consumer psychology

Cupid and Psyche: Marketers must “delve deep” to know their clients

Isaac Mostovicz writes that regardless of what marketing discipline they advocate, marketers must try to understand their customers' inner motivations ...

People sometimes ask me what is so special about Janus Thinking. In my previous blog, I positioned myself as operating within the qualitative research field. We cannot expect people to be fully aware of their deepest, most hidden motivations. Even when they are, not many would be able to express themselves in a coherent way. That’s why people use metaphors when discussing these motivations. For example, a customer called us and asked us to visit him. When we agreed upon a date he asked us whether we were going to offer his staff some training. However, when we asked him what issues he wanted us to address he said: “With me, it’s different”.  Well, the customer did not invite us to check what his problems were but asked for ”one size fits all” training while telling us that whatever we were going to provide would be rejected because with him “it’s different”. Some psychologists would use this as an example of how irrational human beings are, and criticize such behavior. But we think differently. There was a hidden message within that customer’s request, disguised within an oxymoron, which we needed to discover. Our client simply expressed his concerns in a very precise, yet illogical way. I do not know of any quantitative method which would be able to shows what exactly was on this person’s mind. Only systematic exploration could have revealed what those concerns were.


Well, Dichter emulated this approach too and we at Janus Thinking operate in the same manner, with a slight difference. To expand on this, I will explain a little about psychology. It all started with Sigmund Freud, the champion of behavioural psychology, who theorized that we have our preconscious and subconscious which guide us. Our motives are deeply hidden in our psyche and influence our behavior. Freud went on to develop psychotherapy, a dialogue between the therapist and his client to treat diverse psychological distortions. Over the years, different theories emerged and different techniques were introduced. However, all these techniques and theories had one thing in common – you need to delve deep into your client’s psyche if you want to really understand him.

Cupid and Psyche

Dichter was the first to adapt this approach to marketing. The popular maxim in marketing is that people   buy with their heart and attempt to justify their behavior, post-sale, with logical arguments. Dichter explored the first part of the maxim and gave it a scientific basis. However, he did not have the tools to address the second part of the maxim and did not understand the psychology of this logical justification. To understand what lies behind the logical justification we need to explore another branch of psychology, the cognitive one introduced by George Kelly in the 1950’s. Kelly’s theory, the Personal Construct Theory, postulated that “a person’s processes are psychologically channeled by the ways in which he anticipates events.” In other words, we constantly build theories that will arrange the world around us according to our own brand of logic. We see a series of dots and immediately we look for a pattern whether it exists or not. Using Kelly’s work, I was able to find out the way people try to explain their behavior. These justifications have nothing to do with our perceptions but with the format they use. However, understanding the language allows us to read between the lines. Again, one of the most important tools for discovering what lies behind these claims of logic is developing a dialogue with the client.


Each approach, whether Dichter or Kelly’s, has its own merit. When dealing in mass marketing, for example, then we actually try to go over the head of the salesperson to have a dialogue with the customer. We may find that in that situation, there is nobody there who is qualified enough to build such a dialogue at all. Things are different in luxury, for example because we mainly deal with our clients face to face. I haven’t met every diamond salesperson on the planet, but after thirty years I can recommend only three who are able to do a good job.


Dichter, following the tradition of behavioural psychology, faced an ethical challenge. Behavioural psychologists deal with our ugly hidden secrets that we try to repress. Taking these theories into marketing, there was always a sense of trying to manipulate the customer using sophisticated methods. Since Dichter was aware of this possible negative manipulation he tried in his books to persuade readers that this was not the case.


However, are our motives based on these ugly hidden, archaic and primitive motives? I don’t think so. The role of these unchanged, hidden values is to help us find our ultimate goals that are worth pursuing. Such a noble task cannot be based on ugliness and cruelty but on something very pure and beautiful. One man to address this in a professional way was Victor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy whose approach was to search for real meaning in life. Yes, this search puts the responsibility of searching squarely on us. We, as consultants, cannot advise because this takes away the responsibility from our client. Our job is to guide them to face reality, to discover their beauty within and to use it for self-development.


The marketing of luxury is a challenge. It is very easy to manipulate people to spend more and more; neuroscientists show that by acting this way we manipulate the region in the brain called Nucleus Accumbens which is responsible for our pleasure and laughter but also for addiction, fear and aggression. However, other areas in the brain can be influenced which are responsible for altruism, for example. As a marketer, understanding this and choosing the right way to use this is key to sales. And it needn’t all be about fear – when we manipulate the positive values of man then we can create through marketing someone whose self-esteem is enhanced, who is more refined, and who cares for the world around him.

Luxury Condos says of this article...

This is an interesting article. With competition so tough these days, marketing of luxury goods, services, and properties is difficult. Understanding the market is tricky but it will definitely help to reach your goals. It can be time consuming but yes, there are great rewards for those who patiently do their homework. Cheers!

Isaac Mostovicz says of this article...

All what counts is whether customers exist. If they do exist a good research will find them, tell you how to communicate with them, what media to use, etc. If you feel that the time is tough maybe it worth changing your strategy a bit?

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‘Gesture ethics’ – the logic of boboism…

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

As the Western World becomes ever more socially aware, if often inactive, the desire to ‘do good’ and help others is increasingly prominent in the minds of the middle and upper classes. But how do they square these social ideals with their thirst for personal differentiation and public display?

With media coverage of illness and deprivation forever shining into the living rooms of the moneyed classes, (from the flat, wide, HD screens that decorate their walls), a new class of consumption has emerged–and a new mindset: Boboism.

This combination of the Bourgeois and Bohemian ideologies is explored by David Brooks in his book, Bobos in Paradise; (Imagine the 60s meets the 80s, in search of a middle way). David claims that creativity and rebelliousness are as integral to economic success as natural resources and finance capital – you can be (or at least you can FEEL) both socially engaged and overtly successful.

The ‘New’ luxury that Bobos are seeking is increasing defined by the experience not the product, if the experience provokes guilt, it becomes negative. Embedded in the psychology of the consumer is a need to ‘do good’, which in turn makes them ‘feel good’. If the luxury market is about experience and feeling, then this becomes a key issue for its success.

An example from Danziger’s ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ – an American nonprofit organization ‘Ten Thousand Villages’ has marketed products collected from around the developing world, paying the artists or creators a fair wage, and selling back in America at a more elevated price than its competitors. It sells by advertising its fair trading practices – therefore setting them apart from cheaper, ‘immoral’ rivals.

The same principles can be seen in The Body Shop and Starbucks – humanitarian, environmental and fair-trade practices are fundamental standards; their success can be seen just by walking down any high street.

It is not only the price tag that makes these products worthy of the luxury market, it is the inescapable presence of a wonderful consumer experience – in the case of Ten Thousand Villages–you leave with a uniquely hand-crafted aboriginal mask (whether to your taste or not), and the knowledge that you, single-handedly, have just made a difference to the life of someone less fortunate – this makes you feel good, makes you look good, and ultimately provides you with a luxury consumer experience.

However, if these principles were entirely straight-forward, and the luxury consumer psychology that simplistic, Oxfam would be the first port of call for visiting celebrities, not Harrods!

Perhaps the occasional ‘do-good’ purchase offsets our indulgence elsewhere…
Not so much gesture politics, as gesture ethics

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