Psychology Behind Marketing – The Culture Filter
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Psychology Behind Marketing – The Culture Filter

PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Marketing, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

As a MarCom professional, the goal on both fronts is to build a meaningful, valuable, and mutually-beneficial relationships. In order to do that, you need to gain a deep understanding about each audience with which you are trying to connect. You need to understand what each segment cares about, what motivates them, and what inhibits them. This relationship building, when done correctly, requires a reversion back to the very basics – communication that is rooted in trust and cooperation.

Recently I was perusing some psychology articles in my feed, and two disciplines jumped out at me: Anthropology and Sociology. They got my MarCom wheels turning…

Essentially, anthropology is the broad study of the whole of humanity and human culture, and the discovery of solutions for human issues. These issues, as well as the solutions for them, are often the underlying motivators that drive attitudes and behaviors. Many anthropological subjects, like
structure, power, community, discourse, interaction, and interpretation, are relevant to MarCom practitioners.

Sociocultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology are particularly relevant subfields of which marketers and PR professionals should take note. Sociocultural anthropology explores cultural social patterns, like how people organize themselves and create meaning – it provides cultural and social contexts of potential audiences. For example, it could help identify informal influentials. Linguistic anthropology examines communication styles and patterns, meaning-making and symbolism, all of which is extremely valuable for MarCom professionals to consider when developing messaging strategies for specific audiences.

Sociology is the broad study of societies, including social institutions and relationships. For example, a sociologist would look at issues with educational and social systems when a student drops out of high school rather than simply examining one student’s decision to drop out. Sociology can be extremely valuable for MarCom professionals through research of an audience’s external environment and the economic, political, and social systems that have the potential to impact a given situation.

Social trends and group dynamics of an audience segment are critical elements for MarCom practitioners to understand – they can help determine which messaging channels to use as well as who potential influencers could be. For example, if a marketer is trying to reach an audience segment consisting of collegiate athletes, researching their social trends and group dynamics might reveal that, because these students’ free time is extremely limited, this public could be best reached via their mobile devices and social networks. Additionally, this research might indicate their influentials include their coaches, team captains, and trainers as well as regional, national, and international professional athletes, and that all members of a given team tend to think and behave similarly.

Culture has significant influence over how we think and act. It can be viewed as a filter through which we view experiences, meaning, and understanding. Culture impacts not only which channels we choose to use to consume messages, but also how we interpret the messages we receive. For instance, if a MarCom professional is trying to reach mothers of teenage girls with a message about birth control, the practitioner will need to use different strategy and tactics to communicate effectively with an audience segment of traditional Catholic Hispanic women than with a segment of affluent Caucasian Presbyterian women. Given their cultural background, these two segments would have greatly differing perspectives on birth control and would have a significantly different set of influencers.

When considering culture, MarCom pros can use existing tools like Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions to evaluate subcultures and identify which strategies and tactics might be most effective. When using culture as a filter, Marketers can better identify potential social, political, and economic barriers their audience segments may face after they buy into messaging that may inhibit them from taking the action we want them to take. Once those roadblocks have been identified, the Marketer can work to find solutions for those issues that will eliminate those hurdles.

What kind of cultural issues have you encountered in your marketing experience? Have you found other aspects of psychology valuable as a MarCom professional?

*Sociology/Anthropology Word Cloud graphic courtesy of Carleton University, Department of Sociology & Anthropology.

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