The psychology of public relations

As a person, and as a communicator, you instinctively know why and how people will respond to your marketing campaigns, right? Well, as an insightful communicator, you will also be aware of how much people deceive themselves, so perhaps you are making assumptions about other people you are unaware of. Plus it always helps to have solid psychology theory underpinning your tactics. We spoke to experts in psychology and marketing for their top tips. We also spoke to a mindfulness coach for some advice about how to get your own head in gear before tackling communicating to others.

Your audience comes first
One surprisingly common error, is brands failing to put themselves in their consumers’ shoes. Leading sales trainer Phil Jones, author of Exactly What To Say and Exactly How to Sell, says: “One of the top mistakes made by many marketers is that they forget that the true beneficiary of their message is the consumer. This results in them producing copy and content that talks in the interest of the company or product they are representing. Examples include the significant overuse of the two-letter word “we” throughout their language. Shifting the position away from “what we deliver” and towards “what you receive” ensures that more marketers can plug into the true benefits of their offerings to their market.”

Speak to each individual
Another mistake is writing to an audience as if it is a large group, rather than speaking to each individual personally. Jones says: “More often than not a marketing or advertising piece is digested as a personal experience and should be produced as such. Psychologically speaking, the recipient is looking for signs of empathy and as the fight for attention increases, is proactively craving marketers to ‘show me that you know me’ in their work. The recipient should always be the senator of attention and you as the reader of this very piece are the most important person in the world at this moment, just like your readers are to you.”

Maslow’s pyramid of needs
Understanding your audience begins with appreciating their motivations. Marketing consultant David Sargant says that PR professionals can get better results from their campaigns by gaining an understanding of basic psychology, starting with knowing about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: “This is because most buying decisions are motivated by the needs of Maslow's hierarchy, which are psychological. People are rarely motivated to buy because of the basic needs of survival, such as hunger or the need for sleep, but most often because of the psychological needs of the upper four levels.”

People are emotional shoppers
Sargant explains how people are influenced by a number of different factors before they buy: “Of course, they're influenced by information and objective facts. But this objective information is often outweighed by emotional or psychological factors”

To illustrate his point, Sargant gives some examples: “A middle-aged man buys a gym membership, not because his doctor has recommended it or health tests have shown that he can reduce the risk of heart disease and other illnesses, but because he sees it as a new lease on life, a turning back of the clock to a younger self.

“A young mother buys organic products that are essentially the same as the regular products on the shelves because for her, purchasing these goods is a decision for the environment, her children, and the future.

“A teenager buys a pair of tennis shoes without doing any due diligence on the brand but simply because her favourite tennis player wears them and she imagines that she will play better with them.”

Sargant says that we buy because we want more time, better health, more self-confidence, improved appearance, more leisure or comfort, or what we perceive as a better life. “We also buy to avoid taking risks, losing money, leaving ourselves vulnerable to threats, potential suffering, embarrassment or worry. We think our purchases will keep us up-to-date, make us likable or influential, or help us to better express ourselves.”

Calm anxieties
So when planning a campaign think about emotional needs as well as practical ones. Sargant says: “Each product meets a real need (if you're ethical). But it also meets an emotional need. Cars are used to travel and their features can improve safety or fuel-efficiency. But your car also expresses your social status or makes you feel cool. Organic food does help mitigate our impact on the environment, but it also combats anxiety about potentially harmful chemicals. Mobile gadgets help you stay more connected and communicate better with your friends, but they also help you feel more futuristic. There is almost always an emotional component to even the most practical products we buy.”

By working out where your products or services fit within your customer's psychological and emotional needs, you can tailor your marketing approach and tactics. “If you know at what point of Maslow's pyramid they're struggling, you can identify how your product helps them overcome their struggle or achieve what they want.

“Your customers' position in the hierarchy will change over time, especially after major life events such as moving, losing a job, getting married, having kids, or retiring. When their position changes, your tactics need to change as well. Since most products fulfil a variety of needs, most products can function at different levels. The basic idea is to identify where your customers are and tailor your message to them by showing them how it meets these needs.”

First focus on you
Before you focus on using techniques to win over consumers, clients and contacts, first you must look at where your own head is at. We ask Juliet Adams, an expert on mindfulness and director at training organisation A Head for work for her tips on how to enhance your concentration and effectiveness at work. Adams set up as a free information resource and acts as an expert advisor to the Mindfulness Initiative, a government think tank on Mindfulness, as well as offering Intention masterclasses to help professionals work in a more focused manner. She says that if you want to improve your working relationships and get things done at work, you need to pay attention to your attention: “According to recent research, on average your mind wanders for around 47% of the day. Mindfulness teaches you how to focus and maintain attention on the task in hand, with the intention to observe the judgements you make and choose how to respond appropriately. Cultivating mindfulness enables you to make decisions and act appropriately based on present-moment reality instead of being hijacked by strong emotions and impulses triggered by past experiences and predictions of the future, which often lead to inappropriate actions and reactions.

“Intention drives attention. Whilst the ‘attention’ element of mindfulness is well-known, ‘intention’ is often overlooked. In our forthcoming book Intention Matters, we define intention as ‘a deep, sincere, desire that activates your will and focuses our attention. This allows you to harness various cognitive processes (brain networks), leading to actions, which make things happen.’

“Intention underpins everything you think and do. Setting an intention to become more mindful of your thoughts, emotions and bodily responses throughout your working day is a great place to start.”

You might think you have a brilliant idea for a campaign, but all its creative genius may be for nothing if it fails to meet the real needs of the audience you are trying to sell to. And remember it’s not all about you… although of course you need to make sure you own mind is clear before you have any hope of being clear to others.