The Brain Behind the Products You Love: Consumer Psychology and You

By on April 2, 2013


One of the more fascinating fields of consumer research is the study of consumer behavior. This field is relatively young and based on the work of Abraham Maslow and Arnold Mitchell at the Standard Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA. Consumer psychology masters programs introduces students into the math, science and behavioral factors behind consumer behavior.

Companies, large and small, use consumer psychology to design, engineer, package and market products to subgroups of consumers they’ve identified using different types of primary research and classifying the results using sophisticated statistical analyses. This type of research is also called psychographic research.

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Although measuring the reaction of consumers to new products and ideas is one of the most complex types of primary research, it’s also the most rewarding in terms of applications. Learning the science and art behind consumption patterns is a large part of consumer psychology masters programs.

Psychographics allow companies to delve deeper into product preferences than just segmenting using demographic information. On the surface, two people may have similar demographics, but widely different product preferences. Consumer psychology explains the reasons.

People tend to respond to products based on what the product says about them. Consumer psychologists have developed systems that measure the reactions that subgroups have to the message that the product conveys. They develop quantitative techniques to classify the broader population into different segments, making it easy to target well-defined subsets of consumers.

Products and services appeal to people for different reasons. Some groups strive for buying and using demonstrably unique and authentic products, while other groups stick with more tried and proven brands that give them a sense of approval and belonging. It’s the role of a consumer psychologist to uncover those motivations, quantify the size of the group and determine their purchasing power.

When companies uncover the forces that drive consumers to their products, they understand what prompts people to buy them. This information helps them either build stronger brand loyalty or reach out to a broader market by simply changing the product a bit to appeal to another consumer segment.

Consumer psychologists use a constellation of factors to cluster characteristics about people based on their reactions to different issues that drive their values.  These psychologists also use a battery of demographics about the population to further define their subgroups.

Working in the field of consumer psychology typically requires an advanced degree, since it’s a complex field requiring excellent written and verbal communication skills, analytical abilities and research experience. Nearly all the research done in the field of consumer psychology is applied to commercial or business ventures in some capacity, and enjoying interacting with clients could be a significant component of the role of someone working in this field.

Although the barriers to entry are high, the rewards are great. People who are intellectually curious and who find creative problem-solving enjoyable thrive in this branch of market research. The product applications could be as simple as positioning paper clips to attract an environmentally conscious consumer to complex industries, as designing, building and marketing cars and homes.

An advanced degree helps build credibility with the clients that use psychographic data, since the results could be applied to their strategic planning, design and development programs. The research itself is more expensive to administer and deliver, and the execution of the findings could alter a company’s course for years to come.

It’s the one field of research that delivers clear results with an eye toward implementation. Companies who apply the results to their business usually see demonstrable results, since the point of the research is to provide a concrete direction and road map for the future.

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