Consumer Psychology

Consumer psychology is a branch of professional psychology that examines the way people relate to the goods and services that they use every day. It can be traced back to the first noted consumer psychologist John B Watson (1878 to 1958).

Watson was the person who suggested that advertisements for Johnson & Johnson baby powder should be built in a way to "take advantage" of the insecurity that inexperienced mothers commonly feel. Watson's influential methods of recognizing the emotional attraction of advertising is still a major element of consumer psychology in the 21st century. Consumer psychology emerged as an independent field of study after World War II.

Consumer psychology is also referred to as the psychology of advertising and selling, or as the study of consumer behavior. Its major aim is to describe and explain human motivation in marketing relations. This field of study focuses on the factors most important for people when buying a particular product and the way consumers determine the value of a service. It also examines the impact that advertising in the media has on reluctant customers in order to convince them to try a new product.

Certain aspects of consumer psychology are closely related to other fields of study. These areas include economics, marketing, advertising, cognitive psychology, social psychology and anthropology. Consumer psychology measures and predicts consumer response to radio, billboard, newspaper and other types of advertising, as well as to specialized sales programs. It pays special attention to drives such as hunger, thirst, cold, sexual excitation, fatigue and exhilaration. The consumer psychologist has to keep in mind the targeted consumer's habits and attitudes of consumption.

Advertising is a major field of interest for those that study consumer psychology as it represents an important medium of contact with the consumer. There are many significant elements for effective advertising, which include trademarks, trade names and slogans. The appeal value of a product or service is also important. It is usually measured in attention, recognition and recall, all of which are studied by consumer psychologists.

Consumer psychology is often used when developing marketing strategies. It helps an advertising company produce a successful marketing campaign. A good example for that would be snack advertisements. For example, when researchers have observed consumer behavior and establish that people are hungrier in the afternoon, media advertisers can schedule snack ads for that time of the day and therefore increase their sales.

Another use of consumer psychology is related to social marketing, or the way of spreading ideas among consumers without actually selling something. An example for that would be the use of a campaign among illegal drug users, which tried to convince them to clean needles in bleach before sharing them. It can be argued that those who developed the campaign were aware that sharing needles is part of the drug culture but did not waste time in trying to convince anyone to start buying new needles.

Consumer psychology studies the way in which consumers think, reason and select between different brands, retailers and products. It also takes into account how a person is influenced by his family, culture, the media and other factors of the environment. Other issues that are often examined by consumer psychologists include services and ideas, as well as the motivation of consumers.

Another key objective of customer psychology is the detailed study of product use. It can allow organizations to form strategies to better position the product or to encourage increased consumption. In addition, individuals may find a new way to use the product. The impact of certain goods on society is also important for consumer psychologists as using an aggressive campaign to advertise unhealthy foods, alcohol products or easy credit products could have negative consequences for large groups of people in society.

As consumer psychology is focused in many interrelated aspects of consumer behavior, consumer psychologists can have a wide variety of functions. Some of these experts may examine the effect of advertising or product packaging on a person. Others study the way in which marriage, parenthood and other important life stages have an impact on purchasing decisions. Consumer psychologists can serve as researchers, educators, consultants, managers and even policy makers.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Psychology of Consumer Behavior
Brian Mullen; Craig Johnson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990
The Social Psychology of Consumer Behaviour
Richard P. Bagozzi; Zeynep Gürhan-Canli; Joseph R. Priester.
Open University Press, 2002
Why We Shop: Emotional Rewards and Retail Strategies
Jim Pooler.
Praeger, 2003
The Why of Consumption: Contemporary Perspectives on Consumer Motives, Goals and Desires
S. Ratneshwar; David Glen Mick; Cynthia Huffman.
Routledge, 2000
Understanding Consumer Decision Making: The Means-End Approach to Marketing and Advertising Strategy
Thomas J. Reynolds; Jerry C. Olson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Values, Lifestyles, and Psychographics
Lynn R. Kahle; Larry Chiagouris.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Issues Involving the Relationship Between Personal Values and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Methodology and Application"
Selling to a Segmented Market: The Lifestyle Approach
Chester A. Swenson.
Quorum Books, 1990
Why We Evaluate: Functions of Attitudes
Gregory R. Maio; James M. Olson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Attitude Functions and Consumer Psychology: Understanding Perceptions of Product Quality"
Advertising Exposure, Memory, and Choice
Andrew A. Mitchell.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Attitude-to-Behavior Process: Implications for Consumer Behavior"
Attention, Attitude, and Affect in Response to Advertising
Eddie M. Clark; Timothy C. Brock; David W. Stewart.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Improving Customer Satisfaction, Loyalty, and Profit: An Integrated Measurement and Management System
Michael D. Johnson; Anders Gustafsson.
Jossey-Bass, 2000
Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy
Mary Lou Quinlan.
Wiley, 2003
The Maturing Marketplace: Buying Habits of Baby Boomers and Their Parents
George P. Moschis; Euehun Lee; Anil Mathur; Jennifer Strautman.
Quorum Books, 2000
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