It’s hard to think of a facet of life where psychology does not play a role. What career we choose, what discipline we choose to study in university, what we buy, what we eat, who we get into a relationship with, etc. The way we think and how those thought processes inform our behavior should, therefore, be of interest to everyone. There are an endless number of scenarios where the underlying psychological factors would be worth examining.
As an introduction, I could simply make the case that learning psychology is useful for better understanding yourself and others or improving your critical thinking skills, but that would be too vague. On the flip side, there is not much practicality in learning the intricacies and nuances of the field if you are not going to employ that knowledge in any meaningful way (I assume you are not going to attempt to diagnose what mental problems your co-workers are suffering by chatting with them at the water cooler). Not everyone has the time and energy to digest a mountain of textbooks.
One of the greatest reasons to learn psychology is to discover that we humans are not as rational as we think we are. Being cognizant of this fact can help us both in our personal and professional lives.
Humans do not behave rationally a considerable amount of the time – even when they genuinely believe they do. When making decisions such as buying a car, house or cell phone, our base impulses are at the forefront. When choosing who to marry, what stock to invest in or selecting a political candidate to cast a vote for, the way we feel plays a much more pivotal role than logic or reason.
We often act on impulse, allowing our base, reptilian, fight-or-flight systems to guide our behavior and decision-making. And we rationalize our behavior and decisions after the fact.
Activities that are relatively devoid of emotional content, such as building a bridge, sending a rocket into space or doing your taxes do not fall into this category. In these domains humans act rationally (at least most of the time).
It is crucial to realize that each person is different; some employ more logic and reason in when making a decision decisions than others.
Person A may spend more time pouring through data and conducting a thorough cost/benefit analysis; he is methodical, able to defer gratification and seeks to optimize. Person B may be more impulsive, not wish to delay gratification and care little for optimization.
There are no hard lines when it comes to an individual’s level of rationality – it is a gradient. But, at the end of the day, irrationality seems to rule much of the day of the average person.
It is very important to understand the above paragraph – and accept it. If you go through life believing that people act rationally (or that they should act rationally) you will be very confused and frustrated.
Sometimes we tend to underestimate the prevalence of irrationality. It can be to our detriment, particularly when we are running a business, exploring a career path, or just doing all we can to live a happy and meaningful life.
Some elucidation is in order………
Sell This Book!
Let’s assume you are writing a book on bodybuilding.
How can you use your knowledge of psychology to persuade people to purchase it?
For starters, you should primarily focus on the benefits the product confers to the customer, and not the features. You are, after all, trying to convince someone to part with their hard earned money; it should be of some benefit to them.
You could focus on things like the benefits of losing body fat and being able to fit in your jeans, or how putting on some lean muscle mass will help increase strength and help prevent diseases such as osteoporosis.
The above tactic is a good place to start. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in direct sales or marketing should be familiar with it.
But how can you take it to do the next level?
You dig deep and try to understand what makes humans tick. Is there a more primal reason for wanting to develop a good muscular and toned body?
The answer is you appeal to the ego.
People want to have a visually-appealing body in order to to be more attractive to the opposite sex and flaunt on social media. They want to feel confident and smug when they look in the mirror. They want to feel excited when they are heading to the beach because they know they will be able to show off their impeccable physique. They want attention and adulation. They want people to envy them.
This are the kinds of things you should be thinking about: the primal and the visceral.
Attempting to get by appealing to a person’s intellect will only get you so far (and much to your competitors’ delight who may understand these concepts better than you).
How you make your customers feel is the key. They want to feel happy, smart, energetic, enriched, loved, appreciated, desire, confident and a host of other feelings that pump out dopamine in vast quantities.
What if you are writing a cookbook? The same principles apply.
Instead of extolling the benefits of saving money by avoiding fancy, expensive restaurants, you can explain to your prospective customers how learning your recipes will make a great impression on their next romantic stay-at-home date. You can help them visual a scenario where they prepare a delicious dinner for their family, pleasantly surprising everyone, including the father-in-law they never seem to get along with.
Again, all this is done to stroke the ego of the customer.
The same types of tricks can be applied to many other products and services. Cars are another example: Notice that advertisers focus on how you will feel driving a particular car rather than the technical specifications. They focus on portraying how dazzled people will be when they spot you driving downtown on a Saturday night. They focus on how sleek, sexy and sophisticated you will look behind the wheel of their car.
The three major markets professional advertisers work their magic in are:
- Wealth building
- Romantic relationships
- Health and beauty
People react very strongly on an emotional level when it comes to anything related to money, relationships and health/beauty. They desire to be rich, attract the opposite sex and look good. Here is also where people’s primal impulses make them vulnerable and susceptible to the most unscrupulous con artists.
The Sales Pitch
Crafting a sales pitch, whether in asales letter or YouTube video, takes some practice. It is both an art and a science (which is why some people outsource this task to a professional).
A useful way to outline your sales letter is to use the AIDA model:
A – You must grab the attention of the customer
I – You must generate interest in the customer as he is reading the letter
D – You must create a desire in the customer to purchase the product
A – You must convince the customer to take immediate action to purchase the product.
Take some time to scrutinize the numerous sales letters online. You will discover that no matter how long-winding and complex they appear to be, they are, in effect, following this model.
This is a brief introduction to psychology and how it can be used for practical applications – in this case, the marketing of a product. If you are interested in persuading people to purchase your product, I recommend checking out the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini.
Remember, the critical point to understand is that humans do not behave rationally when they are engaged in situations that arouse within them powerful bouts of emotion.
By focusing too much on logic and reason you probably missed some opportunities to effectively pitch that botched product launch, secure that new job, or impress that last date.
Focus on emotion and put reason in the background for a bit. Humans are not cold, calculating logic machines.
Make it an effort to apply this new paradigm in your life – you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.