Marketing Psychology 101


If you went to college, you were formally introduced to Psychology, if you didn’t, you probably learned quite a bit about it in the school of hard knocks. Keeping it simple, psychology is the study of how humans interact and behave. That behavior is predicated on several factors but boils down to what motivates them and what doesn’t. There are a myriad of things that can influence someone’s actions and behavior. I will focus on just a couple of these as it relates to branding and marketing.

Halo Effect

The first notion is called the “halo effect” and has to do with biases the observer has to the subject or speaker. This means that you instinctively “like” some people and, therefore, rate them better than people for which you do not have the same affinity. As you might imagine, this is vital in presenting a product or idea to a prospective buyer or group of users. The more they like the presenter, the better the chances of accepting the product or idea.

Hawthorn Effect

The second idea has to do with how to capture the attention of your prospective customer. There was a study done in the 1920s and dubbed the “Hawthorn effect” where Western Electric was trying to determine how the effect of lighting could affect the productivity of production workers. Because there were observers constantly making notes, the worker’s productivity shot up, regardless of the illumination levels. When the observers were not present, after the study, productivity sank to new lows. Paying attention to the subjects makes a difference in what they will do and think about what you are trying to convey.

The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. The original research at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero Illinois on lighting changes and work structure changes such as working hours and break times were originally interpreted by Elton Mayo and others to mean that paying attention to overall worker needs would improve productivity. Later interpretations such as that done by Landsberger suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to temporary increases in workers’ productivity. This interpretation was dubbed “the Hawthorne effect.” *Wikipedia


One of the more interesting basic premises of marketing and appealing to people is “how things look.” Are they aesthetically appealing, or not?

Numerous authors have provided lots of advice on how to approach people and convince them to go with your ideas, from Dale Carnegie (How to win friends and influence people) to Zig Zigler (See you at the top). Most of them focus on being mindful of pleasing people and not confronting them on your differences which has a lot to do with psychology and a people-friendly approach.

Integrity and Moral Values


Finally, since it seems to have lost its appeal, I want to put in a good word for integrity and moral values. Those are easy terms to roll off the tongue, but not so easy to practice. Being patient with people and staying away from the temptation to be dishonest or misleading is an art on which many of us need brushing up. Too often people say what is expedient at the moment. It is human nature to avoid responsibility when something goes wrong or is done incorrectly. All the customer support folks have mastered the apologies and remorseful tones when called upon to respond to the mistakes. This does not excuse the mistakes nor does it change the behavior that all too often, caused them.

It takes quite a bit of effort to build customer loyalty and customer satisfaction, sometimes several years of diligent work. It takes just a couple of mistakes to undo all the good work that went before. Just ask Volkswagen, Enron, 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, British Petroleum, Merck, Ford Motor Company/Firestone, Aventis, Toyota, Union Carbide, Exxon and many, many others.


The One Constant – Change

I was in church last Sunday and realized I haven’t been in quite some time, at least not to my home church. I might not have realized it, were it not for the fact many of the congregation responses in the Mass have changed, ever so slightly. Whoever thought the responses needed fixing, probably weren’t trying to alienate those of us who have not attended regularly in some time. I felt I did not belong, and that probably wasn’t their intent. The changes, while likely based on sound reasoning, really do not add anything to the Mass. They are more a distraction from what was familiar and what I’m used to. It isn’t like 60 years ago, when the ecumenical council under Pope John the 23rd, changed the Mass into the local native language from Latin. That caused an uproar from many who felt the change diluted the mystery of the ritual.


The most obvious changes are the free-wheeling changes companies now make to their names, logos, and branding. I learned a long time ago this was taboo. If you don’t really have any brand awareness in the consumer’s mind, it doesn’t matter. If you do, however, it is not recommended. The millennials never learned this unbreakable law. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, changes the logo on a whim. Google, gives their logo the same treatment. Sometimes it is necessary, but often it’s spurred by boredom with the familiar.


The two examples of staying with the same brands I can think of are Wells Fargo Bank and Jolly Green Giant. Both companies have to fight to keep from changing what is widely known by their customers. They have invested in those brand identities, even if they might seem outdated.  The San Francisco Forty Niners tried changing their logo not long ago and the fans revolted, even after they had purchased new helmets for the players with the new “modern” logo. So this is one of those “dead marketing ideas,” that is alive and well and you would be well advised to heed this one.

Have you ever experienced “change” for change sake and didn’t feel comfortable with it like my church experience? Have you tired of your brand identity and desperately wanted to change it?

I recall a time when computer maker Packard Bell relished in knowing that half its customers thought they had bought Hewlett-Packard equipment. Packard Bell was a Dutch company that was bought and sold by a packard-bell-logovariety of manufacturers and is now owned by Acer who also bought Gateway Computers.

So while I remember the Mass in Latin since I had to say it as an altar boy, I can’t say I miss it all that much; although there are people who do, including Mel Gibson’s father.

Corporations should consider the ramifications on the customers when they are thinking of “improving” how they brand themselves. The Catholic church might take a long look at some of the “new” responses and ask themselves, “What did we fix?”

How Big Organizations Solve Big Problems


The other day I was comparing notes with my friend Hal Miller who recently left Verizon for greener pastures and he was describing how the company makes all the decisions for the sales teams. They move individuals around to different managers and assign customers to salespeople randomly, and it reminded me of two things.

One is the way very large organizations who survive over the years develop systemic problems. You’ve no doubt heard about the Veterans Administration or other government institutions who have problems getting much right, and the other is how HP handled that problem so it never became a systemic crisis.

Interestingly enough, change is the key, but random changes that interfere with a team’s chemistry is not a good way to go. At Hewlett-Packard, everyone has to change their position on the floor where they work. AbouHP1t every three years or so, we would be reorganized, but all we did was take everything we had and move as little as 3 feet north and 3 feet west. Lots of people were involved in making these move changes, and I noticed it did break up the monotony of our work. A big/little change like this is less disruptive to team chemistry, but it has the desired effect.

Extra large organizations try to fix problems through reorganization as well as change management. Too many of the policy changes forced on employees are tiresome, bothersome and don’t achieve the desired results. Moving departments from one office building to another can make enough of a change to get the employees engaged again. We all have management changes that happen because people are promoted or lost through attrition. That’s the only time we should have to adjust to a new manager. When we move to a new group or are promoted, we often find ourselves reporting to a new manager and that’s fine, and the way the system is supposed to work.