Is There a Psychological Trick for Marketing?

I was a kid when I first heard about subliminal advertising. Turns out that experiment was bull — they couldn’t replicate the results, and neither has anyone else since — but the idea is still tantalizing. Are there psychological tricks, subliminal or otherwise, that can increase the effectiveness of your marketing by a significant percent?

Flip the brain switch.I was a kid when I first heard about subliminal advertising from some TV infotainment documentary (I was that kind of kid). it was the famous 1950s experiment in a movie theater where they slipped in ads for soda and popcorn so briefly that people weren’t aware of them, yet they bought more soda and popcorn.

Turns out that experiment was bogus — they couldn’t replicate the results, and neither has anyone else since — but the idea is still tantalizing. Is there a psychological trick, subliminal or otherwise, that can increase sales by a significant percent?

Crack the Customer Mind Code ThumbnailThat came back to mind when i was reading Gary Hennerberg’s “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” If you’ve been reading his Reinventing Direct blog, you’ve seen a bit about it. However, what Gary goes into isn’t one or two tricks, but a whole system for walking 12 foundational personas through seven psychological steps that lead to a purchase.

The 12 personas Gary identifies as the ones he’s seen most often are:

  • Trailblazer/Early Adopters
  • My Brand/My Lifestyle/My Growth
  • Money Matters
  • On Financial Edge
  • Right Thing to Do: Taking the High Road
  • Love and Social Relationships
  • Adrenaline Seekers: Opportunists
  • Safe Players
  • Hiding My Compulsion
  • Fifty Plus
  • Business 8 to 5
  • Did I Matter?

The seven steps are:

  • Identify the Person (Persona)
  • Stimulate Emotion
  • Calm the Mind
  • Position/Reposition Your USP
  • Tell a Story
  • Interpret Features and Benefits for Them
  • Gain Permission to Act

Gary goes into how to walk each of those personas through each of those paths. How to message them, what verbs to use, and how to convince them it’s OK to trust you and complete the purchase.

It’s a good, thorough system with specific tips and suggestions on almost every page.

But what it’s not is a trick. In fact, after reading “Crack the Customer Mind Code,” what I came away with was a better understanding of just how complicated marketing really is.

It’s easy to say “You need to stimulate emotion to get attention from your prospects.” It’s a different thing entirely to identify the personas of the prospects you’re targeting and figure out exactly what stimulates emotions for each of them, then reach them with that message, and the next message and on down through the seven steps to purchase.

There’s certainly psychology at work, but it’s no trick.

And as I’ve gotten to understand marketing better over the years, That matches up pretty well with my overall experience. There are no psychological tricks to marketing, but there are plenty of good psychological insights you can apply to make your marketing more effective, once you know how to crack the code.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

7 thoughts on “Is There a Psychological Trick for Marketing?”

  1. One of the best laughs I’ve had in this business, back in the 1980s, was when, as an agency Associate Creative Director, I received a questionnaire about advertising practices from a university graduate student who’s aid she was working on a thesis about subliminal advertising. The question that got me was (I’m quoting this from memory, but I think I remember this one clearly):

    “How many times a week do you use subliminal messages in your advertising?

    A) 1-10
    B) 10-20
    C) More than 20

    I was tempted to write and say something like, “At least 100 times every morning before breakfast”) but I held my sarcasm and took the trouble to send back a long note which said, among other things, something like, “It’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to advertising when the message is clear. Hidden messages would remain just that—hidden. I don’t use them and wouldn’t use them. And I don’t know anybody else who does.”

    I must have ruined her day. She never wrote back.

    1. Hah! Do you really remember it as having no answer option for “none”? Talk about a loaded question.

  2. Yup. The built i”n assumption was that I MUST be using it, and the only question was, “How often?”

    1. Did she follow up with “When do you intend to stop brainwashing your customers?” Or just go right into “Have you ever used subliminal ads to make someone bark like a dog?”

  3. I definitely agree with this, it is basically the debate between sociology and psychology, one believes they are right and the other thinks they are right but they are both actually, and both play a part in marketing. And you are correct it is not just a trick but it is understanding the variables that play on the customer, the business, the angle, etc. and using those variables to raise the chance of what you are aiming for? If that makes sense. Im not great with verbiage.

  4. No, it never got THAT crazy. However, back in the early-mid ’80s, the whole subliminal paranoia thing had a brief revival after having been dormant since the advent of Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” in the mid 1950s. Somebody, I don’t remember who, back in the 80s was finding “hidden” subliminal sexual images…in the ice cubes…in photographs of drinks in liquor advertising. I looked and all I saw was ice cubes. But heck, I must have been biased.

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