Psychological Marketing Trumps Social Media Marketing in 2015

Customers are people. And people, it turns out, are complex creatures.

That explains why some marketers, vendors, and academics are plunging into their Psych 101 textbooks to construct deeper understandings of customer behavior—especially in the social media sphere.

“Often, customer behavior turns out to be very different from what marketing research predicts,” reads a new Harvard Business Review article. Authored by a trio of academics, the article concludes that marketers should consider the “social identity”—a self-image consumers hold based on the groups they affiliate with (and those they avoid), as well as the behaviors they deem appropriate (and inappropriate).

Networked Insights, an analytics software company, urges marketers to plumb deeper into the customer psyche when evaluating “brand conversations” on social. The firm believes that marketers should move beyond conventional “sentiment” analysis, which frequently boils down to the following formula: good comments – bad comments = “net sentiment” score. Marketers can do this, he says, by more closely considering dozens of emotions (e.g., desire, hatred, hope, shame, love, fear, etc.). These are much more reliable indicators of customer behavior.

Delving deeper into the psychological realm makes sense, judging from The Wall Street Journal’s assessment of 2014’s best—and worst—“ads” (a term the publication defines broadly). Think of the hope, pride, and happiness generated by the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” or the giddy joy millions of movie-goers felt rooting for Lego Movie protagonist Emmet to triumph over villain Lord Business. 

What’s fun (a good route to happiness) about these lists is finding “best marketing” examples that you personally might place on your own “worst marketing” list. For example, the Journal lauds Samsung Electronics and its agency Starcom MediaVest for conceiving Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres’s viral selfie move (in which she snapped herself with a bunch of celebrities, tweeted the pic, and then challenged the viewing public to make it the most viral tweet in history). But I know one judgmental, snobby 45-year-old writer who feels despair when reading about this campaign: Why on earth would a person spend a millisecond of their precious free time sharing a photo to help a TV personality conduct a marketing program for an electronics manufacturer?

But there you have it: people are unique and complex.  It’s up to marketers to wade deeper into these emotions and figure out how they correlate to behavior.

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