3 Ways Psychology Can Help Marketing

Posted on Posted in SahlComm Internship

After spending two years as a psychology major, I had a change of attitude and decided to leap into the business world as a marketing major. Most times when we think of psychologists, we envision people working in labs or sitting on couches across from their patients, scribbling notes on a legal pad. In reality, approximately 40% of students who obtain Bachelor Degrees in psychology go on to work within for-profit industries- usually within marketing departments. Therefore, those of us working within marketing and communications can especially benefit from psychological courses to better understand how our consumers think and act. That being said, I’ve researched three different psychological experiments that have effects that can be utilized for anyone within the marketing industry.

The “Foot-In-The-Door-Technique” states that if you first make a small commitment to someone and later down the road, that same person asks you to make a larger commitment, you will be more likely to comply with their request. This is partly due to cognitive dissonance. In 1957, psychologist Leon Festinger developed his theory of cognitive dissonance suggesting that humans have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (aka dissonance). So once we first make a commitment to an organization, person, or cause, that commitment becomes a part of our self-image. If we are then asked to further our commitment in some way, we will most likely comply because if not, there is the potential of ruining the newly created self-image, therefore creating dissonance within ourselves. In 1966, Jonathon Freedman and Scott C. Fraser conducted an experiment to see if this theory held true. They took 1,156 women and divided them into 4 groups. The first 3 groups were contacted twice with a small request first, like answering simple questions about household cleaning products, and then a large request the second time, like allowing a person from the company calling to come into their homes to manually sort and account for their cleaning products. The fourth group was not called first with questions but was only contacted about allowing someone to come into their home. Freedman and Fraser discovered that 52.8% of the first three groups agreed to the large request, compared to only 22.2% in the fourth group.

Relating this to marketing, a company should get clients to agree to small requests first and progressively ask for more commitments. For example, a firm may not want to sign on with Sahl right off the bat, but by working with a client in small doses and eventually requesting they sign a contract to become an official client may help.

The “Ben Franklin Affect”: when we do favors for other people, we like them more. It is called this because Ben Franklin’s peer on the legislature spoke very negatively of him when Franklin was running for his second term as a clerk. Instead of continuing the fight, Franklin sent a letter to the man asking to borrow a very specific book. The “hater” was so flattered that he sent it right away. A few weeks later, Franklin sent it back with a thank you note attached. The next time there was a meeting of the legislature, the peer spoke to Franklin in a friendly matter, and forever after he spoke highly of Franklin. The two actually ended up becoming good friends.

In 1969, Researchers Jim Jecker and David Landy conducted an experiment to test this “Ben Franklin Affect”. They hired actors to pretend to be a scientist and research secretary, conducting a study by giving participants psychological tests in which they could win money from completing. The scientist created a very unlikable image of himself by being extremely rude and demanding. Every participant was compensated for completing all of the twelve tasks the scientist had demanded. Once this was completed, participants were asked to fill out a survey before they left. During this time, the scientist stopped one third of the participants and asked for the money he had just paid them back because he was “paying for the experiment out of his own pocket and could really use the favor because the study was in danger of running out of funds”. Every person he asked for money back, agreed. Meanwhile, the secretary stopped another group of participants and asked if they would mind donating the money they earned back into the research funds since they were running low. Every person the secretary asked also agreed. About one third of the participants left without being asked to return the money at all. The actual study was to discover what the participants’ opinion was of the rude and unlikable research after doing a favor for him. The survey they had to fill out upon leaving questioned how much they liked him on a scale of one to twelve. Those who were not asked to give their money back rated the scientist, on average, as 5.8. Those that left money when the secretary asked them rated the scientist as 4.4. The group that left after giving their earnings back to the scientist rated him as 7.2, thus demonstrating the Benjamin Franklin Effect in which we like people more that we do favors for.

People justify their actions. When we do favors for people, we make ourselves believe it is because we like the person. By asking customers and clients to do small favors, for example, having a customer share something on Facebook or answer a short survey, their opinion of the company should increase. To try this technique, one should request their potential client to help you instead of you immediately assisting them.

Part of being human is having the desire to fit in, called conformity. In 1951, Solomon Asch produced an experiment that demonstrated how the pressure of groups overrides an individual’s thinking, even if the group is obviously wrong. Asch took a group of college participants and a group of “random” students that were actually hired actors. He showed each participant a card with a line drawn on it. Then he showed another card with three lines labeled A, B, and C on it. He then asked each person to tell him, out loud and in front of everyone else, which line resembled the first line they had been shown the most. The answer was obviously line C. The actors spoke first, all answering with the wrong answer. Following their answers, majority of the actual participants gave the incorrect answer as well, giving into the pressure of conformity.

Asch’s experiment of conformity shows us what a tremendous effect social influence has on people and can even cause individuals to ignore something that is obviously true. Therefore, making it appear that your company is very popular with numerous clients, customers, and supporters may really help. A company may do this by featuring customer testimonials on their webpage, having high numbers of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram followers, and having an active blog page with numerous comments. Utilizing SEO can be used to create the image that your company is popular on the Internet, making web surfers more likely to check out your site.

So although marketing is a business concept, various psychological theories and techniques may definitely be utilized and create a more efficient marketer. I would definitely recommend any student still enrolling in college courses to consider taking a few psychology courses as electives because they may end up being very useful within your career.

If you’re interested in finding out more on this subject, check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-dalton/harness-the-ben-franklin-effect_b_4605447.html

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