reveal how well (or poorly) consumers respond to their offerings.

    Shopping Psychology and the Psychology of Buying

    Similar to marketing psychology, shopping psychology and the psychology of buying focus specifically on human behavior in relation to buying patterns, according to LinkedIn.

    One behavioral phenomenon that can heavily influence buying patterns is the mere exposure effect, also known as the status quo bias or the familiarity effect.

    In simple terms, these concepts convey that the more familiar you are with people, objects, or ideas, the more you like them. They explain why most people stick to what they know. About 82% of people, for example, choose a brand they already know regardless of where it ranks on the page, says Econsultancy.

    While this stat doesn’t necessarily support a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in which ranking number one is the only way to win, it does show the importance of an omnichannel ecommerce strategy where brands show up in consistent, compelling ways across as many touch points as possible: The more consumers see your brand, the more likely they are to make a purchase — and keep coming back.

    Take Tropicana as an example. According to The Branding Journal, the brand eighty-sixed its iconic straw-pierced orange packaging for a more lowkey look in 2009, following the expertise of ad agency Arnell. Within two weeks, Tropicana lost 20% of its revenue, and within 30 days, the brand returned to its original design with renewed revenue.

    What Role Do Emotions Play in Making a Purchase?

    There’s a slight difference between emotions and feelings: Emotions are considered nonconscious, while feelings are considered the conscious experience of being in a particular emotional state.

    Biologically speaking, you can course through hundreds of emotions in a single day. Depending on other aspects of your personality and psychology, your emotional state can sometimes change from one minute to the next.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean every moment is a whirlwind, a rollercoaster, or one of those cartoon twisters that stir up livestock.

    While emotions are generally the result of different chemical levels and combinations in the brain, many influences — both internal and external — can play considerable roles in how you connect with your environment.

    All of these factors in flux can have a significant impact on your decision-making processes, and many of the decisions you make throughout the course of your day are likely related to buying — whether it’s a planned purchase or the result of impulse buying.

    Should you continue saving for the plane ticket to your friend’s wedding or splurge on those cowboy boots you’ll likely wear once a season?

    Will you remain disciplined in reducing your sugar intake, or will the luxurious packaging of the chocolate bars by the checkout counter reel you in?

    Which emotions win and when, and how can this help inform brands and retailers presenting consumers with these offers?

    Trends in Shopper Psychology and Shopper Behavior

    While it’s difficult to predict from person to person or moment to moment what emotion will fuel what decision, there are some overarching trends to consider.

    Examining trends in shopping psychology or shopper behavior, especially recent insights, can help brands and retailers better connect with modern consumers.

    For example, Salsify’s 2023 Consumer Research report, a global survey of more than 6,000 consumers across the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, and Australia, revealed the following significant considerations:

    • 81% of consumers remain loyal to brands they love based on product quality.
    • 55% remain loyal based on their online shopping experience.
    • 39% remain loyal based on their in-store shopping experience.
    • 27% remain loyal based on their ethical standards and values.

    Product quality takes precedence, but to keep consumers coming back, it might not be enough to simply have a great product.

    Brands can also win loyalty by presenting themselves both digitally and physically through visuals, customer service, and clear articulation of their ethics and values.

    Emotionally Unavailable: The Occasional Disconnect Between Preference and Choice

    Sometimes, however, underlying emotional connections win out, and consumers don’t choose what their minds so strongly suggest is the right choice.

    One neuromarketing study examined consumer preference for Pepsi or Coke using fMRI imaging — which looks at changes in blood flow in the brain — and found that people actually preferred the taste of Pepsi, but reported they preferred the taste of Coke, notes the Neuroscience consultancy.

    This discrepancy is likely due to Coke’s hold on heartstrings via their association with global unity and sharing moments with people (or polar bears) you love. The brand connects with consumers on an emotional level by focusing its ads on camaraderie rather than the product itself. 

    Video Source: The Coca-Cola Co. YouTube

    How Marketing Psychology Relates To the Buying Journey

    Since marketing psychology studies humans in their roles as consumers, the buying journey is a significant aspect of this focus. What motivates consumers to discover, consider, and ultimately buy products?

    Sometimes, it’s as simple as a consumer buying an item because they were in the right place at the right time — even just scrolling on the right social media app on their lunch break.

    Maybe they saved for months, carefully considered and researched their options, and then finally pulled the trigger. 

    Or it can be some combination of the two, involving both the spontaneity of finding a product that fulfills some need and the diligence of maintaining a pile of play money.  

    In any situation, consumers don’t make purchases without emotion. Even when buying something as essential as toothpaste, consumers consider the taste and whether the product will help them have a confident, clean smile.

    The Functional, Social, and Emotional Value of Purchases

    Nordgren and Schonthal’s The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas presents a more logic-focused approach to examining the relationship between decision-making and idea adoption (in this case, making a purchase), foregrounding different evaluative value markers.

    A consumer considering buying a new Patagonia jacket, for example, might evaluate different value markers of how the jacket will improve their life:

    • Functional value: How dry or comfortable the jacket will keep you.
    • Social value: How others view the brand name and associate it with quality or sustainability.
    • Emotional value: How wearing the jacket makes you look or how owning it makes you feel.

    To win shoppers, the marketing team that promotes this jacket would need to communicate these value points wherever they list the item across the digital shelf.

    patagonia rain jacket marketing psychology example

    Image Source: Patagonia

    In this listing, the marketing team effectively conveys the jacket’s different value markers:

    • Functional value: The product description paragraph highlights this jacket’s “exceptional waterproof/breathable performance.”
    • Social value: Seals at the bottom show “1% for the Planet” and “Fair-Trade Certified Factory,” and the jacket is described as “simple and unpretentious.”
    • Emotional value: Different color choices can help you tailor the jacket to your personal style, and model specs help you determine how the jacket will look on your build.

    In addition to value markers, brands and retailers can use other strategies and content to build an emotional — and lasting — bond with consumers.

    Strategies for Building Emotional Connections With Consumers

    If you want to beat your competitors, you have to have a great product. But you can give yourself an edge by connecting well with your audiences.

    And when your audience can be just about anywhere at any time, delivering the right message by creating an omnichannel customer experience is crucial. You can capture customers:

    • In-store with tangible signals on product packaging, displays, and signage;
    • On the digital shelf with killer product detail pages (PDPs) that incorporate enhanced content and social proof like user-generated content (UGC) and personalized offers; and
    • Beyond the digital shelf with advertisements, collaborations, and promotions.

    You need to pay close attention to consumers’ buying behaviors to know what resonates best with them. Gathering data about the types of demographics you attract and the channels through which you draw them will also give you critical insights. 

    Beyond your customers' personal details or shopping habits, your marketing team should also have a pulse on current events or what would matter to shoppers you could attract.

    A sporting goods brand might predominantly attract young and middle-aged male shoppers, for example, but by taking a page from the marketing efforts behind the Barbie movie, the brand might find out-of-the-box ways to reach women shoppers, as well. Does your brand offer beach gear for men who are “Kenough?” What about travel gear to get to and from the real world?

    Getting creative with your product content and adding product narratives — whether they fit into pop culture or simply help create memories with family and friends — fosters enthusiasm in consumers looking for worthwhile purchases.

    Sweeten the deal by building a strong shopping experience, conveying different value markers, and removing barriers to purchase.

    Remove Friction and Barriers To Purchase

    While it’s essential to connect and even entertain consumers on the digital shelf, it’s also important to remove their barriers to adopting your ideas or making a purchase. As The Human Element’s co-author David Schonthal notes, friction comprises the obstacles that lie in consumers’ purchase pathways.

    According to Salsify’s global consumer research, consumers consider these elements critical to their purchasing path:

    • 85% of consumers believe delivery speed and flexibility matter;
    • 62% are looking for low prices;
    • 46% might be halted by product selection; and
    • 11% want loyalty programs.

    Your organization might not be able to hit all of these notes simultaneously, but prioritizing one or a few of them will likely help you attract and retain customers.

    Psyched About Your Marketing Efforts? Consumers Will Be Too

    By stepping into the consumer’s shoes — no matter the emotional state they’re in — and using marketing psychology to create your strategies, you can convey your brand essence as more than just another option on the shelf.

    Consumers won’t be making a one-time purchase “just to feel something,” but rather will be building a worthwhile connection with your organization by incorporating your products into their life. 

    The Complete Guide To Building Winning Shopping Experiences

    Win the hearts and minds of shoppers across the buying journey — from discovery to their first purchase and beyond — with engaging shopping experiences. Learn how to create them in this guide.


    Written by: Yvonne Bertovich

    Yvonne Bertovich (she/her) is an editor and writer at Salsify, reporting from Knoxville, Tennessee. With a longtime passion for research, she enjoys flexing her perspective on ecommerce, trends in consumer behavior, and health and wellness.

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