July 20, 2021

The psychology of marketing: a beginner's guide

The psychology of marketing: a beginner's guide

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What do modern day “psychics” and marketers have in common? As we explore the psychology of marketing, we’ll show you that these two professions have more in common than you might think. 

Digital marketers use their knowledge of human psychology to create effective, engaging digital marketing content for their small business clients. Leveraging these psychological principles can help you create more engaging, appealing content for your target audience, leading to better conversion rates.

This article will walk you through some the key elements of the psychology behind creating effective marketing content:

  1. Reading behavior.
  2. Identifying patterns.
  3. Collecting information.
  4. Establishing a personal connection.
  5. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and the desire for exclusivity.
  6. Leveraging emotions.
  7. Wanting to belong.
  8. Understanding the conversion funnel.
  9. Summary. 

So, let’s get started with explaining the psychology of marketing.

Illustration of a marketing professional gesturing at a brain.

1. Reading behavior

Before you can understand your audience’s unique psychology and apply psychological principles to your marketing strategy, you will need to learn a bit about your target audience. 

One of the primary ways “psychics” and mentalists are able to give the illusion of having supernatural knowledge of their clients is through behavior reading. 

To provide you with engaging, effective digital marketing content, marketing specialists employ similar techniques. 

While psychics and mentalists traditionally relied heavily on bodily cues and expressions to better understand their subjects, modern marketing professionals rely on a variety of largely digital and data-based techniques. 

Because digital marketing strategists aren’t typically able to look their target audience in the eye and study their posture, eye movement, emotional responses, etc., they must rely on information that can be gathered remotely. 

For example, marketing professionals can analyze website traffic data, measure your interaction with particular online elements or advertisements, utilize “cookies” to track online user behaviors, etc. This information about an audience’s online behavior can then be used to ensure that future marketing materials are as tailored and effective as possible.

2. Identifying patterns

In the “good old days,” perhaps psychics and mentalists used to casually notice certain patterns and trends. For example, it seems likely that people who recently experienced the passing on of a loved one would seek out a psychic’s services. Or, perhaps, there were certain times of the year where new clients were likely to emerge or where their clients’ spending slowed. 

Similarly, along with reading behavior, marketing strategists learn a great deal about their target audiences through identifying and analyzing various trends and patterns.

Marketing professionals are able to make use of the unprecedented access to online analytic and data-driven software and other tools to identify and understand consumer trends. 

For example, marketers can review large volumes of consumer data to identify patterns such as times of year when spending increases and slows across various industries, what products consumers have been spending the most money on lately, what products seem to be experiencing a decrease in sales, what other types of products their target audience members are purchasing, when their target audience is online and what social media platforms they’re using, etc. 

From there, marketers can analyze the patterns and trends they’ve identified to draw conclusions about consumer motivations, to predict future consumer behavior, to reevaluate their marketing strategies over time, and so on. 

This puts digital marketing teams in a position to ensure that the content that’s most relevant to your needs and desires is seen by you at just the right time. And, as we’ll see, the more tailored the content is, the more likely an audience is to engage or spend. 

3. Collecting information

In the heyday of public interest in psychics and mediums, all sorts of information-gathering techniques were employed: waiting rooms and lobbies were wire-tapped, “undercover agents” would mingle with subjects to covertly collect information, relative information was collected from family tree records, and so on. This information was then used to convince the unsuspecting subjects that the performer was, indeed, psychic. 

In marketing, similar techniques are employed to collect information about target audiences and consumers. 

Digital marketing strategists want to know: what kind of person would be interested in their product? What kinds of people have been showing interest in similar products? How does the ideal consumer think — what are their motivations, desires, and fears? 

Marketing teams and professional copywriters need to try to get inside the brains of their target audience and use their internal motivators to ensure their content speaks to that particular audience.

So, a marketing professional will want to review relevant analytic data, assess broader consumer trends broken down by demographic, make use of consumer polls and surveys, conduct comprehensive social media reviews, etc., to gain a better understanding of their target audiences. 

The information that is collected can then be used to tailor marketing content to the desires, interests, and fears of their target demographics.

4. Establishing a personal connection

One of the first things a good “psychic” would do is demonstrate that they care about their subjects and that they understand them. A convincing psychic would make you feel as though they are on your side and interested in helping you.

Similarly, by reading online behavior, identifying consumer patterns and trends, and collecting information about their target audience, digital marketing teams are then able to craft marketing content that speaks directly to their target audience. 

Once you have a solid understanding of who your target audience is, you can begin to leverage basic psychological principles to ensure your marketing content is as effective as possible.

So, instead of reading as though it were written for anyone, good marketing content will read as though it was written for you — it will more-or-less align with your expectations, speak directly to your needs and desires, and take on a tone and style that resonates with you. 

This is why it is helpful to think of good, professional marketing content not as being written for a large auditorium filled with a faceless crowd, but as a one-on-one conversation or intimate dinner with a handful of people; you don’t want to be preaching or lecturing and should always be engaging with your audience on their level, using language that resonates with them.

By customizing your marketing content in this way, you are able to establish a personal connection with your target audience — you make them feel as though they are seen, heard, and understood. This will make your audience more likely to respond to your product in a positive way.

5. Fear of missing out (FOMO) and the desire for exclusivity

Imagine if a psychic told you that, due to the particular alignment of various heavenly bodies, for one week only they would be able to communicate clearly and directly with all spirits. But, due to the intense strain of connecting with deceased loved ones, they could only help 20 people. Would you be more tempted to pay their hefty fee? 

To help encourage consumers to respond to marketing content, digital marketing strategists sometimes rely on similar tactics. Specifically, marketers leverage the “fear of missing out” (or “FOMO”) and the desire for exclusivity to drive consumer action. 

The “fear of missing out” is a simple psychological principle: people are generally afraid of being left out, of missing out on special events and limited time offers, of falling out of touch with current social trends. People want to be included and to feel connected to their culture. 

Similarly, people long to feel special, to feel like part of the select few. So, people generally love to jump at the opportunity to be included in limited-time offers, to receive special coupons and access codes, to be part of a select group of people to receive some special gift or bonus, etc. 

Digital marketers can use FOMO and/or the desire for exclusivity coupled with a sense of urgency to prompt consumers into action. 

 For more information on how to leverage FOMO and the desire for exclusivity in your small business marketing strategy, you can check out this article.

6. Leveraging emotions

A good psychic will know just what emotional chords to strike to convince you that they truly know you, that they have supernatural knowledge of the intimate details of your past or future, or that they are speaking with a loved one. Perhaps, they help you remember some special childhood memory or a time you felt especially close to a deceased relative and get you crying or laughing.

Marketing professionals rely on similar strategies to evoke certain emotional responses from their audiences, which then further strengthen the consumer’s sense of connection with the brand or product. 

In general, a big piece of the psychology behind effective marketing is this: people are more likely to feel more strongly about a product or service if they experience some sort of emotional connection with that product. 

For example, consider charity organizations that rely heavily on distressing visual imagery to show the target audience that immediate intervention is needed and to call that audience to action. 

In a more subtle way, marketing teams from familiar brands rely on emotional tactics that conjure up feelings like anxiety, worry, or joy to motivate us to act. For example, marketers may cause their audience to feel anxious over a particular problem they’re facing, just to turn around and show you that their product is the solution to that problem. You’ll then feel the anticipation of relief, prompting you to purchase their product.

7. Wanting to belong

Who do you think is more likely to seek out a psychic? A person with an already strong support network, who’s surrounded by loving friends and family to make them feel seen and heard? Or a person who spends a lot of time alone, who’s estranged from their family and who has few friends to count on in their times of need? 

Probably, the person who doesn’t yet feel a strong sense of belonging would be more likely to seek out the psychic’s services, especially if those services were marketed as something that would make that person feel seen, heard, valued, included, understood

Similarly, effective marketing strategies sometimes rely on making people feel as though purchasing a particular product or service will include them in something (e.g., a good cause, a statement, a certain socio-economic group, a movement). 

You can think of the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and wanting to belong as two sides of the same coin. When using FOMO, marketers will make you feel like you’d be missing out on something if you didn’t heed their call to action. When using a desire to belong, on the other hand, marketers will make you feel like you’re joining a place where you can finally feel like you belong, where you’re understood.

So, for example, consider marketing strategies that say something along the lines of “we know you are a demographic that has been overlooked, and we now have a product just for you — we see you and you belong here.” These are strategies that are making use of a desire to belong to provide their audience with psychological motivation for taking action. After all, we all want to belong.

8. Understanding the conversion funnel

Have you ever met a psychic? Probably not.

Have you ever received a weirdly specific, perfectly timed marketing email that speaks directly to your current needs? Likely so. 

And would you think the marketing team that created that marketing email is psychic? Or would you think that they had done their research well, then made good use of the psychology of marketing to create effective marketing content? 

Setting aside whether “psychic abilities” are real, we can attest to the freakish accuracy of some marketing content. And we can also tell you that marketers are not psychic. But nor are digital marketing teams just blindly guessing what people might want to hear.

Rather, marketing professionals (like some psychics), make use of what is often called a conversion funnel (also called a “sales funnel” or “marketing funnel”). 

While we would encourage you to read our article, “What is A Marketing Funnel?” for a more detailed explanation, the gist of it is this: a conversion or marketing funnel is an approach to understanding the customer journey that marketing professionals often use to create increasingly specific content for their target audience. This ultimately drives conversion, prompting their audience to take action. 

The funnel basically represents the consumer’s journey through the sales experience, starting from when they first become aware of the product and ending when the sale (or other desired action) has been completed successfully. 

Using the funnel approach allows marketers to imagine the ideal consumer journey from start to finish and ensure that their marketing content is tailored to their intended audience each step of the way. 

So, at the top, widest part of the marketing funnel, content is often broader in scope and there may be a bit of (strategic) “guesswork” involved in order to generate initial interest in the product being marketed — it’s meant to catch your eye and generate awareness of the brand or product.

But, once marketers have their audience’s attention, they will begin to tailor their content more and more to their target audience’s unique needs, desires, interests, values, and fears.

As they start to zero in on their target demographic, they’ll continue to gauge behavior, predict thought patterns, and motivate their audience’s behavior. 

A good marketing strategist is able to successfully predict how their target audience will respond to their digital marketing content.

They’ll then be able to leverage that knowledge to “seal the deal” and drive their audience to take the desired action. 

A successful marketing funnel achieves maximal conversion by providing a detailed and well-informed representation of the consumer journey. 


So, what if you met a psychic who was able to tell you things about yourself and your personal history that seem quite specific? 

What if that psychic were able to make you feel like they see you, understand you, like they know who you really are? 

Would you believe it was due to supernatural powers?  Or would you believe it’s due to that “psychic” having a great understanding of human psychology and exceptional information gathering capabilities? 

Good digital marketing strategists are like psychics: both are able to leverage basic psychological principles to predict their subjects’ behavior and motivate action. 

To learn about their audience’s unique psychological makeup, preferences, and desires, digital marketing strategists read audience behavior, identify patterns and trends, and collect information about their subjects. 

The psychology behind digital marketing includes making use of key psychological principles, such as leveraging the “fear of missing out” (FOMO), a desire for exclusivity, wanting to belong, and achieving a sense of emotional connection. 

A professional digital marketing team can then make use of the information they have gathered and their understanding of the psychology of marketing to create an accurate and effective marketing funnel to depict their target audience’s sales journey. 

From there, it’s largely a matter of executing that marketing strategy precisely and consistently, constantly tracking your KPIs, adjusting your goals, and reevaluating your strategy as needed. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your small business’ digital marketing strategy (or if you don’t yet have one), you can get in touch with us for a free, no obligation consultation. 

Or you can find more small business guides and resources here.

Jessica Blackwell

Jessica Blackwell

Jess is the founder Lumida Ltd., a passionate environmentalist living a low-waste life, and a lifelong writer. When she isn't helping our clients make their writing shine, Jess can be found working on her writing projects, experimenting in the kitchen, and taking nature walks.

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